Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/June 1894/Sketch of Gerard Troost

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GERARD TROOST, one of the founders and first President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, was born at Bois-le-Duc, Holland, March 5, 1776, and died in Nashville, Tenn., August 14, 1850. He attended the Universities of Leyden and Amsterdam, devoting special attention to chemistry, geology, and natural history; received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Leyden, and that of Master in Pharmacy, in 1801, from the University of Amsterdam. He practiced his art for a short time at Amsterdam and the Hague; served in the army as a private soldier, and at another time as an officer of the first class in the medical department; and during these periods of service was wounded in the thigh and in the head. In 1807 he went to Paris, under the patronage of Louis Napoleon, King of Holland, to pursue his studies, and then he became the pupil and associate of the Abbé René Just Haüy, author of the famous system of crystallography. He traveled in France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, and collected a valuable cabinet of minerals, which was purchased by the King of Holland. In 1809, this king appointed Troost to accompany, in a scientific capacity, a naval expedition to Java. He was captured by an English privateer; confined for some time at Dunkirk; returned to Paris; and then made his way to la Rochelle. He took passage from a northern port, beyond French jurisdiction, in an American vessel, for New York, whence he hoped to reach the East Indies under the protection of our flag. This vessel was captured by a French privateer and carried to Dunkirk, where Troost was kept a prisoner till the French became aware of his true name and character, when he was released. He went at once to Paris. In March, 1810, he was elected a correspondent of the Museum of Natural History of Paris. A few days afterward he was allowed to embark again on an American vessel for Philadelphia. The turn of political events in Europe, among which was the abdication of Louis Napoleon as King of Holland and the surrender of Java to England, caused him to abandon his contemplated visit to the East Indies and to remain in the United States.

In 1812 Dr. Troost participated in the foundation of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and became its first president. Of the origin of this society. Dr. W. S. W. Ruschenberger, from whose account we derive much of the material of this sketch, says there were some young persons in Philadelphia disposed to study the laws of creation. Occupied with their business during the day, they were accustomed to converse concerning natural phenomena when they met in the evening, without appointment, at the ordinary places of resort. They very often met at the apothecary's shop of John Speakman, of whom Thomas Say was subsequently the business partner, at the corner of Market and Second Streets. At one of these meetings Mr. Speakman suggested that if the young men could be induced to meet at stated times, where they would be secure from interruption, to communicate to one another what they might learn about the phenomena of Nature, they would derive more pleasure and profit than from desultory and irregular conversation. The suggestion was seconded by Jacob Gilliams, and a meeting was appointed for the next Saturday evening at Mr. Speakman's house, for the young men and such of their friends as might be interested in the matter: Six persons were present at the meeting, January 25, 1812; Dr. Gerard Troost, Dr. Camillus Macmahon Mann, Jacob Gilliams, John Shinn, Jr., Nicholas Parmentier, and John Speakman, host. The meeting was described in the minutes as "a meeting of gentlemen, friends of science, and of rational disposal of leisure moments"; and it was agreed that the exclusive object of the society should be the cultivation of natural science. For the furtherance of this purpose all matters of politics and religion were rigorously excluded, even allusions to them being forbidden. It was perhaps from this determination. Dr. Ruschenberger suggests, that "the erroneous notion sprang, which, according to tradition, prevailed with some, that the object of the institution was to favor religious infidelity." The constitution of the society was agreed upon on the 17th of March, and the name Academy of Natural Sciences was adopted on the 21st of that month, which date was established as that of the beginning of the institution. On that day, too, the members agreed "to contribute to the formation of a museum of natural history, a library of works of science, a chemical experimental laboratory, an experimental philosophical apparatus, and every other desirable appendage or convenience for the illustration and advancement of natural knowledge, and for the common benefit of all the individuals who may be admitted members of our institution." Among the first donors of minerals were Dr. Troost, Mr. Isaac Lea, Dr. Hays, and Mr. S. Hazard. When the small room, 121 North Second Street, hired about the 1st of April, was occupied, the members came forward with their gifts to serve as the nucleus of the museum and library. Among them was Dr. Troost, with some artificial crystals, prepared by himself. On the occasion of the election of officers, May 7, 1812, Dr. Troost was chosen president. He held this office five years, or till 1817, when he resigned and was succeeded by William Maclure. On the 15th of August, 1812, the collection of minerals previously purchased from Dr. Seybert by Mr. Speakman came formally into the possession of the society, which formed a kind of jointstock company to pay for it and hold it. Soon after this. Dr. Troost delivered a course of lectures on mineralogy before the academy.

