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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1815

Vol. I

(Born Ct.)

Charles Davies​a

(Ap'd N. Y.)

Born Jan. 22, 1798, Washington, CT.

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, Dec. 27, 1813, to Dec. 11, 1815, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Light Artillery, Dec. 11, 1815.

Served: in garrison at New England Posts, 1815‑16; at the Military

(Transferred, as Second Lieut., to Corps of Engineers, Aug. 31, 1816)

(Resigned, from Corps of Engineers, Dec. 1, 1816)

Academy, 1816‑37, as Principal Asst. Professor of Mathematics, Dec. 1, 1816, to Oct. 31, 1821, and of Natural and Experimental Philosophy,

(Professor of Mathematics, Military Academy, May 1, 1823)

Oct. 31, 1821, to May 1, 1823, — and Professor of Mathematics, May 1, 1823, to May 31, 1837.

Resigned, May 31, 1837.

Civil History. — Professor of Mathematics, Trinity College, Hartford, Ct., 1839 to 1841. Member of the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy, 1841.

Military History. — Re-appointed in the Army with the rank of

Major, Staff — Paymaster, U. S. Army, Nov. 17, 1841,

and served as Paymaster at West Point, N. Y., 1841‑46, and Treasurer of the Military Academy, Dec. 11, 1841, to Dec. 19, 1846.

Resigned, Sep. 30, 1845.

Civil History. — Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, University of New York, Sep., 1848, to July, 1849. President of the Teachers' Association of the State of New York, Aug. 2, 1843, to Aug. 2, 1844. Professor of Higher Mathematics, Columbia College, New York city, May 18, 1857, to June, 1865, and Emeritus Professor, 1865‑76. Author of a complete series of Mathematical Text-Books, 1837‑67, embracing "Primary Arithmetic and Table-Book;" "First Lessons in Arithmetic;" "Intellectual Arithmetic;" "New School Arithmetic," with "Key;" "Grammar of Arithmetic;" "New University Arithmetic,"  p152 with "Key;" "Elementary Algebra;" "Elementary Geometry and Trigonometry;" "Practical Mathematics;" "Elements of Geometry and Trigonometry, from the Works of A. M. Legendre;" "Elements of Surveying and Navigation;" "Analytical Geometry;" "Differential and Integral Calculus;" "Descriptive Geometry;" "Shades, Shadows, and Perspective;" "Logic and Utility of Mathematics;" and (jointly with Professor Peck) of "Mathematical Dictionary." Degree of A. M. conferred by Williams College, Williamstown, Mas., 1825, and by College of New Jersey, Princeton, N. J., 1824; and of LL. D., by Geneva College, N. Y., 1840.

Died, Sep. 17, 1876, at Fishkill-on‑Hudson, N. Y.: Aged 79.​b

Buried, Davies Cemetery, Oswegatchie, NY.

Biographical Sketch.​c

Professor Charles Davies was born, Jan. 22, 1798, in Washington, Litchfield County, Ct.; and died, Sep. 17, 1876, at Fishkill-on‑Hudson, N. Y., aged 79.

Davies was of Welsh extraction. His father, a man of ability and influence, was at one time a County Judge, and his mother possessed uncommon energy and intelligence. Young Davies, when very young, had removed to St. Lawrence County, N. Y., from which he was appointed a Cadet, Dec. 27, 1813, through the influence of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph G. Swift, for services rendered to Wilkinson's army in the Descent of the St. Lawrence in the autumn of 1813. Brought up in the backwoods on the frontier, he had little education or acquaintance with the outside world; but with a bright mind and accustomed to hard work, he found little difficulty in mastering the simple curriculum of studies then pursued at the Military Academy, from which after two years he was graduated and promoted, Dec. 11, 1815, to be a Bvt. Second Lieut. in the Light Artillery. With his regiment he served in garrison at New England posts till Aug. 31, 1816, when he was transferred to the Corps of Engineers, resigning therefrom, Dec. 1, 1816, to accept the position of Assistant Professor of Mathematics in the Military Academy.

