Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, 1801-1829

Finding aid created by
Manuscripts Division Staff, November 1995, and Garrett Morton, April 2018

Summary Information
Title: Samuel Latham Mitchill papers
Creator: Mitchill, Samuel Latham, 1764-1831
Inclusive dates: 1801-1829
Bulk dates: 1801-1813
Extent: 518 items (1 linear foot)
Abstract:
The Samuel L. Mitchill papers consists of 517 letters dating between 1801 and 1829, but largely dating between 1801 and 1813. Most of the letters are from Samuel Latham Mitchill to his wife, Catharine Akerly Cock Mitchill, with the exception of four letters written by him to other recipients and 15 letters written by other senders. These letters touch on a wide variety of topics, including domestic national and state politics; relations with European powers; the Barbary Wars and other naval matters; the Aaron Burr conspiracy; Washington, D. C., society; Mitchill's scientific endeavors and sample collection; and his family life and travel plans.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1982, 2000, 2015. M-2015, M-4102.1, M-5069.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Other Finding Aids:

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created two other research aids: a Partial Subject Index and a Chronological Inventory.

Preferred Citation:

Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


Biography

Samuel L. Mitchill (Samuel Latham Mitchill) was born in North Hempstead, New York, on August 20, 1764, to parents Robert Mitchill and Mary Latham. After receiving a basic education from his uncle, Dr. Samuel Latham, he served as a medical apprentice under New York City physician Dr. Samuel Bard from 1780 to 1783. Mitchill then studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, from which he earned his medical degree in 1786. After his return to New York, Columbia College granted him an honorary M.A. in 1788. He began practicing medicine the same year.

Mitchill distinguished himself in three areas throughout his career: politics, medicine, and natural sciences. He served three one-year terms in the New York State Legislature, in 1792, 1798, and 1810. He was also active in national politics as a member of the Jeffersonian Republican party. He served in Congress as a Representative of New York from 1801 to 1804, and again from 1810 to 1813. Between terms in the House of Representatives, he served as a US Senator from New York. He was elected in 1804, following the resignation of John Armstrong, and served out the term through 1809.

In 1797, Mitchill, along with Elihu H. Smith and Edward Miller, founded the Medical Repository, the first medical journal in the United States (prior to this, American medical articles were published in general-interest magazines). He served as an editor from the journal's founding until 1820. In the course of his study and teaching of chemistry, Mitchill developed his "septon" theory of disease, which held that compounds of oxygen and nitrogen caused disease and could be treated through the application of alkaline substances, such as lime, soda, and potash. While this theory proved fallacious, it did lead Mitchill to be an active proponent of increased personal hygiene and improved sanitation.

For much of his adult life, Mitchill was involved in university teaching. From 1792 to 1807, he was a professor of natural history, chemistry, and agriculture at Columbia College, teaching primarily botany, zoology, and mineralogy. It was during his tenure at Columbia that he began his lifelong habit of collecting and classifying animal, vegetal, and mineral samples and specimens from across the United States. While at Columbia, he was also active in teaching Lavoisier's anti-phlogistic chemistry, and worked to reconcile anti- and pro-Lavoisier groups.

After leaving Columbia, Mitchill taught at a number of other institutions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York as a professor of chemistry (1807-1808), natural history (1808-1820), and botany and material medica (1820-1826). Along with several colleagues, including David Hosack, J. W. Francis, W. J. MacNeven, and Valentine Mott, he cofounded the Rutgers Medical College of New Jersey, and served as its vice president from 1826-1830.

Mitchill also wrote prolifically on a variety of subjects. He authored many periodical articles on natural history, geology, chemistry, and biology, among other subjects. He also wrote and edited books in diverse subjects including the sciences, culture, and politics.

In June of 1799, Mitchill married Catherine Ackerly Cock, a widow, with whom he had no biological children but adopted two daughters. He died in New York on September 7, 1831.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Samuel L. Mitchill papers consist of 517 letters dating between 1801 and 1829 (bulk 1801-1813). Most of the letters are from Samuel Latham Mitchill to his wife, Catharine Akerly Cock Mitchill, with the exception of four letters written by him to other recipients and 15 letters written by other senders. Mitchill's detailed letters cover a wide variety of topics, including domestic national and state politics; relations with European powers; the Barbary Wars and other naval matters; the Aaron Burr conspiracy; Washington, D. C., society; Mitchill's scientific endeavors and sample collection; and his family life and travel plans.

In addition to the letters from Samuel L. Mitchill to his wife, the collection includes:

  • Four letters written by Samuel Mitchill: one each to Priscilla Akerly, his mother-in-law; T. H. Gallaudet, a pioneer in deaf education; La Cépède, a French naturalist; and Mary Latham Mitchill, his mother
  • Four letters written by Catherine Mitchill to her sister Margaret Miller
  • Nine letters written by Margaret Miller: four to her husband Silvanus Miller and five to Catherine Mitchill
  • Two letters received by Samuel Mitchill: one from Hugh Williamson and one from a Miss Coates of Charleston, South Carolina

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created two other research aids: a Partial Subject Index and a Chronological Inventory.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Burr Conspiracy, 1805-1807.
    • Legislators--New York (State)
    • Marriage.
    • United States--Foreign Relations--Great Britain.
    • United States--Politics and Government--1789-1815.
    • Washington (D.C.)--Social life and customs.
    • United States--History--Tripolitan War, 1801-1805.
    • United States. Congress. House.
    • United States. Congress. Senate.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
     
    Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers,  1801-1829 [series]
    Box   1  
     1801-1805
    Box   2  
     1806-1829
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created two other research aids: a Partial Subject Index and a Chronological Inventory.

    The Book Division of the Clements Library has a number of Mitchill's publications, and several publications in which Mitchill appears.

    Bibliography

    Coggins, Clemency C. "Medical Articles in Eighteenth Century America." Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 53, no. 3 (1965): 426-437.

    "Mitchill, Samuel Latham." In Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2018. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199797738.001.0001/acref-9780199797738-e-317.

    Sterling, Keir B. "Mitchill, Samuel Latham (1764-1831), physician, scientist, and legislator." In American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2000. Accessed February 23, 2018. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1301154.