Jedidiah Buxton - untaught mathematical genius

Jedidiah Buxton was an untaught mathematical genius born at Elmton, near Bolsover in 1701.

Jedidiah Buxton was born in Elmton, Derbyshire on 20 March 1707. He was the third son of William Buxton, the village schoolmaster and his wife, Sara. They lived at Elmton Farm.

Despite his background as a schoolmaster's son, Jedidiah remained illiterate and worked as a farm labourer all his life. However, his mental calculations were astounding.

Jedidiah was first brought to the knowledge of the country as a whole when on 8 February 1751 a letter from George Saxe was published in the Gentleman's Magazine. In this letter Saxe refers to "this surprising genius Jedidiah Buxton who could not even read or write and was indeed a farm labourer, yet he was able in his mind to multiply or divide large figures sooner than the more precise of your arithmeticians pretend to".

He married Alice Eastwood at Ault Hucknall Church and they had three children − John, Susannah and Sara. Sadly Alice died in 1753.

Having lost his wife Jedidiah set off to walk 204 miles to London in 1754 to see King George II. Unfortunately the king was away but he took the opportunity to go to the Royal Society. There he impressed by performing such tasks as multiplying four figures by four figures and extracting the square root of a number. He could allow two people to propose different questions one after the other and give each a correct answer which he could repeat a month or two later if requested. He was capable of leaving a long calculation half solved and completing it after a considerable time had elapsed. Another question he was given was, if a barleycorn is such and such a fraction of an inch long, how many barleycorns placed end to end would reach eight miles? He gave a correct answer of 1,520,640 (which gives three barleycorns to the inch) in one and a half minutes. All these tasks were calculated in his head and no doubt he was given a payment for this.

Jedidiah spent several weeks in London and was taken to see David Garrick in Richard III at Drury Lane. His interest in mental arithmetic was not affected by his surroundings and he spent the time counting the number of words Garrick uttered throughout the performance.

He returned to Elmton, presumably again on foot, and spent the rest of his life quietly in the village. There he paced out the boundaries of the Lordship of Elmton for his employer Sir John Rhodes. He calculated more than a thousand acres into not only acres, roods and perches but into square inches.

In 1764 a drawing was made of him by a Miss Maria Hartley. By the time the sketch was completed he declared he had lived 1,792,230823 seconds. This portrait of him − or a copy − now hangs in St Peter's Church Elmton.

He had a remarkable premonition of his death in 1772 which he revealed on a visit to the Duke of Portland. He told the Duke that he would not see him again as he would die the following Thursday. The Duke gave instructions that he was not to be given too much beer before his walk back to Elmton thinking the beer he had drunk previously had affected him. Jedidiah remained insistent that he would die. His friends thought it amusing but after dinner that fateful Thursday Jedidiah sat down and died at the very time he had predicted. A fitting end for such a mathematical genius. 

Some of his descendants still live in the area.

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