Joseph Priestley was an Eighteenth Century chemist and one of the discoverers of Oxygen
When and Where Was he Born?
13th March 1733, Birstal, Fieldhead, near Leeds, Yorkshire, England.
Joseph Priestley came from a family of handloom weavers and cloth-dressers.
Local Grammar School. Nonconformist Academy, Daventry. He became a gifted scholar in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and many other languages.
Chronology/Biography of Joseph Priestley:
1740: Death of his mother. Goes to live with his nonconformist Aunt. Although his time at Grammar School was fairly short due to ill health he had the benefit of local tutors and became proficient in physics, philosophy and mathematics as well as several foreign languages.
1749: Whilst at Daventry Academy Priestley studied history, science and philosophy. He was particularly taken by the philosopher David Hartley’s ideas on education of man and free will.
1755: He became a Minister at the Presbyterian Church at Needham Market.
1758: Moved to Nantwich in Cheshire where he opened a small school hoping to put some of his ideas on education into practice.
1761: Priestley appointed a tutor at the Warrington Academy in Lancashire which was a major nonconformist organisation. He made several trips to London and there met Benjamin Franklin.
1767: Began discussing the theory of science education and stated that the history of science was important because it showed how human beings interpret and direct the forces of nature. Became a Minister of the Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds, where he began to study Chemistry.
1768: Priestley turned his attentions to politics and his works were to have a major influence on Jeremy Bentham.
1772: He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.
1774: Discovers Oxygen for the first time but it is a while before he can work on it to be sure of its properties. He accompanied Lord Shelburne on a tour of the Continent. In a pamphlet he attacked the British Government for depriving the American Colonists of their rights and liberties.
1780: Elected to the St. Petersburg Academy in Russia. Moves to Birmingham where he became friends with and worked with many prominent members of the Lunar Society including Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton and James Watt. He was also interested in politics and formed a group called the Rational Dissenters which attracted suspicion from the government and the local people. He also attacked the ideas of Edmund Burke.
1791: Priestley’s writings defended the French Revolution and he formed the Constitutional Society in Birmingham. His ideas were just as inflammatory as those of Tom Paine and local politicians attacked Priestley, which led to an angry mob breaking into his house and burning most of his Papers and equipment. He fled the city and moved to London where he took up a teaching post at New College in Hackney. He was, however, just as unpopular with the local population in London as he had been in Birmingham.
1794: Priestley decided to emigrate to America and settled in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He continued to write on religious topics and formed the first Unitarian Church in America.
1755: “The Scripture Doctrine of Remission.”
1765: “Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life”.
1766: “History and Present State of Electricity.”
1767: “The History of Electricity”.
1768: “The First Principles of Government and the Nature of Political, Civil and Religious Liberty”. “Essay on Government”. (This work provided Thomas Jefferson with ideas fore the American Declaration of Independence).
1774: “The State of Public Liberty in General and of American Affairs in Particular”. “Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever”.
1777: “Disquisition relating to Matter and Sprit”.
1782: “The History of the Corruptions of Christianity.”
1786: “History and Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ”.
1791: “A Political Dialogue on the General Principles of Government”.
1762: To Mary Wilkinson, sister of John Wilkinson the famous iron founder. The ceremony took place at the Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel in Warrington.
When and Where did he Die?
6th February 1804, Northumberland, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
Riverview Cemetery, Northumberland, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.
Places of Interest:
Meeting House where he gave lectures is now St Michael’s Catholic Church on Moor Street Queensway.
Statue in Chamberlain Square.
Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel, Warrington.
Newington Green Unitarian Chapel.
Bowood House, Calne.