Amos Eaton
Amos Eaton

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

AMOS EATON was born in Chatham, Columbia Co., N. Y., May 17. 1776. His father was a farmer and a highly respected citizen of that town. The son early manifested superior ability and high aspirations. At the age of sixteen he had made himself a practical land-surveyor, making his own magnetic needle and compass-case out of the rude material at hand. With the encouragement of his parents he fitted for college, and at the age of twenty-three he graduated at Williams College in 1799, with a high reputation for his scientific attainments. He commenced the study of law with Elisha Williams, in Columbia County, soon after graduating, and continued the enthusiasm of law in New York, in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman.

It was in New York that he came under the instruction of Dr. Hosack and Dr. Mitchell, and became interested in botany and other natural sciences to such a degree that he never could wholly resist the sway of his enthusiasm for those pursuits. He was admitted an attorney of the Supreme Court of this State, at Albany, in 1802, and located as lawyer and land-agent at Catskill. There he gave his first course of popular lectures on botany, and prepared a small elementary treatise on the subject. The first edition of his Manual on Botany was published in 1817. He continued his public lectures in the large towns of New England and New York, exciting great attention and interest in the natural sciences. In 1818, Gov. De Witt Clinton invited him to Albany, and he gave a course of lectures before the members of the Legislature. In 1820 he was appointed professor of natural history in the medical college at Castleton, Vt. and delivered several courses of lectures there.

About this time he seems to have settled down, and made his home in Troy, and extended his system of instruction to the people, and, with the co-operation of many of the citizens at that time, the "Lyceum of Natural History" was formed, and one of the most extensive collections of American geological specimens in the whole country was gathered and arranged. He also made geological and agricultural surveys of the counties of Rensselaer and Albany, under the patronage of the Hon. Stephen Van Rensselaer, and also a geological survey of the district of country on the line of the Erie Canal, the result of which was embodied in a report of one hundred and sixty pages, published in 1824, which report has received the commendation of some of the most eminient men of the State. In 1824, Stephen Van Rensselaer established this school, and Amos Eaton was placed at the head of its faculty as senior professor, and the remainder of his life was devoted to it. During this period he published several scientific works of great value. He died in this city, on the 6th of May, 1842.

Besides his habit of field explorations and actual insight, his system of teaching was peculiar and successful. He maintained that the teacher learns more in teaching than the scholar, and therefore, he made each scholar a teacher and lecturer of his classmates. Each man was required to tell what he knew on a particular topic to his classmates in presence of the professor. Thus he awakened a zeal for investigation, and by speaking made the ready man.

Thirty years after the earth closed over him, science demanded some suitable recognition of one of its favorite sons. A monument over his grave in Oakwood and a memorial window in the great hall of the inistitute now testify to the gratitude of his pupils, and to his fame as a philosopher and teacher.

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