Nathaniel Bowditch was an astronomer, mathematician, and revisor of navigation. He was born on March 26, 1773 in Salem, Massachusetts. He had 6 siblings and a shipmaster as a father. His family usually experienced hunger because of his dad's low paying job. When Nathaniel was 12 he became indentured to the town ship-chandlers. His dream of continuing his schooling was halted, yet he continued to educate himself. He sold ship supplies and reviewed logs and ledgers. When he was 14 he constructed an Almanac of Algebra.
At age 21, he hired on as a recorder and second mate. This would be his first adventure out to sea. While at sea, the sailors relied on John Moore's The Practical Book of Navigation. Nathaniel's mathematical intelligence sited many errors which made it unpractical and dangerous for sailors to travel by. Bowditch taught his shipmates the skill of "lead, log and look-out," which allowed them to learn the calculations necessary to navigate their voyage. This act of kindness, offered sailors the oppotunity to better themselves with knowledge and sailing skills.
By the 1800's he had found 8,000 errors in John Moore's book Anybody that was good at lunar distances could see the errors recorded in this book. Nataniel Bowditch agreed to help correct the book and later wrote a new book called The New Pratical Book of Navigation. Now The New American Practical Navigator made travel easier and safer. Nine editions of this book were published in Bowditch's lifetime.
Havard University awarded him with an honorary "Master of Arts" degree. (Even though he didn't formally attend college.) Two years later they made him Doctor of Laws. In 1804 he retired from shipping and became the president of Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company. He held this position until 1832. After that he became actuary of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. He died at the age of 65 in his home town.
1. Latham, Jean Lee. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, New York, Scholastic, 1955.
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