Biography of John Penn
John Penn was a native of the county of Caroline, in the province of Virginia,
where he was born on the seventeenth day of May, 1741. He was the only child of his parents, Moses and Catharine Penn.
The early education of young Penn was greatly neglected
by his parents, who appear in no degree to have appreciated the value of knowledge. Hence, on his reaching the age of eighteen,
he had only enjoyed the advantages conferred by a common school, and these for the space of but two or three years.
The death of Mr. Penn occurred in the year 1759, on which
event his son became his own guardian, and the sole manager of the fortune left him, which, though not large, was competent.
It was fortunate that his principles, at this early age, were in a good degree established; otherwise he might, at this unguarded
period of life, left as he was without paternal counsel and direction, have become the dupe of the unprincipled, or giving
loose to licentious passions, have ruined himself by folly and dissipation. Although the cultivation of his mind had been
neglected in the manner we have stated, he possessed intellectual powers of no ordinary strength; and, as he now enjoyed a
competent fortune, and possessed a disposition to cultivate those powers it is not surprising that his progress should have
Fortunately he lived in the vicinity of Edmund Pendleton,
a gentleman of rare endowments, highly distinguished for his legal attainments, and well known as one of the most accomplished
statesmen of Virginia. Mr. Pendleton being a relative, young Penn sought access to his library, which was one of the best
in the province. The privilege which was thus freely and liberally granted him, was by no means neglected. By means of reading,
the powers of his mind soon began to unfold themselves, and he, at length, determined to devote himself to the study of law.
Such a project, on the part of a young man whose early education had been so greatly neglected, and whose
only guide through the labyrinth that lay before him, was to be his own good sense, was indicative of powers of no ordinary
character. Our country has furnished examples of a similar kind; and to the obscure and neglected, they present the most powerful
motives to exertion and perseverance. The author of our being has prescribed no narrow limits to human genius, nor conferred
upon any one class of persons the exclusive privilege of becoming intellectually great.
At the age of twenty-one, Mr. Penn reaped in part the reward
of his toil and indefatigable industry, in being licensed as a practitioner of Law. The habits of study and application which
he had now formed, were of great advantage to him in pursuing the business of his profession. He rose with great rapidity
into notice, and soon equaled the most distinguished at the bar. As an advocate, in particular, there were few who surpassed
In 1774, Mr. Penn moved to the province of North Carolina,
where he soon occupied as distinguished a place at tile bar, as he had done in Virginia; although by his removal to another
province it was necessary to understand and apply a new code of laws. With these he made himself acquainted with ease and
In I775, he was elected a member of the continental congress, in which body he took his seat
on the twelfth of October. He was successively re-elected to congress, in the years 1777, 1778, and 1779, in which body he
was distinguished for his promptitude and fidelity. He was seldom absent from his seat, and hesitated not, either from want
of firmness or patriotism, to urge forward those measures, which were calculated to redress the wrongs, and establish and
perpetuate the rights of his country.
After the return of peace, Mr. Penn retired to the enjoyment
of private life. The incidents in the remaining portion of his history were, therefore, probably few; and differed in nothing
from those which usually belong to individuals of respectability, in the shades of peaceful retreat. His death occurred in
the month of September, 1788, at the age of forty-six years. He had three children, two of whom died unmarried.
Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration
of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 433-435. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)
Recommended Reading: Encyclopedia
of North Carolina (Hardcover: 1328 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: The first single-volume reference to the events, institutions,
and cultural forces that have defined the state, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is a landmark publication that will serve
those who love and live in North Carolina for generations to come. Editor William S. Powell, whom the Raleigh News & Observer
described as a "living repository of information on all things North Carolinian," spent fifteen years developing this volume.
With contributions by more than 550 volunteer writers—including scholars, librarians, journalists, and many others—it
is a true "people's encyclopedia" of North Carolina. Continued below...
includes more than 2,000 entries, presented alphabetically, consisting of longer essays on major subjects, briefer entries,
and short summaries and definitions. Most entries include suggestions for further reading. Centered on history and the humanities,
topics covered include agriculture; arts and architecture; business and industry; the Civil War; culture and customs; education;
geography; geology, mining, and archaeology; government, politics, and law; media; medicine, science, and technology; military
history; natural environment; organizations, clubs, and foundations; people, languages, and immigration; places and historic
preservation; precolonial and colonial history; recreation and tourism; religion; and transportation. An informative and engaging
compendium, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is abundantly illustrated with 400 photographs and maps. It is both a celebration
and a gift—from the citizens of North Carolina, to the citizens of North Carolina.
"Truly an exhaustive and exciting view of every aspect of the Old
Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents The Revolution (A&E) (600 minutes). Review: They came of age in a new world amid intoxicating and innovative
ideas about human and civil rights diverse economic systems and self-government. In a few short years these men and women
would transform themselves into architects of the future through the building of a new nation – “a nation unlike
any before.” From the roots of the rebellion and the signing of the Declaration of Independence to victory on the battlefield
and the adoption of The United States Constitution, THE REVOLUTION tells the remarkable story of this pivotal era in history.
Venturing beyond the conventional list of generals and politicians, THE HISTORY CHANNEL® introduces the
full range of individuals who helped shape this great conflict including some of the war’s most influential unsung heroes.
Through sweeping cinematic recreations intimate biographical investigations and provocative political military and economic
analysis the historic ideas and themes that transformed treasonous acts against the British into noble acts of courage both
on and off the battlefield come to life in this dramatic and captivating program. This TEN HOUR
DVD Features: History in the Making: The Revolution Behind-the-Scenes Featurette; Interactive Menus; Scene
Recommended Reading: 1776, by David McCullough (Simon
& Schuster). Description: Esteemed historian David McCullough covers the military
side of the momentous year of 1776 with characteristic insight and a gripping narrative, adding new scholarship and a fresh
perspective to the beginning of the American Revolution. It was a turbulent and confusing time. As British and American politicians
struggled to reach a compromise, events on the ground escalated until war was inevitable. McCullough writes vividly about
the dismal conditions that troops on both sides had to endure, including an unusually harsh winter, and the role that luck
and the whims of the weather played in helping the colonial forces hold off the world's greatest army. Continued below...
