Joseph Priestley

1733-1804. A Nonconformist minister famous for his work in the chemistry of gases, and who also published his ideas on philosophy, religion, education, and political theory. Born in Yorkshire of a strict Calvinist family, he rejected the religion of the established churches, became a Dissenting minister, and by the age of twenty-seven was a teacher of classics and literature at a Dissenting academy in Warrington. While there he wrote A Chart of Biography (1765) and A New Chart of History (1769) which earned him a doctor of law degree from the University of Edinburgh and a fellowship of the Royal Society.* In 1767 he became the minister of a congregation at Mill Hill, Leeds, which shared his views. Although before this he had rejected the doctrine of the Atonement and of the Trinity, now he took the final step to Unitarianism* and argued that Christ was only a man. He subsequently wrote works such as History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (1786) to try to demonstrate that Unitarianism was the teaching of the early church. By 1780 he was living in Birmingham, where he was active in the Lunar Society. When the French Revolution broke out, Priestley supported it, and because of this, a Birmingham mob broke into his house and destroyed his belongings. Discouraged by this turn of events, he went to America (1794), settling in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, where he spent the last ten years of his life.

J.T. Rutt (ed.), The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley (25 vols. in 26, 1817-32); T.E. Thorpe, Joseph Priestley (1906); E.F. Smith, Priestley in America, 1794-1804 (1920); R.E. Crook, A Bibliography of Joseph Priestley 1733-1804 (1966).