John Winthrop (1714–1779)

John Winthrop (December 19 1714May 3 1779) was the 2nd Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Harvard College. He was a distinguished mathematician, physicist and astronomer, born in Boston, Mass. His great-great-grandfather, also named John Winthrop, was founder of the Massachusetts Bay colony. He graduated in 1732 at Harvard, where, from 1738 until his death he was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. Professor Winthrop was one of the foremost men of science in America in the eighteenth century, and his influence on the early advance of science in New England in particular was very great. Both Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) probably owed to him much of their early interest in scientific research. He corresponded regularly with the Royal Society in London — one of the first American intellectuals to be taken seriously in Europe. He was noted for attempting to explain the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 as a scientific (rather than religious) phenomenon. His application of computations to earthquake phenomena after the great earthquake has formed the basis of the claim made for him as the actual founder of the science of seismology. He observed the transits of Mercury in 1740 and 1761 and journeyed to Nova Scotia to observe a transit of Venus. He traveled in a ship provided by the Province of Massachusetts - probably the first scientific expedition sent out by an American State.

He served as acting president of Harvard in 1769 and again in 1773; but both times he declined the offer of the full presidency on grounds of old age. During the nine months in 1775-1776 when Harvard moved to Concord, Massachusetts, Winthrop occupied the house which was later to become famous as The Wayside, home to Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne in subsequent decades. Additionally, he was actively interested in public affairs, was a judge of probate in Middlesex County for several years, was a member of the Governor's Council in 1773-74, and subsequently gave the weight of his influence to the patriotic cause in the Revolution. He published:
* "Lecture on Earthquakes" (1755)
* "Answer to Mr. Prince's Letter on Earthquakes" (1756)
* "Account of Some Fiery Meteors" (1755)
* "Two Lectures on the Parallax" (1769)

References

*NIE


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