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George William Featherstonhaugh: The First U.S. Government Geologist

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"U.S. historians can read this book with considerable profit for the details it offers; general readers can enjoy it as a straightforward and informative biography." —Choice "For anyone interested in the history of American geology, knowledge of G. W. Featherstonhaugh (1780-1866) is both essential and hard to obtain. He was the force behind the first railroad in America; a "U.S. historians can read this book with considerable profit for the details it offers; general readers can enjoy it as a straightforward and informative biography." —Choice "For anyone interested in the history of American geology, knowledge of G. W. Featherstonhaugh (1780-1866) is both essential and hard to obtain. He was the force behind the first railroad in America; a pioneer in scientific agriculture; an essayist, poet, and novelist; a lobbyist; a linguist; and a daring diplomat who saved the king and queen of France from certain death. [Yet] his strongest tie was with the geology. [This] biography is interesting, well researched and well written. It is a balanced study of a complex man who did so much work and generated such controversy." —Earth Sciences History


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"U.S. historians can read this book with considerable profit for the details it offers; general readers can enjoy it as a straightforward and informative biography." —Choice "For anyone interested in the history of American geology, knowledge of G. W. Featherstonhaugh (1780-1866) is both essential and hard to obtain. He was the force behind the first railroad in America; a "U.S. historians can read this book with considerable profit for the details it offers; general readers can enjoy it as a straightforward and informative biography." —Choice "For anyone interested in the history of American geology, knowledge of G. W. Featherstonhaugh (1780-1866) is both essential and hard to obtain. He was the force behind the first railroad in America; a pioneer in scientific agriculture; an essayist, poet, and novelist; a lobbyist; a linguist; and a daring diplomat who saved the king and queen of France from certain death. [Yet] his strongest tie was with the geology. [This] biography is interesting, well researched and well written. It is a balanced study of a complex man who did so much work and generated such controversy." —Earth Sciences History

4 review for George William Featherstonhaugh: The First U.S. Government Geologist

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    This was a surprisingly good, interesting book, very well researched. It was passed to me by a neighbor who shares my interest in local (Duanesburg, NY) history, where Featherstonhaugh lived for a decade or two and where one branch of his descendant family still resides. Probably less the 20% of the book deals with Featherstonhaugh's Duanesburg days (where, among other things, this immigrant from England married the daughter of New York City mayor James Duane, became perhaps the first patron of This was a surprisingly good, interesting book, very well researched. It was passed to me by a neighbor who shares my interest in local (Duanesburg, NY) history, where Featherstonhaugh lived for a decade or two and where one branch of his descendant family still resides. Probably less the 20% of the book deals with Featherstonhaugh's Duanesburg days (where, among other things, this immigrant from England married the daughter of New York City mayor James Duane, became perhaps the first patron of emerging Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole, organized the first US railroad company, and operated a model farm, which positioned him to be an early organizer of the NY State Agricultural Society. Even before that, the self-taught Featherstonhaugh was an avid amateur geologist who morphed into a recognized international expert, receiving a U.S. government assignment to conduct detailed geologic studies of the region spanning the Allegheny Mountains as far west as Montana. As to whether he was, indeed, appointed as the first U.S. government geologist or simply adopted the title as a bit of self-promotion was a matter of legal argument at various points in Featherstonhaugh's career. There can be no doubt, however, that he had important geologic assignments from the U.S. government and conducted them with great zeal and thoroughness. Featherstonhaugh's papers, the foundation of this book, remind this reader of an 1800s Forrest Gump, as he roams the American frontier and state capitals, bumping into such prominent national figures as James Madison, Henry Clay, John James Audubon, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and George Rogers Clark. Indeed, some of his critics suggest he was a bit of a name-dropping status seeker. But as one humorist put it so aptly, "It ain't braggin' if you actually did it." And do it he did, mastering several languages through sheer diligence; bushwacking a survey through the area between Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec so as to settle a long simmering border dispute; conniving as a British consul and personally conducting the rescue of the king of France from an 1840s revolution. Featherstonhaugh's accounts of geological surveys through the Appalachians, Mississippi Valley, and Minnesota are sprinkled with candid---and amusingly relevant in 2016---observations on the American character, reminiscent of those made by Hector St. John de Crevecouer some years earlier and de Tocqueville, Featherstonhaugh's contemporary. His most severe criticisms of American society were reserved for the institution of slavery and those who profited from it, which he saw and analyzed almost as frequently as the geological formations he was sent to catalog. The Berkeleys (authors) write: "Featherstonhaugh reached Mexico, which had won independence only only twelve years previously. For the first few years immigrants from the United States had been welcomed to the province of Texas, which was sparsely inhabited. Most of those who came were from the southern United States, and the most ardent promoter of Texas was Stephen F. Austin. Attracted by rich cotton land that could be bought for only a few cents an acre, almost twenty thousand white settlers and a thousand slaves were living in Texas by 1830, when Mexico realized that her hospitality was being abused. The government prohibited further immigration from the United States [sound familiar?] as well as importation of slaves, and required the settlers to become Roman Catholic [sound familiar?] . . . Featherstonhaugh strongly disapproved of a United States annexation of Texas but remained quiet during innumerable discussions of the subject. "In defiance of the Mexican laws, the settlers were still bringing in slaves. Featherstonhaugh was even more shocked than he had previously been by their situation, for here slaves were treated like livestock: 'The horse does his daily task, eats his changeless provender, and at night is driven to his stable to be shut in, until he is again drawn forth at the earliest dawn to go through the same unpitied routine. This is the history of the slave in Texas.'" One of my favorite Featherstonhaugh observations seems prescient, given what 2016 democracy is delivering. Observing the rough and tumble nature of his fellow guests at a frontier inn, he wondered if universal suffrage was such a good idea. All in all, a lot of illuminating details about one of the "second-tier geniuses" and America in the early 1800s. Worth a read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  3. 5 out of 5

    Univofalpress

  4. 4 out of 5

    Neverdust

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