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Bowditch, Nathaniel

BOWDITCH, NATHANIEL (1773-1838), American mathematician, was born at Salem, Massachusetts. He was bred to his father's business as a cooper, and afterwards apprenticed to a ship-chandler. His taste for mathematics early developed itself; and he acquired Latin that he might study Newton's Principia. As clerk (1795) and then as supercargo (1796, 1798, 1799) he made four long voyages; and, being an excellent navigator, he afterwards (1802) commanded a vessel, instructing his crews in lunar and other observations. He edited two editions of Hamilton Moore's Navigation, and in 1802 published a valuable work, New American Practical Navigator, founded on the earlier treatise by Moore. In 1804 he became president of a Salem insurance company. In the midst of his active career he undertook a translation of the Mécanique céleste of P.S. Laplace, with valuable annotations (vol. i., 1829). He was offered, but declined, the professorship of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard. Subsequently he became president of the Mechanics' Institute in Boston, and also of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He died at Boston on the 16th of March 1838.

A life of Bowditch was written by his son Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch (1805-1861), and was prefixed to the fourth volume (1839) of the translation of Laplace. In 1865 this was elaborated into a separate biography by another son, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch (1808-1892), a famous Boston physician.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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