Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/December 1898/Sketch of Charles Henry Hitchcock

PSM V54 D156 Charles H Hitchcock.jpg



THE name of Prof. Charles H. Hitchcock is closely associated with the progress of New England geology, especially with the discovery of the great terminal glacial moraine, and, in connection with the name of his father, Dr. Edward Hitchcock, with the study of the fossil bird tracks of the Connecticut River Valley.

Charles Henry Hitchcock was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, August 23, 1836, the son of Prof. Edward Hitchcock, the eminent geologist, who was afterward president of Amherst College. The family is of English origin, and was planted in America by two brothers who came over at nearly the same time and made homes for themselves in New Haven, removing later to towns near by. Luke Hitchcock, the ancestor of the subject of this sketch, came in 1695, and finally settled at Wethersfield, Connecticut. His descendants in the direct line lived at Springfield, Granville, Deerfield, and Amherst, Massachusetts. Professor Hitchcock is in the seventh generation from Luke, and is equally removed from Elder John White, his maternal ancestor, who came to Canton, Massachusetts, toward the end of the seventeenth century, and removed thence to the Connecticut Valley. Both lines of ancestry were purely English, and all the progenitors were men of integrity, regarded in their times as worthy to fill offices of trust in church and town. Two of them served in the Revolutionary army.

The father of Professor Hitchcock was one of the most distinguished geologists and educators of his time, and his services, especially as State Geologist of Massachusetts, have already been described in the Popular Science Monthly.[1] His mother was the daughter of Jacob White, a well-to-do farmer of Amherst, who, believing in the education of women, had given her the best opportunities for study available at the time. She could read the Greek Testament and calculate eclipses, and was a gifted artist with pencil and brush. She prepared with her own hands many of the numerous illustrations in her husband's reports, and also diagrams for the lecture room. She took indefatigable pains with the education of her children, placing their moral and religious welfare first. Of the eight children of the family, six of whom reached maturity, the surviving brother is professor of physical culture, and, for the time being, acting president at Amherst College, and one of the two surviving sisters, the widow of the Rev. C. M. Terry, has been for several years matron of the Hubbard Cottage, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Beginning with 1835, the year before Professor Hitchcock was born, his father, Professor Edward Hitchcock, was largely occupied with the study of the "fossil bird tracks" in the New Red Sandstone of the Connecticut Valley, and with the discussions to which the investigation gave rise, the story of which has been told by Prof. C. H. Hitchcock himself in the Popular Science Monthly (vol. iii, August, 1873). Besides the search for the fossils and their collection and comparison, and the examination of the literature that might throw light on the subject, there were studies into the proper interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, the debate with Prof. Moses Stewart, of Andover, and the gradual approach of the American clergy to general acquiescence in the belief that geology is not at variance with Scripture. Professor Hitchcock's childhood was largely spent under the influence of these studies and discussions. The boy seemed to be full of promise, and because of his observing ways and proneness to speculation was called "the young philosopher." He used to bring his mother the very small flowers of Spergula rubra, which are so obscure that older eyes often fail to notice them. He seemed to be fonder of his father than the other children, and was never so happy as with him. Through this constant intercourse Charles became absorbed in his father's pursuits, and grew up into a knowledge of geology from Nature and from verbal explanations—a more satisfactory method than that of learning from books; and he was associated with his father in all his geological work from the time when he was first old enough to be of service. Thus, before 1856 he was acquainted, from inspection, with the terraces and reputed beaches and drift phenomena of all western Massachusetts; he had handled every specimen of a foot mark in the Appleton Cabinet, and by 1861 was the principal assistant on the Vermont Survey, having prepared for the press the greater part of the matter of the report. He had enjoyed the best educational advantages of his day, having completed the classical and preparatory courses of Williston Seminary, and been graduated thence in 1852, then graduated from Amherst College in 1856, a short time before his twentieth birthday. Among his early classmates and college friends were Dr. Cyrus Northrup, president of Minnesota University; Dr. Richard Mather, professor of Greek at Amherst College; the Rev. Dr. Goodwin, of Chicago; and Dr. William Hayes Ward, editor of The Independent. After graduation he spent a year in special study of Hebrew and chemistry at Yale College, two years at Andover Theological Seminary, and one year in Europe, studying in the Royal School of Mines under Professor Huxley, and in the British Museum investigating the Crustacea and trilobites. Here he enjoyed the friendship of Professor Richard Owen, and had the guidance of Dr. H. Woodward.

In 1857 Mr. Hitchcock was appointed assistant geologist to the Geological Survey of Vermont. He served the full term of the survey, and had charge of the preparation of the report relating to the stratigraphical geology, the measurement and delineation of the sections, and the compilation of the geological map.

