William Maclure letters, 1817-1838, to Benjamin Silliman

Mss.Film.283

Date: 1817-1838 | Size: 1 microfilm_reel(s)

Background note

William Maclure (1763-1840, APS 1799) was a merchant and geologist. In addition to serving as president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1817-1840), he introduced Pestalozzian methods of education in the United States, and also founded a school in Robert Owen's utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana.

Maclure was born in Ayr, Scotland on October 27, 1763 to David and Ann Maclure and educated by private tutors. He traveled to the United States in 1782 to establish "mercantile arrangements," and returned to London as a partner in the commercial firm of Miller, Hart and Company, soon amassing a fortune. As a merchant, he traveled between Europe and America, but also spent several years traveling around the European continent, including Scandinavia and Russia. He observed geological features and studied with geologists in several countries. In Paris, for example, he met Count Volney, who discussed American geology with him. Maclure returned to the United States in 1796, and examined its geologic formations, as he crossed "the dividing lines of the principal formations in 15 or 20 different places." In 1809 he published a report with a colored map, entitled "Observations on the Geology of the United States, Explanatory of a Geological Map" in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.

In 1815 Maclure traveled to France, where he met the artist-naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur. He persuaded Lesueur to return to America with him as his personal cartographer-naturalist. During the winter of 1815-1816, they investigated the geology and natural history of the West Indies, then moved the U.S. mainland, crossing the Allegheny Mountains in order to collect specimens and to revise Maclure's geologic map. Late the following year, from December 1817 to April 1818, Maclure organized an expedition of Georgia and Spanish Florida, that included Lesueur and the Americans Thomas Say, Titian Peale and George Ord.

From 1820-1824 Maclure lived on and developed an estate he purchased in Spain. This property was confiscated in 1824, and Maclure returned to the United States to join the Scottish utopian socialist Robert Owen in the establishment of the New Harmony community in Indiana. Maclure invested $82,000 in the project. Several years later in 1827 he first visited Mexico, and later moved there to live out the remaining years of his life.

Maclure's best known work is the Observations on the Geology of the United States, which was the "first connected account" (originally) written in English. He expanded and revised the original as a separate volume in 1817. In this work he divided the country into geologic areas of "primitive rocks," "transition rocks," "floetz and secondary rocks" and "alluvial rocks." Maclure's 1818 "Essay on the Formation of Rocks ..." is also important for its explanation of his terminology and his theory on the origin of rocks. Finally, his brief 1838 paper entitled "Genealogy of the Earth-Geological Observations" has been described as the most "philosophical" of his geological writings. In this work he adopted the theory of Lamarckian evolution, and explained his belief in organic and inorganic development through a gradual series of "minute changes," rather than catastrophes or large jumps. He rejected the aqueous theory of the origin of primitive rocks, but was uncertain about their actual origin, thinking perhaps they might be diverse in origin.

Maclure was not only a great geological observer and maker of important maps, he provided significant support for scientists and scientific organizations. He was one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and its president from 1817 until his death in 1840.

Scope and content

The collection consists of letters from William Maclure to Benjamin Silliman. They are dated between 1817 and 1838. While two letters were sent from the United States, most of them were dispatched from foreign locations, including France, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and England. Maclure's letters deal a wide range of topics, such as geology, education, politics, social issues, learned societies, and personal matters.

Collection Information

Physical description

1 microfilm reel.

Restrictions

Restrictions on Use:

Note on cards: Restricted.

Provenance

Acquired from Yale University Library and accessioned, 1946.

Location of originals:

Originals in Yale University Library.

Early American History Note

This is a microfilm of an early American collection that may be of interest to researchers at the APS and may complement an original manuscript collection at the APS.

Indexing Terms


Genre(s)

  • Microfilm Collection

Personal Name(s)

  • Maclure, William, 1763-1840
  • Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864

Subject(s)

  • Geology.
  • Natural history.


