Alexander Small, Inventor

Alexander Small


By Jim Small

Source.Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 67 page 412.
Hudson and Luckhurst, The Royal Society of Arts, pp.-66"
Lunar Society Archives
Marischal College Archives

"Sir Peter Wyche had proposed the establishment of the Committee of Agriculture in the spring of 1760 to give a lead in introducing scientific methods of agriculture to ordinary husbandmen."

"The members of the committee, who attended its weekly meetings rather well, included such men of standing as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Small, the inventor of the chain plow, Sir George Socile, the wig politician; Sir Thomas Robinson, the restorer and replanter of Rokeby; Thomas Hollis, F.R.S.; Thomas Grignion, the clockmaker; and Robert Dossie, who published the first volume of his Memoirs of Agriculture and other Oeconimical Arts in 1767; and Sir Peter Wyche, who was a fellow of the Royal Society. The influence of Wyche is evident in the notable publications of the Society on agriculture and in the correspondence with Carther. In his first letter to Wyche, Carter set forth the necessity for Virginia to get away from its unhealthy economic dependence upon tobacco." Source: Hudson and Luckhurst, The Royal Society of Arts, pp.3-66"

Alexander Small b. ca.1695-1705 d. unknown

The above Alexander Small, another of the more famous ones, is a bit of a mystery at this time. We have not researched his line, and no one has come forward with any information as to his family. Obviously a Virginian, but of unknown origin of birth, he has found a place in history, but his accomplishments as father, husband, and leader in the community are yet undiscovered.

Alexander Small the inventor, and Dr. William Small of William and Mary College appear to have moved in the same circle of friends. Benjamin Franklin,1 a member of the Committee of Agriculture and the Royal Society, sent a letter of introduction with William Small to members of that Society when he returned to England upon completion of his career at W&M.

It has been found that in researching Dr. William's ancestors, both William and a Alexander Small attended the same Marischal College in Aberdeen Scotland, Alexander in the 1720's and William in 1755. Given the sparse information we currently have, its possible Dr. William followed the older Alexander to the same location. It has not been proved that the Alexander who attended Marischal College and the inventor of the chain plough are one and the same. That there is an association both in Scotland and Virginia cannot be discounted. That they moved in the same social circles in Virginia cannot be denied either.

A short genealogy has been found, but not proved that includes siblings Alexander and James Small. Dr. William's father was named James. If the Alexander Small of Virginia can be tied to this Scotish genealogy, the infrence would be that Alexander is Dr. William's uncle. A conjecture not altogether impossible.

1 "Dr Small arrived in Birmingham carrying a letter to Matthew Boulton from Benjamin Franklin:

'I beg leave to introduce my Friend Doctor Small to your Acquaintance, and to recommend him to your Civilities - I would not take this Freedom, if I was not sure it would be agreeable to you; and that you will thank me for adding to the Number of those who from their knowledge of you must respect you, one who is both an ingenious Philosopher & a most worthy honest Man. If any thing new in Magnetism or Electricity or any other Branch of natural
Knowledge has occur'd to your fruitful Genius since I last had the Pleasure of seeing you, will by communicating it, greatly oblige ...' "

- "soon after Small arrived in London, he was attending meetings of the Royal Society; on 24 January 1765 he was there as guest of Benjamin Franklin."

- Small, "hearing of an opening for a doctor in Birmingham, travelled there carrying letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin and Nathl. Jeffrys. Jeffrys' letter was laudatory - and unnecessary; Franklin's recommendation was enough."

James D. Small

Copyright 2001

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