Ebenezer Kinnersley

Ebenezer Kinnersley

Franklin's Friend

Anniversary Collection

by J. A. Leo Lemay

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

144 pages, 140.00 x 210.00 x 0.00 mm

  • ISBN: 9780812274257
  • Published: January 1964



Ebenezer Kinnersley was born on 30 November 1711, in Gloucester, England. Before he was three years old, his family moved to America and settled near Lower Dublin, Pennsylvania. Largely home-educated by his father, William Kinnersley, a Baptist minister, he first became widely known when, at the height of the Great Awakening in 1740, he delivered at the Philadelphia Baptist Church an address attacking the emotional excesses of the popular revivalistic ministers.

Kinnersley is perhaps best known today, however, as Benjamin Franklin's collaborator in the experiments in electricity. Franklin wrote in his Autobiography that he suggested Kinnersley give lectures on the subject and that he drew up a syllabus for that purpose. Although Kinnersley was not the first to give popular lectures on electricity, nor the only one who did so during the twenty-five years he was most active, no other lecturer was as popular, successful, or original as he. He was, indeed, the greatest of the popular lecturers in colonial America—the forerunners of the nineteenth-century lyceum movement—and was the only person in the colonies, beside Franklin, who made significant contributions to the science of electricity.

In addition to his contributions to early American religious and scientific thought, Kinnersley was the first Professor of English and Oratory at the University of Pennsylvania (then the Philadelphia College). As such he may have been the first person to hold the title Professor of English.

This biography should be of importance to students of colonial culture, to Franklin students, and to those interested in the history of science or education in colonial America, as well as in the history of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.