The Letitia Penn House, Philadelphia


When William Penn, English Quaker, met Gull Springett; he fell in love with her at once. In 1672 they were married.

Ten years later when, as Proprietor of Pennsylvania, Penn was about to sail in the Welcome for America, he wrote a letter of which the following is a portion :

” My dear wife and children, my love, which neither sea, nor land, nor death itself, can extinguish or lessen toward you, most tenderly visits you with eternal embraces and will abide with you for ever. . . . My dear wife, remember thou wast the love of my youth and the joy of my life, the most beloved as well as the most worthy of all my earthly comfort, and the reason of that love were more thy inward than thy outward excellencies, which were yet many. God knows, and thou knowest it, that it was a match of Providence’s making, and God’s image in us both was the first thing and the most amiable and engaging ornament in our eyes. Now I am to leave thee, and that without knowing whether I shall ever see thee more in this world.”

Penn landed at New Castle, Delaware, in October, 1682. He had already sent forward the plot of his new country village; his cousin, Lieutenant Governor Markham, had come to America in 1681, bringing with him instructions for the beginning of the settlement. On this plot there was evidence of his thought for his wife and his daughter Letitia; two lots were set apart for the family, on one of which he planned to build, while the other he designed for Letitia.

When he reached America, he found that, by some mistake, Letitia’s lot had been given to the Friends for a meeting house. He was vexed, but nothing could be done. So he decided that the lot reserved for his own use should be made over to her. He did not carry out his purpose for some time, however.

For a time Penn remained at Upland (now Chester), but in 1684, he went to Philadelphia to oversee the erection of the houses for the settlers. His own house he built on a large plot facing the Delaware River and south of what is now Market Street. The house was of brick, which was probably made nearby, though many of the interior fittings had been brought from England in the John and Sarah in 1681. It was the first brick house in the new settlement, the first house which had a cellar, and was built in accordance with the request the Proprietor had made :

” Let every house be placed, if the person pleases, in the middle of the plat, as to breadth way of it, that so there may be ground on each side for garden or orchard, or fields, that it may be a green country town, which will never be burnt and always wholesome.”

For a few months the Quaker kept bachelor’s hall in his new house. Then he went to England, intending to return before long. Before his departure he arranged that the house should be used in the public service. Probably it ‘was the gathering place for the Provincial Council for many years. Thus it was the first state house of Pennsylvania.

During the fourteen years’ stay in England many misfortunes came to Penn. He was accused of treason, and his title to the American lands was taken away from him. Later he was acquitted, and his lands were returned.

In 1692 Gull Penn died, and in 1696 Penn married Hannah Callowhill. In 1699, when he returned to America, he brought with him his wife and Letitia, who was then about twenty-five years old.

Evidently the old house was not good enough for the ladies of the family. At any rate they occupied for a time the ” slate-roof house,” one of the most pretentious buildings in the Colony. When the manor, Penns-bury, twenty miles up the Delaware, was completed, the family was taken there. Great style was maintained at the country estate in the woods. The house had cost £5,000, and was ” the most imposing house between the Hudson and Potomac rivers.”

The Philadelphia house was transferred to Letitia on ” the 29th of the 1st month 1701.” At once extravagant Letitia tried to dispose of it. She succeeded in selling a portion of the generous lot, but it was some years before she was able to sell the whole.

In the meantime the Proprietor felt that he must return to England because of the threat of Parliament to change the government of the American Colonies. Mrs.- Penn and Letitia, who did not like America, pleaded to go with him. He thought he would be re-turning soon, and he urged them to remain. They insisted. In a letter to James Logan he wrote : ” I can-not prevail on my wife to stay, and still less with Tish. I know not what to do.” Later he wrote : ” The going of my wife and Tish will add greatly to the expense. But they will not be denied.”

In 1702 Letitia married William Aubrey, who had all of Penn’s keenness and none of his genial qualities. Almost from the day of the marriage both husband and wife pestered Penn for money. Aubrey insisted on a prompt payment of his wife’s marriage portion. His father-in-law was already beginning to feel the grip of financial embarrassment that later brought him to the verge of bankruptcy, but, on this occasion as well as later, he felt compelled to yield to the insistent demands-of the grasping Aubrey.

The only members of the Penn family who ever returned to America were the children of the second wife, to whom most of the property descended.

The Letitia Penn House, as it came to be known, fell on evil days. It was an eating house in 1800, and in 1824 it was the Rising Sun Inn. Later it was called the Woolpack Hotel.

In 1882 funds were raised by public subscription, and the venerable house was taken down and rebuilt in Fairmount Park. Visitors who enter the city by the Pennsylvania Railroad from New York City may easily see it from a right-hand car window, for it is the only house in the corner of the park on the west side of the river.