The fourth of seven children, Nathaniel Bowditch was born in Salem on March 26, 1773. His father was a cooper and by the age of 10, Nathaniel had to leave school to work for his father. After two years of this work, Nathaniel was apprenticed to a ship chandler, thus beginning his interest in everything nautical. In 1795 he went to sea for the first time as a clerk, later as supercargo and finally as ship master. At sea, in studying John Moore's navigation tables, he found numerous errors. He eventually published his own guide, the New American Practical Navigator which to this day is used on ships at sea as the primary
After his death in Nathaniel Bowditch was buried in the Bowditch family plot in Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery. He is also memorialized at the Mount auburn Cemetery by a life-sized statue by R. Ball Hughes, erected in 1846.