James Logan

Vol. 1 No. 2 - 1970

James Logan

Secretary to William Penn

by T J Malcomson

In March, 1671, Patrick Logan M.A. (Edin.), and his wife Isabel (nee Hume) arrived in Lurgan for the first time. Patrick had been a clergyman of the Established Church of Scotland, and Chaplain to Lord Belhaven, but having become Quakers, he and his wife had left Scotland to avoid possible persecution. Lurgan was probably selected as their new home because it was there that, seventeen years earlier, William Edmondson had established the first meeting of the Society of Friends to be set up in Ireland. In Lurgan, Patrick Logan opened a Latin School which provided but a meagre livelihood for him and his family. The Logans had nine children of whom only two survived childhood, James and a younger brother, William.

Born in Lurgan

James was born in Lurgan on October 20th, 1674. He was educated in his father's school and, at the age of thirteen, when he was apprenticed to Edward Webb, a Quaker merchant in Dublin, he knew Latin and Greek and had made a beginning in Hebrew. Shortly after this, the situation in Ireland became unsettled with the arrival of James II following his overthrow in England, and young Logan rejoined his family in Lurgan, after a stay in Dublin of only six months. The family then returned to Scotland.

In 1690, Patrick Logan moved from Scotland to Bristol, where he had been appointed Master of a Friends' School. Three years later, he and his family returned to Lurgan, leaving his son, James, in charge of the Bristol School. In the meantime, James had made further progress with Hebrew, and had learned French, Italian, and a smattering of Spanish. As a schoolmaster, he was so successful that he was offered a post as master of a public grammar school but refused this appointment as it would have involved conformity to the Church of England.

Sails for America

James Logan had abandoned school teaching and had begun to engage in commerce when William Penn, one of the Governors of the Bristol School, persuaded him to accompany him to Pennsylvania as his secretary. Penn, his wife, his twenty year old daughter, Letitia, and James Logan sailed from Portsmouth on the "Canterbury" in September, 1699. After a short stay in Pennsylvania, the Penns returned to England but, before sailing, Penn made Logan Clerk of the Council, Secretary of the Province, a Commissioner of Property, and Receiver General for Pennsylvania, the Lower Counties and East and West Jersey. If Penn "could have wished that Logan were a better Quaker," he certainly could not have wished for a more faithful steward.

As Penn's chief American representative, Logan had to wage a continuous war against those who sought to encroach upon the proprietor's rights. This brought him a considerable amount of ill-will and but little remuneration for his services - his main source of income was fur-trading on his own account. There were threats of his impeachment by the Assembly and, on two occasions, he found it expedient to return to England to rebut false charges made against him by his detractors. In his zeal for upholding the rights of the Penn family, Logan sometimes departed from strict Quaker principles and had to answer for his conduct before the Quaker monthly meetings.

If Logan had trouble with the colonists, he was, like his master, Penn, more fortunate in his dealings with the Indians. So understanding and masterly was he in his negotiations with them that his advice, on the handling of Indian affairs, was often sought by officials from other American colonies.

There is a story that an Indian chief once offered to change names with Logan as a token of respect, Logan pleaded that he was an old man and would soon die and then, if he had adopted the Chief's name the name would be no more. He offered, instead, to give the Chief's name to a stream that flowed through the grounds of his mansion, Stenton, but allowed the Chief to adopt his name. One part, at least, of this story is true; an Indian chief of that period did adopt the name, James Logan.

A wise man and a fast friend

When Logan was an old man, an Iroquois chief assured the Governor and Council of Pennsylvania of the love of his people for Logan. "He is," said the Chief, "a wise man and a fast friend to the Indians and we desire, when his soul goes to God, you may choose in his room just such another person of the same prudence and ability in counselling, and of the same tender disposition and affection for the Indians".

As a man Logan was inclined to be melancholy and morose. Some have attributed this disposition in part to two unsuccessful love affairs. In the first of these, Thomas Story and he were rivals for the hand of Anne Shippen. At the time, Story, the older man, occupied a more established position than Logan, being Master of the Rolls and a Quaker Minister, and Anne's parents favoured his suit. The dispute between the two men became very bitter and Story had Logan brought before a monthly meeting of the Society of Friends on a charge of breach of promise to another girl. Eventually, after much deliberation, the affair was settled in Story's favour. News of the trouble reached Penn in England and he wrote to Logan; "some say that come thence that thy amours have so altered or influenced thee that thou art grown touchy and apt to give rough and short answers, which many call haughty."

