Karl Friedrich Gauss and Benjamin Apthorp Gould

H. W. Gould, Fellow, AAAS (1963)

Department of Mathematics
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV 26506-6310

    Benjamin Apthorp Gould, Jr. (1824-1896), of Boston, was a protégé and favored mathematics student of Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880), one of the leaders of the Lazzaroni, a small group of distinguished scientists who saw as their purpose to introduce and develop true scientific research in the United States.

    The Lazzaroni group played a significant role in establishing the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Science and Harvard University's Lawrence Scientific School. A valuable account of the Lazzaroni and their leaders and opponents was published by the Smithsonian Institution [3].

    Benjamin Gould's father was the Principal of the Boston Latin School. The younger Gould went to Berlin and Göttingen and studied with Karl Friedrich Gauss, the "Prince of Mathematicians", taking his doctorate in 1848 in astronomy under Gauss's tutelage. He returned to Boston in 1848.

    Benjamin Gould was a favorite student of Gauss according to Dunnington [1], who devoted a number of pages of his biography of Gauss to the close relationship between Gould and Gauss. Dunnington spent many years studying the life of Gauss. He noted in his book that Gauss even offered his chair to Benjamin Gould when he retired if Gould would stay in Germany, however Gould returned to Boston and went on to develop astronomical observatories in the U.S. and also notably the first observatory south of the equator in Argentina. To advance research in astronomy Benjamin Gould founded the Astronomical Journal in 1849, which became the leading journal of the American Astronomical Society. It is still published.

    Benjamin Gould's family traces back to Zaccheus Gould, who settled in Massachusetts in 1635. Over a period of time Benjamin Gould traced out family records of some three dozen Goulds who migrated from Britain to America and Canada, and published his definitive account of this in a book [2]. This book traces the Gould line, variously spelled (Gold, Gould, Goold, etc.) back to the year 1235 and with appearances of the name in the Domesday Book that appeared after William the Conqueror in 1066.

    Rebecca Gould Mitchell [4] wrote a definitive account of the descendants of Jeremy Gould of Rhode Island. Jeremy was a brother of Zaccheus, who left Massachusetts for religious reasons and went in 1636 to Rhode Island, the true land of religious freedom in America. Today you can still see the Statue of the Independent Man, high atop the State Capitol in Providence, symbolizing the person with no shackles on his mind. Rhode Island became home to the Touro Synagogue, the first Quaker Meeting House, and Roger Williams' Baptist Church. This religious freedom was finally codified by Thomas Jefferson in his Bill establishing Religious Freedom in the State of Virginia, a document that went further and guaranteed the right to believe or not believe and is the main document establishing academic freedom in America. Jefferson wanted to be remembered on his tombstone for this document, the University of Virginia, and the Declaration of Independence.

    Alice Bache Gould (1868-1934), daughter of B. A. Gould, Jr., received her A.B. in mathematics and physics at Bryn Mawr in 1889. She was to do a thesis on geometry under E. H. Moore at Chicago, but the death of her father in 1896 put a strain on her and she returned to Cambridge, Mass. In 1911 she became interested in the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus, spending the remainder of her life in Spain, becoming a leading authority on Columbus.

    The author traces his ancestry to Jeremy Gould of Rhode Island. The noted topologist Robert Lee Moore believed that all noted mathematicians are related. Some years ago I learned from Professor Robert E. Greenwood of the University of Texas that it had been shown that R. L. Moore was a close cousin of Eliakim Hastings Moore (of Moore-Smith Limit Theory fame).

    Of course, in my own fifty years study of genealogy, I have found numerous evidences how we are ALL related. This is a truism that we should not forget. It is true, as John Donne observed that "No man is an island unto himself."

    The Goulds of West Virginia trace back to the French Creek Settlers who came from Massachusetts circa 1799. Similarly the author's line of Goulds settled in eastern Virginia circa 1820, coming from Rhode Island.

    It is interesting to note that after an unsuccessful first visit to the University of Virginia in 1841, James Joseph Sylvester returned to the U.S. in 1870 to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and it was there that he established the first really serious mathematics research journal in the U.S. in 1878, that he called The American Journal of Mathematics, and which it is still published by Johns Hopkins University. This university became the principal leader in graduate education in the U.S. when it opened in 1870.


1. G. Waldo Dunnington, Gauss, Titan of Science. Hafner, New York,
    1955. Reprinted with additional material by Jeremy Gray, Mathematical
    Association of America, 2004.

2. B. A. Gould, The Family of Zaccheus Gould of Topsfield, Lynn,
    Mass., 1895.

3. Lillian B. Miller, The Lazzaroni: Science and Scientists in Mid-
    nineteenth-century America. Published for the National Portrait Gallery,
    124 pages. Paperback. Smithsonian Institution, by the Smithsonian
    Institution Press, 1972.

4. Rebecca Gould Mitchell, The Goulds of Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode
    Island, 1875.

11 August 2007; updated 21 Nov. 2007.