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Scottish American Scientists

Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), born in Paisley, the first naturalist to study American birds in their native haunts, and author of "American Ornithology" (1803-13), was also distinguished as a poet. David Hosack (1769-1835), one of the most distinguished surgeons and scientists of his day, fourth President of the New York Historical Society, was son of a native of Morayshire. Samuel Guthrie (1782-1848), physician and chemist, was descendant of John Guthrie, who came to America in 1661. He was one of the pioneers who introduced vaccination, produced the first successful percussion powder (after many experiments), invented the "punch lock" which superseded the flint-lock musket, and, in 1831, discovered the anæsthetic chloroform. Hugh Williamson (1735-1819), statesman and scientist, born in Pennsylvania and educated in Edinburgh. He studied theology and was licensed but never preached, was Professor of Mathematics in the College of Philadelphia (1760-63), studied medicine in Edinburgh and Utrecht, practised successfully, served as surgeon in the Revolutionary War, delegate to the Convention that framed the Constitution of the United States (1787), and was afterwards Member of the first Congress. John McLean (1771-1814), born in Glasgow, became Professor of Chemistry in Princeton (1775) and later Professor of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry in William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia. His son, John, became President of Princeton. Dr. William Watson (d. 1828), a Scot, was physician and friend of Chancellor Livingston, and one of the early promoters of scientific agriculture in America. He was founder of the Farmers' Club of Dutchess and Columbia Counties, the pioneer of Agricultural Societies in New York. James Renwick (1790-1862), born in Liverpool of Scottish parents, was Professor of Physics in Columbia University, author of several scientific works, and one of the Commissioners who laid out the early boundary line of the Province of New Brunswick. His mother was the Jeannie Jaffray of several of Burns's poems. James Renwick, the architect, was his son. Other gifted sons were Edward Sabine Renwick and Henry Brevoort Renwick. Joseph Henry (1797-1878), the "Nestor of American Science," and organizer of the American Academy of Sciences otherwise the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, was of Scottish' origin. His paternal and maternal grandparents emigrated from Scotland together and are said to have landed the day before the Battle of Bunker Hill. The McAllisters of Philadelphia (father and son) were famous as makers of optical and mathematical instruments, and the son was the first to study and fit astigmatic lenses, and was also the introducer of the system of numbering buildings according to the numbers of the streets, assigning one hundred numbers to each block. Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-87), Naturalist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was also of Scottish origin. His works, including scientific papers, number over one thousand titles. Carlile Pollock Patterson (1816-81) did much to develop the United States Coast Survey. William Paterson Turnbull (1830-71), ornithologist, author of the "Birds of East Pennsylvania and New Jersey," a model of patient and accurate research, was born at Fala, near Edinburgh. Edward Duncan Montgomery, biologist and philosopher, was born in Edinburgh in 1835. Marshall MacDonald (1835-95), ichthyologist, pisciculturist, and inventor, engineer in charge of the siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War, and inventor of automatic hatching jars, was the grandson of a Scottish immigrant. Peter Smith Michie (1839-1901), soldier and scientist, born in Brechin, Forfarshire, graduated from West Point in 1863, served as Engineer in the Federal Army, and was afterwards Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at West Point. William Healey Dall (b. 1845), palæontologist to the United States Geological Survey, author of "Alaska and Its Resources," and author of hundreds of articles on Natural History subjects, was a grandson of William Dall of Forfarshire. Thomas Harrison Montgomery (1873-1912), specialist in zoology and embryology, was of Scottish origin. Robert Gibson Eccles, physician and chemist, born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, in 1848, discovered that benzoic acid and the benzoates are excellent preservatives of food. He has been Chemist of the Department of Indian Affairs, Professor of Chemistry in the New York School of Social Economics, President of the New York Pharmaceutical Association, etc., and has written largely on philosophy and science. Stephen Alfred Forbes (b. 1844), naturalist, educator, and writer on entomology and zoology, is of Scottish origin. Thomas Craig (1853-1900), Mathematician and Editor of the American Journal of Mathematics, was of Scottish parentage. Alexander Crombie Humphreys, born in Edinburgh in 1851, became President of Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, in 1902. Anstruther Davidson, born in Caithness in 1860, Associate Professor of Dermatology in the University of Southern California, is also distinguished as a botanist and entomologist.

