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Brits around the world – West Chester, Pennsylvania

I have spent Christmastide in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with my father’s family. West Chester is pretty with old brick and stone houses and brick sidewalks and many old trees, their bare branches shining in the wintry light. Founded by Quakers from Ireland and England, the town center retains much of its 19th century elegance and charm.

My family’s Irish and English Quaker ancestors arrived in this area in the 1680s. By then William Penn had already negotiated treaties with the Indians. He had received an enormous land grant in what is now Pennsylvania from Charles II, but he believed that property rights are the fundamental right of every person, and he purchased those rights from the Indians. They, it will be argued, had no concept of property rights, or the worth of their land, and that is probably true.

But it is also correct, I think, that property rights are a bulwark against the power of the state, and that they are fundamental to the rule of just law, which requires a people strong enough to stand up to the state. Property rights are part of their strength.

Relations between settlers and native Americans have not usually produced positive write-ups, so I was surprised to read about one extremely distant Quaker grandfather, who built Primitive Hall in the wilderness in 1738: "Food was always left for the Indians who might choose to enter his kitchen at night. It was no uncommon thing to find several Indians stretched on the floor before the kitchen fire in the morning.” Quoted from Kenneth Scott’s Pennsylvania Chronicle 1767-1774.