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Joseph Priestley - Ships That Pass in the Night


With the issuance of a stamp honoring Joseph Priestley by U.S. 1983 we again meet a man whose life just barely missed touching that of Capt. James Cook.


He is Joseph Priestley, an Englishman, whose portrait by Rembrandt Peale is depicted. He wrote "the History of Electricity" in 1767, and was encouraged in his interest in science and research by Benjamin Franklin, and he discovered many elements such as oxygen, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia, etc., which won him fame.

Politicaly he supported the American and French Revolutions. He was also a Unitarian Minister and teacher where "Church of England" was favored, so the combination made him far from popular with many people in England at that time.

In 1771, he agreed to accompany Capt. Cook on his second voyage of discovery to the Antarctic, in the capacity of an astronomer, but his appointment was canceled as the Board of Longitude objected to his theology.

Perhaps it is just as well, for the second voyage was a hard one and for long periods, a cold one. During that period of time Priestley wrote a paper on the many different kinds of Air which won him the prize of Copley's gold medal - 1773.

Mr. Priestley lived all of his later years in America and founded a church here. He numbered among his friends Thos. Jefferson, John Adams, Darwin, Watt, Boulton and Wedgwood, many of whom have appeared on stamps. He founded the now celebrated Lunar Society when he lived in or close to Birmingham.

Virginia Silva

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 232, volume 6, number 4 (1983).

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Joseph Priestley was a relative of my mother's side of the family. Good to know that Mr. Priestley was a friend of Capt. Cook.
By Jane Taylor on 6/23/2017 10:11:13 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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