Famous Philadelphians: Hannah Penn (1664–1726)

Hannah Callowhill Penn grew up in Bristol, England, in a prosperous Quaker family. Her father owned a successful button business and her mother took an active role in community life by helping poor people find jobs and providing money for those in need.

Under her parents influence Hannah developed a solid grounding in business management, accounting, and organization skills. When she married William Penn in 1696 (she was his second wife and junior by nearly three decades), Hannah was well prepared to assume substantial domestic and public responsibilities, managing large homes with many servants and a growing family in England and in Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Hannah Callowhill Penn, c. 1740–1742. Attributed to John Hesselius (1728-1778).
Portrait of Hannah Callowhill Penn, c. 1740–1742. Attributed to John Hesselius (1728-1778).

Hannah first sailed to Pennsylvania with William in 1699, while pregnant with her first child. After the couple returned to England in 1701, William became embroiled in a protracted legal battle over land, and one of his sons incurred large debts, a situation which Hannah tried to ameliorate by living with her parents to save money, selling off land she owned.

When a stroke incapacitated William in 1712, Hannah became the acting proprietor of Pennsylvania. She began managing the colony’s affairs by trans-Atlantic mail, and depended on her close relationship with James Logan to watch out for the Penn family’s interests in Pennsylvania and run the colony according to William’s vision. After Penn’s death in 1718 Hannah became the executrix of his will and the Proprietor of Pennsylvania, a position she held until her death in 1726.

One Reply to “Famous Philadelphians: Hannah Penn (1664–1726)”
  1. Sorry have not read your book, but was curious about your thoughts on the supposed portrait of Hannah Penn by Hesselius. Since he was born two years after she died,can’t imagine why so much significance is afforded the portrait. Comment?

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