Monday, 15 February 2010

Scotch-Irish hall of fame (2)

Francis Alison (1705-1779)

Dr Francis Alison was born in the parish of Leck, outside Letterkenny, in county Donegal in 1705 and he was the son of a Presbyterian weaver named Robert Alison.

He was educated at Edinburgh University and after that he possibly attended Glasgow University, where one of his tutors would have been Francis Hutcheson, another Ulster-Scot and the 'Father of the Scottish Enlightenment'.  Certainly he knew Hutcheson well enough to write to him from America in 1744.  

Alison was licensed by the presbytery of Letterkenny in June 1735 and then emigrated from Ulster to America with other family members.

Dr Francis Alison was the father of higher education in the middle colonies. He was vice president of the College of Philadelphia and founded the institution that is now the University of Delaware. Among his students were some of the leaders in the American movement for independence, including three members of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia - Thomas McKean, the son of Ulster-Scots emigrants, Charles Thomson ,another Ulster-Scot, who was born in Maghera, and George Read, whose father had come from Dublin.

According to Kerby Miller, Alison 'perhaps more than any other public figure, helped prepare Pennsylvania's Scots-Irish for their prominent role in the American revolution.'

Alison was regarded by contemporaries as America’s greatest classical scholar and Benjamin Franklin described him as a man of ‘great ingenuity and learning, a catholic divine’.

Alison is known to have had at least one sister, whose son James Latta was born in Donegal in 1732 and who also became a prominent Presbyteiran minister and schoolteacher in Pennsylvania.

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