William Penn, the Quaker founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, died 300 years ago this year. Foremost among Penn’s plans for Pennsylvania was to conduct a “holy experiment”: he wished to establish a society that was godly, virtuous and exemplary for all humanity. And while Penn was particularly concerned about creating a haven in Pennsylvania for the much-persecuted Quakers, he also was committed to religious tolerance in general. “Great man” theories of history are unfashionable at the moment, especially if the great man was a white male. But there can be no credible doubt that the commitment to religious tolerance that characterized colonial Pennsylvania traced directly to William Penn’s vision, example and determination. In fact, Pennsylvania enacted more laws about religious tolerance than any other British American colony, both before and after Penn’s death. Delaware, which Penn also owned and which constituted the “lower counties” of Pennsylvania until it became an independent state in 1776, enacted religiously tolerant laws even when Penn permitted it to govern itself with a separate assembly after 1704. No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson — the author of one of the most celebrated religious tolerance laws in American history, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786 — described Penn as “the greatest lawgiver the world has produced, the first in either antient or modern times who has laid the foundation of (government) in the pure and unadulterated principles of peace of reason and right.” Some scholars have denied that Penn founded a successful colony. For instance, one legal historian concludes from a book-length statistical analysis of the court records of four rural counties surrounding Philadelphia between 1680 and 1710 that the “gospel order failed miserably in its stated goal of keeping Quakers from ‘going to law’ against each other.” Unfortunately, not only does this scholar not understand how the “gospel order” worked — Quakers were permitted to sue in court if the dispute could not be resolved in a Quaker meeting — but his quantitative approach causes him to miss a crucial qualitative point: the litigation he documents was not about religious discrimination (because there was almost none of that). Looking back at William Penn’s "holy experiment" It's an interesting piece.I think the historian he is talking about above is William McEnery Offutt.