Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/July 1881/Sketch of Dr. Charles T. Jackson

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 19 July 1881  (1881) 
Sketch of Dr. Charles T. Jackson
PSM V19 D302 Charles Thomas Jackson.jpg


THE name of Dr. Charles T. Jackson deserves to be awarded a prominent place in the annals of American science. It is closely associated with the earlier geological investigations in the United States and the British Provinces, and with the initiation of discoveries which have contributed immensely to the increase of the economical resources of the world and to the amelioration of the pains of suffering men. However the balance of merit in the discovery of the electro-magnetic telegraph and of anæsthesia may be awarded, the fact that Dr. Jackson conceived the ideas which embody the principles of those discoveries, and probably imparted them to the more practical men who made them known to the world, can hardly be disputed.

Dr. Jackson was born at Plymouth, Massachusetts, June 21, 1805. Having studied medicine under Drs. James Jackson and Walter Channing, he entered the Medical School at Harvard University, and received its degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1829. He had already manifested an inclination toward other studies than those required in the practice of medicine, and became particularly interested in chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. Indeed, before receiving his decree, he explored, in company with his friend Mr. Francis Alger, a considerable part of the province of Nova Scotia, and made there a large collection of minerals; these being new to foreign cabinets, he was able, by means of exchanges with them, to form for himself a cabinet of great value.

Soon after receiving his degree he went to Europe to complete his studies, where he remained for three years. At Paris, he became acquainted with many eminent men, among them the celebrated geologist, Élie de Beaumont, with whom he formed a warm friendship that continued through life. In 1831 he made a pedestrian tour of a large part of Central Europe, visited the principal cities of Italy, and made a geological tour of Sicily, and of Auvergne, in France. It was while returning from his European residence, in October, 1832, having electro-magnetic, galvanic, and other philosophical apparatus with him, that he had those conversations with Professor Morse which he claims implanted in that inventor's mind the germs of the idea of the electro-magnetic telegraph. A year and a half afterward, in the spring of 1834, as he asserts, he constructed, successfully worked, and exhibited to his friends, a telegraphic apparatus similar to that the conception of which he claimed to have described to Professor Morse.

He settled in Boston, in the practice of medicine, in 1833, but in a short time abandoned his profession, so that he might give his whole time to the chemical, mineralogical, and geological investigations which he preferred. He soon became known as one of the leading scientific men in the country. He was appointed State Geologist of Maine, and surveyor of the public lands of Massachusetts lying in Maine, in 1836, and spent three years in the execution of those works. In 1839 he, as State Geologist, surveyed Rhode Island: and he began the geological survey of New Hampshire, in which he was occupied for three years, in 1840. At about this time he drew up a plan for the geological survey of New York, which was adopted. He explored the southern shores of Lake Superior, and revealed the mineral resources of that country in 1844; returned to the same region in the next year, and opened copper-mines, and discovered iron-mines. In 1847 he was appointed to superintend the geological survey of the mineral lands of the United States in Michigan, a work in which he continued for two years, till he was displaced in consequence of political changes in the national Government. He became a member of the Boston Society of Natural History soon after its formation, and was elected one of its curators in 1833. He afterward became one of its vice-presidents, and continued to hold that office till disabled by sickness in 1874.

Dr. Jackson's name is most closely associated with his claim to priority in the discovery of the anæsthetic properties of ether, which was the subject of a long controversy, and one that was very painful to him. His claim is supported by the testimony of Mr. Francis Alger, Dr. J. B. S. Jackson, Dr. Martin Gray, and Mr. T. T. Bouvé, to whose eulogy before the Boston Society of Natural History we are indebted for most of the facts given in this notice. These gentlemen were his chosen friends, and were for a long time closely associated with him. Dr. J. B. S. Jackson was one of the signers of a remonstrance addressed to Congress against its making: a errant of money to W. G. Morton, Dr. Jackson's rival in the claim of discovery, based upon the ground that the signers believed that the reward, so far as the question of discovery was concerned, ought to go to Dr. Jackson. Dr. Martin Gray published a pamphlet under his own name, maintaining that Dr. Jackson was the sole discoverer of anæsthesia, and that Mr. Morton could only be considered to have performed a secondary part by proving that the administration of ether is safe in surgical operations. Mr. Bouvé, who was for a considerable time a student in Dr. Jackson's laboratory, and afterward met him frequently in social intercourse, accords to him the honor of having been the discoverer of the anæsthetic properties of ether, but has "never thought him entitled to the credit of its introduction into use, or even to that of having thoroughly verified what he claimed to be true respecting the safety of administering it. He had experimented upon himself, and had afterward demonstrated respecting it, even going so far as to recommend its use by others, and this constituted discovery; but he did not prove to others what he was himself convinced of, and allowed precious time to pass—yes, much time—without making any application of the discovery. Indeed, had it not been that Mr. Morton sought from him means to prevent pain when extracting teeth, it is doubtful if the world would have had the advantage of the discovery for years, if ever. The truth is, Dr. Jackson was a great genius and had remarkable intuitive perceptions of scientific truths, but, from some peculiarities hard to comprehend, he often contented himself with enunciating what he recognized as fact, without striving to substantiate it. He himself admitted his shortcomings in this respect. When Dr. Gray had written his essay upon the discovery of ether, claiming for Dr. Jackson all the merits of its introduction, I objected to his view of the matter, and took the ground that the world was indebted to both Jackson and Morton for the great boon; to one as the scientific discoverer and suggester of its use in surgical operations, to the other for his application of it and its' practical introduction.

