Content Marketing
Did William Penn Use the Oldest Known Content Marketing to Establish Pennsylvania?

Did William Penn Use the Oldest Known Content Marketing to Establish Pennsylvania?

February 2, 2015
8 min read

I am always on the search to find old and little-known examples of content marketing.

I wrote a post back on APRIL 9, 2014 for that revealed what I believe is the oldest known example of content marketing written way back in 1732. (See 4 Illuminating Lessons From One of History’s Most Inventive Content Marketers)

Well, today I’d like to share another example with you that is from 51 years earlier. There’s just one problem. I am not sure whether it really qualifies as content marketing. So I’d love to hear what you think.

I made this discovery while watching the TV show Finding Your Roots on PBS. (Actually, my teenage son made the discovery, but I’ll explain that more in a minute.) They were revealing a guest’s past and they made a passing reference to William Penn.

I wasn’t completely listening (because I was multi-tasking and working on my laptop) when suddenly my 13-year-old son turned to me and said, “Hey Dad. Isn’t that content marketing?”

(*How does a 13-year-old notice or even know what content marketing is? I point out content marketing examples so often to my wife and kids that now THEY notice them!)

I told him, “I am not sure. I need to look into it.” Well, I looked into it and what I am about to reveal to you is what I discovered. I’ll leave it up to all of you to tell me if you think it’s content marketing or not.

Was the State of Pennsylvania Established Using Content Marketing?

Here are the facts I discovered:

  • It was explored by Europeans in the early 1600s.
  • It was eventually settled by Swedes in 1634.
  • It was granted by royal charter to William Penn in 1681.
  • He got the land because the king had owed William’s dead father money, so instead he gave him land in America.
  • William thought that Pennsylvania was so filled with woods, that it should be called woods (sylvania in Latin.
  • The king added Penn at the beginning, because it was penns land (aka Penn’s woods)
  • He would have rather had it just be called “Sylvania,” but the king wouldn’t agree.
  • William Penn founded Pennsylvania to be safe haven for his fellow Quakers.
  • Penn hoped that Pennsylvania would be a profitable for him and his family, so he marketed the colony throughout Europe in different languages. 

6 Ways Penn Used Marketing to Grow Pennsylvania

I was impressed already to discover the fact that Penn marketed Pennsylvania, but as I dug a little deeper I started to think that my son might be right about Penn using content marketing. Let me show you what he did:

  1. He began with a formal invitation.

He told his story and explained how he had come to receive this land. Here is an excerpt from the invitation…

Since (by the good providence of God) a Country in America is fallen to my lot, I thought it not less my duty than my honest Interest to give some public notice of it to the World, that those of our own, or other Nations, that are inclined to Transport themselves or Families beyond the Seas, may find another Country added to their choice, that if they shall happen to like the Place, Conditions and Constitutions, (so far as the present Infancy of things will allow us any prospect) hey may, if they please, fix with me in the Province hereafter described. But before I come to treat of my particular Concernment, I shall take leave to say something of the benefit of Plantations or Colonies in general, to obviate a common Objection.”

  1. He surveyed the land and described it vividly.

He went on to describe how great the land was, its great access, and more. Here’s an excerpt of his description of the place…

“The place lies 600 miles nearer the Sun than England; for England being the 50th degree and ten minutes of North Latitude, and this Place begins at Forty, which is about the Latitude of Naples in Italy, or Mompellier in France. I shall say little in its praise, to excite desires in any, whatever I could truly write as to the Soil, Air and Water: This hall satisfy me, that by the Blessing of God, and the honesty and industry of Man, it may be a good and fruitful Land.

“For Navigation it is said to have two conveniences; the one by lying ninescore (180) miles upon the Delaware River; that is to say, about three score and ten (70) miles, before we come to the Falls, where a Vessel of Two Hundred Tons may Sail, (and some Creeks and small Harbors in that Distance, where ships may come nearer than the River into the Country) and above the Falls, for Sloops and Boots, as I am informed, to the extent of the Patent. The other convenience is through Chesapeake Bay.”

  1. He explained the Constitution that Pennsylvania would have.

He then explained what type of law and government it would have. Here’s an excerpt from that section…

“For the Constitution of the Country, the Patent shows, first, That the People and Governor have a Legislative Power, so that no Law can be made or Money raised, but by the People’s consent.

“2nd. That the Rights and Freedoms of England (the best and largest in Europe) shall be in force there.

