William Stanton's American Scientific Exploration, 1803-1860



The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeking to increase the scholarly usefulness of our collections and enrich the intellectual life of the Library, made a grant in 1982 to the American Philosophical Society establishing a fellowship program in bibliography, research scholarship, and staff development. The major thrust of the program is to provide fellowships for scholars who will prepare bibliographic studies on topics well represented in the Library's collections. To date, five bibliographies have been published through the Mellon Fellowship program, providing informative and authoritative guides to our collections in the transfer of science, technology, and medicine from Europe to the United States; natural history in the New World; anthropology and archaeology; genetics; and the modem life sciences.

The subject of the present bibliography of Professor William Stanton of the University of Pittsburgh-the scientific exploration of the antebellum United States-constitutes a particularly significant part of the American Philosophical Society's collections. This is not surprising in view of the Society's active interest in exploration, which began as early as 1793 with efforts to promote an expedition to the trans-Mississippi West by the French botanist André Michaux. The expedition, championed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, never took place due to the intrigues of the new minister of the French Republic, Citizen Genet. A decade later, however, Thomas Jefferson, as president of the United States, sent his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to study botany, medicine, astronomy, and other arts with the members of the American Philosophical Society in preparation for what became the first major expedition sponsored by the federal government. Since 1818 the Society's Library has been the proud steward of the eighteen journals which constitute Lewis and Clark's official report. Documents from subsequent expeditions and surveys have been added to the Society's collection over the years to form a remarkable record of the scientific investigation of the North American continent, as well as other areas of the world.

Professor Stanton did not limit his survey to the collections of the American Philosophical Society, however. He also has included relevant manuscripts at three other Philadelphia institutions: the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. As a result, this volume provides a comprehensive guide to the major manuscript resources in Philadelphia on 82 scientific expeditions and surveys conducted in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century.

We were most fortunate in having Professor Stanton spend 1987 with us as Senior Mellon Fellow in Bibliography. As the author of the definitive history of the Wilkes Expedition, The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 (University of California, 1975), he was ideally suited for undertaking this project. His wry wit and never-failing courtesy were an ornament to this Library.

We would like to acknowledge the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which made possible these publications and those that will follow.

-- Edward C. Carter II
American Philosophical Society


As the state surveys and army explorations of the last century freed the geologist from the classroom and enabled him to practice his calling, so does The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship serve the historian. The Fellowship, provided by the American Philosophical Society Library, has afforded me the engaging opportunity to conduct research in the manuscript collections of the city that for much of the period covered by this study was the capital of American science and the home of its leading scientific societies, the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences. Though they were designed to promote and disseminate scientific knowledge, and notably did so, both through their individual members and as corporate bodies, the historian of science may be excused for valuing them as much for having preserved the manuscript record.

In my search of that record I have been fortunate in my librarians. At the Philosophical Society, Edward C. Carter 11, who presides over his institution with an uncommon combination of efficiency, grace, and humor, displayed a considerateness and understanding beyond all reasonable expectation. Beth Carroll-Horrocks, Roy Goodman, David Rhees, Marty Levitt, and Hedi Kyle pointed me to sources, proffered useful suggestions, and extended hospitality. At the Historical Society Linda Stanley and her staff patiently ferreted out isolated manuscripts in large collections of both the Historical Society and the Library Company. At the Academy I must thank Carol Spawn. I am grateful to them all.

Although J. Stephen Catlett's long-awaited New Guide to the Collections in the Library of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: APS, 1987) reached print only in the late stages of my research, it has saved me much time and effort.


Aside from the celebrated expedition of Lewis and Clark and the few other ventures Congress authorized early in the century, it was the state geological surveys and the army's Corps of Topographical Engineers that carried out the scientific exploration of the continent. Drawing, if not exclusively, upon the best scientific talent the country offered, both the state and the federal efforts were directed to a single goal: inventory of the continent's bounty, the natural abundance that, American and European observers agreed, rendered the Republic unique among the nations and, many thought, its novel social structure viable. Proclaiming themselves egalitarian, citizens saw in the abundance a cornucopia of opportunity. And as they coupled the principle of equality with inherited mistrust of political power, it was at first largely to the state legislatures, rather than the central government, that farmers, speculators, and entrepreneurs of all stripes assigned the task of surveying the opportunities.

The first state surveys were thus utilitarian affairs concerned with economic geology, though often yielding collections of specimens for a "state cabinet" of rocks and minerals. But it was one thing to employ scientists, another to keep them to their assigned task. Though publicly they responded with enthusiasm to the mandate for utility, within a remarkably short time the state surveys ceased to be merely useful ventures and developed into natural history surveys. As early as 1833 the annual report for the survey of Massachusetts devoted 430 pages to 'scientific geology," 99 pages to a catalogue of the animals and plants of the state, and a mere 72 to "economical geology." Three years later the legislature of New York boldly cast off the mask and unanimously appropriated $104,000 for a survey "which would furnish a perfect and scientific account" of rocks, soils, minerals, plants, and animals, as well as specimens for a state museum.1 The thirtieth and final quarto volume of the survey's scientific account appeared sixty-one years later.