"Dr. Jackson, learning of this, upon meeting me remarked that I was thought not to be friendly to him in the matter. I then said: * Doctor, you have known for a long period what Mr. Morton is now demonstrating to be true, but have allowed it to remain a dormant fact in your mind. If he had not sought information from you, might it not have remained so for years longer?' He answered that possibly it might. I think it may fairly be said that, without both Jackson and Morton, the world might have been none the happier for what either would have done; one supplemented the other. To them together belongs the great honor of having served humanity beyond what language can express."

Dr. Jackson was the first person in this country to establish a chemical laboratory for students; and many of the chemists of the last half-century were indebted to him for their earlier instruction in the analyses of mineral bodies. While engaged in giving instruction of this kind, he invented a powerful blast-lamp for alkaline fusions, which was very serviceable previous to the introduction of street-gas into laboratories.

His geological explorations of the three New England States and the south shore of Lake Superior were among the earliest that were made in the United States.

Dr. Jackson's scientific papers, which appeared from time to time in the public journals, were numerous; many of them were of great interest and importance.

As early as 1834 he contributed to the "Journal of the Boston Society of Natural History" an article on the "Chiastolite or Made of Lancaster, Massachusetts." This was followed by other papers on various minerals. The published "Proceedings" of the Society, from 1841 till the time when he was prostrated by illness, were illuminated by his frequent contributions to the discussions and papers on matters of scientific interest. To "Silliman's Journal" he contributed "Analyses of the Mineral Waters of the Azores"; "Remarks on the Geology of Maine"; "Bituminization of Peat, and its Conversion into Coal"; "An Account of the Catlinite or Indian Pipe Quarry"; "The Lava of the Volcano of Kilauea in Hawaii, and its Chemical Composition"; "Remarks upon Drift and upon the Organic Matters of Soils"; "The Lake Superior Copper Region"; "The Asphaltic Coal of New Brunswick"; "The Discovery of Fossil Fish in the Coal Formation of New Brunswick"; and a few papers of more limited interest.

To the "Proceedings" of the Association of American Geologists he has furnished descriptions of the veins of tin-ore in Jackson, New Jersey, and "Remarks upon the Zinc, Copper, and Lead Ores of New Hampshire." To the "Proceedings" of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "Observations of a Mirage seen at Lake Superior"; "Remarks on the Geology, Mineralogy, and Mines of Keneewaw Point"; "On Ancient Pot-holes in Rocks"; "Description and Analysis of Allanite from Franklin, New Jersey"; "Description of Bismuthic Tellurium from Virginia"; "On the Artificial Minerals from an Iron-Furnace in Pennsylvania"; and other papers. To the "Proceedings" of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "Remarks upon a Large Vein of Phosphate of Lime found in New Jersey"; "Analysis of Water"; "Analysis of Bornite from Georgia"; "Results of an Examination of the Frozen Well of Brandon, Vermont"; and "An Analysis of Meteoric Stone found in Dakota." To the Memoirs of the Academy he contributed, jointly with Mr. Francis Alger, a valuable paper on the "Mineralogy and Geology of Nova Scotia." Reports of analyses of soils made by him were published in the "American Quarterly Journal of Agriculture"; and he published in the "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal" an article on the existence of nitrogen in plants and its origin in animals. He also contributed to journals in Edinburgh; and to the "Comptes Rendus," of the French Academy, "Observations sur quelques mines des États-Unis et sur le grès rouge de Lac Supérieur"; "Courans Marines"; "Nouveau gisement de Trilobites"; "Sur les gisements d'or dans le Géorgie"; "Sur le Bornite de Dahlonega et sur les diamants de l'État de Georgie"; and other papers. His more elaborate works are the three reports on the "Geology of Maine," published in 1837, 1838, and 1839; reports on the "Public Lands of Maine and Massachusetts" (1837 and 1838); the "Report on the Geology of Rhode Island" (1840); "Reports of the Geology of New Hampshire" (1841, 1842, 1844); "Report on the Mineral Lands of the United States in Michigan" (1849, with maps). He also published the results of chemical researches on the cotton-plant, the tobacco-plant, on Indian-corn, and on thirty-eight varieties of American grapes, which v/ere embodied in the Patent-Office reports, and a "Manual of Etherization, with a History of its Discovery" (1863).

Dr. Jackson died on the 29th of August, 1880, after having suffered for many years from an affection of the mind.