James Logan was a colonist who exhibited a mixture of Quaker piety and down-to-earth business practicality. He was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland, the son of a Quaker schoolmaster. The family moved to Bristol, England in 1690, where Logan became first a school teacher and then a linen merchant. Toward the end of the century, he attracted the attention of the great Quaker leader William Penn (see no 54), who hired Logan to be his private secretary.
Logan and Penn arrived in Philadelphia in 1699. By the time Penn left to return to England in 1701, he had named Logan as clerk of the colonial council and secretary of the province. Logan soon became Penn’s representative during Penn’s absence from the colony.
For Logan, representing Penn was no easy task. Many Pennsylvania settlers resented the Penns’ privileges, and saw the Pennsylvania assembly as the vehicle with which to combat Penn, and in his absence, Logan. David Lloyd, speaker of the assembly, even threatened to impeach Logan. Faced with this personal grudge, Logan went to England in 1709.
Logan returned to the colony in 1711 and settled in Philadelphia. Three years later he married Sarah Reed, a woman less than half his age. Logan began to use his many colonial positions to make money through the fur trade, and he prospered. Logan found time to pursue other interests; he read Isaac Newton’s writings which exposed him to the scientific beliefs of the European Enlightenment.
Logan then turned to the classic works of Arab astronomy and medicine. Logan accumulated a large library, and he became perhaps the foremost classical scholar in colonial America. While he was in his 50s, Logan slipped on ice and suffered a bad fall. He never fully recovered, and lived the rest of his life a cripple.
Yet despite his injury—and the time he devoted to his business and scholarly pursuits —Logan remained remarkably active in public life. He served as mayor of Philadelphia • (1722), justice of Philadelphia County (1726), chief justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court (1731-39) and acting governor of Pennsylvania (1736–38).
Logan finally retired from public life in 1747. He spent his remaining years devoting himself to the study of natural science and reading the classics, to which he contributed his own translations of the Roman politician Cato. The plant family Loganiaceae was named to honor him.