- Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania
Pennsylvanians have prided themselves on the story of their founding almost since the founding itself. The story of William Penn's great experiment of religious freedom and harmonious relations with the native inhabitants is an often-told tale, recognizable by many, from grade schools to the ivory towers, and immortalized in paintings from the eighteenth century to videogames in the twenty-first. But is our creation story just that, a story, steeped in myth just as the wolf-raised Romulus? In Friends and Strangers, John Smolenski [End Page 64] finds that, "in its first decades" Pennsylvania was anything but the "' peaceable kingdom' of myth and legend" and seeks to separate fact from myth. In doing so, he uncovers the process of identity formation in the early commonwealth as "individuals and groups constructed new cultural habits and identities as they tried to make Old-World inheritances 'fit' in a New-World environment," a multistage process Smolenski labels "creolization" (4). Friends and Strangers focuses on how Pennsylvania's Quakers used creolization as a tool to stabilize the province and legitimize their rule over it.
Organized in three parts, Friends and Strangers begins by analyzing the success of the Society of Friends in its formative years and the creation of a Quaker identity. Early Quakers found great success in attracting and absorbing other dissenters, leading them to become the largest dissenting faith in England. As such, Quakers developed a unique identity and organizational structure that would give them firm control over their members. This "gospel order" was accomplished by missionary work, expanded and regulated publications, and a Meeting structured to impose discipline over its members and expel those who threatened the faith or unity. These strategies strongly influenced William Penn and his ideas regarding government. While some Quakers believed government should be limited, Penn advocated the positive role government could play. He hoped to create a form of government that "would shape its subjects' civil conscience in much the same way that the Quaker Meeting shaped the Friends' religious conscience" (52-53).
The second part opens with Penn's idealistic goals for his province. The contradictions in his plan reveal its inherent weakness. He envisioned a tolerant and diverse society, but at the same time he intended it to be orderly and ruled by the Quaker minority. In order to achieve this, the plan required a fair and favorable government administered by a civic elite that would transform, or creolize, immigrants to become more Quaker-like. The unintended consequence of the creolization of the Quakers themselves, as well as a flawed approach toward Indian diplomacy, "represented a major crack in the foundation of Pennsylvania's civic order" (65).
These flaws, among others, would lead to disorder in Pennsylvania and discord in Quaker identity. In crafting the 1683 Frame of Government, Penn remained true to his earlier visions for the colony. While political participation was granted to most white men in the colony, it placed "substantive political power in the hands of a few" (67). Just as in the Quaker Meeting system where "Quaker ministers and elders uttered the Word to and for Friends at large," so too would they seek to dominate civic matters (69). This imbalance [End Page 65] and a host of other problems led to great disorder within early Pennsylvania. As Smolenski states, "the mechanisms by which Penn hoped to tighten civic bonds instead revealed fractures within them" (107). The struggle between the rulers and the ruled was mirrored in Pennsylvania's Indian diplomacy. Their strategy necessitated American Indians deferring to colonial superiority in return for governmental protections and concessions, a requirement that proved "far more difficult in practice than it appeared in theory" (107).
These fissures ultimately culminated in the Keithian schism crisis in the early 1690s. What began as debate over theology soon exploded into a major religious, political, and legal quandry that would fracture the Quaker community. The debate over Christ's...