1788 book set math course for Americans

Published 6:08 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

By Gene Hays
MSgt. USMC (Ret)
By 1785 Americans were ready for new math. In 1773, the sixth edition of Thomas Dilworth’s
classic Schoolmaster’s Assistant was the dominant textbook of the day for students in American
grammar schools.
Dilworth was a British cleric and schoolteachers used his book as they delivered lessons to their
pupils. It was the most widely used text for teaching math. But with the American Revolution
came a certain amount of hostility to many things British. His examples of diverting stories for
children had a British flavor.
His lessons in arithmetic used British units of measure and currency as measurements to be
mastered. Pounds, shillings, and pence were still in use in America; Congress was phasing
them out, replacing them with a system of dollars and cents.
It was difficult for teachers and students alike to master the new currency on their own. While
any number of small texts were published and adopted in pockets of the country, Nicholas Pike
was the first to put forward a book in 1788, that would be widely accepted, titled the New and
Complete System of Arithmetic – Composed for the Use of the Citizens of the United States.
Pike was not alone in the field of math publishing, however. In 1799 Nathan Daboll of Groton,
Connecticut, published his Daboll’s Schoolmaster’s Assistant: being a plain, practical system of
arithmetic, adapted to the United States. Daboll was a teacher in New London, Connecticut,
who taught navigation to sailors there. In the 1770s he began publishing almanacs, some
featuring pro-American propaganda to help promote the Revolution.
After the war Daboll’s work became so famous, he earned a mention in Herman Mellville’s Moby
Dick, and when someone wanted a short-hand expression to mean that something was correct
and beyond question, he said it was: “According to Daboll.”
Gene Hays is an author and historian with books on Amazon.

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