Joseph Brown (astronomer)

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Joseph Brown (December 3, 1733 – December 3, 1785) was an early American industrialist and astronomer, and professor at Brown University.


Brown was born in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the four surviving sons (known in Providence annals as the “Four Brothers”) of James Brown II (1698 – 1739), a merchant, and Hope Power Brown. Like his father, Joseph Brown engaged in business, and in manufacturing, and acquired sufficient wealth to permit him to follow his natural taste for science. He was greatly interested in the science of electricity, and his knowledge of that subject was remarkable for the time. He left an electric machine of his own construction, an outstanding example of this sort of apparatus for that time.

He devoted considerable study to mechanics and was proficient in astronomy. His attention having been directed to the arrangements in course of preparation for the proper observation of the transit of Venus in 1769, he sent to England for suitable instruments, and subsequently an account of the observations made in Providence was published by Benjamin West, later professor of natural philosophy at Rhode Island College (now Brown University). Brown was a warm friend of the Rhode Island College, and was one of its trustees from 1769 until 1785. In 1770 he received the honorary degree of A.M. from the College, and from 1784 until his death held the chair of natural philosophy, giving his services to the institution without compensation. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1781.[1]

Joseph Brown was a member of the First Baptist Church in America. He died December 3, 1785 in Providence.


His brothers, all merchants of Rhode Island, were: Nicholas Brown, Sr., John Brown (a founder of Rhode Island College), and Moses Brown. He also had a sister, Mary.


  1. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014.