Heard on campus: Benjamin Franklin and the Junto

November 16, 2009

Penn State Harrisburg faculty member and Benjamin Franklin scholar George Boudreau terms his recent discovery of a long-lost poem written in 1732 as “one of the greatest finds of my career.”

An associate professor of humanities and history, Boudreau’s research interests focus on Franklin and his philosophical organization called the Junto and the role it played in the cultural transformation of Philadelphia in the 1700s. Boudreau recently spoke about his research findings during a Gallery Lounge presentation hosted by the offices of Academic Affairs and Research and Graduate Studies.

The Junto (Latin for meeting) was a club established by Franklin in 1727 for mutual improvement of Philadelphia. Its purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.

“Franklin’s autobiography focused greatly on the Junto and scholars consider it one of the shaping influences in his life,” Boudreau said.

As part of his ongoing research, Boudreau was the first scholar to identify a 12th “missing” member of the Junto, shopkeeper John Jones, but for 10 years he had been on the search for a poem written by Junto member Joseph Breintall and referenced by Franklin in his papers.

Breintall, a merchant and copyist, worked on another of Franklin's favorite projects by serving as secretary of the Library Company of Philadelphia from 1731 until his death in 1746.

Recently, while researching in the Historical Society of Philadelphia, Boudreau came upon several old leather-bound books. While scanning the pages, there to his surprise was the 17-page poem profiling the Junto and its members in 1732.

“It was a mind-blowing experience. The poem pictures a group of artisans emerging into the Enlightenment," Boudreau said. "It gives a sense of how everyday people experienced the Enlightenment.”

The discovery has led Boudreau down another research path -- he is now researching the members of the Junto mentioned and described in the poem while “debating what to do next.”

Last Updated November 17, 2009