|Francis Alison, the son of a weaver, Robert Alison, was born in the parish of Leck, County Donegal. He was educated in a clandestine Presbyterian academy, perhaps that of Francis Hutcheson in Dublin. He attended the University of Edinburgh, receiving a master's degree in 1733. He then studied theology for two years, probably at the University of Glasgow, since that institution awarded him a doctor of divinity degree in 1756, an honour usually bestowed only on alumni. Alison returned to Ireland where he was licensed by the presbytery of Letterkenny in June of 1735, immediately before he immigrated to Pennsylvania where he was employed as a tutor in the family of John Dickinson. After he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1737, Alison became Pastor of a church at New London, Pennsylvania. At this time he married Hannah Armitage. Two of their six children died in infancy; two sons, Francis Alison Jr. (A.B. 1760) and Benjamin Alison (A.B. 1765, M.D. 1771), attended the Academy of Philadelphia and graduated from the College.
In 1739, Alison opened a classical school for young men in New London where Alison, known as perhaps the greatest classical scholar in America, devoted himself to the Latin School. Alison taught logic, metaphysics, ethics and moral philosophy. Alison later taught this same course at the Newark Academy and then at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).
After the death of David Martin in November of 1751, Alison was asked to leave the New London Academy to take Martin's place as Rector of the Academy of Philadelphia (the origin of the University of Pennsylvania) and master of its Latin School. The Anglican trustees of the Academy overcame their reluctance to bring in an Irish Presbyterian with their appreciation of Alison's uncommon abilities as a teacher of Latin and Greek.
In 1755 Alison was given an A.M. by both Yale and Princeton. He became Vice-Provost when Smith made Provost, and remained a much loved and valued teacher until his death in Philadelphia, on November 28, 1779.
Francis Alison (1705-1779)