Walter Folger, Jr. was born on Nantucket in 1765 into a wealthy family that manufactured spermaceti candles. Directly related to two of the island’s founding English families, Folger was a bright child who had a gift for math and all things mechanical. Mostly self-taught, he learned to navigate by the moon, mastered Algebra and French, and had a lifelong interest in comets and astronomy. A cousin to Benjamin Franklin and Maria Mitchell, Folger shared Franklin’s curiosity and inventiveness and Maria’s interest in the stars.
Folger established himself as one of the best mathematicians and engineers of his time when he created an ingenious clock that displayed the year, the day, and the times that the sun and moon rise and set. It also showed the earth’s position around the sun.
He passed the bar and he was appointed judge of the county court, known as the Court of Common Pleas, and served for six years. That began a political career that included representing the island in the Massachusetts House and Senate and serving two terms in the United States Congress.
Folger was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the Fifteenth Congress and the Sixteenth Congress (March 4, 1817 – March 3, 1821). When not attending to Congressional business, Folger could be found in the Patent Office pursuing his interests in mechanical designs. Folger co-founded a scientific association in 1826 called the Nantucket Philosophical Institution and died in Nantucket on September 8, 1849.
Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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