Josiah Meigs

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Josiah Meigs
President of the
University of Georgia
In office
Preceded byAbraham Baldwin
Succeeded byJohn Brown
Personal details
Born(1757-08-21)August 21, 1757
Middletown, Connecticut, British America
DiedSeptember 4, 1822(1822-09-04) (aged 65)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
ChildrenClara Meigs
Alma materYale University

Josiah Meigs (August 21, 1757 – September 4, 1822) was an American academic, journalist, and government official. He was the first acting president of the University of Georgia in Athens, where he implemented the university's first physics curriculum in 1801, and also president of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences.

Early life and education[edit]

Meigs was the 13th and last child of Jonathan Meigs and Elizabeth Hamlin Meigs.[1] His older brother was Return J. Meigs, Sr., whose son (Josiah's nephew) was Return J. Meigs, Jr., who served as a United States Senator and Governor of Ohio.

After graduating from Yale University in 1778 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) degree, Meigs studied law and was a Yale tutor in mathematics, natural philosophy, and astronomy from 1781 to 1784. He was admitted to the bar in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1783, and served as New Haven city clerk from 1784 to 1789. During this period, he and Eleutheros Dana established and published The New Haven Gazette, later known as The New Haven Gazette and The Connecticut, a magazine. In 1788, Meigs published the first American Medical Journal.[2]


In 1789, Meigs left New Haven, Connecticut, for St. George, Bermuda, where he practiced law and was involved in defending the owners of U.S. vessels that had been captured by British privateers.[2] In 1794 he returned to the United States and took the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Yale. As a Republican, he was in conflict with the Federalists who ran Yale.[3] He taught there until 1801 when he was chosen as the first acting president of the University of Georgia in Athens. His salary at Georgia was fixed at $1500 annually, and he was given $400 in moving expenses for his family.

At Georgia, Meigs implemented the university's first physics curriculum in 1801. He resigned as president on August 9, 1810, after clashing with the university's board of trustees; however, he continued on in the position of Professor of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Chemistry for one more year.

After his academic career at the University of Georgia, Meigs was appointed Surveyor General by President James Madison in 1812, and relocated to Cincinnati.[4] Meigs, however, was astronomer more than surveyor and took instruction from his predecessor, Jared Mansfield, by correspondence and from his clerks in the Washington, D.C. office.[5] He then accepted an appointment as Commissioner of the United States General Land Office in Washington, D.C., in 1814. During his tenure at the U.S. Land Office, serving under Thomas Jefferson, he instituted the nation's first system of daily meteorological observations at the land offices throughout the country, which evolved into the National Weather Service.


In 1818, Meigs was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.[6] During the 1820s, Meigs was a member, and at one point, president, of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences.[7] He was also one of the original corporators and trustees of Columbian College (now George Washington University), and professor of experimental philosophy there.


Marker over the grave of Josiah Meigs at Arlington National Cemetery

In 1782, Meigs married Clara Benjamin. Their son Henry Meigs served in the U.S. Congress. Another son, Charles Delucena Meigs, became a prominent obstetrician. Their daughter Clara married John Forsyth, U.S. Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Among his grandchildren was the American Civil War Major General Montgomery C. Meigs.

Meigs died on September 4, 1822, and was buried in Holmead's Cemetery in Washington, D.C. In 1878, when The cemetery was disbanded and the graves removed, he was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in the lot of Major General Meigs.


He is remembered at the University of Georgia in the name of the university's highest teaching honor. The university annually recognizes up to five faculty members with the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship. The city of Meigs, Georgia, is named in his honor as is Meigs Street in Athens, Georgia.[8]


  1. ^ "The 1st - 6th Meigs Generations - Genealogy". Archived from the original on August 30, 2007. Retrieved November 26, 2008., Meigs Family History and Genealogy website
  2. ^ a b Josiah Meigs Archived February 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine by Rick Meigs, Meigs Family History and Genealogy website
  3. ^ Meigs 1887 : 38-43
  4. ^ Meigs 1887: 62
  5. ^ Roffie Burt. (1982). The survey of Mississippi's state, Indian and township boundaries. Jackson, Miss.: Mississippi Assoc. of Land Surveyors. (Reprinted 1992). p. 84. MDAH website Retrieved 9 June 2023.
  6. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  7. ^ Rathbun, Richard (1904). The Columbian institute for the promotion of arts and sciences: A Washington Society of 1816-1838. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, October 18, 1917. Retrieved June 20, 2010.
  8. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.


External links[edit]

Media related to Josiah Meigs at Wikimedia Commons