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William Penn's Charter of Privileges

In 1701, William Penn created a Charter of Privileges for the residents of his colony. Penn envisioned a colony that permitted religious freedom, the consent and participation of the governed, as well as other laws pertaining to property rights. The Charter of Privileges recognized the authority of the King and Parliament over the colony, while creating a local governing body that would propose and execute the laws. Penn clearly states the responsibilities the citizens have in selecting virtuous men to lead and govern what many would refer to as the “Holy Experiment.”


18th century

Colonial period

Government and civics



Big Ideas

Pennsylvania History

US History

Essential Questions

  • How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?

  • What document or physical representation best summarizes Pennsylvania and why?


  • Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding the history of Pennsylvania.

  • Biography is a historical construct used to reveal positive and/or negative influences an individual can have on Pennsylvania’s society.

  • United States history can offer an individual judicious understanding about one’s self in the dimensions of time and space.


  • Synthesize a rationale for the study of individuals in Pennsylvania and the history of the United States.

  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for William Penn's Charter of Privileges.

Background Material for Teacher

The unit and lesson plan are a part of Preserving American Freedom, which presents and interprets fifty of the treasured documents within the vast catalog of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In this project, documents are digitized with transcriptions and annotations, as well as with other user-friendly elements, that will help both teachers and students to better understand the materials in the lesson.

The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia has several essays on various people, events, and organizations that played a role in the history of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the United States.

The William Penn papers offer a brief historical summary of Penn and his family.

End of Unit Assessment

A variety of traditional assessment styles can be applied to these readings. Traditional assessments can include a variety of quizzes (multiple choice or fill in), an essay, or a short paper highlighting all three documents. Primary sources may also be incorporated into a larger paper, student presentation, or class discussion led by student based questions. An alternative for those students who are unfamiliar with primary sources may be assessing notes taken during the reading to be used later as an open-notebook quiz.

For a less traditional assessment, to demonstate their understanding of the document, have students re-write the charter of privileges in casual language, the kind they would use to talk to their friends. Then have students write about the importance of the document as if they were posting on a social media site.


Plans in this Unit

William Penn's Charter of Privileges

Grade Level

Middle School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards




The Freedom Teacher Fellow was funded through a Bank of America grant for the digital history project Preserving American Freedom.

About the Author

This unit was created by David Reader, HSP's Freedom Teacher Fellow in the summer of 2012.  David is a social studies teacher at Camden Catholic High School.


Unit Plan

The Promise and Challenge of Religious Freedom

Unit Plan

William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania

Attention Teachers!

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