An Essay for the Discovery of Some New Geometrical Problems (Judged by Some Learned Men, Impractical) Concerning Angular Sections

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by George Keith

An Essay for the Discovery of Some New Geometrical Problems
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the College of William & Mary.
Author George Keith
Published London: B. Aylmer at the Three Pigeons over against the Royal-Exchange
Date 1697
Language English
Volumes volume set
Pages 12 p., [4]
Desc. Leaves of plates; illustrations

Except for his solution to the longitude problem, Geography and Navigation Compleated (1709), this is the only mathematical work of which there is any evidence that George Keith wrote. Its complexity shows some familiarity with high level geometry possibly stemming from Keith's background as a surveyor.[1] The essay was "printed for the author, and are to be had at the Three Pigeons over against the Exchange, and at his House in Pudding-lane, at the sign of the Golden Ball, where he teaches the mathematical art."[2]

Keith married Elizabeth Johnston in 1671, also a Quaker, who bore at least three daughters. They emigrated to America in 1684.

Socially, Keith's writings, such as his 'Exhortation,' foreshadowed "the major religious themes of nineteenth-century abolitionism."[3] Keith traveled to New Jersey to take the post of Surveyor-General. [4] In 1686 he ran the first survey to mark out the border between West Jersey and East Jersey. [5]

It is for his disputes with the Quakers that Keith is best known.[6] Keith's suggested improvements to Gospel Order were rejected. Keith's intent had been to aid Quakerism against errors and to challenge the second generation Quakers who seemed to have lost their parents' fervor. [7] After Keith challenged Christian Lodowick's statement that the Quakers did not recognize the human Christ, he was charged with preaching two Christs by William Stockdale.[8] Keith demanded meetings be held to judge the issue yet no answer was achieved. In January 1692 Thomas Fitzwalter accused Keith of denying the sufficiency of the light within, a key Quaker doctrine. Keith's publication of Some Reasons and Causes made the dispute public, aggravating the issue and eventually Keith split from the Quakers.[9]

Keith went on a missionary journey around North America in 1702 disputing with the Quakers and Samuel Willard the Head of Harvard. He did not meet with major success. Quakers changed meeting places so he could not meet them or left when he began to speak.[10] Mr. Keith preached in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1703, and left behind his daughter, Anne. Anne remained in Williamsburg, marrying George Walker a James River pilot and later a customs official and the Old Port Comfort fort.[11]Their daughter Margaret Walker would go on to marry a plantation heir, Thomas Wythe III. The Wythes would go on have three children, Thomas IV, Anne, and George Wythe.[12]

Upon returning to England, Mr. Keith continued his ongoing preaching and took up a position at St Andrew's Church in Edburton Sussex in 1705, living in illness and poverty until he died in 1716. He continued to write against the Quakers even when his parishioners complained of neglect.[13]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

In his biographical sketch of Wythe for the Virginia Reports (1833), Daniel Call mentions seeing a "folio volume" written by Keith in Wythe's library, containing "mathematical and other subjects."[14] The volume may have contained one or more of Keith's essays on Quakerism, but his only "mathematical" writings were "An Essay for the Discovery of Some New Geometrical Problems" and its supplement, and "Geography and Navigation Compleated" (1709).

See also


  1. "George Keith Missionary," last modified August 16th, 2015,
  3. Keith, George (1693). An Exhortation & Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes.
  4. "George Keith Missionary," last modified August 16th, 2015,
  5. Ibid.
  6. "George Keith," accessed October 22, 2015,
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Alonzo Gill, George Wythe, The Teacher of Liberty. Virginia Bicentennial Commission, 1979.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Daniel Call, "Judge Wythe," in Reports of Cases Argued and Decided in the Court of Appeals of Virginia, 2nd ed. (Richmond, VA: Robert I. Smith, 1833), 4:xi.