Cultures of Knowledge
Abraham Hill (1635–1722)
The eldest son of Agnes and Richard Hill, a London cordwainer and alderman, Abraham Hill was baptised on 16 June 1635 at the church of St Dionis Backchurch, London. Although he appears not to have received a full formal education and he was raised to be a merchant, it is apparent from his life’s work and legacy that his interests, together with the skills and knowledge he acquired, placed him at the heart of the major scientific activities taking place in London throughout the second half of the seventeenth century and the first decades of the eighteenth.
By 1658 Hill is known to have married Anne Whitelocke, the daughter of the lawyer and politician Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke; the couple had two children prior to Anne’s death in 1661. In the final year of their marriage, with both his parents dead, Hill had found himself in a position both to purchase a property in Kent and to rent chambers in London at Gresham College. It was while living at Gresham that he became closely involved with the proceedings that marked the formative years of the Royal Society. He was one of those present at the inaugural meeting, and—following election—served on Council (from 1663–5 and 1672–1721). He served twice as Treasurer from 1663 to 1666 and 1677 to 1699, as well as from 1673 taking on for two years on the role of Secretary. Over more than sixty years, Abraham Hill, FRS, attended meetings with regularity and sat on numerous committees charged with carrying out particular experiments and investigations, and through his participation he performed a crucial role in the early life and activities of the Society.
Hill met frequently with a number of FRS, in particular Robert Hooke, who in his Diary records meeting him in various London coffee houses. He was instrumental on behalf of the Society in the acquisition of both the Arundel Library and the property around Chelsea College. As Treasurer, he took responsibility for the auditing of accounts and the registration of letters and papers, and he sent out significant numbers of questionnaires in order to gather information and further investigation into a wide variety of topics of particular interest to the Society. Simultaneously, he was a member of the philosophical clubs initiated by Hooke. He wrote and published as preface to the Cambridge mathematician and theologian’s works an account of Isaac Barrow’s life. In 1691, Hill accepted the role of comptroller to the archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson, and held this position until the latter’s death three years later. From 1683–5 and 1688–90 he was Assistant to the Royal African Company, serving thereafter as Deputy Governor (1691–2), and between between 1696 and 1702 he was as a member of the Board of Trade.
Following the death of his second wife, Elizabeth Pratt, in 1672, Hill remained in London and continued to participate actively in the activities of the Royal Society while pursuing his mercantile interests. His final years were spent at his house at Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, where he is described as growing ‘fruit for the making of perry and cider’. He died on 5 February 1722 and was buried at St John’s Sutton-at-Hone.
Partners and Additional Contributors
The metadata for Hill’s correspondence published by Thomas Astle were entered into the union catalogue by EMLO’s Volunteer Digital Fellow Chelsea Brown.
Key Bibliographic Source(s)
Familiar Letters which passed between Abraham Hill, Esq. and Several eminent and ingenious Persons …, ed. Thomas Astle (London, 1767).
Scope of Catalogue
This catalogue contains at present metadata for the letters published by Thomas Astle in 1767. Manuscripts and papers are to be found in the British Library, London (Add. MSS 5488–5489, Sloane MSS 4036, 4046, 4059, 5488, and Sloane MSS 2891–2900, 2902–2903) and in the Royal Society Library, London (Journal Book of the Royal Society and Register Book of the Royal Society, vol. 2).
Portrait of Abraham Hill, attributed to John Hayls. c. 1656–72. Oil on canvas, 75.8 by 63.7 cm. (©The Royal Society, image number: RS.9738)
A. Hill, ‘Some account of the life of Dr Isaac Barrow’, in The works of the learned Isaac Barrow … published by the Reverend Dr Tillotson, 4 vols (1683–7), vol. 1, pp. iv–ix.
The diary of Robert Hooke … 1672–1680, ed. H. W. Robinson and W. Adams (1935). (For the manuscript see Robert Hooke’s Diary on the LMA Collections Catalogue. Dr Felicity Henderson is in the process of preparing a new edition for Oxford University Press.)
R. E. W. Maddison, ‘Abraham Hill’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 15 (1960), pp. 173–82.
L. Mulligan, Hill, Abraham (bap. 1635, d. 1722), secretary of the Royal Society and cultural dilettante, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2005, published online 2006).