Amateur naturalists had ideas of their own about opportunity and found in government patronage the means to scientific training and the chance to live by their calling. Decades before American colleges were capable of taking over the function, the surveys and explorations served as graduate schools and started many, often at a remarkably youthful age, on careers in science. James Hall, whose career was to be one of the most distinguished the state surveys launched, was twenty-five when he joined the New York survey. He joined for life. Eben Horsford, who would distinguish himself as Harvard's Rumford Professor of Chemistry, was eighteen. J.P. Lesley signed up with the Pennsylvania survey at twenty-one. James Dwight Dana, who would become the country's foremost geologist, received appointment to the U.S. Exploring Expedition at twenty-three; the philologist Horatio Hale was twenty-one when its scientific corps was made up. It was a young man's game, and Gerard Troost, taking command of the Tennessee survey at age fifty-five, was an oddity. Young men in a young science in a country itself young, the geologists became the first professionals in American science.

What above all they perceived in the surveys and explorations was the opportunity to satisfy their scientific curiosity and by so doing to advance their science, and by that the reputation of all American science. Though evangelists for utility when before the public, for the most part they preferred fossils to ore. It was curiosity, not the temptation of riches -- ever plucking at the sleeve of the geologist -- that drove Leo Lesquereux, stone deaf, to participate in eight explorations and surveys; the spastic Adolphus Heerman to take to the field with the Pacific Railroad surveys; and the consumptive William Baldwin to join the Long Expedition, on which he died. Curiosity drowned J.L. Berlandier in a tributary of the Rio Grande, Douglas Houghton in a snowstorm on Lake Superior, Elisha Mitchell on North Carolina's Black Dome, Ithamar Crawe in a New York lake, and took the lives of Frederick Kreutzfeldt and the Kern brothers in Indian massacres.

Still, shared curiosity made of them no band of brothers. "The longer I live in America," wrote the Swiss-born Lesquereux, "the more I am offended about the jealousy of... your scientific men. Every one of them, with a few exceptions, is looking to his brother in science like to a foe whom he has to crush before he can ascend a higher step." 2 And indeed, exploring scientists quarreled bitterly over available academic and government appointments, priority of discovery, and interpretation of phenomena. But in a society that worshiped utility, the geologists' lack of concern for the merely useful set them apart and made them the founders of the first national community of scientists, the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists, which in turn became the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In view of the spirit displayed in its founding, that organization might as aptly have been called the Association for the Advancement of American Science, for what the scientists shared with the public that paid them was cultural patriotism. In their determination to upgrade American science in world opinion, personal and national ambition met. When, as head of the federal survey of the mineral lands of Michigan, the Boston geologist Charles T. Jackson lobbied Congress to defeat an attempt by state chauvinists that would have required him to employ only citizens of Michigan-"practical" citizens versed in woodcraft, at that-and himself to join their ranks, he was lobbying for science and for the reputation of American science. But chauvinism was not confined to state boosters. As cultural patriots, scientific investigators early staked out the continent for American science and so accorded a cool reception to the accomplished English geologist George W. Featherstonhaugh, who finally returned home in disgust with republican society. James Hall suspected ulterior motives in Sir Charles Lyell's American visit.

With the sailing of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, American science proceeded to stake out the rest of the globe as well. Designed to show a skeptical world what the egalitarian republic could accomplish in science, the expedition's scientific corps was to be exclusively American and its members alone to write up the nineteen volumes of scientific reports. Skeptics were duly impressed at the magnitude of the American effort, but theirs was not the only revelation. The task of classifying and describing the tons of specimens gathered in the course of the four-year cruise displayed in a spectacular way the inadequacy of the amateur naturalist and the inability of American science to supply the specialists the collections demanded. Thereafter, as is evident in the personnel of succeeding surveys and explorations, xenophobia evaporated rapidly, no doubt owing in good part to the galaxy of scientific talent that arrived in flight from revolutionary Germany or in the wake of Louis Agassiz.

As government patronage made professionals in science, so the increasing sophistication of the surveys speeded specialization. The manuscript collections described here render its implacable advance, ever deplored, startlingly evident. The first of the state surveys involved only geology, and economic geology at that. But soon the chemist was wanted to determine the composition of marl, the entomologist to identify the pests that depleted crops. Mineralogists, microscopists, mammalogists, ornithologists, paleontologists, and an assortment of specialists in botany came hurrying after until, by the close of the period covered here, that hero of an earlier day, the all-round naturalist, had come to be regarded as something of a relic, still useful as a collector in the field for the laboratory specialist, but not a serious scientist. By the same token and excepting the geologists, an increasing number of the serious never ventured into the field.

When in 1838, the year that saw the launching of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, Congress legislated into existence the army's Corps of Topographical Engineers, federal participation in science came to supplement that of the states. Though the Corps carried out several explorations before the Mexican War, its most important work lay in the Far West, the territory that Jefferson had assumed the nation would one day embrace when he dispatched Lewis and Clark. In the survey of the Mexican Boundary and the Pacific Railroad Surveys, the Corps performed what its historian has called "one of the most rapid and complete inventories ever made of any portion of the globe.... American abundance was never better expressed than in the tidal wave of specimens of rocks and plants and animals that were thrust upon the scientists from out of the western wilderness." 3 For natural history, that wave was the wave of the future.

