BYS A M U E LH U G H E S
THE INK HAS BEEN dry for more than two centuries, and the paper has brittled and turned a murky tea color. But the edgy indignation practically quivers on the page: An eminent Dissenter called on me and let me know that Dr. Franklin took uncommon Pains to misrepresent our academy...; saying that it was a narrow
bigotted Institution, got into the Hands of the Proprietary Party as an engine of Government; that the Dissenters had no Chance in it (tho' God knows all the Masters but myself are of that Persuasion)...; that we have no occasion to beg; & that my zeal proceeds from a fear of its sinking and my losing my Livelyhood. But alas! who can believe this....
Well, quite a few people could, actually. The author of those sentiments, dated 14 September 1762, was the Reverend William Smith, an Anglican priest, provost of the College of Philadelphia, and a man admired more for his considerable talents than for his moral character.
The recipient was another Anglican clergyman: the Reverend Richard Peters, secretary of the Provincial Land Office and president of the College's trustees. The subject, of course, was Benjamin Franklin, who -- having picked Smith to head the academy
|that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania -- had been surreptitiously dumped as president of the trustees in favor of Peters, and thus rendered administratively impotent in the college he had founded. For that and other reasons, wrote Smith, "the old Rancor is still brooding at the Heart of this Man."|
That Smith and Franklin came to detest each other is not news to historians of colonial Pennsylvania, though it has not been overly emphasized in the official chronicles of the University. But if history can be viewed as a series of portraits drawn from forensic evidence, then that letter of Smith's -- and the scores of other documents that make up the Provost Smith Papers recently acquired by the University -- has just the sort of scarred bones and crowned teeth that can help sharpen the fuzzy composites of the key players in the College's first quarter-century.
"Smith is absolutely crucial to the early history of the colony, and absolutely at the center of the early history of the University," says Dr. Michael Zuckerman, professor of history. "Anything that thickens the information up, whether it's stunningly new or just confirms what we have, is still valuable because it takes us out of the realm of raw speculation." Continued...
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