Detailed Inventory

Correspondence
  
28. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
July 15, 1817 

Philadelphia, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add., end. Forwards minerals. On same sheet is receipt by H. G. Street to David Peters [July 1817]. Restricted. Table of contents available.

28. Street, H. G..
Receipt to David Peters
July, 1817 

Micr. of A.D.S. 1p. Receipt for packages. On same sheet as letter from Wm. Maclure to B. Silliman; July 15, 1817. Restricted.

26. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Aug. 19, 1820 

Paris, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Restricted.

Other Descriptive Information: Printed in part: Am. Jour.of Sci.,III, 363.

29. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Dec. 4, 1821 

Madrid, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add., end. List of books sent and to be sent. Education and geology in the U.S. Mentions Lesueur and Duane. Restricted.

30. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
July 9, 1822 

Madrid, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Mutilated. Revolution in Spain. Lists works forwarded to Webster and Lesueur. Restricted.

27. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Aug. 20, [1822] 

Madrid, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add., end. Geology. Restricted.

25. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Feb. 8, 1823 

Alicant, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add., end. Lists books sent. English geology. Mentions Webster. Restricted.

24. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliamn, New Haven
March 24, 1823 

Alicant, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Lists what has been shipped from Europe. Geology. Hope of America. Mentions Webster. Restricted.

22. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Sept. 16, 1823 

Alicant, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Geology. Social conditions in Europe. Education. Restricted.

23. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Nov. 30, 1823 

Alicant, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Geology. Need for education. Mentions Webster and Duane. Restricted.

16. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
June 16, 1824 

Dublin, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add. Restricted.

Other Descriptive Information: Printed in part under date of June 30, 1824: Am. Jour. of Science, IX, 157-160.

13. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
June 30, 1824 

Dublin, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add., end. Geology in Ireland. Restricted.

21. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Sept. 10, 1824 

London, Micr. of A.L.S. 3p. and add., end. Restricted.

Other Descriptive Information: Printed in part: Am. Journal of Science, IX, 160-161.

20. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Nov. 9, 1824 

Paris, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add., end. Restricted.

Other Descriptive Information: Printed in part: Am. Jour.of Science, IX, 163-164.

18. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Jan. 10, 1825 

Paris, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add., end. Mutilated and badly blurred. Restricted.

Other Descriptive Information: Printed in part: Am. Jour.of Science, IX, 255-256.

11. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
March 12, 1825 

Paris, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Education. Restricted.

19. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
March 16, 1826 

New Harmony, Indiana, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add. Mutilated. Compares west to east in use of common sense. Restricted.

17. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
March 5, 1829 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Geology and current day Mexico. Mentions Joel R. Poinsett. Restricted.

12. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
May 30, 1830 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Mexico. Friendly letter. Restricted.

14. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
July 26, 1834 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add., end. Geology of Mexico. Restricted.

10. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Aug. 10, 1835 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Scientific news. Mentions Mr. Say and Lesueur. Restricted.

9. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Sept. 5, 1835 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 4p., add., end. Mexico. Minerals. Slavery. Restricted.

9. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Oct. 30, 1835 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Learned societies. Friendly letter. Restricted.

15. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Jan. 24, 1836 

Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Disposition of his library. Geology. Education. Mentions New Harmony, Mr.Say. Restricted.

6. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
July 25, 1836 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Shipment of books and material. Education and Academy of Nat. Sci. of Phila. Restricted.

7. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Aug. 23, 1836 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Education. Donation to Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Restricted.

5. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Nov. 4, 1836 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Geology. Education. Restricted.

4. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Jan. [June?] 3, 1837 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Education. Acad. of Nat. Sciences of Phila. Restricted.

3. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Sept., 1837 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Education. Concerning New Harmony, Ind. Restricted.

2. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Nov. 4, 1837 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 2p., add., end. Magnetism. Concerning South and Central America. Restricted.

1. Maclure, William, 1763-1840.
Letter to [Benjamin] Silliman, New Haven
Jan. 20, 1838 

Mexico, Micr. of A.L.S. 1p. and add., end. Economics. Pursuit of knowledge. Restricted.