William Maclure (1763-1840), the "Father of American Geology," was born in Ayr, Scotland, and after acquiring a fortune in London, he came in 1796 to the United States. Having studied geology in Europe he was attracted by the imposing scale of the geological structure of his adopted country, and in the course of some years made many journeys across the eastern states. He recorded his geological observations on a map, and in 1809 communicated his researches to the American Philosophical Society. In 1817, having extended his knowledge during the intervening eight years he presented his map to the Society, and it was then published. This was the first geological survey of the United States, and it was carried out unsustained by government aid or patronage. It was also chiefly through Maclure's aid that the new Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia was built and endowed. Dr. Archibald Bruce (1777-1818), the first scientific mineralogist in America, and founder of the American Mineralogical Magazine (1810), was born in New York city, son of Dr. William Bruce, head of the medical department of the British Armies. Henry Darwin Rogers (1808-66), born in Philadelphia of Ulster Scot parentage, Professor of Geology and Mineralogy in the University of Pennsylvania, State Geologist of Pennsylvania, published important works on the geology of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He removed to Edinburgh in 1855 and three years later became Professor of Natural History in the University of Glasgow. His elder brother, William Barton Rogers (1804-1882), was also a distinguished physicist and geologist. David Dale Owen (1807-60), born in Lanarkshire, was brought to the United States by his father in 1823. In 1848 he took charge of the Geological Survey of Wisconsin and Iowa, and that of Minnesota in 1852. His brother, Richard Owen (1810-90), also born in Lanarkshire, had a distinguished career in this country as a geologist. J. Peter Lesley (1819-1903), also of Scottish descent, was another distinguished geologist who by his researches and surveys in Pennsylvania, vastly aided in the economic development of that state. Persifor Frazer (1844-1909), son of John Fries Frazer and great-grandson of Lieutenant-Colonel Persifor Frazer of Revolutionary times, was author of the Geological Survey of Pennsylvania (5 vols.) William John McGee (1853-1912), geologist and anthropologist, claimed descent from the MacGregors. He was Geologist of the United States Geological Survey from 1883 to 1893, Ethnologist in Charge of the Bureau of Ethnology from 1893 to 1903, and in 1907 was appointed a Member of the Inland Waterways Commission. Washington Carruthers Kerr (1827-85), educator and scientist of Ulster Scot parentage, was State Geologist of North Carolina (1866-82), and published many papers and reports on his subject. John Muir (1838-1914), geologist, explorer, naturalist, and author, was born in Dunbar. "No man since Thoreau ever had keener sympathy with nature, a quicker vision for her mysteries, or a surer speech for their interpretation." The establishment of the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks and the great Sierra Forest Reservation are due to his writings. The famous Muir Glacier in Alaska, discovered by him in 1879, will forever blazon his name. Other distinguished geologists who may be briefly mentioned are: Samuel Calvin (1840-1911), Professor of Geology in the University of Iowa, born in Wigtownshire; John James Stevenson (b. 1841), educator and geologist, of Scottish parentage; Erwin Hinckly Barbour (b. 1856), professor of Geology in the University of Nebraska; and William Berryman Scott (b. 1858), the distinguished geologist and palæontologist of Princeton University.

