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College Archives:

Franklin & Marshall College Historical Timeline

Time Periods

18th Century

1777: Lancaster serves as the national capital on September 27, 1777, when the Continental Congress flees British General Howe's invasion of Philadelphia. The day after, Congress moves to a more secure location in York.

1780: A German department is established at the University of Pennsylvania to educate sons of prominent German Philadelphians.

1781 (October 19): The British army surrenders to American and French forces at Yorktown, Virginia.

1783 (September 3): Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Revolutionary War in the colonies.

1786 (September 20): The University of Pennsylvania German Department grows to 60 students and holds its first commencement.

1786 (December 11): Four prominent ministers from the German Reformed and Lutheran Churches, in conjunction with numerous Philadelphians, petition the state legislature for the establishment of a German college in rural Lancaster. With the petition comes numerous pledges of financial support, headed by a generous gift of 200 pounds cash paper from "His Excellency, Benjn Franklin, Esq."

Document Listing Benjamin Franklin's donation to Franklin College.

1787 (March 10): Pennsylvania legislature grants charter and act of incorporation for "Franklin College", to be named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, "from a profound respect for the talents, virtues and services to mankind and to this county." Ten thousand acres of public lands in northern Pennsylvania are granted in financial support to the College. Trustees nominated in the charter include: four signers of the Declaration of Independence, three members of the Constitutional Convention, and seven officers of the Revolutionary War.

Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790.

1787 (March 19): Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg is elected first Principal (President) of Franklin College. G. H. E. Muhlenberg serves as president until 1815, when the college is operated solely by the board of trustees.

G.H.E. Muhlenberg 1753-1815.

1787 (June 6): Franklin College dedication ceremony proceeds from the new courthouse in Penn Square to the new Church of the Holy Trinity. Four thousand copies of the dedication program are printed in both German and English. Thousands of people attend the ceremony, and a lengthy procession of carriages arrive from Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin, age 81, is actively engaged in Philadelphia as a member of the Constitutional Convention, and is unable to attend.

1787 Dedication program for Franklin College

1787 (July 16): Franklin College begins classes in the brew house on Mifflin Street, close to Trinity Lutheran Church. Within a year, Pennsylvania legislators grant the public storehouse and two lots of ground on North Queen Street to the trustees of Franklin College.

Brew House

1787 (October): Franklin College is divided into the German Department with advanced students, and the English Department with high school and college students.

List of first students in the English school of Franklin College, 1787.

1788 (February 27): The college moves into its new quarters on North Queen Street.

Franklin College's second home, a former storehouse on North Queen Street, was used by the College until 1839.

1789 (July): Franklin College almost closes due to immediate financial concerns. The annual tuition of four pounds proves too little to support the college's operational costs, and many professors leave within a year. President Muhlenberg struggles forward, leading the college until his death in 1815.

Resignation letter of Frederick Valentine Melsheimer from the faculty of Franklin College citing his inability to continue under the present financial circumstances.

1789: General Edward Hand, Adjutant-General under Washington, is elected Chief Burgess of the city. He proposes that Lancaster would be a fitting location for the new capital of the nation, because it has a population of 4,200 persons and is the largest inland city in the United States.

1790: The federal constitution is ratified. Benjamin Franklin is dead at the age of eighty-four. George Washington is president of the United States, and the new nation is struggling with the debts of war. Many of the original Philadelphia sponsors have lost interest in the new college. The Lutheran and Reformed churches are also without money, and financial support for the college nearly disappears. Only the continued faith of the local trustees and President Muhlenberg keep the college alive.

1794: The Philadelphia to Lancaster turnpike is completed. A stagecoach leaving the White Swan at 5 a.m. will arrive in Philadelphia the same day.

1799: Lancaster becomes the state capital from 1799 until 1812, when Harrisburg is named the permanent capital.

The (old) Lancaster County Courthouse, built in 1784 in the center modern-day Penn Square, served as the Pennsylvania State Capitol while the legislature met in Lancaster. It was razed in the early 1850s upon the construction of the new courthouse at King and Duke Streets.

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08/13/12 - mrl


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