“3rd. That no Law against Allegiance (which should we, it were by the Law of England void of itself that moment) we may Enact what Laws we please for the good prosperity and security of the said Province.

“4th. That so soon as any are engaged with me, we shall begin a Scheme or Draft together, such as shall give ample testimony of my sincerer Inclinations to encourage Planters, and settle a free, just and Industrious Colony there.”

  1. The type of people he was willing to sell land to.

He wanted people to know it wasn’t open to just anyone who wanted to come. He had certain people in mind. Here is an excerpt of him describing those types of people…

“My conditions will relate to three sorts of people: 1st. Those that will buy: 2nd. Those that take up Land upon Rent: 3rd. Servants. To the first, the Shares I sell shall be certain as to the number of Acres, free from any Indian encumbrance, the price of a hundred pounds, and for the Quit rent but one English shilling or the value of it yearly for a hundred Acres; and the said Quit Rent not to be paid until 1684. To the second sort, that take up Land upon Rent, they shall have liberty so to do paying yearly one penny per Acre, not exceeding Two hundred Acres. To the third sort, to wit, Servants that are carried over, Fifty Acres shall be allowed to the Master for every Head, and Fifty Acres to every Servant when their time is expired. And because some engage with me that may not be disposed to go, it were very advisable for every three Adventurers to send an Overseer with their Servants, which would well pay the Cost.”

  1. He explained what it would take to get to Pennsylvania.

Penn had thought about everything that his prospects might think of when making their decision, even how they could get to this land. Here’s an excerpt from this section…

“Next let us see, What is fit for the Journey and Place, when there, and also what may be the Charge of the Voyage, and what is to be expected and done there at first. That such as incline to go, may not be to seek here, or brought under any disappointments there. The Goods fit to take with them for use, or sell for profit; are all sorts of Apparel and Utensils for Husbandry and Building and Household Stuff. And because I know how much people are apt to fancy things beyond what they are, and that Imaginations are great flatterers of the minds of Men; To the end that none may delude themselves, with an expectation of Immediate Amendment of their conditions, so soon as it shall please God they Arrive there; I would have them understand, That they must look for a Winter before Summer comes, and they must be willing to be two or three years without some of the conveniences they enjoy at home; And yet I must needs say that America is another thing than it was at the first Plantation of Virginia and New England: For there is better Accomodation, and English Provisions are to be had at easier rates: However, I am inclined to set down particulars, as near as those inform me, that know the Place, and have been Planters both in that and in Neighboring Colonies.”

  1. He provided proof that the King had granted the land to him.

Penn even thought about his prospects needing to trust who he was and what he was saying, so he gave them proof. He ended the document with the “Patent” granted by the king. Here’s an excerpt…

“I.   We do Give and Grant (upon diverse considerations) to William Penn his Heirs and assigns for ever all that Tract of Land in America with all Islands thereunto belonging That is to say from the beginning of the fortieth degree of North Latitude unto the forty third Degree of North Latitude whose Eastern bounds from twelve English miles above Newcastle (alias Delaware Town) runs all along upon the side of Delaware River.”

The Results of His Marketing

What was the result of him creating so much content to invite people, describe the land, who the best prospects would be, etc.? Settlers flocked to Pennsylvania! And it eventually became a great state: the first newspaper was published there in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 1784, Betsy Ross made the first flag there, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia in 1776, and many more great things happened there.  (Unfortunately, Penn never did make the profit he was hoping for.)

Why I’d Call It Content Marketing

After thinking about all that Penn did, I think that I’d say my son was right. William Penn did use content marketing to establish Pennsylvania. Why do I say that? In my book, 51 Content Marketing Hacks, I give this simple definition for content marketing…

“Content marketing is the creation (or curation) of engaging content for the express purpose of gaining the attention and favor of a certain group, so that they will be persuaded to do business with an individual, business, or organization.”

I think that’s what Penn did with this document. He didn’t just post up a simple add. He created content that would gain attention, engage his prospects, etc.

I also think that William Penn tapped into these “content marketing hacks”:

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #37 – Don’t neglect your ‘origin’ or ‘genesis’ story. This is one of the overlooked content forms that will help you to attract raving and dedicated fans.”

Penn let the people know the story of how he came to be in possession of such an awesome piece of land and he invited them to join him in writing the future chapters of this story.

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #3 – Create content that helps people to do something that they want to do and which includes your business, product, or service as a part of the process.”

Penn was appealing to people that wanted religious freedom, who wanted the chance to own land, to make a way for themselves, etc. Every piece of his content was designed to show them how moving to Pennsylvania would help them to do that.

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #18 – Focus on creating the best possible content, especially if it’s content that doesn’t focus on your business or industry.”

When you read this long document you can tell that Penn wasn’t just tossing any old content out there. He had thought a lot about what his prospects needed, what he wanted, and how he would create this document. And the results were amazing.

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #21 – Never write down to your prospects and customers. Always speak to them as intelligent people, because that is how you want people to speak to you. Write to their intelligence and to their basic psychological needs and desires.”

Not only did he write to them to appeal to them, he wrote to them with respect and intelligence.

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #27 – What’s the secret to creating the most powerful content possible?  Instead of obsessing about content that helps your business; focus on content that is helpful to your prospects and customers.”

People can sense when you just want their money. And Penn wasn’t trying to trick anyone into buying from him. In fact, he even explained that everyone wasn’t welcome. He wanted people who were industrious, so that they could all succeed there together. His genuine desire appealed to them.

“CONTENT MARKETING HACK #32 – When you create content, don’t just think about selling. Think about empathizing with your prospects or customers. Create content that speaks to where your prospects and customers are at. Create content that speak to their problems, fears, hopes, dreams, etc.”

Penn did this and did this extremely well. The amount of people who responded to his content proves it.

What Do YOU Think?

All of the reasons above are why I would say that William Penn really did use content marketing to establish Pennsylvania. But what do you think? Let me toss it over to you.

  • Do you think that this is an example of content marketing?
  • Or do you think it’s an example of a sales letter?
  • Or do you think it’s just plain marketing?
  • Or was it just an ad?
  • Or maybe even some combination of some kind?

I would love to hear your opinion. (I am sure my son would too.)

Information Sources:,, and

Photo Source: Flickr by michaelrighi


6 thoughts on “Did William Penn Use the Oldest Known Content Marketing to Establish Pennsylvania?

  1. Mike Myers

    Great post Scott (and great thinking by your son!). I always think of Poor Richard’s Almanack as the oldest modern-day example but hadn’t seen, until today, your take on that as well. Interesting.

    Here’s my two cents on the whole William Penn thing: it doesn’t feel like Content Marketing to me because his content was not useful/helpful to his audience in and of itself, but merely promotional regarding the land he had to sell. So, while many of the things he did would qualify as similar to Content Marketing, I think he was simply doing a good job of promoting what he had to offer.

    I’ll be interested in what others have to say and, again, kudos to your son for his thinking. He’s on the leading edge of what’s going on in marketing!

  2. Lou Covey

    I think you are missing a much earlier version of content marketing: The New Testament. It matches everything you describe as content marketing.

  3. Scott Aughtmon

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that it has a more of a promotional tone than I would usually consider content marketing to have.

    But it does seem qualify just based on my general definition: “Content marketing is the creation (or curation) of engaging content for the express purpose of gaining the attention and favor of a certain group, so that they will be persuaded to do business with an individual, business, or organization.”

    Anyway, I honestly keep going back and forth on whether it is or not in my mind. That’s why I will also be looking forward to other comments for or against it. Take care, Mike.

  4. Roger C. Parker

    Scott: this is a major contribution–it engages with a story, introduces a new topic, and encourages thought.

    Whether or not it is “100% certified content marketing,” or just 60%, isn’t the point. You’ve provided a new perspective on content marketing and made me wonder how many other overlooked content marketing precedents are waiting to be discovered.

  5. Scott Aughtmon

    Thanks, Roger. I really appreciate your kind words and respect your opinion. I am glad you liked it and I am it gave you an expanded perspective. I am interested to see what examples you discover. Take care.

  6. Scott Aughtmon

    Lou – I think on a basic level that what you’re saying about the New Testament is probably true, because content marketing doesn’t have to be about selling in a literal sense.

    But I can’t fully agree that the New Testament is content marketing in a traditional sense.

    I can’t agree, because I don’t want to go to hell. 🙂 But seriously, I would say I can’t fully agree, because the writers’ purpose in writing the N.T. was to report what they had seen and experienced, not to directly “sell” anyone on the idea.

    But, again, on a basic level you’re probably right. Take care, Lou and thanks for taking time to comment.

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Scott Aughtmon

Scott Aughtmon is the author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. He is a regular contributor to and he is the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. He is a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. He’s been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. He has a unique perspective and ability to communicate ideas and concepts in a way that can help you climb to new heights. Read more of Scott's insights on his blog. Follow Scott on Twitter @rampbusinesses.

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