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Joshua John Moore Comes to America

Updated: 4 days ago

I decided to start by Googling my favorite ancestor, my fourth great-grandfather, Joshua John Moore. Joshua John was Assistant to the Fifth Astronomer Royal (Neville Maskylene) and a computer for Maskylene’s “Nautical Almanac,” which is still published today. He also had surveying skills. In 1793, his great friend, Nicholas King – who hated the monarchy -- talked him into moving across the Atlantic to the newly created United States of America. Joshua had worked so hard for the Nautical Almanac that he was laid off by the "Board of Longitude" because he had calculated a number of years in advance, and so he was ready and willing to move to America with his friend.

The first item I found said that two (previously unseen) letters from Joshua John were archived in the Pinckney Projects Papers held by the University of South Carolina. I couldn’t figure out why in the world Joshua John would have written South Carolinian Thomas Pinckney in 1793 just before he boarded the USS Hunter with Nicholas King. Then I learned that George Washington appointed Thomas Pinckney to be the U.S. Minister to Great Britain from 1792 to 1796. Joshua John was asking Pinckney to provide him a letter of recommendation that would help him enter New York Society.

When I wrote a librarian from the University of South Carolina to gain access to these letters, I was told the Pinckney archives had been sent to the Library of Congress. At first they couldn’t locate the letters, but eventually a researcher found them. (They are currently in the LOC's Charles Pinckney family papers. The ink is quite faded and it was difficult to transcribe the letters. I have files of the original letters if anybody has an interest in seeing them.)

Below is Joshua's first letter to Pinckney. His humility shows through all the letters I've seen from him -- letters I found years ago between Joshua and President Thomas Jefferson; Joshua helped Jefferson figure out where the Prime Meridian in Washington City should be. He also helped Jefferson explore the possibilities of measuring longitude while in the wilderness, such as for the Lewis & Clark Expedition.


The most stunning revelation is that Joshua John says he is deaf! I have come across nothing so far that suggests he was deaf; perhaps he was just hard of hearing.

September 26, 1793


Honourable [sic] Sir,


A freedom like this from an entire stranger would by most people be deemed as greatly in want of apology, and nothing but the excellent character which fame has long allowed you, could have induced me to act against that impression, but when I am told that you  possess Humanity, Condescension, Generosity and unequivocable Philanthropy, I cannot undervalue or insult those precious virtues so far as to hesitate one moment in addressing you, nor by apology appear to mistrust what I have heard.    


I am a young man who has long had it in mind to visit the continent of America. I think it highly probable that I shall there find reward better proportioned to the exertions of labour [sic] and application than has been my lot to experience in England, but as I have no connection by means of which I can get properly recommended on my arrival there or an application like the present appears to be the only means of surmounting that difficulty. This is the more necessary as I have the misfortune to be deaf and long habits of sedentary and reclusive occupations have rendered me unfit for those active bustling and spirited manners so essential in most affairs where a commerce between man and man is necessary.

I flatter myself that if you will allow me the honour [sic] of a personal interview you will find me qualified for something useful and not discreditable to your recommendation. I have several very respectable friends who can speak to my character, but I wish it were possible you could view me internally and see the integrity and sincerity of my heart.

I shall go to New York in the [USS] Hunter, which will set sail in a very few days.


Be pleased to honour [sic] me with permission to wait upon you, and i shall ever consider it as the greatest of Obligations  conferred on,

Honourable [sir] Sir,

Your most respected Servant,

Joshua Moore

Sept. 26th 1793

No. 33, Red Lion Street, Whitechapel

(He was staying at a pub called King Harry’s Head.)

There is no letter in the archives from Thomas Pinckney himself -- it has apparently been lost -- yet this second letter from Joshua John Moore dated September 28, 1793 implies that there had been at least some form of communication.

September 28, 1793

Honourable [sic] Sir,

In consequence of your permission I have sent the enclosed commendations. Had time permitted I could have increased the number. It is unfortunate that the Astronomer Royal [Neville Maskylene] is at such a distance from town and does not return for some weeks, but I have his authority to say that any application to him respecting me will be properly answered.

Permit me to say that Mr. [Samuel] Favell, from whom comes one of my recommendations is a gentleman well known in the political world, and that the other gentlemen are equally respectable in their respective professions.


The honourable [sic] manner in which you received and listened to my application demands my warmest acknowledgements; and the impression is made upon me will never be effaced from my mind, while memory exists and my heart is capable of gratitude.

I remain with the utmost respect,

Honourable [sic] Sir,

Your much obliged and grateful Servant,

Joshua John Moore


No. 33 Red Lion Street, Whitechapel


P.S. I understand that the Hunter, on which ship I shall embark sails on Wednesday next.

After transcribing these letters, I realized that there were three other letters in the Pinckney archives that were dated September 27, 1793, and these were likely the reference letters Joshua had requested from his patrons and/or friends. My trusty Library of Congress research came through and sent me the letters, which are transcribed below.

Reference letter from Samuel Favell to Thomas Pinckney:


September 27, 1793


Pinckney Esq.


I take the Liberty of addressing this to you to certify that the bearer, Mr. Joshua John Moore is a young man of very fine character and I believe of real merit of talents – I am persuaded he will not be unworthy of any patronage your goodness may think proper to favor him with.


I am with great respect,


Your obedient servant


Samuel Favell

Tooley Street, Sept 27, 1793

I was actually able to find portraits of Samuel Favell, who was a philanthropist and politician of some note in England at the time. I have no idea in what context Joshua John knew him. Here is his portrait:


Reference letter from Caleb Hawkes to Thomas Pinckney:




Mr. Joshua Moore is a young man of unique and unquestionable character of great ability.


I am with Due Respect your excellency, obedient servant,  


Caleb Hawkes


27 Sept ‘93


Illegible address


Reference letter from John Humphries to Thomas Pinckney:




Your Excellency having been pleased to intimate to Mr. Joshua Moore of Cambridge, who is going to America, that you are disposed to recommend him in case he can procure Recommendations to you, I take a Liberty, tho’ I have not the honour [sic] of being known to you, of troubling you with a few lines in his favour [sic].


He is a young man of good Morals and very considerable Abilities, especially in the Mathematical Line, though his Modesty will not permit him to make an ostentatious display of them. He has been for near 5 Years Calculator of the National Almanac under the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich, and previously to that Period, was employed by him as a private Computor [sic]. Your Excellency’s Recommendation of him will be doing an essential Service to a very worthy young Man. I have the honour [sic] to be




Your Excellency’s very humble Servant


John Humphreys, Dissenting [illegible]


Newington Bath [?] Sept 27, 1793

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