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WILLIAMS, Jonathan

Thermometrical Navigation. being a Series of Experiments and Observations, Tending to Prove that by Ascertaining the Relative Heat of the Sea-Water From Time to Time, The Passage of a Ship Through the Gulph Stream, and From Deep Water into Soundings, May be discovered in Time to avoid Danger.

Robert Aitkin, Philadelphia, 1799
Quarto (230 x 146 mm.), uncut, recent quarter calf, marble paper boards with gilt ruled boards and compartments to the spine, gilt title lettered upon the spine. Pp. xii, 98, [3], with folding engraved nautical chart of the North Atlantic Ocean at end, with light dust-soiling at extreme edges, otherwise in good condition.
A PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION of a rare scientific treatise with the often lacking map of the Gulf Stream. Jonathan Williams (1750-1815) was the son of Jonathan and Grace Harris. Grace was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Anne, a colonial printer at Rhode Island. Franklin is recognised as the first person to publicly identify the Gulf Stream. This work took his theories as published in the American Philosophical Transactions (volumes 2 and 3) further by suggesting that by using the temperature of the water it might help in navigating the treacherous waters off of America, particularly when navigation by the stars was not possible and in stormy weather when taking soundings might prove difficult.

Williams had gone to London in 1770 under the guidance of Franklin to extend his education. He spent the next 15 years in Europe at one point during the American Revolution acting as Commercial Agent in Nantes, France. He kept in contact with Franklin returning with him to America in 1785. They would later collaborate on some experiments and Williams at various times served at the American Philosophical Society as secretary, councillor and vice-president. He later became an associate judge in the court of common pleas and achieved a good reputation as a scientist in his own right. He also attracted the attention of Thomas Jefferson who appointed him as first Superintendent of the new U. S. Military Academy in 1802. He was elected to Congress in 1814 but died before he took his seat.

The important map bound at the end is often lacking and illustrates the five routes undertaken by Williams across the Atlantic Ocean between England and the key American ports of New York, Boston and Virginia. It displays prominently the Gulf Stream and the water temperature recorded on these specific voyages. The first of these was between Boston and Virginia in 1789 during which he noticed that the water was ten degrees warmer when the depth was too great for soundings than when closer to shore. He wrote in his Memoir published in the third volume of the American Philosophical Society 1793 that the thermometer “might become a useful nautical instrument … By consulting these journals and observations … together with the tracks of the ship’s way marked the chart annexed [this one], it will not only appear that Dr. Franklin’s account of the warmth of the gulph stream has been amply confirmed, but also that banks, coasts, islands of ice, and rocks under water, may be discovered when not visible, and the weather is too boisterous to sound, with no other trouble than dipping the thermometer into the sea water”.

The first state of the map was published in 1793, for this issue the Gulf Stream has been extended further eastwards and many more directional arrows have been added to the original two. Lower right the imprint of ‘Engraved for Williams’s Thermometrical Navigation’ has been added. This is the Royal Institution’s copy, the body was founded in the year of publication 1799. It is highly likely that this example was given by the author to the Royal Institution in or shortly after 1799. Provenance: presentation copy (inscription on title ‘from the Author’); the Royal Institution of Great Britain whose withdrawal bookplate is pasted inside the back cover. ESTC W7573; Evans 36722; De Vorsey, Louis (private correspondence); De Vorsey (1981) pp. 7-10; Sabin 104300; Wheat & Brun 725.
Stock number: 8837
$ 9,950
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