Henry James Anderson (1799-1875)

Henry J. Anderson, LL.D., Professor of Mathematics & Astronomy, New York

Associated Houses

The Doric Mansion

Throgg's Neck

He was born in New York City and was educated at Columbia College (1818) before graduating from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (1824), although he never practiced medicine. In 1821, through the fortune established by his late father he had come into the possession of, "some of the most valuable property on Broadway... which unfortunately for his heirs, was sold during his lifetime for comparatively a mere trifle". Pursuing his passion for mathematics, in 1825 he was appointed Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Columbia College, a position he held until 1843. In 1826, he was co-Editor of the New York Review & Athenaeum, contributors to which included Fitz-Greene Halleck, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Richard Henry Dana, and others; and, in 1831 he was appointed an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1840, he travelled with his wife to Italy and then to Paris in the hope of restoring her health but she died in 1844.

He briefly remained in Paris having worked closely with the anti-Newtonian astronomer François Arago, who, with Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander Dallas Bache (Benjamin Franklin’s grandson), established the "Magnetische Verein" (Magnetic Association). After 1844, Anderson travelled in Europe and Asia on scientific missions, perhaps most notably as a geologist with the United States Dead Sea Expedition in 1847-48 for which he wrote up the official government report. Supported by the American Geographical & Statistical Society, Anderson circulated a petition urging the United States to promote Jewish colonization in Palestine - part of the growing movement of Jewish restoration which was then becoming fashionable. By the 1850s, he was back in New York and an active member of Fenimore Cooper's Bread & Cheese Club and the American Philosophical Society.

He remained actively involved in international scientific missions. In 1874, he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome before volunteering at his own expense as a Member of the American scientific expedition sent out to observe the transit of Venus in Australia. He followed this with a trip to India where he died while exploring the Himalayas.

In 1849, while living in Europe, Anderson converted to Catholicism and would become known for his zeal and leadership within the Catholic Church for the remainder of his lifetime. He was elected President of the Particular Council of New York in 1856 and was head of the Supreme Council in 1860. The New York Catholic Protectory was both founded upon and built under his influence and he served as President of the Catholic Union. Pope Pius IX received him in Rome on several occasions and bestowed upon him the title of Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great. His educational accolades saw Columbia award him with an honorary LL.D (Doctor of Law) in 1850; appointed Trustee of Columbia (1851 to 1875); and, Professor Emeritus from 1866.

As a student, from 1821 he boarded in the home of his future father-in-law, Lorenzo Da Ponte - the Librettist who collaborated with Mozart and introduced Opera to the United States. While "a beloved inmate" of the Da Ponte household he met Fanny Da Ponte and they were married in 1831. They had six children but only two (Elbert and Edward listed above) survived infancy. Dr Anderson was estimated to be worth $100,000 in the 1846 placing him among the wealthiest citizens in New York and the classical villa he built at Throgg's Neck - The Doric Mansion - would not have looked out of place on any of Rome's hillsides. Dr Anderson is buried in a vault under the Church of the Madonna in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the construction of which he had helped fund.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 26/10/2021 and last updated on 24/02/2023.