During his residence in Philadelphia Dr. Troost was engaged in manufactures of various kinds. In 1815 or 1816 he began the manufacture of alum on the Magothy River, Cape Sable, Maryland, establishing the first alum works in the United States. In 1821 he was appointed Professor of Mineralogy in the Philadelphia Museum, where he delivered lectures on the subject. He was also appointed about the same time first Professor of Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Philadelphia, a position which he resigned, after having delivered one course of lectures, in the succeeding year. During this period he also made geological excursions into New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere.

In 1825 Dr. Troost, with Maclure, Say, and Lesueur, joined Robert Owen in the formation of the Communistic Society at New Harmony, Ind. After remaining there two years, he removed to Nashville, Tenn., in 1827. In 1828 he was elected, at the instance of President Lindley, Professor of Chemistry, Geology, and Mineralogy in the University of Nashville. In a historical sketch, published in the catalogue of 1850, is a table of the longest terms of official service of instructors. It is headed by President Lindley, twenty-six years; and next in length of service comes Prof. Troost, from February 9, 1828, to August 14, 1850, twenty-two years and a half.

In 1831 he was appointed State Geologist of Tennessee, an office which he held till it was abolished in 1839. The record of his work in this department is preserved in his reports. The first and second reports were not published. The third report, made in 1835, contains the results of the geologist's investigations respecting the extent of the coal formations in the State. "I have ascertained," it says, "that the places in which coal may be expected belong exclusively and entirely to that group of mountains which are known by the name of Cumberland Mountains, and are composed of Walden's Ridge, Crab Orchard Mountain, Brimstone Mountain, and some other subordinate ridges of the same system." The breadth of the formation was greatest near the northern limit of the State, and in one part the coal was represented as deposited in horizontal strata of great extent. The report also deals largely with marl, iron, and soils, and concludes with the words: "In a scientific point of view my labors have been very advantageous. I have been very fortunate in obtaining organic remains which were unknown, and which eventually will show how far our strata correspond with those on the old continent. I have discovered parts of the American or gigantic mastodon hitherto unknown."

The fourth report, of 1837, relates to the Ocoee district, comprising a part of the mountain region near the North Carolina boundary, which Prof. Troost was directed by the State Legislature to explore. It begins with an exposition of the principles of geology and their application to the general structure of the district under view, for the information of the people; an admirable specimen of exact scientific writing adapted to popular comprehension, explicit, lucid in style, and showing familiarity with the subject. The character of the region is depicted in a few words: "Commencing our reconnaissance at the most northern extremity of the district, I found the rocks at Tallassee, on the Tennessee River, entirely composed of grauwacke, alternating here and there with limestone; this is the case everywhere along the Tennessee River, where I was able to approach and examine them, to the Smoky Mountain, which forms the southeastern limit of the district, and separates Tennessee from North Carolina. It is almost impossible to penetrate any distance in this wild and mountainous country; and the apparent confusion of the rocks, which seem at some places heaped up without order, and changing at small distances, makes the geological survey hazardous and extremely difficult." The author calls attention to the roofing slates of East Tennessee, and dwells upon the value of slates generally; regards the prospects of finding paying gold as not promising; but speaks of having observed at several places between the Ocoee and Hiawassee Rivers hydroxide of iron similar to the ore used in Middle Tennessee in the blast furnaces. "It is superfluous" he adds, "to expatiate here on the importance of iron works in a country which is not susceptible of cultivation, where there is an inexhaustible supply of wood." He suggests in this report a hypothesis that Lookout and Raccoon Mountains and the Cumberland Mountains were once connected, and that the Tennessee River cut a passage between them; and he gives reasons for believing that the old bed of the river may be found where it enters the Sequatchy Valley. A note is added to the report, giving a list of the fossils the geologist had collected during his survey. He believed that his collection, particularly of fossils characterizing the mountain limestone of Tennessee, was unrivaled. It was his desire to have them figured and described, and published as an appendix to the work of Dr. Goldfuss on organic remains, of which he had announced a translation—but "the prospect of publishing it without pecuniary loss is not flattering." The list contains nearly a hundred entries, some of which include many species.

In his fifth report, made for 1839, Dr. Troost said that he had traversed the State in many directions, and analyzed a large number of minerals, mineral soils, and other materials, which, though not belonging properly to the department of the geologist, were deemed necessary to be known as constituting sources of our national wealth. The report gives a general view of the geology of the whole State, in which all the terms are clearly and fully explained. It deals with iron ores, timber, and water powers, and points out the suitableness of the region of the Smoky Mountains for grass and stock and the cultivation of potatoes and cabbage—adding that "no country can be better calculated for the raising of sheep," Prof. Troost insisted that iron must become one of the principal sources of wealth of Middle and East Tennessee, which were even more favored in the distribution of ores than Missouri with its Iron Mountain, and "nowhere could a foundry for a national arsenal be more judiciously situated than in our State, the center of the Union, and therefore not liable to be attacked by an enemy, and yet by means of its large rivers, and soon perhaps of railroads, cannon or other arms may be transported in a short time to any point in the Union." Descriptions of iron ore and iron works are given with some detail. The list of organic remains is accompanied with descriptions and includes a hundred and sixteen entries.

