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John Winthrop Edit Profile

astronomer , educator , Mathematician , physicist , scientist

John Winthrop was the 2nd Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Harvard College.


Winthrop was born on December 19, 1714 in Boston, Massachusetts. His great-great-grandfather, also named John Winthrop, was founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Winthrop early demonstrated scholarly ability, completing Boston Latin School at 14 and graduating from Harvard in 1732. He studied science at home for six years and at 24 was named professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard.


Winthrop's public lectures and demonstrations in physical science attracted wide attention, and the results of his continuous and extensive research were published by London's Royal Society. His series of sunspot observations in 1739 were the first in Massachusetts and necessitated close cooperation with both the Royal Society and Greenwich Observatory. He noted transits of Mercury in 1740, 1743, and 1769 and also accurately recorded the longitude of Cambridge, Massachussets. Other studies included work on meteors (1755), the transit of Venus (1761), and solar parallax and distance (1769). In 1751 Winthrop inaugurated a new era in American mathematical study by introducing the elements of calculus at Harvard. His study of the New England earthquake of 1755 was a pioneering approach to seismology. He established America's first laboratory of experimental physics in 1746, and his demonstrations on mechanics, heat, and light are thought to have influenced both Benjamin Franklin and Count Rumford. Winthrop carried on meteorological observations for some 20 years; in 1759 he first predicted the return of Halley's comet. His study of the 1761 Venus transit in Newfoundland was Harvard's first astronomical expedition. His other interests included extensive research on magnetism, eclipses, and light aberrations. In fact, his chief defect as a teacher was said to be his range of subjects which was so vast that he sometimes failed to go into them deeply enough. Twice Winthrop declined the presidency of Harvard. However, he served for a time as Massachusetts probate judge and member of the governor's council. During the period of the American Revolution he enthusiastically promoted the colonial cause, encouraged munitions production, and advised George Washington and other American leaders. He died on May 3, 1779 in Cambridge.


  • Winthrop, American educator and scientist, helped liberalize the curriculum of Harvard College and received English recognition as America's leading astronomer.


Fellow of the Royal Society (1766), member of the American Philosophical Society (1769)


Winthrop married twice: his first wife, Rebecca Townsend, who died after seven years (1753). In 1756, he was married to Hannah Fayerweather (1727-1790), the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Waldo Fayerweather. Together, they had a son.

Hannah Fayerweather

Rebecca Townsend

John Winthrop

He was an English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major settlement in New England, following Plymouth Colony.

James Winthrop

He was an American librarian and jurist.