THIS VENERABLE DOCUMENT
by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart  

 

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Penn referred to this handsome document periodically in the legal machinations affecting his new colony. He possibly cited it when dealing with Lord Baltimore about the exact boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, a dispute that would remain unresolved until the final agreement and survey of the Mason-Dixon Line in the 1760s. Upon his death in 1718, the Charter and other important documents passed into the custody of his executrix, his second wife Hannah Callowhill, and from her to succeeding proprietors: their sons John, Thomas, and Richard, and Richardís son John. During the American Revolution, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed the Divestiture Act, which relieved the Penn Family, considered loyalists to the Crown, of any right to land in the Commonwealth not already surveyed and deeded to them.

For years, the Charter languished in a London warehouse with other Penn family possessions. In 1802, Philadelphia lawyer John Coates, representing the Penns in a legal issue centering on land in Delaware, sailed to England and obtained proprietary records to use as evidence in court. An inventory of these documents, prepared in 1804, lists the Charter. On February 21, 1812, Coates deposited the Charter with the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it passed into public ownership.

By the opening years of the nineteenth century, the document was likely showing signs of deterioration. The propensity of animal skin, living or dead, to harbor foreign biological growth is great. When this characteristic is combined with humidity and the hygroscopic (or water-absorbing) nature of parchment, mold growth is inevitable, and drastic planar distortions, or curling and warping, occur. 

Quite often this curling is the skinís "memory," as it tries to revert to the animalís original shape. The iron gall ink, lying on the surface of the parchment (as opposed to ink on paper, which is absorbed by the cellulose fibers) began to dry and flake away. Page one of the Charter is the most visually pleasing, but its placement on the outside of the folded package caused it to suffer the most damage.

Constant folding and unfolding prompted decay and caused it to break along the creases. The most prominent break, a large hole, occurred in the lower left-hand corner.

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