John Winthrop (educator)

For other people named John Winthrop, see John Winthrop (disambiguation).
John Winthrop

Portrait by John Singleton Copley, c. 1773
Acting President of Harvard College
In office
Preceded by Edward Holyoke
Succeeded by Samuel Locke
In office
Preceded by Samuel Locke
Succeeded by Samuel Langdon
Personal details
Born (1714-12-19)December 19, 1714
Boston, Massachusetts
Died May 3, 1779(1779-05-03) (aged 64)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Alma mater Harvard College
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John Winthrop (December 19, 1714 – May 3, 1779) was the 2nd Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Harvard College. He was a distinguished mathematician, physicist and astronomer, born in Boston, Mass. His great-great-grandfather, also named John Winthrop, was founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He graduated in 1732 from Harvard, where, from 1738 until his death he served as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. Professor Winthrop was one of the foremost men of science in America during the 18th century, and his impact on its early advance in New England was particularly significant. Both Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) probably owed much of their early interest in scientific research to his influence. He also had a decisive influence in the early philosophical education of John Adams, during the latter's time at Harvard. He corresponded regularly with the Royal Society in London—as such, one of the first American intellectuals of his time to be taken seriously in Europe. He was noted for attempting to explain the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 as a scientific—rather than religious—phenomenon, and his application of mathematical computations to earthquake activity following the great quake has formed the basis of the claim made on his behalf as the founder of the science of seismology. Additionally, he observed the transits of Mercury in 1740 and 1761 and journeyed to Newfoundland to observe a transit of Venus.[1] He traveled in a ship provided by the Province of Massachusetts - probably the first scientific expedition ever sent out by any incipient American state.

He served as acting president of Harvard in 1769 and again in 1773; but both times declined the offer of the full presidency on the grounds of old age. During the nine months in 1775-1776 when Harvard moved to Concord, Massachusetts, Winthrop occupied the house which was later to become famous as The Wayside, home to Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Additionally, he was actively interested in public affairs, was for several years a judge of probate in Middlesex County, was a member of the Governor's Council in 1773-74, and subsequently offered the weight of his influence to the patriotic cause in the Revolution. He published:

In addition to his scientific and mathematical accomplishments, he also fathered a son, James Winthrop, who continued his father's political work.


  1. "Relation of a Voyage from Boston to Newfoundland for the Observation of the Transit of Venus, June 6, 1761" (PDF). Retrieved 5 June 2012. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
Academic offices
Preceded by
Edward Holyoke
President of Harvard College

Succeeded by
Samuel Locke
Preceded by
Samuel Locke
President of Harvard College

Succeeded by
Samuel Langdon
Preceded by
Isaac Greenwood
Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy
Succeeded by
Samuel Williams
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