top of page

It is something of a joke that many historic houses have a "George Washington slept here" component to their tours. Stenton is no exception. However, in honor of Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday and in conjunction with the myriad Franklin-oriented events and exhibitions in the Philadelphia area this year, Stenton is offering a "Benjamin Franklin visited here" tour. This builds on our exhibition Shaping Franklin, which highlights the mentoring relationship between the elder statesman and scholar James Logan and the young printer, Benjamin Franklin, as it developed over twenty years from the late 1720s until Logan’s death in 1751.


James Logan (1674-1751) came to Pennsylvania in 1699 as the Secretary to William Penn, founder of the Colony. By the late 1720′s, Logan was one of the most well known and respected men in all of Pennsylvania: an experienced public servant in his mid-50′s, a diplomat, merchant-trader, mathematician and gentleman scholar. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a promising young printer and newspaper publisher, recently back from a stint in London. Out of shared interests and respect for one another’s intellectual curiosity, a mentoring friendship developed – the elder Logan offering advice and insight to the younger Franklin, the young man seeking the senior’s support and endorsement.


Franklin’s horse would have pulled up to the front gate of Stenton for his first documented visit in March 1732. Franklin traveled to Stenton with mathematical wizard Thomas Godfrey, a glazier who had worked on the building of Stenton. The men came to call on James Logan seeking his advice on the sorts of books Logan thought should be acquired for The Library Company of Philadelphia, the Committee of which esteemed Mr. Logan to be "a Gentleman of universal Learning, and the best Judge of Books in these Parts." By all accounts, this particular visit was longer than planned, and was said to have gone on until "late." The Library Company directors finally gave up waiting for Godfrey and Franklin to return to Philadelphia and adjourned to meet the following evening.

Franklin and Logan: A Mentoring Friendship 


Franklin, with his quick wit and keen ability to appeal to all kinds of people, was probably able to win the favor of the elder scholar very quickly. In appreciation for Logan’s sage advice about initial purchases for the Library Company, a document founding the Company states that subscribers would have to pay a fee, “Mr. James Logan only excepted.”


"Books Are My Disease”


James Logan was obsessed with collecting books, creating a library of 2,681 volumes at Stenton – one of the largest and finest in the American Colonies. The life of the mind was extremely important to Logan, and he enjoyed corresponding with scholars, scientists, and book dealers in England and Europe. This interest in books and ideas first stimulated the friendship between Logan and Franklin, and remained a keen shared interest.

During his years at Stenton, Logan often composed scientific and philosophical writings. He frequently shared these with his young friend Benjamin Franklin, who offered honest criticism and often undertook to print the works in his Philadelphia printing house. As a printer Benjamin Franklin sold books to Logan and also later published several works written or translated by him. One of the masterpieces of Franklin’s printing was Cato Major, a classical treatise on old age translated by Logan. Some have even suggested that the large, bold print were Franklin’s humorous way of making fun of Logan’s advancing years.


James Logan’s favorite daughter was Sarah and some scholars have suggested that Logan intended to leave his books to her. But, sadly, she died in childbirth in 1744. Not long after Logan decided to create his own library, the Loganian Library, which was situated close to Independence Hall on 6th Street. This lasted only a short time and Logan’s books are now housed at the Library Company, Franklin’s first great institution. The correspondence between the two men reveals that Franklin made numerous subsequent trips to Stenton and visited Logan often. Over the next twenty years the two men of different generations developed a deep fondness, respect, and true admiration for one another as men, so much so that frail and elderly Logan complained to Franklin as would an ailing lonely parent, “I have expected to see thee here for several weeks.”



For the Common Good


Both James Logan and Benjamin Franklin enjoyed long and distinguished careers in public service, and Franklin drew upon Logan’s knowledge of Pennsylvania public life during his formative years.


