John Penn (writer)

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For other people named John Penn, see John Penn (disambiguation).
John Penn
5th Chief proprietor of Pennsylvania
In office
Preceded by Thomas Penn (his father)
Succeeded by no one (American Revolution ended proprietorship)
Personal details
Born 22 February 1760
London, England
Died 21 June 1834(1834-06-21) (aged 74)
Stoke Poges, England
Profession Inherited 75% interest in the Province of Pennsylvania, writer, governor of the Isle of Portland

John Penn (aka "John Penn, Jr.", "John Penn of Stoke") (22 February 1760 – 21 June 1834) was the chief proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania as of 1775 (now the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States), and also a politician and writer. He and his cousin, John Penn ("John Penn the Governor") held unsold property, of 24,000,000 acres (97,000 km2), which the Pennsylvania legislature confiscated after the American Revolution.

Penn lived in Philadelphia for five years after the Revolution, from 1783-1788, building a country house just outside the city. He returned to Great Britain in 1789 after receiving his three-fourths portion of £130,000, the compensation for the proprietorship by the Pennsylvania government. He and his cousin John Penn, who remained a resident in the United States, also received compensation from Parliament for their losses in the former colony.

In 1798 Penn was appointed as High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, and served as a Member of Parliament (1802-1805). He was appointed in 1805 as governor of the Isle of Portland. Also a writer, he published in a variety of genres.


John Penn was born in London, England, the son of Thomas Penn and his wife Lady Juliana Fermor Penn (the daughter of Thomas Fermor, first earl of Pomfret), elder brother to Granville Penn, and a grandson of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. He studied at Eton College. On the death of his father in 1775, John Penn succeeded to his father's interests, and inherited three-quarters of the proprietorship of Pennsylvania. The other fourth of the propietorship belonged to his cousin, also named John Penn, who was the colonial governor of the province. The Penns later lost the proprietorship as a result of the American Revolution.

"The Solitude" (1785), designed by Penn. Now part of the Philadelphia Zoo.

In 1776 he entered Clare College, Cambridge as a fellow commoner.[1] He made an extended visit to Pennsylvania after the Revolution, staying from 1783 to 1788. During this time, he rented a Philadelphia city house, and designed and built a country house, The Solitude,[2] which survives; it is now part of the grounds of the Philadelphia Zoo.[3]

He returned to England in 1789 with his three-fourths' share of the ₤130,000 compensation for the loss of the family's unsold property of the proprietorship in Pennsylvania, a total of 24,000,000 acres (97,000 km2), which he shared with his cousin John Penn.[4] He rebuilt the Penn mansion in the family estate of Stoke Park. He and his cousin John Penn also appealed to Parliament for compensation, from which they received a total of ₤4,000 annually, in perpetuity.[5]

In 1798 Penn was appointed High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) for Helston from 1802 to 1805.[6] In 1805 he was appointed as governor of the Isle of Portland, where he built Pennsylvania Castle and later the sea bathing stone bath known as John Penn's Bath, close to the gardens of the castle.[7]

In 1818, still a bachelor at age 58, Penn founded the "Matrimonial Society", soon renamed the "Outinian Society." whose purpose was to encourage young men and women to marry.

He died, unmarried, at Stoke Park in Stoke Poges on 21 June 1834. He was succeeded by his brother Granville Penn.

Literary career[edit]

Penn was a writer. His published works include:

  • The Battle of Eddington, or British Liberty, a tragedy
  • Some pamphlets
  • A collected volume of poems
  • Observations in Illustration of Virgil's Celebrated Fourth Eclogue (1810). This last title is a discussion of Virgil's "Fourth Eclogue," in which Penn reasons that Virgil's eclogue is not a prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ, as others had argued, but a Genethliacon, a birthday-poem in honour of Octavius, who became Augustus Caesar. He received the degree of LL.D. from Cambridge in 1811.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Penn, John (PN776J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ The Solitude
  3. ^ "The Solitude today", Philadelphia Zoo
  4. ^ Treese, Lorett. The Storm Gathering: The Penn Family and the American Revolution, p. 189, University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-271-00858-X
  5. ^ Treese, The Storm Gathering, p. 199
  6. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "H" (part 2)[self-published source][better source needed]
  7. ^ Pennsylvania Castle

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Abbot
Lord Francis Osborne
Member of Parliament for Helston
With: Viscount FitzHarris to 1804
Davies Giddy from 1804
Succeeded by
Viscount Primrose
Davies Giddy