Archibald Spencer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Archibald Spencer
Born(1698-01-01)January 1, 1698
DiedJanuary 13, 1760(1760-01-13) (aged 62)
CitizenshipUnited States
Known forElectricity
Scientific career

Archibald Spencer (January 1, 1698 – January 13, 1760) was a businessman, scientist, doctor, clergyman, and lecturer. He is noted for introducing the phenomenon of electricity to Benjamin Franklin.

Early life[edit]

Spencer was born on January 1, 1698, in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a given name of Adam which later changed to Archibald.[1] Some writers on Benjamin Franklin's life have stated that Spencer was a medical doctor,[2][3] and a male midwife[4][5] and specialized in diseases of the eye.[6] Historian Leo Lemay claims that there are no records that Spencer had any medical training in Edinburgh, but may have had medical training in France.[7]


May 30, 1743, advertisement promoting his first lecture in Boston
July 26, 1744, advertisement promoting lecture in Philadelphia

Spencer was a businessman in the British Colonies of America. From 1743 to 1751 he professionally conducted scientific lectures and demonstrations.[8] These were popularized in the colonies after Professor Isaac Greenwood started them in Boston in 1727. Spencer's first lecture advertisements are in the May 30 issues of the Boston Evening Post and the Boston Weekly Post-Boy. Spencer's charge for attending his course was expensive, £6, but was popular nevertheless. Spencer's science and mechanical lectures at first were on Isaac Newton's theory of light and state-of-the art techniques in medicine. Benjamin Franklin attended one of Spencer's dramatic lecture illustrations in Boston in 1743 and was not only amazed but amused.[1][6] He then acted as Spencer's agent when he came to Philadelphia in 1744 for his lectures, selling tickets and advertising them.[6][9][10] Advertisement were run in the Pennsylvania Gazette.[11]

The Leyden jar capacitor for high-voltage storage was invented in 1746 by Pieter van Musschenbroek, whom Franklin would meet later.[12] Then Spencer's Philadelphia lecture demonstrations on science included more electrical demonstrations and became elaborate with showmanship static electricity illustrations using the Leyden jar.[13][14] In 1746 Franklin bought all of Spencer's electrical equipment for his own personal use and experimentation.[15] Spencer introduced Franklin to the study of electricity through experimentation and was his mentor.[16][17][18] Franklin then trained three of his associates on Spencer's Philadelphia electrical illustrations, Samuel Domjen in 1748, Ebenezer Kinnersley in 1749, and Lewis Evans in 1751.[19]

Spencer lived in and helped form Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He made investments when he lived in the county. One such investment, with a group of other businessmen, was a supply of tobacco that was kept at Howard's Point Warehouse in the county. It totally burned up in an accidental fire in October 1758. Spencer petitioned the Province of Maryland government on November 29, 1758, that public funds be used to compensate the businessmen and himself for this loss. This request was turned down and no public funds were furnished.[20]


Spencer was a regular science speaker at the Philadelphia Tuesday Club and introduced the principles of electricity to the members, which included Franklin.[21] Spencer was admitted a member to Saint John's Grand Lodge of Boston in 1743 and attended at least two meetings when Franklin was a member.[22] Spencer joined the South River Club on July 10, 1755. He was active in the club for at least nine months. On September 4 and 18 he provided refreshments and food for the meetings. Spencer announced on January 22, 1756, to supply the club with copies of the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper at a cost of 5 shillings a year.[20] He delivered the first of the newspapers two weeks later. After that his name does not again appear in the club's minutes. He was no longer an active member and records show from then on that he was a past member.[23]


Spencer practiced the Christian religion. He was trained by Kinnersley to become a Baptist minister and preached in Maryland starting in 1750.[21][24]


Spencer died at the age of 62 in Annapolis, Maryland, on January 13, 1760.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stearns 1970, p. 620.
  2. ^ Rose 2004, p. 208.
  3. ^ RUP 1999, p. 117.
  4. ^ Meador 1975, p. 270.
  5. ^ Brock 1982, p. 179.
  6. ^ a b c Dray 2005, p. 38.
  7. ^ LeMay 1964, p. 199.
  8. ^ Stearns 1970, p. 507.
  9. ^ Isaacson 2004, p. 134.
  10. ^ LeMay 2009, p. 64.
  11. ^ "A Great Number of Gentlemen". Pennsylvania Gazette. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. April 26, 1744 – via open access.
  12. ^ Finger 2012, p. 82.
  13. ^ Stearns 1970, pp. 506-507.
  14. ^ Lemay 2013, p. 489.
  15. ^ Miller 2009, p. 40.
  16. ^ Ione 2016, p. 162.
  17. ^ Wages 1979, p. 129.
  18. ^ "Science and Medicine". Colonial America Reference Library. 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017. Franklin's interest in electricity originated when he saw a traveling scientific lecturer, Archibald Spencer, perform an "electricity show" in Boston, Massachusetts.
  19. ^ LeMay 2009, p. 78.
  20. ^ a b LeMay 1964, p. 214.
  21. ^ a b Breslaw 1988, p. xxii.
  22. ^ LeMay 1964, p. 200.
  23. ^ Warfield 1905, p. 202.
  24. ^ Emerson 2016, p. 196.
  25. ^ "ANNAPOLIS, January 17". The Maryland Gazette. Annapolis, Maryland. January 17, 1760 – via open access.