Edward Hitchcock

For the Marshal of Hawaii, see Edward Griffin Hitchcock.
Edward Hitchcock
Born May 24, 1793
Deerfield, Massachusetts
Died February 27, 1864(1864-02-27) (aged 70)
Amherst, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States
Fields Geology
Natural history
Alma mater Deerfield Academy
Influenced Charles Henry Hitchcock
Author abbrev. (botany) E.Hitchc.
Spouse Orra White Hitchcock

Edward Hitchcock (May 24, 1793 – February 27, 1864) was an American geologist and the third President of Amherst College (1845–1854).


A bust of Hitchcock at Amherst College.

Born to poor parents, he attended newly founded Deerfield Academy, where he was later principal, from 1815 to 1818. In 1821 he was ordained as a Congregationalist pastor and served as pastor of the Congregational Church in Conway, Massachusetts, 1821-25. He left the ministry to become Professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College. He held that post from 1825 to 1845, serving as Professor of Natural Theology and Geology from 1845 until his death in 1864. In 1845, Hitchcock became President of the College, a post he held until 1854. As president, Hitchcock was responsible for Amherst's recovery from severe financial difficulties. He is also credited with developing the college's scientific resources and establishing its reputation for scientific teaching.

In addition to his positions at Amherst, Hitchcock was a well-known early geologist. He ran the first geological survey of Massachusetts, and in 1830 was appointed state geologist of Massachusetts (he held the post until 1844). He also played a role in the geological surveys of New York and Vermont. His chief project, however, was natural theology, which attempted to unify and reconcile science and religion, focusing on geology. His major work in this area was The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences (Boston, 1851). In this book, he sought out ways to re-interpret the Bible to agree with the latest geological theories. For example, knowing that the earth was at least hundreds of thousands of years old, vastly older than the 6,000 years posited by Biblical scholars, Hitchcock devised a way to read the original Hebrew so that a single letter in Genesis—a "v", meaning "afterwards"—implied the vast timespans during which the earth was formed. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1834.[1]

Hitchcock left his mark in paleontology. He published papers on fossilized tracks in the Connecticut Valley, including Eubrontes and Otozoum, that were later associated with dinosaurs, though he believed, with a certain prescience, that they were made by gigantic ancient birds (ironically, he was arguably technically correct in hindsight, as birds are generally regarded as dinosaurs nowadays). In the Hitchcock Ichnological Cabinet he established a remarkable collection of fossil footmarks. His son, Edward "Doc" Hitchcock, named one of the earliest dinosaurs discovered in North America and the United States, Megadactylus polyzelus. Later it was reclassified as the type specimen of Anchisaurus polyzelus (ACM 41109), a prosauropod. This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation E.Hitchc. when citing a botanical name.[2]

As he had researched the geologic lake which once filled the Connecticut River basin, this prehistoric lake was named after him. Since he had done geological research on the Holyoke Range, one of the mountains there, Mount Hitchcock, was named after him.[3]

From 1856 to 1861, Hitchcock was the State Geologist for Vermont.[4]

His collections, a bust and portrait can be viewed at the Amherst College Museum of Natural History. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst holds his papers.[5]

In 1821, he married Orra White Hitchcock, one of the earliest women botanical and scientific illustrators in the U.S. The two worked closely together, and she contributed more than 1,000 illustrations to his many scientific publications.

Paleontological chart

Fold-out paleontological chart of Edward Hitchcock in Elementary Geology (1840)

He inserted a paleontological chart in his Elementary Geology (1840). It shows a branching diagram of the plant and animal kingdom against a geological background. He referred to it as a tree. This "tree of life" is the earliest known version that incorporates paleontological and geological information.[6]

Hitchcock saw a Deity as the agent of change. He explicitly rejected both atheistic evolution, and a religious six-day creation. He perceived that new species were introduced by a Deity at the right time in the history of the earth.[6] The chart is present in all editions between 1840 and 1859. After Darwin (1859) published his Origin of Species, a tree of life image was generally interpreted as an evolutionary tree. In the 1860 edition of Elementary Geology Hitchcock dropped the chart. In 1863 Hitchcock wrote an article in which he refuted Darwin’s theory of natural selection. After his death in 1864, his son Charles Henry Hitchcock (1836–1919) published a new edition (1870) also without a paleontological Chart. Charles then published books and articles of his own.[7]


See also


  1. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  2. Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-085-4.
  3. Brief History of Geology at Amherst: The Latest Holocene, Amherst College
  4. http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/geo/hichcock.htm
  5. Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Papers, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
  6. 1 2 Archibald, J. David. (2009). "Edward Hitchcock's Pre-Darwinian (1840) 'Tree of Life'". Journal of the History of Biology 42: 561-592.
  7. "More on Charles Hitchcock". Government Information Department, University of New Hampshire Library web site. University of New Hampshire. 2003. Retrieved August 3, 2010.

Further reading

External links

Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Hitchcock, Edward.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Heman Humphrey
President of Amherst College
Succeeded by
William Augustus Stearns
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