He also effectively
explores the importance of motivation and troop morale--a tie was as good as a win to the Americans, while anything short
of overwhelming victory was disheartening to the British, who expected a swift end to the war. The redcoat retreat from Boston, for example, was
particularly humiliating for the British, while the minor American victory at Trenton
was magnified despite its limited strategic importance. Some of the strongest passages in 1776 are the revealing and well-rounded
portraits of the Georges on both sides of the Atlantic. King George III, so often portrayed
as a bumbling, arrogant fool, is given a more thoughtful treatment by McCullough, who shows that the king considered the colonists
to be petulant subjects without legitimate grievances--an attitude that led him to underestimate the will and capabilities
of the Americans. At times he seems shocked that war was even necessary. The great Washington lives up to his considerable
reputation in these pages, and McCullough relies on private correspondence to balance the man and the myth, revealing how
deeply concerned Washington was about the Americans' chances for victory, despite his public optimism. Perhaps more than any
other man, he realized how fortunate they were to merely survive the year, and he willingly lays the responsibility for their
good fortune in the hands of God rather than his own. Enthralling and superbly written, 1776 is the work of a master historian.
Recommended Viewing: John Adams (HBO Miniseries)
(2008) (501 minutes). Description: Based on David McCullough's bestselling biography,
the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed look at America's
founding fathers and the brutal path to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference
for justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. But he also gains the esteem of the first national government of the
United States, i.e., the Continental Congress, which seeks non-firebrands capable of making a reasoned if powerful case for
America's break from England's monarchy. The first thing one notices about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings,
and the fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is that America's roots don't look pretty
or idealized here. Some horrendous things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to
push the cause of independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under the command of George Washington.
But the process isn't easy: not every one of the 13 colonies-turned-states is ready to incur the wrath of England, and behind-the-scenes negotiations prove as much
a part of 18th century congressional sessions as they do today. Continued below...
peek into a less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the man himself. Adams' frustration at being
forgotten or overlooked at critical junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of helping
to draft the U.S. Constitution--is detailed.
So is his dismay that the truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence has
been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams'
54-year marriage to Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and anchor, and his difficult,
almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades. Giamatti, of course, has to carry much
of the drama, and if he doesn't always seem quite believable in the series' first half, he becomes increasingly excellent
at the point where an aging Adams becomes bitter over his place in history. Linney is marvelous,
as is Dillane, Sarah Polley as daughter Nabby, Danny Huston as cousin Samuel Adams, and above all Tom Wilkinson as a complex
but indispensable Ben Franklin.
John Adams, by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster). From Publishers
Weekly: Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark
for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's
instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing
in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts
are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years
at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in
the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid
Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington
to command the new Continental Army. Continued below...
Later on, we
see Adams bickering with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for
the Declaration of Independence penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner
to France and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant
in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White
House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after
the signing of the Declaration. (June) Forecast: Joseph Ellis has shown us the Founding Fathers can be bestsellers, and S&S
knows it has a winner: first printing is 350,000 copies, and McCullough will go on a 15-city tour; both Book-of-the-Month
Club and the History Book Club have taken this book as a selection.
Recommended Viewing: The American Revolution (History Channel) (482 minutes). Description: Revisit the birth of a nation in this truly definitive look at
America's fight for independence and its
world-changing rise to glory. The American Revolution features ten powerful documentaries--more than eight hours of essential
programming by THE HISTORY CHANNEL® and A&E on DVD for the first time. From the Declaration of Independence to the Treaty
of Paris, these are the stories and events surrounding the remarkable achievements of heroic individuals seized by the epic
forces of history. Hear the words of the founding fathers and other key figures, as read by leading actors such as Kelsey
Grammar (TV’s Frasier) and Michael Learned (TV’s The Waltons). Continued below...
Thrilling re-enactments of great battles, compelling period images, rare archival material, and commentary
by leading historians bring the past vividly alive. Between Bunker Hill and Yorktown, from Ben Franklin's masterful diplomacy to Benedict Arnold's deceit and tragedy,
The American Revolution presents a sweeping canvas of historical programming at its comprehensive best.
Reading: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Review: In retrospect, it seems as if
the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths
we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic. Ellis focuses on six crucial
moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in
exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's
precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing
scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. Continued below...
In a fascinating
chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the
fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence
most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution
most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that
the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future
generations would rely. In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997)
has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.
Viewing: Founding Brothers (A&E)
(200 minutes). Description: The political wrangles
of a fledgling country may sound dull compared to the drama of a war, but the early history of the United States
only gets more fascinating as the Revolutionary War is left behind. Founding Brothers, a documentary from the History Channel,
examines the struggle to not only establish democracy, but to give it the economic strength and governmental structure that
will allow it to survive and thrive. George Washington grappled not only with politics, but with questions of style and propriety--how
should a president, as opposed to a king, behave? Understanding the conflicts between Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and
Thomas Jefferson will illuminate ideas that have shaped the government of the U.S.
ever since. Continued below…
provides a wealth of portraits and illustrations from the time, as well as discreet dramatizations, that bring the rise of
party politics to life, humanizing these historical figures with tales of the scandals and squabbles they faced as well as
their political achievements. An excellent introduction to the roots of the American experiment, and a bracing illustration
of what Jefferson
meant when he said of the presidency, "No man will bring out of that office the reputation which carried him into it."