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Nathaniel Bowditch

astronomer , mathematician , insurance executive

He was self-educated in mathematics, astronomy, and languages, and at 22 was considered the leading mathematician in the United States. He went on numerous voyages in sailing vessels and became a superb navigator. He revised J. H. Moore's Practical Navigator, making it into his own book--one of the best navigation texts known.


He translated and explained Pierre Simon de Laplace's MécaniqueMecanique céleste.celeste. He wrote many papers and articles on astronomy and navigation. A scholarly man, Bowditch did much to elevate Old World opinion of American science.


A.M. (honorary), Harvard, 1802.


Prepared 1st American edit. The Practical Navigator (J.H. Moore), 1799, revised and enlarged under title The New American Practical Navigator, 1802, 9 edit. published during his lifetime, 56 reprints or edits. published since his death. Portions of the work reprinted under title Bowditch’s Useful Tables, 1844.

His skill in mathematics led to positions as president Essex Fire & Marine Insurance Company, 1804, actuary Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, 1823-1838. Made survey of Salem harbors, 1804-1806. Published 23 papers on nautical and astronomical subjects in Memoirs of America Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1804-1820.

Published translation with commentary of 1st 4 vols. of Mechanique Celeste (LaPlace) (most important science work). Best known papers include one concerning meteor which exploded over Weston, Connecticut, 1807, another discussing the motion of a pendulum. Member American Academy Arts and Sciences, 1799, president, 1829-1838.


  • book

    • The New American Practical Navigator

    • The American Practical Navigator


Member American Academy Arts and Sciences, 1799, president, 1829-1838.


Married Mary Boardman, March 25, 1798. Married second, Mary Ingersoll (cousin), October 28, 1800.

Habbakkuk Bowditch

Mary (Ingersoll) Bowditch

Mary Boardman

Mary Ingersoll