PROF. AMOS EATON was one among those who cultivated science in the earlier half of this century, who labored to popularize the study and make it accessible to the masses. American geology and botany owe much to him. His books on those subjects have two special merits — they were among the first published in which a systematic treatment for America was attempted, and they were written throughout in a language that all could read.
Amos Eaton was born in Chatham, Columbia County, N. Y., May 17, 1776, and died in Troy, N. Y., May 6, 1842. His father, Abel Eaton, was a farmer in comfortable circumstances, and of the best standing as a citizen. The scholastic tendencies which determined the character of his career appear to have shown themselves at an early age, for we find that in 1790, when he was only fourteen years old, he was appointed to make a fourth-of-July oration, and acquitted himself acceptably in the effort. Serving as a chain-bearer in the surveying of some land, he acquired a taste for that business. He had no instruments, and, in order to obtain them, he arranged with a blacksmith to "blow and strike" for him by day, in return for which the blacksmith should help him make instruments at night. After several weeks' work, a needle, magnetized from kitchen tongs, and a working chain were turned out. A compass-case was made out of the bottom of an old pewter plate, well smoothed, polished, and graduated; and the young man, at sixteen years of age, was ready to do little jobs of surveying.
He fitted himself for college with the Rev. Dr. David Potter, of Spencertown; entered Williams College, and was graduated thence in 1799, with a high standing in science. He prepared himself for the legal profession, studying law with the Hon. Elisha Williams, of Spencertown, and the Hon. Josiah Ogden, of New York. An association which he formed in New York with Dr. David Hosack and Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, the most distinguished scientific men in the city at the time, marked another determinative point in his career; for, under their instruction, he became interested in the natural sciences, and particularly in botany. So earnest did he become in these studies that, having borrowed Kirwan's Mineralogy, he made a manuscript copy of the whole work. Having been admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of New York, he settled in Catskill as a lawyer and land agent, and continued his studies in science. At this place he began, in 1810, a popular course of lectures on botany, which is believed to have been the first attempted in the United States.