You can be forgiven for not having heard the name James Chadwick before. No, not the Nobel prize-winning British physicist who discovered the neutron. I’m talking about the one who lived a century earlier. This James Chadwick is an obscure figure in British history. He is barely remembered, if at all, in Britain, and is more or less completely unknown outside his home country. But his life displays a mind-bogglingly interesting series of strange connections that shows just how amazingly connected history can be.
To begin with, his father, Andrew Chadwick, was a good friend of John Wesley, the Church of England reformer who, along with his brother Charles, founded the “Methodist Movement”. This sect, which emphasized open-air evangelical preaching, eventually became the Methodist Church, a Protestant denomination with around 12 million members today. Andrew also started the first Sunday School in the county of Lancashire.
Andrew apparently practiced what he preached when it came to giving his money away to the less fortunate. Unlike other sons of Britain’s rich, James was forced to get a job and provide for his family. So he began his adult life as a teacher. History doesn’t record if James was a good or bad teacher, but he must have done something right, because one of his pupils, John Dalton, is generally credited with discovering the atom and for doing the first major research into color blindness, which was for years called Daltonism in his honor.
James later left teaching to become a journalist, and to that end he spent time in Paris. There he was a roommate of the Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, which popularized the American Revolution, The Crisis, which urged Americans not to abandon hope in the darkest hours of the revolution, and The Rights of Man, a treatise on human rights inspired by the French Revolution.