In 1861 he received the appointment of State Geologist of Maine, in which service he spent two summers in field work, preparing two reports of progress, which were published in connection with the report of the secretary of the Board of Agriculture. Besides the general reconnoissance, he discovered the existence of large areas of Upper Silurian and Devonian terranes. He has embodied his views of the distribution of the formations in his general map of the United States.

Having chosen the ministry for his profession, Mr. Hitchcock studied theology under Dr. E. A. Park, of Andover, and the Rev. Dr. Taylor, of New Haven. Questions of the relations of theology and science were attracting much attention, and he treated of them in two papers in the Bibliotheca Sacra, one of which was afterward used for the guidance of theological students in several seminaries. As more opportunities were offered for scientific work, the ministry was given up. This was the time when the doctrine of natural selection came to the front for investigation, and the early history of mankind was receiving increased attention. Mr. Hitchcock came home from Europe in 1867 convinced of the truth of some form of evolution, of a considerable antiquity of man, and of the probability of a plural origin of the human race. Finding that some of his views on these subjects were not acceptable to his associates, he ceased to make them prominent in his class instructions, and devoted his attention to the more technical details of geology. Since then general opinion has advanced so far on these subjects that the views he held at that time seem now really conservative.

In 1868 he was appointed State Geologist for New Hampshire, and spent ten years in the survey of that State. The results of his work there were published in three large quarto volumes, with a folio atlas of maps, profiles, and sections. The rocks described consist principally of crystalline schists and marine igneous ejections. The geology of New Hampshire is of peculiar importance, because the situation of the State is such that a correct knowledge of its rocks promotes the understanding of many obscure terranes in the adjacent regions of Maine, Quebec, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Professor Hitchcock's report of the survey may justly be styled his chief work. The part best studied relates to the White Mountains and the Ammonoosuc mining district. Connected with the survey was the maintenance of a meteorological station throughout the year on the summit of Mount Washington. Daily statements of the weather conditions of this station during the winter of 1870-'71 were sent by telegraph to the principal newspapers, and called out much interest—before the United States Signal Service began its weather predictions. The catalogue of Professor Hitchcock's publications comprises more than one hundred and fifty titles of papers, reports, and books. Perhaps the earliest thorough study represented among them was that of the fossil footmarks. The first of the published papers on this subject related to the tracks of animals in alluvial clay, and was published in the American Journal of Science in 1855. For several years after this he assisted his father in arranging the museum and compiling tables for the Ichnology. He made a complete catalogue descriptive of the more than twenty thousand individual impressions preserved in the Appleton Cabinet, which was printed, with descriptions of a few new species of footmarks, in the Supplement to the Ichnology of Massachusetts, edited by him after the death of his father in 1865. Although circumstances have prevented him from paying much attention to ichnology in later years, he has prepared several papers on the subject, the most important of which was one on the Recent Progress of Ichnology, which was read before the Boston Society of Natural History about twelve years ago. In it the ichnites were carefully catalogued anew and classified in the light of our knowledge of the numerous dinosaurs of the West; and the results of some studies of the slabs exhumed at Wethersfield, Connecticut, are well known. The list of the Connecticut footmarks was increased from one hundred and nineteen in the Ichnology to one hundred and seventy; and facts were cited to show that the Grallator, the three-toed animal most allied to birds, possessed a caudal appendage of a reptilian nature. The Trias of New Jersey had been found to illustrate new features in the Otozoum, whose tracks are often ornithic in aspect. A comparison of the features of the Triassic skeletons described by Marsh from Connecticut (Anchisaurus) shows that the creatures were rather allied to the Plesiornis than to the Anomœpus of the Ichnology, because of the great size of the fore feet. Notes upon footmarks have been gathered also from illustrations in Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, Kansas, Nevada, and Florida.

Professor Hitchcock has studied the Quaternary or glacial deposits with great success. His first publication upon the terraces and allied phenomena of Vermont appeared while the old views of a submergence, with icebergs, prevailed, to account for the phenomena. A study of the glaciers of Switzerland in 1866 satisfied him of the truth of Agassiz's theory; and whenever the opportunity came for re-examination of the surface geology of northern New England, the facts were found to require a different theoretical explanation. He caused a thorough examination to be made of the Connecticut River terranes by Warren Upham in the New Hampshire Survey, and proved that all the high mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine had been glaciated by a southeasterly movement. The ice came from the Laurentian highlands, pushed in a southern direction down the Champlain-Hudson Valley, with a southeasterly flow over New England and southwesterly over the Adirondacks; the last two courses having been subordinate to the first. At present the Laurentian hills are lower than the New England and New York mountains overridden by the ice, and probably the same was the case in the Glacial period. The best explanation of these paths is afforded by the suggestion that a gigantic ice cap accumulated north of the St. Lawrence, towering into the clouds so much that its overflow naturally descended over the White and Adirondack Mountains.

