Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gerard Troost - Early American Geologist


Engraving from Pioneers of Science
in America, Edited William Jay Youmans
D.Appleton and Company, New York 1896

The Louisville Science Center of Kentucky houses one the great collections of the early American geologist, Gerard Troost. It is a large mineral collection that took decades to acquire in a time before the automobile, jet travel, and UPS. A life that began far from the shores of America, Gerardus Zacharias Troost was born the third child of Everardus Josephus Troost and Anna Cornelia (Van Heeck) Troost's eleven children at Bois-le-Duc, Holland (s’Hertogenbosch, Netherlands) on March 5, 1776. 

Fortunately, he was able to receive a good education at the University of Leyden obtaining a degree of Doctor of Medicine and in 1801 a Master degree of Pharmacy from the University of Leyden. During his studies at the university, he took classes in chemistry, geology, and natural history which would prepare him later for a grand career in the earth sciences.

He practiced his skills in Amsterdam and the Hague until entering the army serving first as a private soldier and then as a medical officer. In 1807, the French king Louis Napoleon of Holland sent Gerard to Paris for studies with the famous crystallographer/mineralogist Abbé René Just Haüy.  Dr. Troost also spent time traveling around Europe to collect minerals for his benefactor. Later, the king sent Dr. Troost as part of a scientific contingent, on a naval expedition to Java to collect more samples in 1809. He was captured by privateers and eventually released where he traveled to Philadelphia. The king of Holland abdicated the throne and Java was turned over to the British thus forcing him to stay in the United States.

Dr.Troost stayed in Philadelphia, became an American citizen and got married 1811 to Margaret Teague. He helped found one of the first laboratories in the United States to manufacture alum.  When the American War of 1812 ended with the British, naval blockades ceased and maritime trade resumed.  Probably, the increased supply of chemicals from other areas of the world caused his business to fail in 1815-16.   

Dr. Troost found employment briefly with the Museum of Philadelphia teaching mineralogy and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.  He also help found the Academy of Natural Sciences becoming its first president and teaching mineralogy. A number of his articles were published in their journal. Their group went on field trips in the surrounding states of New Jersey and New York allowing them amass a large mineral collection. It is through these trips that a reddish-brown variety of New Jersey willemite would eventually be named after him Troostite.
Gerard Troost also stayed in the social circle of William Maclure who was a wealthy Scottish businessman/geologist. Maclure became the next president of the academy in 1817 and remained so till 1839. Dr. Troost helped Maclure with the first geological map of North America.

  Troostite ([reddish-brown] a variety of Willemite)
The mineral Franklinite is black and Calcite is white
Sterling Hill Mine, Ogdensburg, New Jersey.
Image by Michael Popp


 Same mineral specimen but illuminated by shortwave ultraviolet light
Red is calcite, green is willemite, black is franklinite
Image by Michael Popp

During this time Gerard Troost, William Maclure (“American father of geology”), Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (naturalist/artist) and Thomas Say (“Father of American Conchology”) went on geological collecting trip to the eastern United States.  In 1824, while visiting Owen’s mill in Scotland, Maclure would be influenced by the Robert Owen, the Scot who was obsessed with creating an utopian society.  Owen and Maclure would put their utopian/educational theories to practice in a place called New Harmony, Indiana (131 miles west of Louisville, Kentucky).  The philosophy of this society was of a grand ideal that eventually was defeated by human nature.  Maclure convinced a number of intellectuals to join him on this migration that came to be known as “The Boatload of Knowledge”.  This phrase refers to a boat named the Philanthropist that was loaded with people in 1826 to help populate and teach the inhabitants of New Harmony. It traveled down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania to Indiana.  A number of texts place Dr. Troost in this group but it turns out that he moved with his family to the small settlement in 1825 (see Corgan, 1982, note 16).

In 1826, Dr. Troost and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur took a journey that spanned from February 26 till April 20.  Going down the Ohio River, they left from Mount Vernon, Indiana and sailed to Trinity, Illinois.  Over land they travelled to Commerce or Tyawapatia Bottom and crossed the Mississippi River.  They eventually made their way to the Missouri lead mines at Mine la Motte and Mine a Burton.  Some of the minerals from this expedition still exist as well as Lesueur's sketches of some the sites they visited.

While he taught chemistry at New Harmony, he soon realized this social experiment would fail and found other opportunities south in Tennessee. 

Engraving from The American
Geologist Journal 1905 
February article entitled
Gerard Troost by L.C. Glenn

In 1827, he and his family moved to Nashville where he became professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville.  He later would be named State Geologist of Tennessee from 1831-1850. Dr. Troost founded the Nashville Museum of Natural History which operated from 1827-1832.  It displayed his minerals and other specimens of nature.  He also joined the State Board of Agriculture of the Tennessee Agricultural Society in the 1830s and 1840s.  Six years of the time was spent as co-editor of their journal The Agriculturist.  Of note, in 1831 Dr. Troost’s colleague from Philadelphia and later New Harmony, Indiana, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur visited him on his way to New Orleans via the Cumberland River.  They went on an expedition to the mountains in Emorygap and to the Tennessee River.


