Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to James Bowdoin, 5 September 1751

To James Bowdoin

ALS: Massachusetts Historical Society

Philada. Sept. 5. 1751


As you are curious in Electricity, I take the Freedom of introducing to you, my Friend Mr. Kinnersley,8 who visits Boston with a compleat Apparatus for experimental Lectures on that Subject. He has given great Satisfaction to all that have heard him here, and I believe you will be pleased with his Performance. He is quite a Stranger in Boston, and as you will find him a sensible worthy Man, I hope he will be favour’d with your Countenance, and the Encouragement that must procure him among your Friends. I am, Sir, with great Respect, Your most humble Servant

B Franklin

Addressed: To  Mr James Bowdoin  Mercht  Boston

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Ebenezer Kinnersley (1711–1778), clergyman, teacher, and electrical experimenter (see above, II, 259 n), BF’s principal scientific associate, made significant discoveries on his own, most of them communicated to BF in letters printed below. Two of them, March 12, 1761, and Oct. 13, 1770, were printed in Phil. Trans., LIII (1763), 84–97, and LXIII (1773–74), 38–9. Joseph Priestley wrote (The History and Present State of Electricity, London, 1767, pp. 187–8): “if he continue his electrical inquiries, his name, after that of his friend [BF], will be second to few in the history of electricity.” Provost William Smith of the College of Philadelphia charged in 1758 that BF had taken credit for work Kinnersley did (Amer. Mag., I, 630), but it was an unfounded charge and without effect on the friendship of the two electricians (see, for example, BF to Kinnersley, July 28, 1759). At BF’s suggestion and with his help Kinnersley gave a “Course of Experiments on the newly-discovered Electrical Fire” in Philadelphia in the spring of 1751. It was very successful, and was followed by lectures with “an elegant Apparatus” (Par. Text edit., pp. 380–2) at Boston during the fall and winter, at Newport and New York in the spring of 1752, in the West Indies, where he went the next year for his health, and several series in Philadelphia for the “Entertainment of the Curious” in the ensuing years. He published a syllabus, A Course of Experiments, in … Electricity, 1764 (Evans 9708). Ezra Stiles called on him in Philadelphia in 1754 and saw his equipment and experiments (PMHB, XVI, 1892, 375–6). On BF’s recommendation he was appointed master of the English School in the Academy, 1753, and professor of English and oratory in the College, 1755; he became steward of the College, 1765; and resigned, 1772. Cohen, BF’s Experiments, pp. 401–8; Montgomery, Hist. Univ. Pa., pp. 170–4, 447.

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