That glaciers should accumulate terminal moraines is axiomatic, but no geologist before 1868 had ventured to suggest where moraines might be located in the United States. In that year Professor Hitchcock delivered a lecture before the Lyceum of Natural History in New York and the Long Island Historical Society in Brooklyn, in which he affirmed that the drift deposits from Prospect Park along the backbone of Long Island for its entire length constituted the terminal moraine of the great continental ice sheet. This declaration inaugurated a new era in the study of the age of ice. The geologists in their several States found the terminal moraines, and the various phenomena began to be classified according to new laws. The search for moraines has resulted in a restatement of the incident of the age of ice; more than a dozen successive terminal moraines have been mapped between New York and Montana, which suggest to us the existence of several glacial periods. In compiling a catalogue of observations of the course of glacial striæ by the United States Geological Survey, it was found that Professor Hitchcock had recorded for New England as many as all other geologists had observed for the whole country.

Eskers are another interesting class of phenomena, and were first described as horsebacks in Maine, about seventy of them having been described in the report of 1861 and 1862. It was not till after the description of the Swedish O̊sar that the nature of these lines or ridges was understood; and now they were found in every prominent valley in New England, as attendant upon the recession of the ice sheet. Professor Hitchcock gave the correct name of these ridges in his Elementary Geology, 1860; while for many years subsequently they were erroneously called kames, even in the geology of New Hampshire.

Professor Hitchcock gave the name of Champlain to the fossiliferous clays associated with the till of the Atlantic coast. The term has come into general use as connected with the melting of the ice in the latter part of the period. Because of the presence of boreal species, and of analogies with similar deposits in Europe, Professor Hitchcock has asked the question whether there may not have been a Champlain glacial epoch posterior to those named farther in the interior of the country, the Kansan, Iowan, and Illinoisian epochs.

Those who explore the geology of northern New England have to deal with crystalline rocks of various ages, and the opinions of our best geologists have not been in agreement respecting them. Professor Hitchcock was the first to make a geological map of New Hampshire, and he also demonstrated the anticlinal nature of the Green Mountains of Vermont. His teachers had inculcated the view that these eminences belonged to a synclinal disposition, coupling this with theoretical assertions as to their age and metamorphism. Finding their main principle to be erroneous, he naturally disparaged their theories, though more recent studies are eliminating many of the schists from the Archæan. All the later explorers in the field—Canadians and members of the Geological Survey—accept a pre-Cambrian anticlinal in the heart of the Green Mountains.

The distribution of the New Hampshire formations was made out for the most part before any assistance was derived from the labors of Dr. G. W. Hawes and other petrographers. Twenty years ago, at the date of the final publication of the New Hampshire maps, the doctrine of an igneous origin of the crystalline schist had hardly been hinted at. What seems elemental to the modern petrographer who has acquired his technical education since 1890 was unknown then, and the classification given in the report may not agree with that now taught. In the midst of the diverse views entertained, Professor Hitchcock classified the rocks of northern New England according to this principle: rocks that are identical in petrographical composition are assumed to have had the same origin, and to be synchronous. Professor Hitchcock was almost the first of American geologists to employ the petrographer as a help to the understanding of the crystallines—as was evident by the very valuable contributions to knowledge in Part IV of the New Hampshire Report as prepared by Dr. Hawes.

A vexing question concerning what are now called Cambrian terranes divided geologists for a quarter of a century after 1857, and had to be considered in preparing the geology of Vermont in 1861. This was the Taconic controversy. Trilobites had been discovered in Vermont, which were misunderstood by most of the American geologists following Hall, Logan, Dana, and others. In giving the species the technical name first of Barrandesi and then Olenellus, Prof. James Hall asserted its derivation from the Hudson River group—relying upon the stratigraphical determinations of Sir W. E. Logan. As soon as Barrandes's attention was called to these trilobites and the attendant publication, he wrote his famous letter to Logan in 1860, declaring that there must be a mistake somewhere. That error was discovered in time to be eliminated from the Vermont report of the following year. Professor Hitchcock had charge of the field work in this Cambrian district, and his views of the arrangement of the formations are in agreement with those of the latest workers in the field. He applied the term of Georgia to one division of the terrane in 1860; and the designation has been generally adopted since that time. Jules Marcou claimed priority in the suggestion of the application of the term, but upon the publication of Professor Hitchcock's statement on the subject the credit of priority was awarded to him by Director Walcott, of the United States Geological Survey.

