Patterson, Robert, 1743-1824Alternative names
T. P. Bennett, transcriber of these notes, received his A.B. from U. Pennsylvania in 1811 and A.M. in 1816. Robert Patterson was prof. of math. and nat. philosophy at U. Pennsylvania, 1779-1813.
From the description of Compends of Spheric Geometry and Trigonometry, 1811(?). (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 122527908
Robert Maskell Patterson (1787-1854, APS 1809) was a professor of chemistry and natural philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania (1812-1828) and professor of natural philosophy at the University of Virginia (1828-1835). He was director of the U.S. Mint from 1835 to 1851. His father, Robert Patterson, was a revolutionary soldier, professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania (1779-1814), and director of the U.S. Mint (1805-1824).
Robert Maskell Patterson was born in 1787 into a prominent Philadelphia family. His father was Robert Patterson (1743-1824, APS 1783), at the time professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania (1779-1814) and subsequently director of the United States Mint (1805 to 1824). He served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1819 until his death. Robert Maskell Patterson’s mother was Amy Hunter Ewing.
Patterson was educated at the University of Pennsylvania’s preparatory school, received his B.A. in 1804, and then went on to study medicine at the University under Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815, APS 1759). He earned his M.D. in 1808. As his friend John Kintzing Kane (1795-1858, APS 1825) noted in his 1854 obituary, “Dr. Patterson was an inmate of the University almost from his cradle.”
After graduation Patterson went to Paris to pursue his studies at the Jardins des Plantes. He worked with a number of prominent scientists, including Louis Nicolas Vauquelin (1763-1829), Adrien-Marie Legendre (1752-1833), and Siméon Denis Poisson (1781-1840), who encouraged him to study natural history, chemistry, and mathematics. In 1811 he went to England to complete his training in chemistry with Humphry Davy (1778-1829, APS 1810) at London.
Shortly after his return to Philadelphia in 1812, Patterson was appointed professor of natural philosophy in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. He subsequently also became professor of natural history, chemistry and mathematics in the faculty of arts. In 1814 he assumed the post of Vice Provost. That same year he married Helen Hamilton Leiper (1792-1871), daughter of the merchant and politician Thomas Leiper (1745-1825). The couple had six children.
Around this time Patterson was involved in identifying and acquiring suitable books and instruments for Ferdinand R. Hassler’s (1770–1843, APS 1807) planned coastal survey. The elder Patterson belonged to a group of APS members that had been instrumental in the establishment of a Coast Survey in 1807. Robert Patterson had selected Hassler as its director that year, and, after many delays due to financial problems and difficulties in obtaining suitable instruments, Hassler was finally scheduled to conduct the first survey in 1816-1817. Hassler turned to the APS for assistance, and both father and son probably contributed to a list of useful literature and apparatus. In 1826 Patterson was selected by the Pennsylvania governor to determine the best source of water for the planned state canal.
Patterson remained at the University of Pennsylvania until 1828, when he accepted the chair in natural philosophy at the University of Virginia. He routinely used a large collection of apparatus during his lectures and demonstrations. He evidently was an effective teacher; his colleague and friend Robley Dunglison (1798-1869, APS 1832) recalled that “As a lecturer of science, Dr. Patterson was one of the most successful I have ever heard.” His student John Fries Frazer (1812–1872, APS 1842) noted that from Patterson “he received the best and most effective lessons in the art of teaching.” However, his appointment in 1835 as director of the United States Mint took him out of the classroom and back to Philadelphia. There he drew up a code of mint laws which included changes in the composition of the alloys in the coins. He remained at the Mint until around 1851 when poor health compelled him to curtail his activities. Kane recalled that Patterson passed “unscathed through the purgatory of several political conflicts, and their alternating denunciations of triumph.”
At the age of twenty-two, Patterson was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the youngest man admitted during the first century of the Society’s existence. In 1813 he was elected one of the secretaries, and in 1825 he was chosen as a vice president. From 1849 until his death he served as the Society’s president. He also belonged to the Academy of Natural Science, the Franklin Institute, which he helped found, the Musical Fund Society, and the Institution for the Blind. He was a trustee of Old Scots Presbyterian Church and president of the Pennsylvania Life Annuity Company. Patterson also belonged to the “Five Club,” a social club that also included Kane, Dunglison, George W. Bethune, and Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867, APS 1829), and that met regularly for conversation. Their meetings, according to Judge Kane, were “quiet, joyous, and instructive.”
Patterson died in Philadelphia in 1854.
From the guide to the Robert M. (Robert Maskell) Patterson papers, 1775-1853, 1775-1853, (American Philosophical Society)
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