Samuel Williams was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1743. Following graduation from Harvard College in 1761, he spent fifteen years as a minister in Bradford, Massachusetts. In 1780, Williams was selected as successor to Harvard's Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, John Winthrop; Williams held this position until 1788, when he resigned from Harvard and moved to Rutland, Vermont. In Vermont, he resumed ministerial work, helped found the University of Vermont, and became involved in various publishing and writing endeavors. Samuel Williams died in Rutland, Vermont on January 2, 1817.
Williams’ papers include this set of two lectures, one about the effects of fire and heat on various objects and fluids, and the other a general overview of the properties of physical bodies. The lectures contain numerous references to scientific instruments, notably the pyrometer, used by Williams in his experiments. They were first read in Boston on January 1, 1782 with subsequent readings in Cambridge in 1782, 1783, 1784, 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788.