"Henceforward," says Professor Mansfield, "with the exception of two or three intervals of civil and military service, he was practically a teacher; and whether at West Point for many years or in civil institutions, whether in the instruction of a class or the writer of text-books, or the author of various essays and treatises, he has made his mark on the educational system of this country probably quite as much, if not more, than any man in his generation. It was not merely the class teaching of thirty-two years to thousands of young men, who have gone forth to instruct again the millions of their countrymen, but it was also the producing of the best text-books on the exact sciences, which have gone into the schools, academies, and colleges of our country, directing the studies and enlightening the minds of millions of our rising young. The books and writings of Professor Davies were not those of brilliant genius. Neither the character of his mind nor the subjects upon which he wrote admitted that; but, with two or three exceptions, they were those simple, familiar text-books which concentrate and crystallize the light of science. The world of nature affords no greater power, no more beautiful effect, than that of pure, continuous, unchanging light. But the philosopher takes it and passes it through lenses until he makes even that light stronger and more beautiful. It is thus that the light of science, which in its original state is confined only to philosophers, is taken by teachers and writers and put into those simple, crystallized forms in which the common mind can understand it, and partake of both its use and glory. There was a time in the history of the Military Academy when there was not a single text-book prepared by an American, and not one prepared by anybody  p153 which was, in a proper sense, a fit text-book. The first text-book used at West Point approaching such a character was 'Hutton's Mathematics,' used by Professor Ellicott. It was a sort of compendium of mathematics, philosophy, and mechanics, in two octavo volumes. Any one who will examine its algebra, trigonometry, and philosophy will see that it was not up to the needs of the Sophomore Class in the newest college. Yet it was a good book at the time, and far the best-text-book then attainable. When we old cadets came to the higher branches, the application of mathematics, such as mechanical philosophy and engineering, we were completely at sea; no text-book of any sort existed. Professor Crozet, my professor, taught us descriptive geometry and engineering with nothing but a blackboard and a piece of chalk. It was in this state of things that Professor Davies conceived the idea of preparing text-books. In the mean while he had been promoted to be Professor of Mathematics, in which office he served fourteen years. In that period he had not only aided in placing the Military Academy on that better footing and perfect classification which it now has, but began that series of text-books he was many years completing, which stands and will stand a great and noble monument to his name and usefulness.

"It was in 1833 or 1834 that he first took up the idea of writing a text-book, and, naturally enough, he began with that which was the simplest and most needed, — geometry. At that time the French had much the best mathematical text-books in Europe. The English have never equaled them. So Professor Davies began with Legendre's Geometry and followed it up with Bourdon's Algebra. These were, in the main, translations, though adapted to our modes of study. These were his first books, and for three or four years his only ones. These works in algebra and geometry were afterwards so changed by himself as to make them his own. Finding them success­ful, and finding also that the whole country was in need of scientific text-books, he determined to devote himself mainly to that object. Accordingly he resigned his Professorship at West Point, in May, 1837, closing twenty-one years of success­ful instruction at the Military Academy. For the purpose of better perfecting and publishing his text-books he removed to Hartford, Conn., where he resided for several years. From 1839 to 1841 he was Professor of Mathematics in Trinity College, Hartford. There he formed a business connection with A. S. Barnes, then a young man, for the publication of his books. Mr. Barnes, now head of the great publishing firm of A. S. Barnes & Co., New York, has continued to publish his works ever since. These works were eminently success­ful in every sense; and, therefore, it is well to mention the numerous works which constituted the principal labor of his life.