Asa Gray (1810-88), the greatest of American botanists, was a descendant of one of the Ulster Scot settlers of 1718. Dr. Alexander Garden (1728-92), famous as a physician and botanist, was Professor of Botany in King's College (now Columbia University). His son was a distinguished Revolutionary officer. Thomas Huston Macbride (b. 1848), President Emeritus of the State University of Iowa, who has written much of value on botany, is of Scottish ancestry. Beverly Thomas Galloway (b. 1863), descended from John Galloway, an emigrant from Scotland in 1680, Chief of the Division of Plant Industry of the United States Department of Agriculture, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in 1913-14, is the author of several works on plant diseases. David Trembly Macdougal (b. 1865), Director of the Botanical Research Department of the Carnegie Institution of Washington since 1905, is the grandson of a Scottish immigrant. His studies relate especially to plant physiology, heredity, and organic evolution.

Stephen Alexander (1806-83), son of a native of Scotland, wrote much on astronomy, and was chief of the expedition to the coast of Labrador to observe the solar eclipse in August, 1869. James Ferguson (1797-1867), an Engineer employed on the construction of the Erie Canal, was born in Perthshire. He was later Assistant Astronomer at the United States Naval Observatory, and discovered three asteroids, for which he received medals from the French Academy of Sciences. Ormsby McKnight Mitchel (1810-62), who was Director of the Cincinnati Observatory (1845) and later of the Dudley Observatory (1859), inventor of the chronograph and other astronomical apparatus, and became a General in the Civil War, was probably also of Scottish origin. Maria Mitchell (1818-89), daughter of William Mitchell (1791-1868), also an astronomer, became Professor of Astronomy in Vassar College, LL.D. of Columbia University (1887), and was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Sciences. Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (1816-92), one of the most distinguished astronomers on the American Continent, obtained important results in astronomical photography, and by means of a ruling engine, designed by him in 1870, constructed the finest diffraction-gratings which had, up to that time, been made, was of Scottish ancestry. George Davidson (1825-1911), born in England of Scottish parentage, geodetist and astronomer, one of the founders of the Geographical Society of the Pacific, Regent of the University of California, was retired after fifty years' active field service of incalculable value to the cause of science. William Harkness (1837-1903), born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, was executive officer of the Transit of Venus Commission (1882). The task of reducing the observations and the hundreds of photographs was successfully undertaken by him although declared impossible by eminent British and German astronomers. He was later Astronomical Director of the Naval Observatory and in 1897 made head of the Nautical Almanac. Williamina (Mina) Paton Fleming (1857-1911), born in Dundee, discovered many new stars and wrote much of permanent value on her subject. William Wallace Campbell (b. 1862), of Scottish ancestry, has been Director of Lick Observatory since 1901, and has written much on astronomy.

The most interesting Scot in connection with horticulture in the United States is Grant Thorburn (1773-1861), who was born in Dalkeith and left his native country for political reasons in 1794. After trying a number of occupations he finally established himself as a seed merchant in New York, and the business is still carried on under his name. Under the pen name of "Lawrie Todd" he contributed to the Knickerbocker Magazine and other New York periodicals, and supplied John Galt, the novelist, with much of the information incorporated in his "Lawrie Todd; or, Settlers in the New World." Thorburn also published two volumes of reminiscences, "Forty Years' Residence in America," and "Fifty Years' Reminiscences of New York." William Adair, born near Glasgow in 1815, developed a profitable business as gardener and horticulturist in Michigan, and served as State Senator from 1861 to 1865, 1869-70. Peter Henderson (1822-90), born at Pathhead near Edinburgh, founded the firm of Peter Henderson and Co., horticulturists and seedsmen, one of the largest firms of its kind in existence. William Saunders (1822-1900), born in St. Andrews, planted and laid out several large estates, beautified Fairmount and Hunting Parks in Philadelphia, and the park and garden system of Washington, D.C., the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, etc. William Macmillan, born in Nairnshire, laid out the public parks of Buffalo, and William R. Smith, a native of Haddingtonshire, was for many years Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens at Washington. Robert Buist (1805-80), born in Edinburgh, was also one of the greatest horticulturists in the United States.

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