Born at Hillsborough, County Down, Ireland. He enlisted in the militia but declined an appointment to the British Army. Came to America in 1768. Married Amy Hunter Ewing May 9, 1774. They had eight children including Robert Maskell Patterson. One daughter, Martha, married Uriah DuBois. They became parents of William Ewing DuBois. Another daughter, Mary Padgett, married Samuel Moore.
Employed as a schoolmaster in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He opened a country store in New Jersey in 1772. Served as a major during the Revolutionary War. Appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania in December 1779. He continued in that position until 1814 when he was succeeded by his son Robert Maskell Patterson. He was a member of the Select Council of Philadelphia and was elected president in 1799. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1783 and as its president in 1819.
Appointed Director of the Mint by President Jefferson and served from January 1806 until his death in 1824. In offering the position to Patterson, President Jefferson suggested that he should not give up his day job, "indeed it is so possible that the mint may sometime or other be discontinued that I could not advise a permanent living be given up for it." Patterson continued his duties as professor for several years while serving as Director of the Mint.
It was during his term of office, January 11, 1816, that a fire broke out and damaged the wooden mill house adjoining the Mint. An investigation revealed that a barrel of hot ashes from a nearby residence had been placed against the wooden exterior wall. The hot ashes ignited the fire. The building was replaced with one of brick but mint operations were interrupted for some time.
He died in Philadelphia. He was succeeded in office by his son-in-law, Samuel Moore.
bio: ApCAB; BDAS; DAB; Drake; Evans; NCAB 1, 26; TCBDA; WWWA-HSource credit: Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies