“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.” Chief Tamanend

Jake Powell was a loyal friend to many as well as a “friend” of the Penn Treaty Museum. When he died suddenly in September 2017, the PTM Board decided to honor the writer and poet with an annual essay contest. The theme of the first contest would fittingly be FRIENDSHIP.

Friendship is, after all, what the meeting between the original stewards of the land and William Penn was all about when they gathered beneath the Great Elm at Shackamaxon in 1682.

Fourth Graders teach us about Friendship during the Pandemic

When Philadelphia area schools began to close their doors to students in mid-March, volunteers at the Penn Treaty Museum figured their Spring essay contest for fourth graders would fall by the wayside. After all, teachers were scrambling to determine which assignments could be sent home, and how they would communicate with all of their students remotely. So, when three area schools rose to the challenge and submitted a total of 165 essays in May, the contest committee was surprised and humbled.

When William Penn came to Pennsylvania for the first time, he needed to make friends just like I did on the first day of second grade.

Annually, the small non-profit Penn Treaty Museum hosts an old-fashioned essay contest on the theme of “friendship” in honor of the late Jake Powell, a true friend of the organization. Fourth graders, whose curriculum includes state and local history, are invited to reflect on this theme after learning about the unique interactions between the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indians, and the Quaker colonial leader, William Penn.

Friendship is important in life because it teaches us a great deal about life. True friendship stands for a relationship free of any judgment.

As I began to review the submissions, I wondered whether these essays would differ from previous years. What would a 10 or 11-year-old have to say about the importance of friendship during a pandemic? Would the abrupt end of their school routine, the physical isolation from peers, and a general fear of the future seep into the writing? Interestingly, only a handful of students specifically referenced how they missed their friends during the shut-down. However, you could hear them process their relationships with honesty, calling themselves out when they recalled a missed opportunity and praising simple acts of loyalty shown on the playground. Their voices ached and inspired. Their messages were universal: having a friend, and being a friend, is vitally important to living.

Being a friend takes trust, kindness, and love and we are not all perfect. Sometimes we get into arguments or worse, but mistakes help us learn how to be a better friend and that’s just what we need.

The story of Penn’s first meeting with tribal leaders under a great elm along the banks of the Delaware river in 1682 has inspired generations of Philadelphians and has held a special place in the oral history of Lenape descendants. Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown is where it all happened, and the small museum across the street explores the ideas it inspired. Like much of the history of the early contact period, the details of the “Treaty of Friendship” are difficult to pin down. However, most people agree that it remains one of the few bright spots in the history of relations between early European settlers and the indigenous people of North America.

I am Nanticoke and Lenape, like the natives who were friends with William Penn…The Lenape word for friendship is witisewakan. Friendship is important in our culture because being kind to everyone is a main thing we are taught.

The three area schools that participated this year are located in urban, suburban and rural communities. The lives of these students are different, yet the same in many ways. Each piece of expert advice on making a friend was backed up with a specific example from their lives. Their writing was direct, authentic and full of humor and emotion.

I was thinking, what if I don’t make any friends? Then I looked to the back of the classroom and a girl that I didn’t know smiled at me. It was a shy smile, but it was friendly. I turned back around in my chair… We became friends that day and up to now.

On behalf of the Penn Treaty Museum, I would like to thank the teachers and administrators of Alexander Adaire, Nether Providence, and Fairfield Township Elementary schools for their participation in the 2020 Jake Powell Memorial Essay Contest. We know that facilitating the contest took extra effort and coordination this year and we appreciate your dedication to your profession.

Of the 165 students who participated, 15 cash prizes were awarded (5 to each school). The top three essays were written by Sophia Hailu (Adaire), Noa Murley (Nether Providence), and Maehawiaki Ridgeway (Fairfield). 

[Friendship] is an understanding, forgiving, and strong bond between two people that is hard to break but if it is broken is very hard to get back.


Penny Dwyer

Penn Treaty Museum

June, 2020



2020 Jake Powell Memorial Essay Contest

165 total participants from three area schools:

            Alexander Adaire Elementary, Philadelphia, PA

                        Top winner: Sofia Hailu

Other prize winners: Michael Porter, Makenzie Leach, Lillianna Leader, Lennon O’Neill

Fairfield Township Elementary, Bridgeton, NJ

Top winner: Maehawiaki Ridgeway

Other prize winners: William Varga, Troy Pitts, Angelice Ocasio, Shanoya Carnegie

Nether Providence Elementary, Wallingford, PA

                        Top winner: Noa Murley

Other prize winners: Gavin Riccobono, Jackson Holloway, Christopher Brusstar, Matt Styer

  As fourth grade teachers in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, my colleagues and I were very excited when we were invited to take part in the Penn Treaty Museum’s, John Powell Memorial Essay Contest on the topic of friendship. We felt it would be a wonderful opportunity for our students to incorporate their writing skills with an important part of our social studies curriculum.

The students were equally excited and accepted the challenge with enthusiasm.   

     Over a three-week period, students drafted their ideas and wrote their essays on what friendship means to them in the context of William Penn’s Great Treaty of Friendship with the Lenape Indians. Overall, we had approximately 75 students participate and four were selected as the winning essays.

     As a culminating activity on Tuesday, June 12th, our fourth grade students enjoyed a visit from Luke Powell, the son of the late writer, poet, and inspiration for the essay contest, John ‘Jake” Powell. Luke talked to the students about what a positive influence his father had on his life and the lives he touched, as well as the importance of writing and how it can help us grow and learn about ourselves. He then shared and discussed some of his dad’s poetry with the students. Finally, the four winning essays were read and each of the winners was presented with a certificate and prize of $25. In addition, all students that submitted an essay received certificates of participation. It was an extremely rewarding day for both students and teachers!

      As luck would have it, in the month leading up to the essay contest, students in my class had been writing a play about the life of William Penn and were in the final stages of rehearsing. They were so proud of their efforts that they extended an invitation to Luke, and two days later, on June 14th, he was there to watch their original production of The Life of William Penn.

     To be able to see our students make a connection between what they are learning and the real world is what we strive for in education.  I am so grateful to the Penn Treaty Museum for offering this wonderful opportunity for our students. Through participation in this essay contest they were able to see how their understanding of history can have a lasting impact on their lives, while honoring the legacy of two men who exemplified the meaning of friendship, William Penn and John Powell.

Donna Ranere

Fourth Grade Teacher

Nether Providence Elementary School

Wallingford, PA