Bowditch, Nathaniel

Bowditch, Nathaniel,

1773–1838, American navigator and mathematician, b. Salem, Mass. He had no formal schooling after the age of 10. In 1795 he went to sea, and on five long voyages he carried out his studies in navigation and as a result corrected some 8,000 errors in Moore's Practical Navigator, first published in America in 1799. A new edition appeared under Bowditch's name as The American Practical Navigator (1802–19); it has been published by the U.S. Hydrographic Office since 1867. Bowditch made a translation (4 vol., 1829–39) of Laplace's Mécanique céleste.


See biographies by his son N. I. Bowditch (3d ed. 1884) and P. Rink (1969).

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Bowditch, Nathaniel

(1773–1838) astronomer, mathematician; born in Salem, Mass. Self-taught after age ten, he worked for his father, a barrelmaker, and then in a ship's chandlery, and by age 15 had compiled an astronomical almanac. Between 1795–1803, he went to sea, serving as ship master on his last voyage. He began by correcting errors in the writings of others, especially John Hamilton Moore's Practical Navigator; his contributions were so extensive that by 1802 the book became the New American Practical Navigator and was credited to him; it has remained to this day the "seaman's bible." Although offered positions in universities, he chose to pursue research on his own and worked all of his adult life as an insurance actuary in Salem or Boston. He published papers on such topics as comets and meteors and translated four volumes of Laplace's Mécanique céleste, published (1829–39) with his commentary and updating as Celestial Mechanics. He was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1829–38).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.