Samuel Latham Mitchill papers, 1801-1829 (majority within 1801-1813)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Mitchill, Samuel Latham, 1764-1831
- The Samuel L. Mitchill papers consists of 522 letters or fragments dating between 1801 and 1829, but largely dating between 1801 and 1813. Most of the letters are from Samuel Latham Mitchill to his wife, Catharine Akerly Cock Mitchill, with the exception of four letters written by him to other recipients and 15 letters written by other senders. These letters touch on a wide variety of topics, including domestic national and state politics; relations with European powers; the Barbary Wars and other naval matters; the Aaron Burr conspiracy; Washington, D. C., society; Mitchill's scientific endeavors and sample collection; and his family life and travel plans.
- 518 items (1 linear foot)
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Manuscripts Division Staff, November 1995, and Garrett Morton, April 2018
- Scope and Content:
The Samuel L. Mitchill papers consist of 522 letters or fragments dating between 1801 and 1829 (bulk 1801-1813). Most of the letters are from Samuel Latham Mitchill to his wife, Catharine Akerly Cock Mitchill, with the exception of four letters written by him to other recipients and 15 letters written by other senders. Mitchill's detailed letters cover a wide variety of topics, including domestic national and state politics; relations with European powers; the Barbary Wars and other naval matters; the Aaron Burr conspiracy; Washington, D. C., society; Mitchill's scientific endeavors and sample collection; and his family life and travel plans.
In addition to the letters from Samuel L. Mitchill to his wife, the collection includes:
- Four letters written by Samuel Mitchill: one each to Priscilla Akerly, his mother-in-law; T. H. Gallaudet, a pioneer in deaf education; La Cépède, a French naturalist; and Mary Latham Mitchill, his mother
- Four letters written by Catherine Mitchill to her sister Margaret Miller
- Nine letters written by Margaret Miller: four to her husband Silvanus Miller and five to Catherine Mitchill
- Two letters received by Samuel Mitchill: one from Hugh Williamson and one from a Miss Coates of Charleston, South Carolina
- Biographical / Historical:
Samuel L. Mitchill (Samuel Latham Mitchill) was born in North Hempstead, New York, on August 20, 1764, to parents Robert Mitchill and Mary Latham. After receiving a basic education from his uncle, Dr. Samuel Latham, he served as a medical apprentice under New York City physician Dr. Samuel Bard from 1780 to 1783. Mitchill then studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, from which he earned his medical degree in 1786. After his return to New York, Columbia College granted him an honorary M.A. in 1788. He began practicing medicine the same year.
Mitchill distinguished himself in three areas throughout his career: politics, medicine, and natural sciences. He served three one-year terms in the New York State Legislature, in 1792, 1798, and 1810. He was also active in national politics as a member of the Jeffersonian Republican party. He served in Congress as a Representative of New York from 1801 to 1804, and again from 1810 to 1813. Between terms in the House of Representatives, he served as a US Senator from New York. He was elected in 1804, following the resignation of John Armstrong, and served out the term through 1809.
In 1797, Mitchill, along with Elihu H. Smith and Edward Miller, founded the Medical Repository, the first medical journal in the United States (prior to this, American medical articles were published in general-interest magazines). He served as an editor from the journal's founding until 1820. In the course of his study and teaching of chemistry, Mitchill developed his "septon" theory of disease, which held that compounds of oxygen and nitrogen caused disease and could be treated through the application of alkaline substances, such as lime, soda, and potash. While this theory proved fallacious, it did lead Mitchill to be an active proponent of increased personal hygiene and improved sanitation.
For much of his adult life, Mitchill was involved in university teaching. From 1792 to 1807, he was a professor of natural history, chemistry, and agriculture at Columbia College, teaching primarily botany, zoology, and mineralogy. It was during his tenure at Columbia that he began his lifelong habit of collecting and classifying animal, vegetal, and mineral samples and specimens from across the United States. While at Columbia, he was also active in teaching Lavoisier's anti-phlogistic chemistry, and worked to reconcile anti- and pro-Lavoisier groups.
After leaving Columbia, Mitchill taught at a number of other institutions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York as a professor of chemistry (1807-1808), natural history (1808-1820), and botany and material medica (1820-1826). Along with several colleagues, including David Hosack, J. W. Francis, W. J. MacNeven, and Valentine Mott, he cofounded the Rutgers Medical College of New Jersey, and served as its vice president from 1826-1830.
Mitchill also wrote prolifically on a variety of subjects. He authored many periodical articles on natural history, geology, chemistry, and biology, among other subjects. He also wrote and edited books in diverse subjects including the sciences, culture, and politics.
In June of 1799, Mitchill married Catherine Ackerly Cock, a widow, with whom he had no biological children but adopted two daughters. He died in New York on September 7, 1831.
- Acquisition Information:
- 1982, 2000, 2015. M-2015, M-4102.1, M-5069 .
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
The Book Division of the Clements Library has a number of Mitchill's publications, and several publications in which Mitchill appears.
The map Samuel Latham Mitchill drew in his January 20, 1808 letter to Catharine Mitchill has been cataloged separately. [New York Harbor with proposed obstructions].
Coggins, Clemency C. "Medical Articles in Eighteenth Century America." Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 53, no. 3 (1965): 426-437.
"Mitchill, Samuel Latham." In Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2018. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199797738.001.0001/acref-9780199797738-e-317.
Sterling, Keir B. "Mitchill, Samuel Latham (1764-1831), physician, scientist, and legislator." In American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2000. Accessed February 23, 2018. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1301154.
- Other Finding Aids:
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Burr Conspiracy, 1805-1807.
Legislators--New York (State)
United States. Congress. House.
United States. Congress. Senate.
United States--Foreign Relations--Great Britain.
United States--Politics and Government--1789-1815.
Washington (D.C.)--Social life and customs.
United States--History--Tripolitan War, 1801-1805.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright status is unknown.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.