Josiah Meigs

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Josiah Meigs
Josiah Meigs silhouette.png
1813 or 1814 silhouette
President of the
University of Georgia
In office
Preceded by Abraham Baldwin
Succeeded by John Brown
Personal details
Born (1757-08-21)August 21, 1757
Middletown, Connecticut
Died September 4, 1822(1822-09-04) (aged 65)
Washington, D.C.
Alma mater Yale University

Josiah Meigs (August 21, 1757 – September 4, 1822) was an American academic, journalist and government official. He was president of the University of Georgia (UGA) 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. His grandson was Major General Montgomery C. Meigs.


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 (from 1781 to 1784) a Yale tutor in mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy. Yale class of 1778 included Noah Webster, Joel Barlow, Oliver Wolcott, Uriah Tracy, Zephaniah Swift, Ashur Miller, and Noah Smith.[2] 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 established and published The New Haven Gazette (later known as The New Haven Gazette and the Connecticut Magazine) and in 1788 published the first American Medical Journal.[3]


In 1789 Meigs left New Haven 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.[3] 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.[4] He taught there until 1801 when he was chosen as the president of the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens. His salary at Georgia was fixed at fifteen hundred dollars, and he was given four hundred dollars 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 Board of Trustees for the University; however, he continued on in the position of Professor of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Chemistry for one more year. John Brown was elected by the Board of Trustees as the new president.

After his academic career at UGA, Meigs was appointed Surveyor General by President James Madison in 1812, residing in Cincinnati, Ohio.[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, he instituted the nation's first system of daily meteorological observations at the land offices throughout the country.


During the 1820s, Meigs was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, who counted among their members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.[6]

Meigs was also at one point, the president of the Columbian Institute. 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.

Meigs died on September 4, 1822 and was originally buried in Holmead's Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The cemetery was disbanded and the graves removed, so he was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1878 in the lot of his grandson, Major General Montgomery C. 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. Also, Meigs Hall, at the northwest corner of the university campus, is named in his honor as is Meigs Street in Athens, Georgia.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2008-11-26. , Meigs Family History and Genealogy website
  2. ^ Meigs 1887 : 10
  3. ^ a b Josiah Meigs Archived 2009-02-06 at the Wayback Machine. by Rick Meigs, Meigs Family History and Genealogy website
  4. ^ Meigs 1887 : 38-43
  5. ^ Meigs 1887 : 62
  6. ^ Rathbun, Richard. 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 2010-06-20. 


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