Early American Astrology

Greetings all!

Image from astrologer Jacob Taylor’s 1697 book  Tenebrae , the first mathematical treatise printed in English in the New World. Image courtesy of  The Library Company .

Image from astrologer Jacob Taylor’s 1697 book Tenebrae, the first mathematical treatise printed in English in the New World. Image courtesy of The Library Company.

I’ve decided to make my webinar on early American astrology available to the public. This is a presentation I did for Kepler College in 2015, and includes almost all original sourcework (I like how that word sounds kind of like “sorcery” … very apt!)

The talk begins in 1688 with a discussion of the Quaker astrologer Daniel Leeds, and the eminent mathematician-astrologer Jacob Taylor. The careers of both these men precede Benjamin Franklin’s almanacking empire. Next I spend some time close-reading an early American play that spoofs astrology, to show that the American public would have had to have been conversant with astrological language to get the jokes. I then take a big leap in time to the 1840s, and look at the most popular American novel of the era, The Quaker City, and its sympathetic portrait of an astrologer. The author based the astrologer on Thomas Hague, a colorful Philadelphia figure who published yearly predictions.

Edgar Allan Poe enjoyed insulting Hague in print, and yet overall the legendary writer of “The Raven” was sympathetic to astrology. I talk a bit about Poe’s lifelong fascination with the fixed stars, as well as the visionary cosmology he penned at the end of his life, Eureka. Lastly I dive into Melville’s astrology novel, Mardi, often considered his “warm-up” to his epic Moby-Dick. You can view a clip of the Melville section of the talk by clicking here.

Still from my PowerPoint presentation, featuring a page from one of Taylor’s almanacs. This page contains a poem he composed about the nativity (birth chart) of Philadelphia on the anniversary of its founding.

Still from my PowerPoint presentation, featuring a page from one of Taylor’s almanacs. This page contains a poem he composed about the nativity (birth chart) of Philadelphia on the anniversary of its founding.

I didn’t realize until I gave a talk on early American astrology that I have a book in me about it! I also didn’t realize how long it would take me to write that book, and so I want to make this material available now for the benefit of other scholars. Most accounts of the history of American astrology begin in the mid 19th century; my talk ends there. It’s a rich and funky and distinctly American history, and I do a fair amount of interpretation of the evidence - this is not just a list of references. We haven’t been telling early American astrological history because no one’s been looking for it, and I think that’s a tragic oversight.

My hour-and-a-half talk is integrated with the PowerPoint lecture I gave with it. For $20, it’s yours to view indefinitely. After receiving payment, I send you the password and the video link, and you’ll be transported back in time almost 400 years to meet the first sons of the art in the New World …