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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Thomas Godfrey

GODFREY, Thomas, mathematician, born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, in 1704 ; died in Philadelphia in December, 1749. He followed the trade of a glazier in the metropolis, and, having a fondness for mathematical studies, mastered such books as he met with, subsequently acquiring Latin, that he might become familiar with the mathematical works in that language. Having obtained a copy of Newton's "Principia," he described an improvement he had made in Davis's quadrant to James Logan, who was so impressed that he at once addressed a letter to Edmund Halley in England, giving a full description of the construction and uses of Godfrey's instrument. Halley appears to have ignored this communication, and, after a year and a half had elapsed, Logan transmitted a copy of the invention to Peter Collinson, with a request that it be communicated to the Royal society. Meanwhile, John Hadley, then vice-president of the society, had presented a paper in May, 1731, which had been inserted in the " Philosophical Transactions" of that year, describing a reflecting quadrant of the same character, which he claimed as his own. It was decided that both were entitled, to the honor of the invention, although statements were made showing how the invention of Godfrey might have become known to Hadlev. The society sent to Godfrey, as his reward, household furniture to the value of £200, instead of money, on account of his habits of intemperance. Benjamin Franklin resided in the same house with Godfrey, and says that, like most great mathematicians whom he had met, he was not a pleasant companion, since he expected universal precision in everything said, and was perpetually denying or distinguishing on trifles, to the disturbance of all conversation.--His son, Thomas, poet, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4 December 1736; died near Wilmington, North Carolina, 3 August, 1763, received a fair education in his mother-tongue, and was apprenticed to a watchmaker. In 1758 he obtained a lieutenant's commission in the provincial forces raised for an expedition against Fort Duquesne. On the disbanding of the troops, he went to North Carolina and accepted an appointment of purchasing agent, remaining so occupied for three years, His employer dying, he returned to Philadelphia, and then sailed to New Providence as a supercargo. He set out to return by way of North Carolina, but contracted a fever, from the effects of which he died. While in North Carolina he wrote the tragedy of "The Prince of Parthia," which was offered to a company performing in Philadelphia in 1759. This is regarded as the first dramatic work written in this country. His early contributions to the " American Magazine," published in Philadelphia, showed poetic talent, and he subsequently published "The Court of Fancy, a Poem" (Philadelphia, 1763), modeled somewhat upon Chaucer's "House of Fame." A volume of his poems, with an " Account of T. Godfrey," was published by his friend, Nathaniel Evans, in 1767.

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