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Penn People

David Martin 1696 - 1751

Penn Connection

  • First rector of the Academy 1749-1751
  • Greek and Latin professor 1749-1751

David Martin was born in Piscataway, New Jersey, the son of Joseph and Sarah (Trotter) Martin. Here he was married in 1714 to Elizabeth Doty; together they had three daughters.

Before coming to Philadelphia, Martin served as sheriff of Hunterdon County in New Jersey for thirteen or fourteen years. He also operated a ferry across the Delaware River near Easton, Pennsylvania, and served as marshall of Trenton under its first charter of incorporation. But Martin’s qualities extended beyond what these professions might suggest. He was one of the earliest members of the American Philosophical Society, and one of the few who was not a resident of Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin found that Martin was his principal antagonist at chess.

On March 29, 1750, the trustees of the Academy of Philadelphia (forerunner of the University of Pennsylvania) made Martin the Academy’s first rector and professor of Greek and Latin. He held these positions until his death the following year. He was described by his colleagues at the Academy as “a perfect good Scholar and a man of good Temper.” He proved to be an able administrator, assiduously collecting fees from the scholars, and a flexible, diligent teacher, carefully tailoring assignments to the capacity of the student. When he died a sudden death in December of 1751 and was buried in Christ Church burial ground, Franklin printed a laudatory eulogy in the January 14, 1752, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.