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Penn People

James Cannon 1740 - 1782

Penn Connection

  • A.B. 1767
  • Professor of English and mathematics 1773-1782

James Cannon, professor of mathematics at the College, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1740. In 1763, after completing his early education at the University of Edinburgh, Cannon came to Philadelphia to continue his studies. He received a bachelor’s degree from the College, graduating with the Class of 1767. Six years later, Cannon returned to serve as a professor of English and mathematics.

Despite his professorial duties, Cannon took an active position on the patriot side when the Revolution broke out. According to the diary of Christopher Marshall, Cannon was the leading spirit in private meetings held to select candidates to be placed before the people in opposition to those representing more conservative sentiments. He was also very active in forming and organizing the American Manufactory, which was comprised of citizens of Philadelphia and manufactured woolen, linen, and cotton fabrics. On July 15, 1776, Cannon became a member of the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania, where he was put in charge of drawing up the instructions to the delegates of Pennsylvania in Congress. The Convention made him a Justice of the Peace for Pennsylvania, and also enabled him to serve as a member of the Council of Safety from July 24, 1776, to December 4, 1777. Cannon is credited with being one of the two principal draughtsmen of the Constitution of 1776, and is the author of the Cassandra Letters, the publication of which further elevated him in the esteem of the patriots.

Cannon died on January 28, 1782, in Philadelphia, while still employed as a professor of mathematics at the College.