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Priestley, Joseph

Born: 1733 AD
Died: 1804 AD
2.5 (50.48%) 21 votes

1733 – He was born on the 13th day of March this year at Fieldhead, and lived in the parish of Birstall, six miles from Leeds, in the northern English county of Yorkshire. He learned a variety of languages, both classical and modern, including several Semitic languages.


1751 – He entered Daventry, a school under the auspices of Nonconformism, and there his religious views took shape.


1755 – In September of this year, he started as a parish minister in Needham Market, Suffolk, though he was not officially ordained until on the 18th of May 1762. He became an adherent of Arianism and a fervent abolitionist.


1761 – It was here that he published his grammar book in this year a remarkably liberal grammar for its day and other books on history and educational theory. He taught anatomy and astronomy and led field trips for his students to collect fossils and botanical specimens.


1762 – He married Mary Wilkinson of Wrexham, and by September 1767 the combination of his finances and her health caused him to relocate to Leeds.


1768 – In Leeds Priestley also published two political works, Essay on the First Principles of Government in this year and The Present State of Liberty in Great Britain and her Colonies in 1769.


1772 – He published a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air in which he described a process of dripping sulfuric acid (or oil of vitriol as Priestley knew it) onto chalk in order to produce carbon dioxide and forcing the gas to dissolve by agitating a bowl of water in contact with the gas. He was also hired by Lord Shelburne, as his personal librarian, and stayed in that post until 1780.


1772 – He wrote Observations on Civil Liberty and the Nature and Justice of the War with America.


1774 – He discovered oxygen, unaware of Carl Wilhelm Scheele’s prior discovery sometime before 1773. His discovery was published in 1775 in Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air and in 1777 Scheele’s discovery was published in his book Chemical Treatise on Air and Fire.


1777 – He wrote The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity. This book was devoted to the subject of the freedom of the human will. Schopenhauer, in his On the Freedom of the Will, in 1839, included Priestley as one of three great men who completely changed their minds regarding this subject.


1780 – He moved to Birmingham and was appointed junior minister of the New Meeting Society. He became a member of the Lunar Society, but his admiration for the French Revolution caused him to be driven out of the city in the Priestley Riots of 1791.


1793 – He next moved to London where he received an invitation to become morning preacher at Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney. His three sons immigrated to the United States in this year. Priestley followed them, seeking political and religious freedom. Although never naturalised, he lived in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, for the last decade of his life until his death.


1804 – At the age of 70, he died on the 8th day of February this year.

2.5 (50.48%) 21 votes