Imágenes de páginas

Lancaster county. His parents were natives of Ireland, but their earlier ancestors, it is believed, came originally from Scotland.

His father, John Williamson, was an industrious tradesman, who had pursued his business, that of a clothier, in the city of Dublin. He came to America, and settled in Chester county, about the


1730. The mother of Dr. Williamson, Mary Davison, was a native of Derry; with her father, George Davison, she came to this country, when a child about three years of age: on their way to America they were captured and plundered on the coast, by Theach the noted pirate Blackbeard; upon being released they arrived in Philadelphia. She died about fifteen years since, having attained her 90th

year. The parents of Dr. Williamson were married in the year 1731, shortly after his father's arrival in this country; and ten children, viz. six sons and four daughters, were the fruits of that connexion. Hugh was their eldest son.

His father, observing that Hugh was of a slender, delicate corstitution, and that he was not likely to attain to that vigor which would enable him to support himself by manual labour, resolved to give him a liberal education. After having received the common preparatory instruction of a country school, near his father's house, he was sent at an early age to learn the languages at an academy established at New London, cross roads, under the direction of that very eminent scholar, the Rev. Francis Alison, justly entitled, from his talents, learning, and discipline, the Busby of the western hemisphere.

In the prosecution of his studies, while at school, he distinguished himself by his diligence, his love of order, and his correct, moral, and religious deportment; for, even at that early age, he had imbibed from his parents and instructors, a due sense of that "intimate connexion which subsists between letters and morality, between sensibility and taste, between an improved mind and a virtuous heart.”* Accordingly, under the impulse of these first impressions, through life, he

-all his study bent
To worsbip God aright, and know his works."

* Johnson.

Thus prepared under the care of his eminent teachers, he retired from the seminary of Dr. Alison, and, at his father's house, applied himself to the study of Euclid's Elements, of which, in a short time, he became master.

The father now proposed to send his son to Europe to finish his education that had been so successfully begun; but as a charter had been obtained for the academy in Philadelphia, about the time he was to have sailed, it was concluded that he should immediately proceed to that city. Accordingly, he entered in the first class in the college of Philadelphia, where he remained four years; and at the first commencement held in that college, on the 17th day of May, 1757, he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts. It is an evidence of the talents, the industry, and of the success, with which Mr. Williamson prosecuted his collegiate studies, and of the high estimation in which he was held by the professors and trustees of the university, that during the time he passed at college, he was successively employed as a teacher, both in the Latin and English schools, connected with that institution. A little anterior to this period, his father and family bad removed to Shippensburgh, Cumberland county. His father died in the same year that kis son received his first degree.

Hugh was appointed his sole executor, and, upon the event of his father's death, took up his residence with his mother at Shippensburgh, where he remained about two years, during which period he, in a great degree, devoted himself to the settlement of his father's estate, personally collecting the debts that were due to it, and which were very much scattered.

As has already been intimated, Mr. Williamson's mind was early impressed with a sense of religion.

During the period of his residence with his mother, he devoted all his time not occupied by the business of his father's estate, to the study of divinity, frequently visiting Dr. Samuel Finley, an eminent divine, who preached at East Nottingham township, and who then directed his pursuits. In 1759, Mr. Williamson went to Connecticut, where he still pursued his theological studies, and was licensed to preach the gospel. After his return from Connecticut, he was also admitted a member of the presbytery of Philadel

phia. He preached but a short time, not exceeding two years, and then his preaching must have been only occasional; he never was ordained, or took charge of a congregation, for his health did not permit him to perform the stated duties of a pastor. The infirm state of his health in early life made it very questionable whether his lungs would bear the exertion of public speaking: he accordingly left the pulpit, and entered upon the study of medieine.

In the year 1760, he received the degree of Master of Arts, in the college of Philadelphia, and was immediately after appointed the professor of mathematics in that institution. He accepted the professorship, regarding it a most honourable appointment, but without any intention of neglecting his medical studies.

On the 8th of October, 1763, Mr. Williamson gave notice of his intended resignation of his professorship, and in 1764, he left his native country for Europe, for the purpose of prosecuting his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh.

