A return to colonial times

Pennsbury Manor celebrates Pennsylvania’s birthday with annual Charter Day

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

A statewide celebration: More than 400 guests visited Pennsbury Manor on March 10 to participate in 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 the state of Pennsylvania. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

It was a dreary day on Sunday, March 10. Grey clouds loomed in the sky, and constant mist floated down from the atmosphere, the remnants of a heavy rain storm the night before. Still, a little precipitation wasn’t about to stop more than 400 area history buffs from venturing outside to experience the sights and sounds of the 17th century.

From 1 to 4 p.m., guests of all ages flocked to the Morrisville-based Pennsbury Manor, the former estate of Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, to participate in 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 the state of Pennsylvania.

According to managing director Sarah Rudich, Pennsbury has been hosting a Charter Day event for more than 30 years. Essentially, it’s a largescale birthday party for the state. Admission is always free, and attendees can transport to the days of Penn by partaking in colonial demonstrations such as blacksmithing, beer brewing and open hearth cooking. This year, donations were encouraged to benefit the Bucks County Housing Group’s Penndel Food Pantry.

Every 30 minutes, volunteer actors reenacted the “Voyage of the Welcome” — the voyage of 1682 when Penn and other prospective colonists traveled to Pennsylvania on a ship called The Welcome.

Inside the Visitors Center, guests strolled through the informative exhibit “William Penn: Seed of a Nation,” and browsed souvenirs in the gift shop.

Additional stops included the Boat House, in which sits a reproduction of Penn’s barge that he used to travel between Philadelphia and Pennsbury, and the stable, which houses horses, sheep and other animals that were used in Penn’s day to provide transportation, plow fields and haul heavy loads.

Situated at the back of the property with a perfect view of the Delaware River, which remains just as scenic and serene 300 years later, is the Manor House, the reconstructed 17th-century home of Penn. Guests had the opportunity to enjoy a guided tour of the house, which was used by Penn to escape the noise and heat of the city, host visitors and conduct business. Rebuilt in the 1930s as a memorial to Penn, it today serves as a living history museum with a focus on education and preservation.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

Inside the Manor House, visitors viewed the Governor’s Parlor, in which Penn met with everyone from farmers to Indians to discuss business. His mission, according to the Pennsbury tour guide, was to sell parcels of land in Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, Penn wasn’t here long enough to collect taxes on any of the land parcels that he sold,” she said. “So he did not make a lot of money.”

Nonetheless, Penn had a wonderful working relationship with the Indians, whom he often bartered with. While they provided him with animal pelts, Penn, in return, gave them metal, linen and wool.

“He purchased land from them. He did not take it,” she said.

The guide drew her audience’s attention to the mint green tiles lining the fireplace in the entrance hall.

“You can say these are authentic to Pennsbury Manor,” she said. “During the 1930s when they were excavating the foundation to rebuild the Manor House, they found these tiles and there were enough to face three fireplaces.”

Throughout the brief tour, participants learned a number of little-known tidbits about Penn, including the fact that his favorite beverage was hot chocolate, which he often sweetened with honey.

Because of the intimately-sized group, the tour continued upstairs to the bedrooms, where a second guide revealed that Penn was actually bald due to smallpox and always wore a wig, which was on display.

Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

While the focus of Charter Day largely revolved around Penn and his accomplishments, Rudich said Pennsbury is now shifting gears to shed light on another instrumental figure in Pennsylvania’s history — his wife, Hannah. For eight years after the death of Penn, Hannah helped lead the young colony through difficult times and served in function, if not title, as Pennsylvania’s governor.

To commemorate the 300th anniversary of her leadership role, Pennsbury will host special exhibits, educational programs and workshops through July. These include Living History Theater: “In Sickness and in Health” on April 14, which will highlight how Hannah tended to everyone, including her husband, when they were sick; Conversations in History: “Quaker Women in the 17th Century” on May 11; and Living History Theater: “Women’s Monthly Meeting” on May 12, which will bring 17th-century documents to life as Pennsbury’s role players portray the issues facing Quaker women. ••

Pennsbury Manor is located at 400 Pennsbury Memorial Road, Morrisville. Visit pennsburymanor.org for more information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com