Pages of history

William Penn’s ‘The Great Law’ will be on public display for the first time at Pennsbury Manor’s annual Charter Day March 11

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Travel back in time: Guests are invited to experience the sights and sounds of Pennsylvania life as it was in the 17th century at Pennsbury Manor. Attendees can participate in colonial demonstrations like blacksmithing and beer brewing and enjoy a tour of the Manor House. Source: Pennsbury Manor

Pennsbury Manor, the former estate of William Penn, is about to take its historical ties to the next level. This Sunday, for the first time in history, The Great Law — the first governing documents of Pennsylvania drafted personally by Penn in 1682 — will be on public display from 1 to 4 p.m.

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view firsthand the words of our state’s founder is part of Charter Day, a statewide celebration honoring the charter Penn received from King Charles II in 1681, granting him 45,000 acres of land that later became the foundation of Pennsylvania.

Museums across the state are gearing up to host various events to commemorate this momentous occasion, but Bucks County’s own Pennsbury Manor is the only one preparing to welcome the original six pages of The Great Law.

According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, this rare document served as a core foundation for the creation of the state’s government. Matters outlined include specification for weights and measures, establishment of courts, conduct of trials, eligibility of voters and prevention of fraud in elections.

The Great Law also reflects Penn’s beliefs that religion and politics were intertwined and that no colonist should be persecuted for their religious beliefs. He declared all religions would be allowed, which was a first in the new world.

“Penn was a distinctive colonizer as he insisted on freedom of worship, typical of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who believed that they should extend to others the rights that they requested for themselves,” the PHMC stated. “The first chapter in The Great Law emphasizes that no one shall be ‘compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship place of ministry whatever.’ Pennsylvania was the only large political unit in the western world to offer this degree of religious liberty.”

The mission of obtaining these revolutionary pages from the state archives for Charter Day began during the summer of 2017 when Pennsbury representatives put forward a request to the PHMC. The proposal detailed the manor’s year-long celebration of Penn’s legacy since 2018 marks the 300th anniversary of his death.

“We thought it would be a great way to kick off the year by having one of his greatest achievements,” said Sarah Rudich, managing director at Pennsbury Manor.

As the first historical building to ever display the pages of The Great Law, Rudich and her team at Pennsbury are making sure this Sunday’s Charter Day is an afternoon to remember. Throughout the day, guests are invited to experience the sights and sounds of Pennsylvania life as it was in the 17th century when Penn initially drafted the document.

Attendees can participate in colonial demonstrations like blacksmithing and beer brewing, take a tour of the scenic garden to learn what seasonal plants are growing, and visit the cooks in the kitchen to get a taste of what was typically found on Penn’s dinner table.

During a tour of the Manor House, guests will see costumed interpreters reenact “Voyage of the Welcome” — the voyage of 1682 when Penn and other prospective colonists traveled to Pennsylvania on a ship called The Welcome.

Pennsbury Manor’s Charter Day celebration will also double as a food drive. Attendees are encouraged to bring with them a non-perishable canned item, which will be donated to the local food pantry.

“It’s another way to highlight Penn’s legacy of community,” Rudich said. ••

If you go…

Charter Day will take place at Pennsbury Manor, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road in Morrisville, on Sunday, March 11, from 1 to 4 p.m. This is a free public event.

For more information, visit pennsburymanor.org.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com