Reference Entry

West, Benjamin

Sara Schechner Genuth

in American National Biography Online

Published in print January 1999 |
Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697 | DOI:

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West, Benjamin ( March 1730–26 August 1813), astronomer and mathematician, was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, the son of John West, a farmer. His mother’s name is not known. Not long after his birth, the family moved to Bristol, Rhode Island, where West worked discontentedly on the family farm. West attended the town school for only three months and took a course of navigation offered by Captain Woodbury, who waived his fees for the poor farm boy. Otherwise, West was self-educated, borrowing books from local parsons’ libraries. In 1753 he married Elizabeth Smith; they had eight children. That same year West moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he opened a private school, and then a dry-goods store that also sold books and was, by some accounts, the first bookstore in town. After nearly twenty years, his business failed and his effects were seized by creditors. His bankruptcy appears to have been a consequence of the depreciation of paper currency and the decline in transatlantic commerce just before the American Revolution. After his bankruptcy, some Bostonians offered to set him up in the book business again, but West doubted he could support his growing family this way. As a patriot, he chose to manufacture clothing for the American troops during the war. At war’s end, he reopened his school in Providence....

Reference Entry.  1103 words. 

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics ; Mathematics ; Literature ; Publishing

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