Latest update: September 4th, 2012
A number of early American colonists were very familiar with the Hebrew language.
Bradford was not the only Hebraist on the Mayflower; Elder William Brewster also had some knowledge of the sacred tongue.1
These men and many others felt that the only way to properly understand Tanach was to be able to read it in the original Hebrew.
And like Jews throughout the Diaspora, New England’s laity and clergy established schools that would perpetuate traditions of Hebrew learning. All ten of the colleges founded on American soil before the Revolution offered instruction in “Hebrew and the shemitish [pertaining to Shem] languages.” Harvard, the first college established in the American colonies, was founded and led by clergymen – scholars whose own academic interests were centered on Hebrew language and textual study. These clergymen endeavored to perpetuate their intellectual legacy in what Cotton Mather dubbed “New England’s Beit Midrash.”2
In 1699 Logan came to the colony of Pennsylvania aboard the Canterbury with William Penn, serving as Penn’s secretary.
One of the most capable men in the Province [of Pennsylvania], Logan was also Penn’s most faithful friend and personal agent. He was soon appointed Secretary of the Province, and served in that key post from 1701 to 1717. At first a clerk to the Governor’s Council, within a year he was made a voting member. Between 1736 and 1738, he served, in the absence of a governor, as chief executive of the Province. He was elected Mayor of Philadelphia, commissioned as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and in 1731 appointed chief-justice of the Supreme Court. Logan was a busy executive and administrator. He made a fortune in land investment and in trade with the Indians.
Logan was a mentor of Benjamin Franklin, who published Logan’s translation of Cicero’s essay “Cato Maior de Senectute.” His charges to juries were held in such high repute by Franklin that Franklin published one of them.
He was an astronomer who bought an unfinished work of Halley and worked out the incomplete tables himself. He was a mathematician who ordered Newton’s Principia when it was a novelty, and made his own notes and corrections. And he was a linguist. Latin and Greek of course he had acquired in grammar school, and he kept them up so that he was able to write both languages with astonishing fluency. French and Spanish he picked up from reading with the help of grammars and dictionaries.
James Logan died on October 31, 1751.
2 “God’s Sacred Tongue“by Shalom I. Goldman, The University of North Carolina Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-8078-2835-9, page 29. Available at uncpress.unc.edu/browse/page/372.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Dr. Yitzchok Levine
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at email@example.com.
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