What is this?
The New American Practical Navigator: Being an Epitome of Navigation, by Nathaniel Bowditch
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
Nathaniel Bowditch was born March 26, 1773 in Salem, Massachusetts. His formal education ended at age ten when he went to work in his father’s Salem cooperage shop. Two years later he apprenticed in a ship-chandlery shop, also in Salem. It was in 1795 that he went to sea for the first time. In 1804 he began a successful career on land in the insurance business and a year later published a navigational map of the harbors of Beverly, Salem, Marblehead and Manchester.
During several long voyages in the late 1700s, Bowditch occupied his free time by studying navigation tables found in John Hamiltion Moore’s The New Practical Navigator, a British text and then the most widely used tome of its kind. He discovered numerous errors in the tables, and perhaps motivated by personal tragedy (two of Bowditch’s brothers died at sea, and his great-grandfather and father lost ships at sea). Bowditch, along with several others, completed a revised edition of Moore’s book published by Massachusetts publisher Edmund M. Blunt in 1799. Bowditch continued his examination of The New Practical Navigator and by 1802 he and other individuals had identified and rectified mistakes in Moore’s work that numbered over eight thousand. Blunt consequently decided that rather then issue a new edition of The New Practical Navigator, he would instead publish a new text, The New American Practical Navigator, authored by Bowditch. It appeared that same year and was written as to be accessible to sailors with a rudimentary level of education. The edition seen here is the third, issued in 1807.
The US government purchased the rights to the book in 1867 and still serves as its publisher. Its name was changed to American Practical Navigator in 1880. The edition published that year dropped a great deal of Bowditch’s text. The advance of technology has meant that the current edition bears little resemblance to the 1802 version. Nonetheless, “Bowditch,” as it is often referred to informally, has remained one of the most respected texts of its kind.
Bowditch, Nathaniel. The New American Practical Navigator: Being an Epitome of Navigation. 2d ed. (Newburyport, MA: Edmund M. Blunt, 1807). 9.25″ by 2.5″ by 6″ with brown morocco leather binding (modern rebound) with stamped gilt lettering. The book contains four inscriptions. On the inside front cover is written in pencil: “$550/1377/HH L.V1.87/2nd edn/fine copy; all plates/present.” Also inscribed in pencil, this time on the 2nd leaf, is a sketch of a sailing ship and “von [Loon] [?].” On the 2nd leaf is hand-written in ink: “Eliza Bowditch von Loon/1911.” A last inscription appearing on the title page opposite right, again written in ink, reads: “de Boer.”