On August 14th 1670,the Quaker William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, preached to a large crowd on a London Street. The peace was disturbed and Penn, with his co-religionist William Mead, was arrested. The two men stood trial at the Old Bailey in the first days of September. They conducted their own defence and Penn recorded the trial in great detail. His record was preserved in the State Trials which were collected in 1719. In this series we will present Penn’s account in its entirety. In it Penn is the “Observer” who makes frequent comments throughout and sums up the conclusion of the Trial. This trial was, in effect, the first on record to explore the limits of Free Speech – a subject that is still a matter of concern in the 21st. Century. Here is the first instalment.
NewgateTHE TRYAL of WILLIAM PENN and WILLIAM MEAD,at the Sessions held at the Old Baily in London, the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th of September, 1670.
Done by themselves.Day 1: September 1st 1670.PRESENTSAM. STARLING, MayorTHO. HOWEL, Recorder.THO. BLOODWORTH, Alderman.WILLIAM PEAK, Alderman.JOHN ROBINSON, Alderman.RICHARD FORD, Alderman.JOSEPH SHELDEN, Alderman.JOHN SMITH, Sheriff.JAMES EDWARDS, Sheriff.RICHARD BROWNE, Sheriff.CRYER. Oyez, Thomas Veer, Edward Bushel, John Hammond, Charles Milson, Gregory Walklet, John Brightman, William Plumsted, Henry Henley, Thomas Damask, Henry Michel, William Lever, John Baily.The Form of the OATH.”You shall well and truly Try, and true Deliverance make betwixt our Sovereign Lord the King, and the Prisoners at the Bar, according to your Evidence. So help you God.”That William Penn, Gent. and William Mead, late of London, Linnen-Draper, with divers other Persons to the Jurors unknown, to the Number of 300, the 14th Day of August, in the 22d Year of the King, about Eleven of the Clock in the Forenoon, the same Day, with Force and Arms, &c. in the Parish of St. Bennet Gracechurch in Bridge-Ward, London, in the Street called Gracechurch-Street, unlawfully and tumultuously did Assemble and Congregate themselves together, to the Disturbance of the Peace of the said Lord the King: And the aforesaid William Penn and William Mead, together with other Persons to the Jurors aforesaid unknown, then and there so Assembled and Congregated together; the aforesaid William Penn, by Agreement between him and William Mead before made, and by Abetment of the aforesaid William Mead, then and there, in the open Street, did take upon himself to Preach and Speak, and then and there did Preach and Speak unto the aforesaid William Mead, and other Persons there, in the Street aforesaid, being Assembled and Congregated together, by Reason whereof a great Concourse and Tumult of People in the Street aforesaid, then and there, a long time did remain and continue, in contempt of the said Lord the King, and of his Law, to the great Disturbance of his Peace; to the great Terror and Disturbance of many of his Leige People and Subjects, to the ill Example of all others in the like Case Offenders, and against the Peace of the said Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity.What say you, William Penn and William Mead, are you Guilty, as you stand indicted, in Manner and Form, as aforesaid, or Not Guilty?PEN. It is impossible, that we should be able to remember the Indictment verbatim, and therefore we desire a Copy of it, as is customary in the like Occasions.RECORDER. You must first plead to the Indictment, before you can have a Copy of it.PEN. I am unacquainted with the Formality of the Law, and therefore, before I shall answer directly, I request two Things of the Court. First, that no Advantage may be taken against me, nor I deprived of any Benefit, which I might otherwise have received. Secondly, that you will promise me a fair hearing, and liberty of making my Defence.COURT. No Advantage shall be taken against you; you shall have Liberty; you shall be heard.PEN. Then I plead Not guilty in Manner and Form.CLERK. What sayest thou, William Mead, art thou Guilty in Manner and Form, as thou standest indicted, or Not guilty?MEAD. I shall desire the same Liberty as is promised William Penn.COURT. You shall have it.MEAD. Then I plead Not guilty in Manner and Form.The Court adjourn’d until the Afternoon.CRYER. Oyez, etc.CLERK. Bring William Penn and William Mead to the Bar.OBSERV. The said Prisoners were brought, but were set aside, and other Business prosecuted. Where we cannot choose but observe, that it was the constant and unkind Practices of the Court to the Prisoners, to make them wait upon the Trials of Felons and Murderers, thereby designing, in all probability, both to affront and tire them.After five Hours Attendance, the Court broke up and adjourned to the third Instant.