Between 1860 and 1870 Professor Hitchcock was occupied largely as a mining geologist in the estimation of mineral deposits for mining companies, with his office in New York. In the prosecution of this business he traveled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Alabama. Subsequently, the study of the phosphate beds led him to the island of Redonda in the West Indies. He further visited the phosphate beds of South Carolina and Florida, the gold fields of eastern Oregon, the Chalcedony Park of Arizona, the Grand Canon of the Colorado, and the Yosemite and Yellowstone Parks. Studies made in the Hawaiian Islands and their volcanoes in 1883 and 1886 resulted in the contribution of important observations respecting those regions. At the present writing Professor Hitchcock is spending a year of further observations in those islands.

Mr. Hitchcock was appointed, in 1858, lecturer in zoölogy and curator of the cabinet in Amherst College; an office which he filled for seven years, retiring after the death of his father. In 1866 he was elected professor of geology in Lafayette College, where he gave short courses of instruction to five successive classes. In 1868 he was called to the chair of geology in Dartmouth College, a position which he still occupies, receiving a year's leave of absence for 1898-'99 in consideration of thirty years of service. He taught geology and zoölogy as a provisional professor at Williams College in 1881, and in the following year in the Virginia College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, Blacksbury. He received the degree of M. A. in course at Amherst in 1859, the honorary degree of Ph. D. from Lafayette College in 1870, and that of LL. D. from Amherst College in 1896.

Professor Hitchcock has been connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1856, and a nearly constant attendant upon its meetings and participant in the proceedings. He is a member of local scientific societies in Portland, Me., Boston, Mass.,!New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, and also of the Imperial Geological Institute of Vienna. He was one of the most prominent movers in the inception and early history of the Geological Society of America, and had much to do with the organization of the International Congress of Geologists, and with the preparation of special reports for the several meetings between 1876 and 1890. The handsome geological map of small scale compiled for the United States was prepared by him and published in the Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers (1887), to illustrate the nomenclature and color scheme of the International Congress.

Professor Hitchcock is best known to many by his geological maps. The first efforts at mapping the geology of the United States were made independently by Edward Hitchcock and Jules Marcou in 1883—the work of Mr. Marcou extending only to the plains. Prof. H. D. Rogers, five or six years later, prepared a map for Johnston's Physical Atlas. In 1872 Prof. C. H. Hitchcock and Prof. W. P. Blake compiled a map for the ninth census of the United States, and for R. W. Raymond's report upon the mineral resources of the country. The success of his small scale map led Professor Hitchcock to undertake the preparation of a map on a scale of twenty-five miles to the inch for the whole country. For this he consulted every work that had been printed upon the geology of the United States, and obtained the privilege of using many unpublished data collected by geologists of States and Territories in which the work had never been carried to actual completion. The map prepared by the General Land Office was used as the basis for the geological coloration, and the work appeared in 1881, of a size adapted to use in the classroom. Its compiler has never seen any criticism of its accuracy. The edition prepared for the Mining Institute embodies all the information acquired for the large map, with such additional facts as had been learned since that map was published. Prof. Hitchcock's services were called into requisition in the compilation of a similar map for the United States Geological Survey, which was published in its annual report for 1886, under the editorship of ¥ J McGee; in fact, the two maps were printed from the same plates, but Dr. Hitchcock's contained certain features not found in the other one—the result of different interpretations—and was more complete. In the Government edition a system of coloration devised by Major J. W. Powell, which was afterward abandoned, was employed.

Professor Hitchcock contributed extensively to the collection of State geological maps in the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, when large scale sheets of New England, and a large copy of the Hitchcock and Blake map of 1872, were exhibited. A medal was awarded for a sheet of thirteen sections illustrating the stratigraphy of Vermont and New Hampshire. The beginning of the measurement of sections was made for the Vermont Geological Report under the direction of Dr. Edward Hitchcock in 1861. Twelve lines of exploration across the entire State were determined upon, and specimens were collected to illustrate all the varieties of rock seen upon each. The specimens were arranged in the State Museum at Montpelier in geographical order. A similar plan of collection and arrangement was projected for the New Hampshire survey, but it was made to extend across the two States, from Maine to New York. Besides the two State reports, later publications were issued, descriptive of explorations and collections for the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the New Hampshire Agricultural Report for 1883. The work did not cease with these publications, for after the transfer of the collection of sections from the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts to Dartmouth College in 1894, additional explorations were made; the number of sections was increased to eighteen; improved drawings of the profiles, colored geologically, were prepared for the cases in the new Butterfield Museum; and the explanation of the details was further facilitated by the construction of a large relief map on the scale of one mile to the inch horizontally, twice as much vertically, and having colors corresponding to those on the profiles between the shelves. About five thousand specimens have been gathered to illustrate the profiles.

The Dartmouth College Museum is filled with specimens accumulated by the energy of Professor Hitchcock. They concern geology, paleontology, petrography, economic botany, and conchology.

  1. Vol. xlvii, September, 1895.