One issue that troubled The Colony under Quaker leadership was how to defend the Colony. Many pacifist members of the Society of Friends in the Assembly were unwilling to vote money to support a militia. Anonymously, Franklin wrote a pamphlet appealing for a voluntary "Association for Defense." Logan wholeheartedly supported this endeavor, especially Franklin’s idea to fund the initiative through selling lottery tickets to purchase cannons and build forts. This episode reconfirmed Logan in his view that "government without arms is an inconsistency." Franklin maintained his sense of humor throughout, joking with a friend that they could approach a Quaker fire company to buy a fire engine, "And then if you nominate me, and I you, as a Committee for that purpose, we will buy a great Gun, which is certainly a Fire-Engine."

When William Penn left Pennsylvania in 1701, never to return, he charged James Logan with managing affairs related to the Native Americans who lived in and around Pennsylvania. Several Native American groups exerted influence in Pennsylvania, including the powerful Iroquois Confederation to the North. Logan recognized the importance of remaining on good terms with the Iroquois, who served as a buffer between French Canada and the English Colonies. Iroquois leaders often stopped at Stenton on their way to these negotiations. Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette carried regular accounts of visits by Native American delegations to Philadelphia, and Benjamin Franklin later also became actively involved in Indian affairs, including attending the Treaty of Lancaster in 1744 and the Albany Conference in 1754. This latter conference sought to reaffirm good relations with the Iroquois and to discuss possible unified defense amongst the English Colonies.


Science, Math and Magic (Squares)


Both Logan and Franklin were experimenters, with a keen interest in science and mathematics. They lived in a time of great inquiry and discovery, and they, like other fellow scientists, sought laws to explain the phenomena of the physical world. In short, they wanted to know how things worked and why things happened. Logan’s curiosity focused on botany, mathematics and optics, while Franklin explored electricity, optics and a math mind-teaser of his own design, "Magic Squares."



The Sex Life of Corn


One of the more obscure topics to catch Logan’s interest was the reproduction of corn. His ground-breaking experiments in 1727 led to the identification of male and female reproductive organs in the plants. Logan carefully experimented with corn and his findings drew attention – they were published by the Royal Society of London and praised by the great botanist Linnaeus.


Logan and Franklin were also interested in optics. Logan made observations on light passing through wavy and flat glass. Using soap bubbles, he also tested Isaac Newton’s treatise on refraction, reflection and colors of light. Benjamin Franklin’s experimentation with optics led him to develop the bifocal lens, an invention as practical now as it was then!


Mathematical Magic


No subject better illustrates the friendly exchanges and extraordinary intellectual abilities of James Logan and Benjamin Franklin than mathematics. Logan’s library at Stenton contained prized editions of Euclid’s Geometry and Newton’s Principia Mathematica – texts found in few other places in the American colonies. No stranger to numbers himself, Franklin passed idle time by making "magic squares," an arithmetical puzzle. In a magic square, numbers were set in individual cells, assembled in rows and columns in such a way that the sums of the numbers in any row or column equaled the sum of every other row or column. He joked that his square was "the most magically magical of any magic square ever made by any magician."


It’s Shocking!


In the late 1740s, Franklin was beginning to experiment with electricity including a spinning-wheel-like apparatus called an electrostatic machine that Franklin probably sent to Logan. The turning of the wheel generated enough friction to produce sparks that could shock. Franklin hoped that the shocks would be a therapy to help Logan regain some strength and movement in his "disorderd" side, paralyzed by a stroke.


Logan’s Legacy


Like Logan, Franklin had been self-educated, and maintained a life long thirst for knowledge. They enjoyed sitting in the Library at Stenton talking, and Logan wrote in 1747, "I should take it as a favor if I could see thee oftener here, for I want to ask divers questions."


The last major undertaking in which James Logan and Benjamin Franklin collaborated was the founding of a college in Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania. James Logan was an old man disabled by stroke and illness when Franklin’s proposal was circulated. His protégé was just coming into his own. Franklin hoped to persuade this former son of a schoolmaster and founder of one of the most extensive private libraries in North America to lend his support to the new college forming in Philadelphia. Logan reluctantly agreed to serve as an Academy trustee. The significance of this gesture, – endorsement from the colony’s most learned and respected elder statesman, – was not lost on Franklin. It was a final and fitting confirmation of their quite extraordinary friendship.

bottom of page