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Jones, William

1. Dates
Born: Llanfihangel Tw'r Beird, Anglesey, Wales, 1675
Died: London, 3 July 1749
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 74
2. Father
Occupation: Peasant/Small Farmer
John George was a small farmer, or yeoman. According to Welsh custom, Jones took the Christian name of his father (John) as his surname.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English (i.e, Welsh)
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
No records of his education, and it is established that as a young man he entered the counting house of a London merchant.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Navigation
By universal consent Jones was not an important mathematician. Nevertheless he did publish a number of mathematical works: Synopsis palmariorum mathesios, 1706 (a text for learners that did include fluxions and infinite series--Jones introduced here the symbol pi in its enduring meaning) and a number of papers in the Philosophical Transactions. In 1711 he published Newton's De analysi, one of the early shots in the priority battle, and his possession of Collins' papers was crucial for the Newtonian defense. Jones had completed Introduction to the Mathematicks, which was just commencing publication when he died; it was never published and is lost.
His first book was A New Compendium of the Whole Art of Navigation.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Government
Secondary: Miscellaneous, Schoolmastering
He served at a merchant's counting house in London, 1690s. (I list this under Miscellaneous.)
Taught mathematics on board a man-of-war in West Indies, 1690s-1702. (I am uncertain how to categorize this and end up putting it under Schoolmaster. It cannot have been much of a position.) When he returned, he set up as a teacher of mathematics in London.
Tutor of some famous families, 1702-49: Tutor of Philip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke. Tutor of Thomas Parker, Earl of Macclesfield, and his son, the next Earl of Macclesfield and the President of the Royal Society. For many years Jones lived with the Parkers in Oxfordshire, as a member of the family.
He had some sinecure office obtained for him by Hardwiche (secretary for the peace, I think, and not another, later post in the Exchequer), which paid 200.
Appointed deputy teller to the exchequer, another sinecure office, which he owed to Parker's influence.
Jones did well enough, almost entirely through patronage, that his widow was able to send their son, the future Sir William Jones, who was only three when his father died, to Harrow and on to Oxford.
8. Patronage
Types: Gentry, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat, Government Official
Bulkley of Baron Hill, a local landowner near his birthplace, help Jones to enter the counting house of a London merchant.
Jones dedicated his New Compensium of Navigation to the Rev. John Harris (of the Lexicon technicum), in whose house Jones composed it.
He accompanied Philip Yorke on the circuit and by his influence was made "secretary for the peace." Perhaps this was the sinecure (worth 200 per annum) which Yorke (the Earl of Hardwicke and Keeper of the Seal) obtained for Jones. Nichols says that this office enabled him to "lay aside" his employment as a teacher.
He owed other governmental offices and much else to the recommendation of Parker, a governmental official. Jones had lost all his accumulated property through the failure of a banker; Parker (Macclesfield), in whose home he was living as a member of the family, came to his rescue.
Hutton repeats a story that Jones, in some way not specified, "compromised" (i.e., took care of, or adjusted) a scandalous Italian wedding in the Parker (Macclesfield) family. Hence the saying "that Macclesfield was the making of Jones, and Jones the making of Macclesfield."
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Navigation
Applications of mathematics in navigation, developing methods to calculate positions.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal connections: Close friedship with Newton from 1706. He obtained the privilege of access to Newton's manuscripts and edited some important tracts by Newton.
Acquired the papers and correspondence of John Collins in 1708. They proved to be critical to Newton's defense in the priority dispute. Jones bequeathed the manuscripts to Lord Macclesfield.
Royal Society, 1712; Vice-president at the time of his death. One of the committee appointed by the Royal Society to decide the priority dispute regarding the calculus.
  1. Rigaud, Correspondence of scientific Men of the 17th Century, (Oxford, 1841).
  2. Charles Hutton, A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, (London, 1795), 1, 672-4.
  3. John Schore Lord Teignmouth, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Correspondence of Sir William Jones, Philadelphia, 1805). Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50) 10, 1061-2. John Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, 6 vols. (London, 1812), 1, 463-5.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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