1819: Walter Channing to Parker Cleaveland

Dr. Walter Channing

I can’t be certain of the identity of the author of this letter due to the lack of clues within it, but I’m going to conjecture that it was written by Dr. Walter Channing (1786-1876) — a physician in Boston who was married to 1) Barbara Perkins, and 2) Elizabeth Wainwright. Walter Channing was born, in Newport, Rhode Island, into a prestigious family. He earned his own reputation as Boston’s leading obstetrician, the first Professor of Midwifery at Harvard Medical School, and the first American physician to advocate the use of anesthesia in childbirth.

Channing was awarded an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1809. He studied in Britain for a year, taking advantage of the opportunities there to observe and participate in obstetrical cases. Returning to Boston in 1811, he began a general medical practice but quickly gained prominence in obstetrical cases. In 1815 he was appointed lecturer in midwifery at Harvard Medical School and in 1818 was named professor of Midwifery and Medical Jurisprudence.

Parker Cleaveland

Channing was one of the founding editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1812, and an early editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. He was a member of the original medical staff at Massachusetts General Hospital and was instrumental in the creation, in 1832, of Boston’s Lying-In Hospital. He was the first physician to use anesthesia in operative obstetrics in the United States. He reported this in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1847, and subsequently published A Treatise on Etherization in Childbirth to assure women and physicians of the merits of anesthesia. He served as Dean of Harvard Medical School, 1819-47. He had an interest in many fields of science, however, and wrote articles on natural history as well as medicine.

The letter was written to Parker Cleaveland (1780–1858) was an American geologist and mineralogist, born in Rowley, Massachusetts. He was identified with the early progress of the natural sciences. After having attending the Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard in 1799, was tutor in mathematics there from 1803 to 1805, was chosen professor of mathematics and natural philosophy and lecturer on chemistry and mineralogy in Bowdoin College, a position which he retained until his death, although many professorships in other colleges and the presidency of his own were offered to him. He gathered a valuable collection of minerals and published a treatise on Mineralogy and Geology (1816; third edition, 1856), which earned for him the title “Father of American Mineralogy.”

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Parker Cleaveland, Esqr., Professor of Mineralogy &c., Brunswick [Maine]

Boston [Massachusetts]
July 30th 1819

Dear Sir,

Page 1

Yours of the 16th inst. was received two or three days ago, since which time I have endeavored to obtain some information in relation to the inquiries it contains. I regret extremely that my endeavors have been fruitless. The article referred to in the journal contains all the information communicated by Prof. Hausmann ¹ concerning the Chesterfield mineral, and my letters from him since that publication are perfectly silent on the subject.

I feel very confident that Dr. Hunt sent me a specimen of the Siliceous Quartz of Alumine. This specimen I am also certain went in a box with other minerals some time since to Prof. Hausmann. I regret that in the confusion into which my papers have fallen in consequence of my arrangements for removing from my present dwelling, renders it impossible for me to refer to Dr. Hunt’s letter, or my copied catalogue of the minerals last sent to Prof. Hausmann. Either of these would, I confess, be better authorities than my memory. I feel, however, pretty confident on the subject.

Page 2

There is one subject in your letter on which I must also express my regrets. I refer to your request that I would furnish a notice of such localities of American minerals as are not mentioned in your work nor in that of Professor Sillimam & which I might have noticed. My professional occupations have allowed me no opportunity for the study of the mineralogy of our country. There is no pursuit to which all my inclinations so strongly incline me, & I deeply lament a necessity which daily acts with new power to counteract long cherished propensities.

In a hurried excursion to Lake George last summer, I met with a vast deal to delight me. I collected specimens and wrote a paper which I read before our Friday Club. My investigations, however, were desultory, imperfect, & deficient in that accuracy or certainty which your purposes require, or they should be wholly at your service. I passed through a range of shell marble at Glens Falls of immense dimensions, and found specimens containing a great variety of shells. I had not time to follow these rocks through their whole range. You are doubtless acquainted with all the facts which have any interest in relate to that spot.

Page 3

Should you visit Boston this fall, I hope you will not leave town without seeing me. I shall have arranged at that time a small collection which I have just received from a friend in Europe, which even Hausmann acknowledges are far superior to any thing he could obtain though on the very spot him self from which they were collected. It is a collection made in Italy. Hausmann has just returned from a tour through that region. He acknowledges the receipt of my last box, says he is delighted with it, & its novelties, will send me an account of them, & a rich box in return.

Page 4

I have a good many new books on Mineralogogy; Hausmann’s works among them, which are entirely at your service. I have duplicates of many rare things from abroad which are equally at your command.

If in the fullness of your bounty to others you have any American specimens to spare, I should feel highly obliged for them. I can effect exchange with them, which shall be at for service. It is in these ways only, Sir, that I can show my zeal for a favorite science, and these services I cheerfully would perform.

With my best respects, believe me your sincere friends & servant, — W. Channing


¹ Johann Friedrich Ludwig Hausmann (1782-1859) received his formal education at the University of Göttingen, from which he graduated with a Ph.D. in 1806. Afterward he made an extended one year geological tour of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. An appointment as General Inspector of Mines for Westphalia came in 1809, and in 1811, Hausmann accepted a position as professor of technology and mining at the Göttingen. Later he became professor of geology and mineralogy. In 1811, Hausmann was elected a member of the Königl. Societät der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, a body for which he served as secretary from 1840 to 1859. The mineral “Hausmannite” was named after him by W. Haidinger in 1831.


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