Professor McClanahan: You mentioned that William Penn wished to distribute land equally among the Quakers. How exactly did that work? For instance, what were the population figures like, and did this land distribution work without having major issues? Was this a Quaker belief or was this a Penn wish?
I am sorry it has taken me several days to get back to you. I have had finals this week and I wanted to answer your questions as thoroughly as possible and I needed time that I did not have until tonight.
Land distribution in Quaker Pennsylvania was generally egalitarian in the early phases of settlement. Penn sold large tracts of land, in lots of either 5,000 or 10,000 acres, to around 589 Quakers in the 1680s (715,000 total acres). They had to settle on the land and absenteeism resulted in a forced subdivision. Much of this land was then subdivided further into shares of between 100 and 500 acres with the average Quaker having around 250 acres. This was enough to secure independence and promote Quakerism at work, which was Penn’s primary goal of the colony. The Quakers also had much more open inheritance laws that allowed for egalitarian land distribution once the primary landholder died.
As I also said, however, Quaker Pennsylvania offered tremendous economic opportunities, and Penn was no fan of equality of condition, at least in material terms. He was, remember, a member of the English aristocracy, and though he had renounced his life as a soldier and became “plain in the world,” he never lost his gentile spirit. Most of the early families in Pennsylvania became extremely wealthy, mostly on land sales, but they still attempted to reconcile this wealth with Quaker theology, which was in many ways a contradiction. Either way, the Quakers embraced commercial success, industry, and thrift, and though much of Quaker society was tied to husbandry, that did not mean that they were romantic agrarian egalitarians. It was quite opposite most of the time.
No need to apologize. I appreciate you taking the time to answer as thoroughly as you did. I was curious about how this was done because I’m reading Rothbard’s “Ethics of Liberty” and he has a chapter on land ownership. I don’t really think Penn had “transformed” 715,000 acres himself, which is the basis of ‘Crusoe economics.’ I could be wrong though haha.