Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 813-813


Gillis, James Melville

BornGeorgetown, District of Columbia, USA, 6 September 1811

DiedWashington, District of Columbia, USA, 9 February 1865

James Gillis, son of George and Mary (née Melvile) Gillis, founded the United States Naval Observatory and served as its second superintendent. Gillis’ education in astronomy was largely self-directed. He was commissioned in the US Navy and served at sea before being assigned as a Lieutenant to the United States Navy Depot of Charts and Instruments. Working with limited resources from the depot, Gillis published the first star catalog based on American observations (1846).

Gillis began the process of ordering instruments for a first-class observatory, and then persuaded the US Congress that a new facility should be provided to house the instruments. Navy political considerations dictated the appointment of Matthew Maury as the first superintendent of the new observatory. Instead, Gillis was assigned for a period of time to the Coastal Survey working with

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