Dr Francis Alison was the father of higher education in the middle colonies. He was vice president of the College of Philadelphia and founded the institution that is now the University of Delaware. Among his students were some of the leaders in the American movement for independence, including three members of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia - Thomas McKean, the son of Ulster-Scots emigrants, Charles Thomson ,another Ulster-Scot, who was born in Maghera, and George Read, whose father had come from Dublin.
According to Kerby Miller, Alison 'perhaps more than any other public figure, helped prepare Pennsylvania's Scots-Irish for their prominent role in the American revolution.'
Alison was regarded by contemporaries as America’s greatest classical scholar and Benjamin Franklin described him as a man of ‘great ingenuity and learning, a catholic divine’.
Alison is known to have had at least one sister, whose son James Latta was born in Donegal in 1732 and who also became a prominent Presbyteiran minister and schoolteacher in Pennsylvania.