The ninth report, for 1847, deals chiefly with zinc ores, their reduction, and the manufacture of zinc and brass.

Of the report made in 1849 the American Journal of Science and Arts said: "The geographical survey of Tennessee, under Dr. Troost, is still in progress, and is bringing to light many additions to science, besides developing the various resources of the State. Prof. Troost is well known for his learning, his skill, and his enthusiasm in his investigation, and it is greatly to the honor of Tennessee that such a savant is appreciated and his talents are called into action. In a recent communication from Dr. Troost he mentions that the number of the new genera and species of Crinoideæ which occur in the State of Tennessee is really surprising. His geological report, now before the Legislature of the State of Tennessee, contains a monograph of Crinoideæ in that State, in which sixteen new genera and eighty-eight new species are described, illustrated by two hundred and twenty figures; this number not only surpasses that of those discovered in the other States of the Union, but perhaps is equal to those that have been found over the whole of Europe."

Besides his geological reports of Tennessee, Dr. Troost contributed to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, A Geological Survey of the Environs of Philadelphia, the territory included in which embraced a semicircular area having a radius of fifteen miles from the center at the Rotunda in High Street, and bounded on the east by the Delaware River. A preliminary note described the paper as "an attempt to delineate the geological positions of our environs, and to give some general ideas of the nature and chemical constituents of our soil." Of the pamphlet of forty pages, containing a colored map, ten pages were devoted to the geological survey, fifteen pages to descriptions of soils, and ten pages to their composition. Prof. Troost also published in the Transactions of the Geological Society of Pennsylvania an account of the organic remains and various fossils of Tennessee and adjacent States; in the Bulletin of the Geological Society of France, a memoir on the organic remains and fossils of Tennessee; and in Silliman's American Journal of Science and the Arts, articles on Amber at Cape Sable, Maryland; Minerals of Missouri; Coral Regions of Tennessee; Analysis of a Meteorite from Tennessee; Meteoric Iron from Tennessee and Alabama; A Shower of Red Matter in Tennessee; Three Varieties of Meteoric Iron; Meteoric Iron of Murfreesboro', Tenn.; and Krausite and Cacorene in Tennessee. He translated Humboldt's Aspects of Nature into Dutch. He gathered a collection of about fifteen thousand mineralogical and more than five thousand geological specimens, constituting what was at the time considered the finest cabinet belonging to a single person in the United States. Besides the Philadelphia Academy, he was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Geological Society of Pennsylvania, the Geological Society of France, and of other scientific bodies in America and Europe.

A minute adopted by the Board of Trustees of the University of Nashville, on the occasion of the death of Prof. Troost, relates that, "born and liberally educated in Holland, he early manifested a zealous devotion to natural history and chemistry, more especially to the then infant sciences of geology and mineralogy. With a view to the more successful pursuit of his favorite studies he visited Paris, and was for several years the pupil of the celebrated Haüy. He removed to the United States about forty years ago, and in due time became an American citizen. His entire life was consecrated to geology and the kindred sciences, with what ability and success his published writings and his well earned reputation at home and abroad may eloquently testify. As a professor in this university during the last twenty-two years and a State geologist of Tennessee for the most part of that period, he won the confidence and respect of the community by invaluable service in both capacities, as well as by the unaffected modesty, kindness, and uniform courtesy of his deportment toward all men. In the various relations and stations of life, public and private, he was without reproach and above suspicion. Beloved, trusted, honored, venerated by all those most intimately connected or associated with him, he could not make an enemy—he had none."


Geography as a whole was compared by Dr. H. R. Mill, in the introduction to his course of educational lectures of the Royal Geographical Society, to a pyramid of six courses of masonry, built of blocks obtained from different quarries. The first and fundamental course, built of material derived from pure mathematics, was mathematical geography, absolutely secure and firmly establislaed, underlying all the rest. Upon it, and resting on it, rose physical geography, the material for which was brought from physics, geology, meteorology, etc, all the determining conditions being fully known. This served as a foundation for biological geography, in which the imperfect comprehension of life introduced unstable and incomplete elements; but far fuller of uncertainty was the next tier of anthropo-geography, in which the additional unknown quantity of human nature exercised a preponderating influence, and the positive scientific facts from the quarries of anthropology, ethnology, and economics were few and by no means well co-ordinated. Arising from this came the layer of political geography, the scientific basis of which was mixed up and overlaid with arbitrary, transitory, and impracticable conditions arising from the workings of the human mind and the limitations of nationality. Upon this was reared the final story of the pyramid, commercial geography, a mass of rubble, the relation of which to its scientific foundation was not yet fully made out.