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James Ferguson Letters to James Beresford


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Ferguson, James, 1710-1776

James Ferguson was a Scottish-born astronomer and instrument maker. He taught himself how to read by listening to his father teach his father. At the age of 7, his taste for mechanics was accidentally awakened on seeing his father making use of a lever to raise a part of the roof of his house. While at home recovering from a sickness, Ferguson amused himself with making a clock with wooden wheels and a whalebone spring. In 1743 he went to London, which became his home for the rest of his life. Ferguson wrote various papers for the Royal Society of London, of which he became a fellow in 1763. He devised many astronomical and mechanical models, and in 1748 began to give public lectures on experimental philosophy. These he repeated in larger towns in England. His deep interest in the subject, his clear explanations, his ingeniously constructed diagrams, and his mechanical apparatus rendered him one of the most successful of popular lecturers on scientific subjects. It is, however, as the inventor and improver of astronomical and other scientific apparatus, and as a striking instance of self-education, that he claims a place among the most remarkable men of science of his country.

James Beresford was a teacher of mathematics at Bendley in Worcestershire, England.

The collection consists of six letters written by the Scottish-born astronomer and instrument maker James Ferguson to the mathematics teacher James Beresford. The letters were written while Ferguson was on lecture tours through Newcastle, Cheadle, and Derby, England, teaching experimental philosophy. Included are detailed drawings of clocks which Ferguson invented or made improvement to, including one by Benjamin Franklin. In his letter dated Oct. 22, 1771, is a detailed drawing and explanation of one of his clocks which shows the "phases of the moon, the motion of the earth, the vicissitudes of the seasons, the places of the earth which are enlightened by the sun at any time of inspection, with the length of the days and nights at all times of the year, at all places of the earth." Of interest is a drawing of "Mr. Cox's Perpetual Motion" clock, which was displayed at Cox's Museum. Ferguson saw it and was the first person to refer to it in his commonplace book (1769). His testimonial as to the ingenuity of Cox' clock was quoted in Cox's museum catalogue, a clipping of which is attached to Ferguson's letter dated Feb. 28, 1774. All the drawings include keys to the parts, and very detailed explanations of the mechanisms. On the same sheet as one of Ferguson's drawings are some notes by James Beresford. In addition to the clocks, Ferguson also gives Beresford an account of three towns he is visiting, his lectures, and the number of "subscribers" attending his classes.


This collection was processed by Dina Britain on May 12, 2009. Finding aid written by Elizabeth Mulvey on June 16, 2009. Folder Inventory added by Hilde Creager '2015 in 2012.

No appraisal information is available.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Collection Inventory

Letters from James Ferguson to James Beresford, 1771-1774. 8 folders.
Physical Description

8 folders

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