Logan falls in love

Sometime later, while in England, Logan fell in love with Judith Crowley, who was associated with a family of wealthy Quaker ironmasters but, here also, the girl's family raised objections on the ground of Logan's low social position and Logan was again humiliated. On December 10th, 1714, when Logan was 40, he married Sarah Read, a girl not half his age. Here is a portion of his declaration of love to her:

"My Dearest Life ... To tell thee how much I admire, value, and love thee and thy excellent virtues is needless, for thou canst not be insensible of it. I look on thee as one capable to bring a man the greatest blessing in thy person that he is capable of receiving in the world ... and how eager one in my circumstances, who rates thee at the highest , would be to possess such a blessing may easily be judged. ... I ... resign thee up to that gracious God, thy tender and merciful Father, to whom thy innocent life and virtuous inclinations have certainly rendered thee very dear, that He may dispose of thee according to His divine pleasure, and as it may best suit thy happiness, humbly imploring at the same time and beseeching His divine goodness that I may be made worthy to receive thee as a holy gift from His hands ... as a sure pledge of God's continued love to me, even after all the offences I have hitherto committed against Him, which in the course of so active a life as mine has been, have doubtless been many, and which in thy sweet company I shall endeavour to expiate, that linked together in a strong unspotted affection both of body and mind, we may also be further cemented together in the divine love that affords the most solid comfort to the soul here and the most lasting pleasure both here and hereafter."

James Logan and his wife had seven children, three of whom died young. The four survivors were: Sarah, William, Hannah and James. (William and Hannah became much better Quakers than their father had been). Later in his life , Logan held a number of important posts in the Province of Pennsylvania: Presiding Judge of Court of Quarter Sessions, Trustee of the College of Philadelphia, President of the Council, Pennsylvanian Commissioner in Boundary dispute with Maryland and finally, Chief Justice of the Province.

One of the finest libraries

The turbulent life which Logan led as Agent for the Penn family was not the life which he, himself, would have chosen. For him, the ideal life was that of the gentleman - scholar. At Stenton, he had one of the finest libraries, if not the finest, in Colonial America. Included in this library were rare editions of the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, Oriental and Icelandic works, and learned scientific works amongst which were copies of the first three editions of Newton's "Principia". (On one occasion, while in London, Logan was thrilled to find himself in the same room with Newton).

In his library, Logan loved to ponder over the ancient classics and two of his translations from them; "Distichs of Cato" and "Cicero on Old Age" were printed by his young friend Benjamin Franklin. As a mathematician and botanist , Logan was held in high esteem and amongst his correspondents were: Carl Linnaeus, the great Swedish Naturalist , Edmund Halley, the Astronomer Royal (of Halley's Comet fame), and Sir Hans Sloane, the County Down man whose collection formed the nucleus of the British Museum. Three of Logan's papers on scientific subjects were included in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

James Logan
Thomas Sully portrait of James Logan. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the Library Company, 1831.
The Loganian Library

Logan died on 31st October, 1751. When he made his will in 1749, his estate consisted of £8,500 in cash and bonds, and nearly 18,000 acres of good Pennsylvania and New Jersey land. For him, it had been a matter of great regret that neither of his sons shared his interests in literature or science and, for this reason, he bequeathed his library of approximately 3,000 volumes to the city of Philadelphia (I understand that the Loganian Library is still largely intact [It forms part of the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia]).

James Logan's grandson, George Logan of Stenton, became a United States senator and a friend of Thomas Jefferson and others of the "Founding Fathers". On a visit to Europe, he had some unauthorised discussions with the French statesman, Talleyrand, which might have involved the United States government in unacceptable policies. To prevent private citizens from engaging in such discussions in future, an Act was passed which is still known as the Logan Act.

Another direct descendant of James Logan, Robert Pearsall Smith, conducted Evangelistic missions in England with his wife in the mid-nineteenth century and these were influential in the foundation of the Keswick Convention. Of more recent direct descendants might be mentioned Logan Pearsall Smith whose book "Trivia" was included in the Sunday Times list of 101 Great Books of the first half century; Alys Whitall Smith, first wife of Bertrand Russell; and Mary Smith, wife of Bernard Berenson, the greatest modern authority on the art of the Italian Renaissance (Sir Kenneth Clark was a disciple of Berenson, who was reputed to have received a retaining fee of £30,000 a year as Art Adviser to Lord Duveen).