'The Great Experiment' focuses on William Penn

William Penn's founding of the city is the focus of the seventh episode of "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC.
William Penn's founding of the city is the focus of the seventh episode of "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC.
Posted: September 05, 2014

'Who founded New York?" asks one of the experts toward the end of the seventh episode of the local history documentary series Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.

"Who founded Boston or Chicago? The answer is . . . I don't know. Nobody cares. That's the point."

But everyone, from grade-schoolers to pensioners, from East Coast to West, knows who founded Philadelphia: William Penn.

Airing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC (WPVI-TV), the seventh episode of The Great Experiment, titled "In Penn's Shadow (1680-1720)" concerns the founding of the City of Brotherly Love and the man who built it.

It follows Penn from his early days as a Quaker dissenter who was imprisoned in the Tower of London for speaking against religious intolerance. The episode also explores the Quaker ideals of equality Penn tried to infuse into his new city.

"The [city's] form of government arguably was the first form of democracy in the New World," said politician and entrepreneur Sam Katz, whose History Making Productions is producing the series.

But despite the mythology that has grown around Penn, said Katz, his vision of democracy was anything but perfect: "At the end of the day, all of the decisions that the . . . council make have to be approved by the Proprietor, who owns it all - Penn."

Penn State-Abington historian Sharon Ann Holt, a consultant on the series, said the episode tries to show Penn in all his complexity.

"He was a Quaker, but also a landowner," Holt said. "He's making money off Pennsylvania, yet he also means to do good there.

"He's a Quaker and a slave-owner, as were many Quakers. That's a contradiction."

Series director Andrew Ferrett said the ethical goals represented by the word Philadelphia weren't fully realized during Penn's lifetime, nor have they been achieved today.

"To be called the City of Brotherly Love is a load, a burden, a responsibility," he said. "It's an aspirational thing to become a place of toleration and goodness."


TELEVISION

Philadelphia: The Great Experiment - In Penn's Shadow (1680-1720)

7:30 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC. Information: www.historyofphilly.com'


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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