by Cheryl A. Bastian
Includes: Activities, Helpful Links and Discussion Questions
Middle School

Courageous Navigator Creates Renowned Resource
Based on Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Image of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Nathaniel Bowditch was born on March 26, 1773, in Salem, Massachusetts, and became a highly regarded mathematician and astronomer, authoring one of history’s most respected books on navigation. Author Jean Lee Latham won the 1956 Newbery Award for her work, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1955; reprinted, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2003), an engaging read set in Salem, Massachusetts, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Through the plot line of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, readers learn how courage, determination, and experiential learning can influence people’s lives.

Readers meet Nat as a young child. Through her masterful writing, Jean Lee Latham takes the reader through his childhood and into his adult years. In the process, readers are escorted through America’s early beginnings, meeting some of the most influential people in history. Growing up in Salem, Nat lived in a sailor’s world, the place where he learned through observation and experience, eventually mastering sea navigation. He eventually compiled his knowledge, writing The New American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802. It is still a valuable reference for marine navigation hundreds of years later.

Find Salem and Boston, cities in Massachusetts, on a United States map. Locate Lisbon, Sumatra, the West Indies, the Cape of Good Hope, the Island of Bourbon, Manila Harbor, Funchal Bay, Java, Cadiz, and the Mediterranean Sea on a world map.

Study a map. Define and identify latitude and longitude. Find the coordinates of your city’s location. Print a world map and label the equator, the Tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Capricorn, the continents, and the north and south poles.

“Through the plot line of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, readers learn how courage, determination, and experiential learning can influence people’s lives.”
Author Jean Latham immerses readers in new vocabulary, particularly nautical terms. Define abaft, aft, almanac, amplitude, apothecary, apprentice, ballast, becalm, bellows, binnacle, callous, caulk, chandlery, declination, ecliptic, gable, glower, halyard, jeer, larboard, lee, longitude, lunar, nautical, plumb, privateer, rookeries, scupper, shilling, sullen, taut, theodolite, towhead, veered, windward, and zenith.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is historical fiction, a fictionalized, history-based story featuring real people and places. This book, though based on actual events, is considered fiction because the dialogue is not spoken as it would have happened. As the reader moves through the streets of Salem, he or she meets historically significant individuals. Make a list of people met while reading each chapter. Write down, based on what is learned in the text, how and why the person was significant to the time period as well as to the history of our nation. Some will be better known than others. If your child is interested in a particular figure, research to find out more information.

Image of Antique Nautical Accessories
  • General Cornwallis
    (British general of American Revolution)
  • Captain John Darby
    (captain of the Quero)
  • Nathan Read
    (American engineer and inventor)
  • Richard Kirwin (Irish scientist who studied meteorology, geology, chemistry, philosophy, and natural history)
  • George Washington (general and first president of the United States)
  • Napoleon (French military leader)
  • Edward Augustus Holyoke
    (founder and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society)
  • John Jay
    (signer of the Treaty of Paris, first chief justice of the United States)

Research the differences between types of sailing vessels: bireme, brig, caravel, clipper, cutter, frigate, galleon, man-of-war, schooner, shallop, and sloop. Consider drawing the crafts or purchasing and building a model ship. Find stories and information about sailing vessels at:


Nat was an apprentice. At twelve, he began his apprenticeship with the ship chandler. A ship chandler sells shipping supplies. Nat read the books in the chandler’s library and gained knowledge by interacting with people through his apprenticeship. One of the books he used, The Practical Navigator, contained charts and tables of star positions and tides. While using the book, Nathaniel discovered the calculations were wrong and decided to do his own, hence beginning the creation of his great navigational work, The New American Practical Navigator. Sea History for Kids provides many resources for additional study at:

seahistory.org/sea-history-for-kids/nathaniel- bowditch-navigator/

Navigators used astronomy to guide and direct voyages. Study the constellations in the current night sky. Go to msi.nga.mil/Publications/APN and look over the resources provided on The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency website. This source provides sailing and air navigational information. The site also provides a PDF download of The New American Practical Navigator. Download a copy, and investigate the content. What do you find most fascinating? How does this work reflect Nathaniel’s determination and perseverance?


In Chapter 11 the author mentions England and France are at war. What clues does the chapter give about why the countries were fighting? What stance did President Washington take for America?

Also in Chapter 11, Ben tears a section from the newspaper, a letter to the editor. After reading and reviewing the United States Constitution, particularly the First Amendment, discuss what a letter to the editor is and how the freedom of speech relates to Ben sharing his opinions about President Washington.

Nat knew the significance of the thoroughness of his work. In Chapter 12, Nat courageously and strongly expresses his opinion about accurate calculations, “Mathematics is nothing if it isn’t accurate! Men’s lives depend on the accuracy of those tables! It’s—it’s—criminal to have a mistake in a book like this! Do you hear me! It’s criminal! Men’s lives depend on these figures!” Why were the calculations significant to the lives of others? Discuss how our actions influence and affect other people.

If you have a learner asking to read a biography (maybe a high schooler who has listened to read aloud time and desires to learn more) consider Robert E. Berry’s Yankee Stargazer, published in 1941.