Harvard's First Science Professor:
A Sketch of Isaac Greenwood's
Life and Work
David C. Leonard
Perhaps more than any other important colonial American figure, Isaac Greenwood (i 702-1745), the first professor of science at Harvard, has been neglected. His neglect has been a result of focus placed on Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin, both important men of science and letters in the eighteenth century. Isaac Greenwood occupies an important place as a transitional figure, one whose philosophy was moving away from the orthodox puritanism of Cotton A4ather, while moving toward the heterodox deism of Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine at the end of the century. As a man of science and letters, Greenwood made a noteworthy contribution to early American culture. He was the first professor of science at America's foremost educational institution. He gave the first series of public lectures in colonial America. His mathematics text was the first written in English by a native-born American. He was also the first mathematics professor to teach calculus in the colonies. Later in his life, Greenwood, under the auspices of Franklin and the Library Company of Philadelphia, gave another important series of lectures on mathematics and astronomy. Clearly, Greenwood has a place in the history of American thought.
Isaac Greenwood was born in Boston on 11 May 1702, the fifth of nine children of Samuel and Elizabeth Bronsdon Greenwood. Isaac's great grandfather, Miles Greenwood, born in Yorkshire and later a resident of Norwich, England, was a lieutenant and chaplain under Oliver Cromwell. Isaac's grandfather, Nathaniel Greenwood, emigrated from Norwich to Boston in 1654, where he set up a shipping business. Isaac's father, Samuel Greenwood, was a prominent Boston merchant and shipbuilder who owned "Greenwood Shipyard and Warfe" in the North End, running out from Ship Street between