Gerard Troost
Picture of daguerreotype circa 1848
On Display at Tennessee State Museum - Nashville (2010)
Miss Margaret Lindsley Warden Collection
 Tennessee Division of Geology - Bulletin 84



Most of the papers and books of Professor Troost were lost after his death in 1850, it has been speculated that the American Civil War may have caused the destruction of his library and papers with the Union troops occupation of Nashville.  It did not help matters that the state or another Tennessee institution did not secure his papers/collection right after his death.  The Louisville Library did not fully acquire the collection till 1882.  Some works did survive, surveys he did while Tennessee State Geologist, papers/specimens sent to the United States National Museum, Louisville Science Center catalog of his mineral collection, and publications/letters stored in library collections.  

Epitaph on tomb at Nashville City Cemetery in Tennessee
Probably place in early 1900s. Image by Michael Popp

One important work was an unpublished manuscript on Tennessee crinoids. The printer completed the work four weeks before Gerard Troost's death. He had it sent to the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian Institution) allowing the fossil specimens for review and publishing. Unfortunately, the manuscript was sent to Professor Louis Agassiz at Harvard by Professor James Hall for revision. It was returned to Dr. James Hall after five years (1855) without any work. Dr. Hall did not attempt to publish it. The monograph was returned to the Smithsonian after Dr. Hall's death 40 years later (1898).  Why the inaction on this paper has been left to speculation.

Troosticrinus reinwardti Blastoid
Compliments of Mark Palatas
If not for the efforts of Dr. Charles Schuchert of Yale University, the monograph may never have been published. He contacted a graduate student named Elvira Wood of Columbia University to revise and comment on the unpublished manuscript as her master's thesis. Ms. Wood accepted the task and published in 1909, A Critical Summary of Troost's Unpublished Manuscript on the Crinoids of Tennessee, Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 64. She noted in the publication that the original monograph, contained 91 pages closely written by Troost's own hand, with complete index and description of plates. It is fully illustrated, 243 figures being used to illustrate the 108 species described.  According to Dr. William Ausich of Ohio State University in a 2009 paper, copies of the unpublished manuscript can be obtained from the U.S. National Museum, Department of Paleobiology.  As of November 2009, at least 5 fossil specimens that Dr. Troost collected were listed in the Smithsonian’s Department of Paleobiology Collections database.

An interesting side note, Dr. Troost had his friend and prominent Nashville architect to illustrate the plates of the monograph, Major Adolphus Heiman. Twelve years later, Major Heiman was later promoted to colonel in the 10th Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War. He was captured at Fort Henry and died from illness caused as a prisoner of war in 1862.  In the 1909 publication, some of Colonel Heiman’s illustrations were replaced by the actual photographs provided by the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Charles Walcott (famous for discovery of Cambrian Period soft tissue fossils in Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada).

Gerard Troost and the United States share the same birth year but the similarities do not stop there.  Both used science to propel themselves forward as well as curiosity to explore and discover new things.  Dr. Troost had a full and meaningful life.  His mark has been left on this world by the scientific discoveries and those he helped educate during his lifetime. His collections found a home in a historic building on the bank of the Ohio River to be admired and studied for years to come.

Final resting place of Gerard Troost
Nashville City Cemetery, Tennessee
Photo by Michael Popp

Ausich, William I., A Critical Evaluation of the Status of Crinoids Studied by Dr. Gerard Troost (1776-1850). Journal of Paleontology, The Paleontological Society. 83(3), 2009, pp. 484-488.

Corgan, James X. ed., The Geological Sciences in the Antebellum South (1982).

Glenn, L.C. "Gerard Troost," The American Geologist 21 (1905) 35, 72-94.

Newell, Julie R. “The Troost Crinoids: Lost, Found, and (Finally) Published,” Earth Sciences History, History of the Earth Sciences Society, Volume 24, Number 1 / 2005, pp. 15-34.

Rooker, Henry Grady. "A Sketch of the Life and Work of Gerard Troost," Tennessee Historical Magazine Series 2, vol. 3 (1932) 3-19.

Youmans, William Jay, Ed. Pioneers of Science in America, Sketches of their Lives and Scientfic Work, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1896.

2 comments:

caverbetty said...

Now that I know where he is buried, I will have to go check out his "tombstone" sometime.

Larry E. Matthews

Kentuckiana Mike said...

It is a very nice cemetery though I have not been there since the flooding in Nashville.

I encourage you to check out his exhibit at the state museum as well.