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Identifier: R-MC 154

Robert Adrain Collection


  • 1826-1840

Scope and Content Note

The thirty two notebooks that make up the Robert Adrain Collection span the period between 1826 and 1840 and relate to his work at Queen's and Rutgers Collge, the University of Pennslyvania, and Columbia College Grammar School. They are, excluding one notebook (box 1, folder 12), exclusively dedicated to his mathematical works and contain a number of drafts for publications including Mathematical Diaries as well as five notebooks that respond to the work Mécanique Céleste by Pierre-Simon Laplace. These notebooks also show him engaging in theories of dynamics and celestial mechanics as well as algebra and geometry. They further demonstrate his methodology in working out complicated problems as well as his organizational method.


0.8 Cubic Feet (2 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



Robert Adrain was a professor of mathematics at Rutgers College, Columbia College, and the University of Pennsylvania. The notebooks in this collection demonstrate his work method, general approach and drafts of his publications to journals such as Mathematical Diaries as well as several instances of personal record keeping. These papers start at the middle of his teaching career at Rutgers and tracks his time there as well as the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia College Grammar School.

Biographical Sketch of Robert Adrain, 1775-143

Robert Adrain was born on September 30, 1775, in Carrickfergus, Ireland, the son of a Frenchman who had fled to Irish shores, and an Irish mother. In Ireland, he opened a school and became a math tutor, as well as taking on a commission to tutor in the private home of an Irish official in service to the British crown. During the Irish Uprising in 1798, Adrain became an officer in the insurgent Irish forces and nearly died--shot by one of his own soldiers and left for dead. He recovered in the care of friends, and once well, headed to the United States of America. There, Mrs. Theobald Tone, the widow of his commanding officer in the Irish uprising, gave him lodgings and he became a school teacher in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1805 he moved to York, Pennsylvania, to become principal of an academy there.

Adrain's publications, such as "View of Diopahntine Algebra" in The Correspondent, led to his appointment to the faculty of Queen's College in New Brunswick, New Jersey as professor of mathematics in 1809. In 1810 the college awarded him an honorary master of arts and he remained on the faculty until 1813. He later became professor of mathematics and natural history at Columbia College in 1814, where he stayed until 1825. While at Columbia, his official title changed in 1820 to professor of mathematics and astronomy. His reasons for leaving Columbia are presently unknown. In 1825 Queen's College, which had closed due to financial problems, reopened as Rutgers College and Adrain rejoined the faculty and served until 1827, when he moved to Philadelphia to teach at the University of Pennsylvania. One year later Adrain became vice provost. He ultimately resigned his position at Penn in 1834. Records explain that his resignation came after his inability to control the students in his classroom, although they remain vague as to the exact circumstances as to what incited the ruckus for class after class.

After a two year break, Adrain returned to New York to teach at Columbia College Grammar School, staying there from 1836 to 1840. He returned to New Brunswick, New Jersey after that, staying there until his death on August 10, 1843.

During his time at Rutgers and Columbia, Adrain was active in professional organizations and authored a number of publications. In 1812 he became a fellow of the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia and in 1813 a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston. Adrain contributed to the Mathematical Correspondent as well as published in The Analyst in 1808, and again in 1814. His Mathematical Diary proved to be a more successful journal and ran for thirteen volumes from 1825-1833. He calculated the Gentleman's Diary and Almanac in 1811, published the first edition of Huttons Mathematics in North America in the mid 1810s and "Investigation of the Figure of the Earth, and the Gravity in Different Latitudes" as well as becoming known for the method of least squares.

Adrain had seven children by his wife Anne Pollock, including Garnett Bowditch Adrain, who served in Congress from 1856-1860.

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into two series. Series I contains five notebooks dedicated to addressing the book Mécanique Céleste (published in five volumes between 1799-1825) written by Pierre-Simon Laplace. Series II consists of additional notebooks relating to mathematics and are placed in individual folders.

Most of the contents of the notebooks contain drafts that are titled. Those simply marked notebook, followed by a description, indicate that there is no proper draft within and are simply notes. Notebooks that are marked "reversed" indicate that at some point, Adrain flipped the book over and began to write in it from back to front.

Starting in box 2, folder 9 and continuing until the end of the collection is material that comes from the Rutgers biographical faculty file held by University Archives. During processing, it was decided to include this material along side the rest of the collection.


  • Coolridge, Julian I., "Robert Adrain and the beginnings of American Mathematics," American Mathematical Monthly XXXI, no. 2 (no date)
Guide to the Robert Adrain Collection, 1826-1840 R-MC 154
Edited Full Draft
Meghan Rinn
December 2012
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Part of the Rutgers University Archives Repository

Rutgers University Libraries
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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New Brunswick NJ 08901-1163
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