Somerville's American connections

Mary Somerville never visited America, but had long been, in her own words, in communication with some of the most distinguished men of the United States. She was an honorary member of more than one learned American Society, and her best-selling The Connection of the Physical Sciences (1834), which went into nine editions and was translated into German and Italian, also went through various editions in the United States. Her numerous American visitors included Washington Irving and the poet Longfellow.

Through her father Vice-Admiral Sir William George Fairfax, Mary Somerville was connected to George Washington, first President of the United States, a connection valued by Mary and acknowledged by Washington. The latter's step-brother and guardian was married to Anne Fairfax Washington. The American Fairfax's were a branch of the Vice-Admiral's family.

The American War of Independence saw Mary's father, then Lieutenant Fairfax, serving on a British man-of-war on an American station. His daughter recalled that at this time her father, as 'family' received an invitation from George Washington to visit him. The meeting, however, did not take place because of the war, and Lieutenant Fairfax was reprimanded for being in correspondence with the enemy.

Note by: Helen Cook


JOC/EFR April 2000

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