Behind the Penn’s Wall name

So it started with a border dispute and ended with a couple of English guys and some sticks.

It started as a border dispute. Lord Baltimore thought that the line should be close to where Route 30 cuts across Pennsylvania today (40th parallel) and Billy Penn thought that Philadelphia and the 12 mile arc around New Castle should be within his territory. This led to a 35 mile band of contested land between the top of the Chesapeake Bay to Lancaster city.

Remember, Penn’s intention was to create a sanctuary colony for the Quakers which grew in vision to include all religions. One of the foundation stones of Pennsylvania is freedom of religion which was quite a policy during a time when persecution was rife across Europe for dissenters and nonconformists of any stripe. It’s no surprise that “Freedom of Religion”, Penn’s essential principle, found its way into the tenets of our country through the seminal meetings of our nation held in Philadelphia.

Another issue that existed was with the indians close to the Susquehanna. Where the custom of Penn was to “purchase” land from the indians, once he was gone things got a bit dicey as colonists pushed west. The settlers would take land and were very apt to push the natives out of their lands. Being pacifists, they would do this “nicely” but they still did it. Once land was cleared for agriculture, the hunting would be compromised and the indians would move westward where the forests were still dense.

So there were two problems on the frontier, an aggressive southern neighbor who wanted what he thought was his and a western neighbor who really didn’t like how they were being treated.

Logan’s problem was that the pacifist settlers were unlikely to fight back against either. So how would he gain control of the situation? Logan remembered the tenacity and pugnacious character of the Scots-Irish that he grew up with in Ireland. He thought that they, when given some land, might fight to the death to keep it. So he formulated a plan to intersperse among those already settled on the borders (what is now western Chester County and the southern and western part of what is now Lancaster County). Creating a veritable “wall” to fend off the advances of both the Marylanders and the natives. In that Logan served at the pleasure of the Penn family, these Scots-Irish settlers comprised Penn’s Wall.

It wasn’t until 1750 that the English courts finally set the boundary lines in unambiguous terms. It wasn’t until 1760 that the ruling was accepted by both parties. And it wasn’t until the 1767 that Mason and Dixon would finish setting the boundary stones that formed the border between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and what would become Delaware having taken three years to complete it (1764-67).

So there you have it: an age old border dispute that festers into a bit of a feud that is finally settled by a couple of English guys and their sticks. But let it be unequivocally understood that Penn’s original “wall”, as designed by James Logan, were the Scots-Irish that settled along the frontier. They protected their land and so protected the borders of Penn’s proprietorship. As you drive through the area, read the mailboxes and you will find many names that would be very familiar on those along roads in the Scots borders.

Captain Cook's Map showing the 40th parallel close to the effluence of the Susquehanna

Captain Cook’s Map

This is the map used to set the northern boundary of Maryland at the 40th parallel. It was created by Captain cook in the early 1600s and shows that the agreed upon latitude would be very close to the point that the Susquehanna emptied into the Chesapeake Bay.

From “Drawing the Line” page 109-110

Unfortunately for Maryland, Lord Baltimore, who in 1635 drew up his own map to guide the colony’s development, apparently not only accepted Smith’s placement of the 40th parallel but also located his own northern boundary noticeably below the upper end of the Chesapeake. Had the Calverts acted quickly to survey the boundary and settle the northernmost parts of their patent, present day Maryland might well include Gettysburg, York, Chester, and most of Philadelphia.

The compromise:  the Mason Dixon Line

As with all things, both parties had to compromise. The Penns had to give up a port on the Chesapeake, Lord Baltimore had to give up his demand for the 40th parallel. Mason and Dixon started their work in 1763 and the blokes were finished in 1767 having dragged their sticks and equipment all over there very famous 244 mile long boundary line. Remember that the Mason-Dixon line was a more genteel and political replacement for a line that stood for more than thirty year before; a line that our games commemorates as Penn’s Wall.

By the way, Delaware was part of Penn’s holdings into the early 1700s. The “lower three counties” were given to Penn by the Duke of York in 1682. From 1704 forward, it was known as the Delaware colony being effectively disconnected from Pennsylvania. Then in 1787, it was admitted to the Union and recognized as the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States.

James Logan was Penn’s secretary in the early 1700s. During his tenure, the colony expanded and the frontier became a bit unstable especially as settlers pushed toward the Susquehanna. Indian attacks came from the west across the river and a border dispute festered with their southern neighbor. Logan had to gain control. But how could he do it with the vastly pacifist population of Quakers and German Anabaptists?

From the book Albion’s Seed: “Instead, the Quakers decided to deal with the problem in a different way, by encouraging the borderers (Scots-Irish immigrants) to settle in the ‘back parts’ of the colony. In 1731, James Logan informed the Penns in England that he was deliberately planting the North Britons in the west, ‘as a frontier in case of any disturbance.’ Logan argued that these people might usefully become a buffer population between the Indians and the Quakers. At the same time, he frankly hoped to rid the east of them.”

Fischer, David Hackett (1991-03-14). Albions Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a cultural history) (p. 633). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Our crest is a combination of a thistle and three plates on an overlapping inverted chevron. The thistle, of course, represents Scottish heritage in our area and the plates are from the Penn family coat of arms.

This crest is also used by Penn’s Wall, Limited.