American Philosophical Society
Member History

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1Name:  James Ferguson
 Year Elected:  1770
 Residency:  International
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  4/25/1710
 Death Date:  11/16/1776
297.000 James Ferguson (25 April 1710–16 November 1776) was a lecturer, scientist, artist, inventor, and a member of the American Philosophical Society via his 1770 election. Born in the county of Banffshire, Scotland, he was the second child of Elspeth Lobban and John Ferguson. An autodidact, James taught himself to read and gained an early understanding of mechanics by observing the workings of his father’s farm tools. As a young man, James drifted in his employment from shepherding to farming to clock-making and maintenance before deciding to pursue a career as an artist. After discovering that an apprenticeship in oil painting would be tedious and costly, he decided to focus on limning—painting miniature portraits. However, he remained curious about the natural world and its mechanics, dabbling in globe-making, medicine, and teaching mathematics. After marrying Isabella Wilson in 1739, James’s intellectual interests turned to astronomy. His inventions in this field included the “astronomical rotula,” a cardboard device used for tracking the positions of the sun and moon, and the “trajectorium lunare,” with which he could demonstrate the moon’s trajectory relative to the sun. He performed demonstrations with this second invention during a series of lectures he conducted from his place of residence. These lectures became popular, as did James’s published work, because of his talent for explaining scientific concepts in simple enough terms to be understood by the general public. In 1761, based on the merits of his writings and public teachings, the king awarded him a pension of fifty pounds per year and, in 1763, he became a fellow of the Royal Society. James had a troubled family life: he legally separated from his wife in 1773 and his oldest daughter, Agnes, disappeared and was never found. After his illness and death in 1776, it was revealed that James had amassed a small fortune through savvy and secret investments. (DNB)
Election Year
1770 (1)