"Beginning, as I have said, with Legendre and Bourdon, he proceeded to trigonometry, to surveying and navigation, descriptive geometry, shades, shadows, and perspective, analytical geometry, differential and integral calculus, and practical mathematics. These books were calculated for the classes at West Point, but before he had finished them it became obvious that a similar class of works was demanded for the schools and colleges of the country. Hence he began a new series of text-books to supply this demand. He prepared the primary, the school, and the university arithmetics, the first lessons, the intellectual and the grammar of arithmetic, the elementary algebra, and the elementary geometry. In all, he prepared more than twenty different volumes on the subject of mathematical education. Nor was this all. He published three other works relating to the same subject. One was the 'Logic and Utility of Mathematics;' another was the 'Mathematical Dictionary,' prepared jointly with Professor Peck; and the last a description of the 'Metric System.' That subject had come up before the Board of Regents of the University in New York. An attempt had been made to  p154 introduce the French Metric System into this country, and Mr. Davies was appointed to prepare an essay on that question. It is a most thorough and complete analysis of the difficulties attending the introduction of a new and entirely foreign system of measures into the business of the country. This was his last important work. In the publication of these books, however, there was a constant labor of revision, which required more time even than their preparation. Thus, looking at his life from his resignation in 1837 to his death, a period of nearly fifty years, simply as a public writer and preparer of books upon education, it was a life of labor, of duty, of usefulness, and of success seldom equaled, scarcely ever surpassed. For such a labor and such usefulness the world has hardly any measure of praise or reward; for it is not the great workers of the world who win its greatest laurels. The dashing soldier, the brilliant poet, the eloquent orator, the ingenious inventor, are welcomed with the shouts of the multitude and the voice of trumpets. But the worker who builds the foundations of society must build them in silence, with the great consolation that those foundations will be his monument. They will endure; and none endure longer than those of the great teachers of mankind. Mr. Davies was not, however, without the common honor which our colleges bestow, as much to honor themselves as others. Four or five conferred upon him such degrees as they had to bestow. In the mean while he held, as a sort of interlude to his main work, offices of instruction in institutions of education. He was two years Professor of Mathematics in Trinity College, Hartford; one year Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy in the University of New York; and eight years Professor of the Higher Mathematics in Columbia College, New York. He was naturally a teacher, and never left that employment without regret. He seemed to think it a delight­ful office to lead forth, as education means, the young mind to develop its powers, to try higher flights and ascend to higher regions. In his office of teaching, as well as in the character of his mind, he was entirely practical. He had no dream of imagination, no theories of philosophy, but led the student to know just what he could do, and what would be useful to him, in that great, living world in which he had to live and act. As teacher, professor, writer, we may now leave him; in the grave he may be forgotten, but not so his labor. A single pebble thrown in the ocean stirs all its waves; and so the intellectual labor of any one mind, however small, compared with the great mass of minds, nevertheless stirs the idea of living souls, until its waves dash on the shores of eternity.

"In the life of the man and the citizen, Professor Davies was equally distinguished as pure, useful, and honorable. Marrying while quite young the daughter of Professor Mansfield, of West Point, he lived for more than half a century in uninterrupted domestic happiness. After leaving West Point in 1846, where he had been for several years Paymaster, he bought a beautiful place at Fishkill-on‑the‑Hudson, where he resided for thirty years in peace and quietness. His home was the home of hospitality, and nothing delighted him more than to entertain the friends, and neighbors, and strangers, who were often visitors at his house. As a host, he was almost unequaled. He was scarcely excelled as a talker, and had a great fund of anecdote and illustration; and that still greater talent of discerning and studying the entertainment and comfort of his guests. In fine, he was one with whom having met you would not like to part, and having parted from you would wish to meet again. With a most amiable temper and benevolent disposition, he lived among his fellow-men so that they were better for his having lived. He had long been a member of the Episcopal Church, and performed all his duties as a practical Christian, so that, when disease met him under painful circumstances and death was near, he had little to regret, nothing to fear. West  p155 Point was in life the object of his pride and his regard. West Point may well honor his memory, and place his name among her greatest and worthiest."

Thayer's Notes:

a He was the older brother of Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas A. Davies.

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b Sic: but that made him 78 years old; Cullum tends to round the age at death upward. Also, the date of his death on his tombstone (q.v.) is Sept. 21.

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c For his personality; see also F. H. Smith, "West Point Fifty Years Ago" and Latrobe's Reminiscences of West Point, pp29‑30. For a very good biographical sketch of him, letters, bibliographical material, and further links, see Prof. Rickey's site on the History of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point.

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Page updated: 1 Apr 13