Tuesday, February 3, 2009

John Flamsteed and Hawkins Family History

Astronomer John Flamsteed, Fellow of the Royal Society (1646-1719)
In a previous posting, I wrote about the Little Ice Age, and the harsh New England winters that the early Hawkins family endured. What follows here expands somewhat on that same thread, by highlighting a number of interesting chronological intersections between the early days of the Hawkins family in Derby, the life of British Astronomer John Flamsteed, and that period of extreme global cooling known as the Little Ice Age.

I've synthesized all the information below from the contents of two Wikipedia pages on the Maunder Mimimum, and John Flamsteed, respectively, and recorded Hawkins family history. Enjoy!

  • The middle (and coldest) part of the Little Ice Age coincided with the Maunder Minimum, a period of observed minimal sunspot activity, that occurred from 1645 to 1715. Whether or not there is a scientific connection between these two events is currently being debated.

  • The year 1670, the same year that the Hawkins homestead was established in Derby, Connecticut, was the lowest point in the Maunder Minimum. Astronomers recorded no sunspots at all that year.

  • In 1674, while the first Hawkins house was probably under construction, astronomer John Flamsteed, of Derbyshire, England, spent two months at Cambridge and heard Isaac Newton deliver his Lucasian Lectures. Isaac Newton was born, by the way, in 1643, less than one year after the birth of Joseph Hawkins. Newton and Hawkins could be said to have lived fairly parallel lives, going through their most significant life phases roughly at the same time, until Hawkins' untimely death in 1682, at age forty. (Of course, it seems absolutely certain, that neither man had any knowledge of the other.)

  • In March of 1675, two months prior to the founding of Derby, Connecticut, Flamsteed was appointed the first British Astronomer Royal. Derby, Connecticut was named after Derby, Derbyshire, England, by the way, and Flamsteed was a graduate of the Derby School in Derbyshire.

  • In June of 1675, the month following the founding of Derby, Connecticut, the Royal Greenwich Observatory was established, with Flamsteed laying the foundation stone that August.

  • Flamsteed's residence at the Observatory was from July of 1676 until 1684, more or less coinciding with the height of Hawkins family activity in Derby, Connecticut, until Joseph Hawkins' death in 1682.

  • A modern analysis of Flamsteed's observations reveal that the sun's rotation may have actually slowed down during the lowest period of the Maunder Minimum (which, of course, hit its own local minima in 1670).

  • Joseph and Abigail Hawkins, and their children, in addition to enduring some of the harshest New England winters in history, may have frequently observed auroras during their early years together in Derby. All this owing to the sun's activity during the Maunder Minimum.

So...is all of this historical concurrency merely coincidental? Or have I stumbled across a few, exposed portions of some profound cosmic thread slowly revealing itself over a very long period of time? I think I'll leave it up to the readers to decide for themselves....

"February," de Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410


Tolb said...

Conclusion: Squire Hawkins no doubt had a very warm pair of bunny slippers to wear on those long, cold mornings during the Minimum. Undoubtedly, one of the bunny slippers was named "Flamsteed". Unfortunately, history does not record whether it was the left or the right.

John Poole said...


Obviously, that was a "trick comment" because an historian such as yourself would know that they didn't make "left" and "right" shoes back in those days. Sneaky!

Furthermore, we are currently scanning the walls with ultrasound equipment, searching for those elusive bunny slippers. Will let you know when we find them.

- John

Cassie said...

What an interesting blog you have. Just read your squirrel tale.Funny how smart those little guys are.

John Poole said...

Thanks Cassie!

Yeah, they are incredibly smart, and totally honed for survival. They really amaze me.

- John

AlexandraFunFit said...

Umm, what?
1. Flamsteed sounds like something I put into my fruit smoothies in the morning. Was he delicious and health-promoting?
2. Maunder Minimum? What is that? A required bet amount back in the days when they held beer-cap lagging contests at Cambridge?
3. Little Ice Age - I think you are going through that now. No further comment.
4. Those harsh New England winters sure sound fun. I can't wait to be there during one so I can enjoy some aurora watching. Will go buy my ticket on the Observatory Express right now.
5. Do you think the Hawkins family would have been warmer if they had eaten more kale?

John Poole said...

In response to your varied and sundry queries:

1. For astronomers, definitely.

2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_Minimum. Beer cap lagging contests at Cambridge -- how did you know about those???

3. I think were headed for a Big Nouveau Ice Age, myself.

4. Great. It's fun to lie on your back in the snow making snow angels, while watching those auroras.

5. I think just about any consumed bio-mass would've been relied on to keep one warm and alive in those days. Did you know that even farm animals were on occasion brought into the homes to keep them alive? :-)

AlexandraFunFit said...

Dear Mr. Poole:
Regarding #4 - You like on your back for snow angels? You told me the right way was prone. Was that a trick? I never saw any auroras either - now I know why.
Regarding #5 - To keep them alive? What the heck? You told me it was so those cows didn't get overly lonely. Same with the sheep. Say, are you funning me?

John Poole said...

That's one wild and crazy imagination you have there, AFF! Yeah...it's just like you say! *running away and hiding in the cellar*