Having pursued a special course of study at West Point, the officers of the Corps were themselves scientists of a sort, some to become members of the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences, and later even of the National Academy of Sciences. Unhappily, they are underrepresented in these collections. The letters of the civilian scientists who accompanied the engineers, many of them past or present participants in the state surveys, suggest that relations between military and civilian, if not unfailingly happy, singularly lacked the bitterness that marred the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Even the commander most respectful of science had on occasion to caution the civilian to refrain from relaying news of discoveries to colleagues back east until Congress could publish them, or to put his report into language members of Congress could understand. Yet many, confronted like Captain Howard Stansbury with the task of chronicling their labors for government publication, genuinely felt and generously acknowledged their gratitude to scientific companions who gathered rocks and plants and insects and reported on matters often beyond the competence their own West Point training conferred.

All evidence suggests that whatever tales might reach him of army officers contemptuous of science, the field investigator prized the opportunity to join the Corps' expeditions into the West, even as "scientific hitchhikers," as one historian has labeled those who, simply in the hope of finding new plants or insects or fishes, went along at their own expense. Some were themselves army officers of scientific bent on leave from their regiments. 4

The sixty years' accumulation of personal letters, journals, and diaries, sketches of landscapes and antelopes, and lists of apparatus and supplies represented here bears witness to the transformation of science in America from the amateur gathering seashells in spare moments, to the professional; from the naturalist to the specialist; from small, local, and generally impoverished societies to national organizations; from modest state enterprises to great federal institutions of science. The transformation went a long way toward winning from a skeptical world, whose literate still could appreciate an Asa Gray as well as an Emerson, a certain esteem for the novel republic that produced them.

Key to Abbreviations

ANSPAcademy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
APSAmerican Philosophical Society
DABDictionary of American Biography
DNBDictionary of National Biography
GSGeological Survey
HSPHistorical Society of Pennsylvania
LCPLibrary Company of Philadelphia
F.Microfilm copy
NHSNYNatural History Survey of New York
ZBS Mass.Zoological and Biological Survey of Massachusetts

Bibliographer's Note

The eighty-two explorations and surveys listed here in chronological order are those appearing in Max Meisel's monumental Bibliography of American Natural History: The Pioneer Century, 1769-1865, for which the four manuscript repositories have relevant holdings. (I have excluded from Meisel's list those enterprises without significant scientific component.) With three exceptions, all were official enterprises, 29 sponsored by states, 50 by the federal government. I have included the Arctic expeditions of Elisha Kent Kane, Isaac Israel Hayes, and Charles Francis Hall, for although unofficial and financed by private subscription, they did return natural history specimens. Besides, only a foolish passion for consistency would ignore the exceptional APS holdings on polar exploration.

The entry consists of a brief account of the survey, a biographical sketch of the participant, and a reference, for the most part annotated, to the collection in which relevant manuscripts are to be found. Life dates and, if applicable, dates of election to the APS and/or the ANSP follow the participant's name in parentheses; if a participant appears in the DAB or DNB, this is noted on the same line. The participants listed are those who, in field or laboratory, contributed to the official report and for whom the four libraries have relevant holdings. In the few instances in which the only reports were unofficial (i.e., appearing only in the publications of scientific societies), the scientific authors are included on their first appearance as participants. As it is often difficult to connect the laboratory specialists' correspondence concerning specimens (e.g., that of Gray, Cassin, Girard, Leidy) to a specific expedition, I have indicated by a double asterisk (**) whether the repository has manuscripts of any description by the scientist in question.

As this list is intended only to identify the relevant manuscript holdings, leaving exploration of specific correspondence to the researcher, a word on the more promising collections is in order. Of those at the APS, probably most of the participants in these ventures are represented both in the J.L. LeConte Papers and in the J.P. Lesley Papers, and very nearly as many in Letters of Scientists and in Miscellaneous Manuscripts. For the surveys up to mid-century, the two collections of Samuel George Morton Papers, which should be

supplemented by the LCP's Morton Papers, are especially useful. (It should be noted that the Library Company's manuscript collections are housed and administered by the adjacent Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) The ANSP's three collections of Joseph Leidy Correspondence, some 5600 letters covering the period 1823-1891, are a mine of information whose significance for these ventures is considerably greater than I have been able to indicate here, for deluging the anatomist with bones from the West, Leidy's correspondents were rarely at pains to identify the exploring party that had turned them up, sometimes years before. Finally, because working against time, I have only occasionally cited the voluminous archives of the APS and the ANSP. These have to do largely with the affairs of the organizations but may in many instances be revealing-as when the organization is appealed to in support of some scientific cause or other.

Though necessarily less exact, this list may serve to complement Andrea J. Tucher's fist of imprints in the APS, HSP, and LCP: Andrea J. Tucher, ed., Natural History in America, 1609-1860: Printed Works in the Collections of the American Philosophical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania & the Library Company of Philadelphia (Garland Pub., 1985).


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