James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry A. S. Dearborn, 14 October 1811

From Henry A. S. Dearborn

Boston. Octo. 14. 1811

Hond. Sir,

At the request of my friend N. Bowditch Esqr.1 I have enclosed you one of his papers containing the result of his calculations on the Elements of the Orbit of the Comet which for some weeks has appeared in the northern regions of the heavens.2 I have known him for some years & have no doubt but he is the ablest astronomical mathematitian in this country & equal to any in Europe. He is a self educated man. If there is any one in Washington, or in the vicinity of your estate in Virginia, who can furnish him with answers to the questions contained in a note at the bottom of the paper,3 you will confer a great favor on him, by causing them to be forwarded to him at Salem. I have the honor to remain your Obt. Servt.

H. A. S. Dearborn4

RC (DLC); enclosure (DLC: Madison Collection, Rare Book Division). RC docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 2.

1Nathaniel Bowditch (1773–1838) was the son of a cooper in Salem, Massachusetts, and he was apprenticed in a ship chandlery. He supplemented his self-education with observations made in the course of his voyages after 1795 and in 1799 prepared The New American Practical Navigator, a work which was to go through ten editions during his lifetime and several more thereafter. Between 1804 and 1823 he was president of the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and he published many papers in the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also translated and published the works of the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (Robert E. Berry, Yankee Stargazer: The Life of Nathaniel Bowditch [New York, 1941], pp. 6, 20–21, 111–22, 143, 180–81, 210–11, 221–22).

2Dearborn enclosed a printed circular entitled “The Comet,” a series of calculations of the “geocentric longitudes and latitudes of the Comet,” based on observations taken at Cambridge and Nantucket, Massachusetts (1 p.).

3In a postscript to his circular Bowditch stated that he wished to make “a complete collection of the observations of the Eclipse” and requested that information on such observations, including the latitudes and longitudes where they were recorded, be sent to him.

4Henry Alexander Scammel Dearborn (1783–1851), the son of JM’s former cabinet colleague Henry Dearborn, had attended Williams College and the College of William and Mary. When Henry Dearborn took up his position of major general in the U.S. Army in 1812, JM appointed his son to be collector for the district of Boston and Charlestown, a position he held until 1829 (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:278).

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