Perez Fobes (1742-1812), professor of natural philosophy and vice-president of the College in 1786, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, on September 21, 1742, one of twelve children. He showed an early disposition to piety and study, but suffered from poor health. He taught school and graduated from Harvard in 1762. He was licensed to preach, and on November 19, 1766 was ordained as pastor of a Congregational church in Raynham, Massachusetts, where he remained for the rest of his life. When President Manning was elected representative to Congress, Fobes was appointed to oversee the College from June 1 to September 1, 1786. Later in the year he was named professor of natural philosophy, replacing Joseph Brown, who had died in 1785. On August 1, 1791, four days after the death of Manning, Fobes was requested by the Corporation to “attend the College from this time ’till Commencement to supervise the instruction of the Students & perform prayers &c.” The efficacy of his prayer is recorded in The Ministry of Taunton by Samuel Hopkins Emery:
“On one occasion while officiating at the evening devotions of the College chapel, there came up suddenly a terrific thunder storm. During the time of prayer an awful clap of thunder startled the students assembled there. While the aspect of terror and dismay sat upon every countenance, Doctor Fobes calmly paused a moment, and then caught the inspiration of the occasion, and went into a strain of devotion so appropriate, so sublime, and impressive, that every heart present was melted into penitence ...”On the subject of Fobes’s scientific inclinations, Emery wrote, “Following the dictates of his taste for the sciences, he procured the Air Pump, the Electrical Machine, and a valuable Philosophical Apparatus. ... Astronomy was his favorite study. He devoted to it a large part of his leisure hours. He constructed an Orrery, illustrating the motions of the heavenly bodies in a manner that attracted much attention, and greatly interested the friends of science. ... Botany also engaged his attention. He formed and cultivated a small Botanical Garden. ...” Fobes also gave public lectures. According to a printed announcement dated June 24, 1790:
“Peres Fobes, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy in Rhode-Island College, proposes to exhibit a COURSE of LECTURES upon NATURAL PHILOSOPHY and ASTRONOMY ... illustrated by a Variety of curious and entertaining Experiments. ... The Course will consist of Twelve Lectures, two or three to be exhibited per Week, at the Philosophy-Room in College. The Price Twelve Shillings for the whole course, or One Shilling and Three Pence for a single Lecture.”Fobes allowed the College the benefit of the scientific apparatus which he owned while he was a professor, and on resigning in 1798 left behind the instruments, for the use of which the College paid him fifty dollars a year. In 1796 he was placed in charge of Bristol Academy in Massachusetts, where he encouraged students to come to the College. He died on February 23, 1812.