November 28: Rev. Francis Alison

An “Old Side” Presbyterian Who Accomplished Much for Christ
by Rev David T Myers

Educational opportunities in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition were alive and well in the American colonies in the early days of her existence. Schools like the Log College under William Tennant, Faggs Manor Presbyterian Academy under Samuel Blair, West Nottingham Academy under Samuel Finley were all in operation in the 1740’s. We can add to these posts that of New London Academy under the tutelage of the Rev. Francis Alison (sometimes spelled with two “l”s).

Francis Alison was born in the parish of Leck, County Donegal, in what we know as North Ireland or Ulster, today. The son of a weaver, he had received education in a Presbyterian school which prepared him well to enter the schools of the British Isles. A Master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1733 added to his education. Some surmise that he also studied at the University of Glasgow for further theological study, since later on, he was awarded an honorary divinity degree, given only to alumni. All this enabled him to be licensed by Letterkenny Presbytery, after which he left for America.

In America, Alison was first hired as a tutor in the family of John Dickinson. Ordained as a minister in 1737 by an American Presbytery, he was called to New London, Pennsylvania as the Presbyterian pastor in the church there. It was in this call that he founded the New London Academy, a classical school which is still in operation today. Students, which were all male in its early days, were trained in math, sciences, Latin, philosophy, and yes the Bible. Among the graduates were three signers of the Declaration of Independence, namely, Thomas McKean, George Read, and James Smith. Charles Thompson, who was the secretary of the Continental Congress, was also his pupil.

In 1741, as our readers know from other posts, there was a schism in the infant Presbyterian church known as the New Side Old Side Split. This has been treated elsewhere in This Day. It may surprise many that Francis Alison took the Old Side position. At the close of this schism, Alison preached the opening sermon of the reunited denomination, entitled “Peace and Union” from Ephesians 4:4 – 7.

In 1751, Rev. Alison left the New London Church and Academy to take a administrator-teacher role in the Academy of Philadelphia. He also became a part time pastor of Philadelphia’s First Presbyterian Church. He helped develop the first insurance plan for Presbyterian ministers and set up a lending library for ministers. He was also involved in helping develop in 1767 another school down in Newark, Delaware which later on became the University of Delaware.

Francis Alison went to be with the Lord on November 28, 1779 after a life spent in God’s service.

Words to Live By:

Our teaching elders in the Presbyterian church government are often called pastors-teachers. And so they are in both name and ministry. Paul gives these men the following challenge in 2 Timothy 2:2 “and the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” How are you, the subscribers who occupy this high and holy calling, carrying out this mandate in the home, church, and school? Examine yourself!

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