North American Scholar

WILLIAMS, Nathaniel

  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1675-08-25
  • Born City: Boston
  • Born State/Country: MA
  • Parents: Lt. Nathaniel & Mary Oliver Shrimpton W.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2008-01-10
  • Death City: Boston
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Anne Bradstreet, ca. 1699.
  • Education:

    A.B. Harvard, 1693; ordained 1698.

  • Professional Experience:

    Private tutor, Boston, 1700-3; tchr. Boston Latin Sch., 1703-8; headmaster, 1708-33; founded gramm. sch. in Boston, 1734-7.

  • Publications:

    Ezekiel Cheever, A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue (ed.) (Boston, 1708); The Method of Practice in the Small-Pox, with Observations on the Way of Inoculation. . . (Boston, 1752).

  • Notes:

    Nathanael Williams, the first American-born classicist in this volume, had a most unusual career as schoolmaster, minister, and physician. Having been ordained in the College Hall, he was sent to the inhospitable climate of the British West Indies. There he met and married Anne Bradstreet, granddaughter of Anne Dudley Bradstreet (1612-72), the earliest and most prominent American poetess of the day, and with her returned to America after only two years. With his important family connections, Williams found no difficulty in becoming a tutor to sons of prominent Bostonians. He was appointed to assist Ezekiel Cheever, the famous headmaster of the Boston Latin School, and when Cheever died in 1708, Williams was the logical one to succeed him, serving in that capacity for the next 25 years. During this period, in addition to teaching and occasionally preaching—"he was a pillar of the Old South Church"— he somehow found time to study "Chymistry and Physick, under his Uncle the Learned Dr. James Oliver of Cambridge. He developed a successful private practice and at times was employed by the colony." For reasons that are not clear his family persuaded him not to accept the offered rectorship of Yale, possibly because in that position he could certainly not supplement his salary by practicing medicine. He continued to teach for ten more years and then resigned, apparently, however, not to devote full time to medicine. His pedagogical instincts proved too strong. A few months later he founded a private school.Williams' significance for American classical study has only recently come to light. When Ezekiel Cheever's A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue was published in 1709, that date and the additional wording on the title page should have been enough to show that Cheever himself was not the editor. Speculation about the editor's identity usually involved three possibilities: Samuel Cheever, Ezekiel's son, a minister; Ezekiel Lewis, his grandson and his assistant for several years; and Nathanael Williams, his assistant for five years, who succeeded him as headmaster. It is clear from notes in Williams' hand in a first edition of the "Accidence," that he was the editor of the first five editions of the Accidence, down through 1739. There were other editors of the other 18 editions down through the last in 1838, but his five editions formed the basis for all the rest.

  • Sources:

    John F. Latimer & Kenneth B. Murdock, "The 'Author' of Cheever's Accidence," CJ 46 (1950-1) 391-7; Sibley's Harvard Graduates . . . ed. Clifford K. Shipton, 4 (Cambridge, 1933), 242-45; Clifford K. Shipton, DAB 20:283-4.

  • Author: John Francis Latimer