Joseph Priestley (1733 - 1804) MP

‹ Back to Priestley surname



0 1 12
Adds more complete birth place, more complete burial place and sibling(s).

View Joseph Priestley's complete profile:

  • See if you are related to Joseph Priestley
  • Request to view Joseph Priestley's family tree


Birthplace: Birstall, Yorkshire, UK
Death: Died in Northumberland, PA, USA
Managed by: Joy Evelyn Priestley
Last Updated:

About Joseph Priestley

In August 1774 he isolated an "air" that appeared to be completely new (oxygen).

In his paper "Observations on Respiration and the Use of the Blood", Priestley was the first to suggest a connection between blood and air.

The Priestleys arrived in New York City in 1794.

-------------------- Dr Priestley was about the middle stature, or five feet eight inches high. He was slender and well proportioned; his complextion was fair, his eyes grey and sparkling with intelligence, and his whole countenance was expressive of the benignity of his heart. He often smiled, but seldom laughed. He was extremely active and agile in his motions. He walked fast and very erect, and his deportment was dignified. His common dress was a black coat without a cape, a fine linen or cambric stock, a cocked hat, a powdered wig (which, however, he laid aside in America), shoes and buckles. The whole of his dress was remarkably clean, and his purity of person and simply dignity of manners evinced that philosophy of propriety which prevailed throughout his conduct as a private individual. He was an ungraceful orator; his voice as low and faltering; and he had a custom of shruggling up his shoulders.

Joseph Priestley (13 March 1733 (Old Style) – 6 February 1804) was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works. He is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen, having isolated it in its gaseous state, although Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Antoine Lavoisier also have a claim to the discovery.[2]

During his lifetime, Priestley's considerable scientific reputation rested on his invention of soda water, his writings on electricity, and his discovery of several "airs" (gases), the most famous being what Priestley dubbed "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen). However, Priestley's determination to defend phlogiston theory and to reject what would become the Chemical Revolution eventually left him isolated within the scientific community.

Priestley's science was integral to his theology, and he consistently tried to fuse Enlightenment rationalism with Christian theism.[3] In his metaphysical texts, Priestley attempted to combine theism, materialism, and determinism, a project that has been called "audacious and original".[4] He believed that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress and eventually bring about the Christian Millennium.[4] Priestley, who strongly believed in the free and open exchange of ideas, advocated toleration and equal rights for religious Dissenters, which also led him to help found Unitarianism in England. The controversial nature of Priestley's publications combined with his outspoken support of the French Revolution aroused public and governmental suspicion; he was eventually forced to flee, in 1791, first to London, and then to the United States, after a mob burned down his home and church. He spent the last ten years of his life living in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.

A scholar and teacher throughout his life, Priestley also made significant contributions to pedagogy, including the publication of a seminal work on English grammar and the invention of modern historiography. These educational writings were some of Priestley's most popular works. It was his metaphysical works, however, that had the most lasting influence: leading philosophers including Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer credit them among the primary sources for utilitarianism.

view all

Rev. Joseph Priestley's Timeline

March 13, 1733
Yorkshire, UK
June 23, 1762
Age 29
Warrington, UK
Age 29
Warrington, England
Age 34
Staffordshire, UK
Age 37
Age 40
Calne, England
February 6, 1804
Age 70
Northumberland, PA, USA
Northumberland, Northumberland, Pennsylvania, United States