William Smith’s 1753 essay, A General Idea of the College of Mirania, landed in the hands of the right person: Ben Franklin.
Franklin was impressed with the work, and within two years, Smith found himself first provost of the College of Philadelphia—the institution that would eventually become Penn. Smith, who also taught at the college, was a major influence on the college’s early development, but as much as Franklin liked Smith’s academic work, he didn’t care much for the provost’s politics. Neither did other colonial leaders. In 1758, after criticizing the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly’s military policies, Smith was jailed on libel charges along with prominent Anglican and assemblyman William Moore.
Having a professor in jail didn’t seem to faze the college’s leaders, however. They ordered students under Smith’s tutelage to attend classes anyway.
The students did as they were told, and met with Smith at the Old Jail (pictured above) at 3rd and Market streets downtown. For more information and photos on this piece of Penn history, visit the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/campuses/campus1.html.
Originally published on October 20, 2005