Notes for Nathaniel Bowditch

! Index of Marriages in Massachusetts Centinel and Columbian Centinel 1784 to 1840: Boardman,Elizabeth,m.Nathaniel Bowditch,in Salem (CC.Mar.28,1798)

He was twice married; his first wife died seven months after their marriage, and in October, 1800, he was married to his cousin, Mary, daughter of Jonathan Ingersoll. He died in Boston, Mass., March 16, 1838.

!Data based upon the book: Five Genealogies of Bowdish and Bowditch Families in Cyrus and Maryella Bowdish

Maryella estimated Elizabeth's birth date at about 1780. She was born at Salem, Essex Co., Massachusetts. She died October 18, 1798 of consumption. They had no children together.
Mary was born December 4, 1781 at Danvers, Essex Co., Massachusetts. She died April 17, 1834 at Boston, Suffolk Co., Massachusetts. She and Elizabeth, according to "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham, were cousins. Mary was known as Polly.
When Nathaniel was about two and a half years old, his parents moved to a very small wooden house in Danvers, about three miles from Salem. Here, Nathaniel started to school. When he was seven they returned to Salem. He had a little bit of schooling, but at the age of about 10, he was forced to quit school. He was bred to his father's business as a cooper.
His father was at sea most of the time they were in Danvers, having been obligated to give up his trade and take to the sea during the Revolution. The family was very poor and sometimes had nothing for days. His father had further reverses that set him to drinking.
When he was about ten and a half, Nathaniel was bound out as an apprentice. he worked for Ropes and Hodges in a ship chandler shop. The indenture read in part:
"This indenture witnesseth that NATHANIEL BOWDITCH hath put himself, and, by these Presents, dothe voluntarily and of his own free will and accord, and with the consent of HABAKKUK BOWDITCH put and bin himself apprentice to ROPES AND HODGES to learn the Art, Trade or Mystery of SHIP CHANDLERY for and during a term of NINE YEARS. During all which said term the said apprentice NATHANIEL BOWDITCH shall faithfully serve...He shall not absent himself by Day of Night from the same Ropes and Hodges Service without leave..." At one point in the indenture was stated that he could not contract marriage.
It was here that he did most of his learning, teaching himself how to speak Latin, French and Spanish by using New Testament Bibles that were written in each of these three languages. He figured out how to make an almanac at the age of 16. He was, for the most part, a self-educated American mathematician and astronomer. He became an excellent navigator.
On January 11, 1795, he sailed on the ship "Henry" on a voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to the Isle of Bourbon, off the east coast of Africa, as a clerk. He decided to keep a journal while on board ship. He was on board a ship most of the time for the next several years. He took time in the spring of 1798 to marry Elizabeth, then it was back to the sea. After the "Henry", he sailed on the "Astrea" to Lisbon, Funchal in the Madeira Islands, and from there to Manila. It was during this time that he discovered the Bowditch Curve which is used in
astronomy as well as geometry. The next voyage he went on was to Batavia on board the "Astrea". The first voyage that he actually served as Captain was on the "Putnam" on November 21. The year is not actually mentioned for this voyage, but, according to the information shown before and after, I would have to estimate about 1802.
During the course of these voyages, he developed an aptitude for astronomy and found many mistakes in an astronometers book used by navigators. He began to correct the mistakes, but decided it would be easier to write a whole new book. The result was the "AMERICAN PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR", which was published in 1802. In 1804, at the age of 31, he had notable success as President of the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company. He continued to rewrite the astronomical work done up to that time. He did so with valuable annotations. One such work, was La Place "MECANIQUE CELESTE". His son Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch wrote about his life in 1839, which was prefixed to the 4th Volume of the
translation. In 1865, this was elaborated into a separate biography by another son, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch who was a noted Boston physician. Nathaniel never finished that work leaving part of the fifth volume undone.
He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He refused offers to become a professor. He got his A. M. (Master of Arts) degree from Harvard on August 25, 1802, after never having set foot in the college.
He bought 1/3 interest in a sealer named the "John". Mary's father also bought 1/3 interest in it. Soon afterward's it went down.
He never quite recovered from Mary's death, complaining of losing strength and occasional pain of great severity. One source shows Nathaniel's death date as March 16, 1838. Another shows it as March 17, 1838.
He was known as Nat, and was, by his own description---five feet-five when he stretched.

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