One of William Penn’s Earliest Pennsylvania Deeds – with a Bonus Parcel That is Now Part of Independence Mall
By Royal charter, King Charles II granted William Penn the lands that became Pennsylvania on March 4, 1681. Only 17 days later, Penn sold 500 acres to Thomas Saunders, making him a “First Purchaser.” Such a substantial purchase entitled an owner to an additional lot in the town of Philadelphia, and Saunders’s lot occupies part of today’s Independence Mall.
WILLIAM PENN. Manuscript Document Signed. Deed to 500 acres in Pennsylvania, with a bonus lot in Philadelphia. March 21, 1681 (1682—England and its colonies held to the old Julian calendar with March 25 as the first day of the year until it changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1752.) 1 p., large vellum engraved indenture form with scalloped top. 26 x 20¼ in., framed, 35½ x 31¾ in. Co-signed by Herbert Springett, Thomas Coxe, and Thomas Rudyard on verso. Docketed and signed on verso by Lewis Weiss, and also by Thomas Lask of the “Office of Recording Deeds.”
Estimate $10,000- 20,000
LOT SOLD: $7,625
Thomas Saunders (or Sanders), a yeoman from Illmore in Buckinghamshire, was among the earliest Quaker emigrants to Pennsylvania. William Penn envisioned Pennsylvania as haven for persecuted Quakers, but also as a long-term real estate investment. His capital, Philadelphia, was laid out as a rectangular grid stretching between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, with straight streets, open spaces, and public squares to promote communal identity and healthfulness. As an incentive for Englishmen to purchase land before emigrating to his new colony, William Penn granted bonus lots within the planned capital city of Philadelphia. According to historian Jean Soderlund:
“Philadelphia had by far the largest acreage of any seventeenth-century North American town, but it was a much smaller place than WP had originally intended. He was thus forced to abandon his original scheme of granting one city acre for every fifty acres purchased, which would have given a 100-acre city lot to each First Purchaser of 5000 acres. Instead, he apportioned lots of only one-half to one acre in his great town … Surveying on the Delaware side of town began in December 1682 … (William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania: A Documentary History, 204-205).”
John Reed’s landmark 1774 map (Map of the city and liberties of Philadelphia, with the catalogue of purchasers, [Philadelphia], T. Man) lists Thomas Saunders, owner of Lot 145 on the northwest corner of Mulberry [present day Arch] and Fifth Street, among the several hundred “First Purchasers.” The land he owned is now part of Independence Mall.
The verso of this deed includes a later manuscript note signed by Lewis Weiss (1717-1796), a German-born jurist and among the most accomplished real estate attorneys in mid-18th century Philadelphia. His ability as a drafter of legal documents was so well known that he was frequently employed by the Assembly to prepare the more important bills which were to come before them” (Jordan, “Lewis Weiss of Philadelphia” in PMHB, vol. 15).
“Whereas King Charles II by his letters patent under the great seal of England bearing date the 4th day of March in three and thirtieth year of his reign for the considerations therein mentioned have given and granted unto the said William Penn his heirs and assigns all that tract or part of land in America with the islands therein conveyed and there unto belonging as the same is bounded on the east by Delaware river from 12 miles distance northward of New Castle towne to three and 40th degree of northern latitude and extendeth westward 5 degrees in longitude and bounded on the south by a circle drawn att 12 miles distance of New Castle aforesaid northwards and westwards….and hath r the said tract of lands into a province or signory by the name of Pennsylvania in order to establishing of a colony and plantation of the same And thereby also further granted to the said William Penn heirs and assigns from tyme to tyme and lycense to assign alien grant demise for a gross such parts and parcels of said province or tract of land as here or they shall think fit”