He remained in that city, enjoying the advantages of instruction afforded by the lectures of the elder Monro, Whytte, Cullen, Home, Alston, and Dr. Jolin Gregory, the author of the Legacy, and father of the late distinguished professor of the practice of physic in that celebrated seat of learning. When he left Edinburgh, he made a tour through the northern parts of Scotland, after which he proceeded to London, where he remained twelve months, diligently pursuing his studies. From London he crossed over to Holland, and proceeded to Utrecht, where he completed his medical education. He afterwards amused himself with a tour on the continent, from which he returned to his native country in a state of health considerably improved.

After his return, Dr. Williamson practised medicine in Philadelphia for some years with great success, as it respected the health of his patients, but with painful effects as it regarded his


Shortly after this time, the attention of the philosophers, both of Europe and America, was directed to an event which was about to take place, of great importance to astronomical science and to navigation: I refer to the transit of Venus over the sun's disk, which occurred on the third day of June, 1769; "a phenomenon which had never been seen but twice by any inhabitant of our earth; which would never be seen again by any person then living; and on which depended very important astronomical consequences."*

The observations published on that memorable occasion, by the Rev. Dr. Ewing, Mr. David Rittenhouse, the Rev. Dr. Smith, by professor Winthrop, of Massachusetts, as well as those by Dr. Williamson, and other American astronomers, were considered by the philosophers of Europe, as highly creditable to their authors, and of great importance to the cause of science. By the astronomer royal, the Rev. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, they were referred to with peculiar notice and approbation:

“I thank you,” says that eminent philosopher to his correspondent, the Hon. Thomas Penn, “for the account of the Pennsylvania observations of the transit, which seem excellent and complete, and do honour to the gentlemen who made them, and those who promoted the undertaking."

In 1770, Dr. Williamson prepared and published, through the same channel of communication,t some observations upon the change of climate that had been remarked to take place more particularly in the middle colonies of North America.

The publication of this interesting paper, with those which had preceded it, procured for Dr. Williamson, not only the notice of the various literary institutions of his native country, into which he was shortly after introduced as an honorary member, but they obtained for him abroad the most flattering distinctions. The Holland Society of Sciences—the Society of Arts and Sciences of Utrecht-conferred upon him, in the most honourable manner, a membership in those distinguished institutions; and about the same period he received from a foreign university, I believe from Leyden, as the further reward of his literary labours, the degree of Doctor of Laws.

New scenes now opened upon his view. From some letters addressed by Dr. Williamson to his friend, the late Rev. Dr. Ewing,

[ocr errors]

* Rush's Eulogium on Dr. Rittenhouse. | Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, &c. vol. I. p. 336. 2d edition.

now in the possession of his family, it appears that in 1772, the doctor made a voyage to the West India islands, for the purpose of collecting subscriptions for the academy of Newark, in the state of Delaware, of which institution he and Dr. Ewing were both trustees. “His stay in the islands,” (says the sensible writer* of the communication with which I have been favoured,)“ seems to have been protracted by severe bilious fevers; from the effects of which, he almost despaired of recovering his former state of health: his zeal, however, in the cause of literature, was not abated, and finally he procured a handsome subscription. On his way home, he passed a short time in Charleston, where he received some liberal fees for medical advice."

Exceedingly anxious for the prosperity of the academy, while he was yet in the islands, he planned a tour through Great Britain for the benefit of that institution; his project was communicated to the trustees, and received their approbation: accordingly, in the autumn of 1773, Dr. Williamson, in conjunction with Dr. Ewing, afterwards provost of the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed to make a tour through England, Scotland, and Ireland, to solicit further benefactions for the same academy of Newark.

Thus honourably associated, and the reputation they had acquired from their late astronomical observations having preceded them, they were received with great attention by the literati, and other men of influence in Great Britain: a circumstance in itself, highly favourable to the object of their mission. Their success, however, was but indifferent, owing to the irritation of the public mind against the colonies, which about that time was already considerable; yet their characters as men of learning, procured them much personal attention, and some money.

The constant hope of accommodation with the colonies, and the example of the king, from whom they received a liberal donation, notwithstanding his great displeasure towards his American subjects, encouraged them to persevere in the business of their mission until the autumn of 1775. Hostilities having then commenced, Dr. Ewing returned to America, leaving Dr. Williamson in London, who determined to remain, and to make some further ef

[ocr errors]

* Mrs. Hall, of Philadelphia, daughter of the late Dr. Ewing.



« AnteriorContinuar »