American Medical Biographies/Pickering, Charles

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Pickering, Charles (1805–1878)

Charles Pickering, known to the scientific world as an anthropologist and botanist, was of good New England stock, being a grandson of Col. Timothy Pickering, a member of Washington's military family and of his first cabinet. He was born on Starucca Creek, Upper Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, on a grant of land owned by his grandfather, November 10, 1805. His father, Timothy Pickering, died when 30, leaving Charles and his brother Edward to the care of their mother.

He left Harvard before graduation, but was given his A. B. out of course in 1849 and A. M. in 1850. He received his M. D. there in 1826. In his earlier years he used to make botanical expeditions with William Oakes, and when he settled in Philadelphia in 1829, he had a strong bent towards natural science, very soon being appointed one of the curators at the Academy of Natural Sciences. During this time he published a brief essay on "The Geographical Distribution and Leading Characters of the United States Flora." When the United States Exploring Expedition was organized in the autumn of 1838 to sail for the South Seas, Pickering was elected as the principal zoologist, and the fame of that expedition rests chiefly on the work he then did with Professor Dana. Although Pickering retained the ichthyology, he went keenly into the geographical distribution of animals and plants; to the latter especially as affected by the operations and movements of the races of man. A year after the expedition, and at his own expense, he visited Egypt, Arabia, Eastern Africa and Western and Northern India, publishing in 1848 his volume, "The Races of Men and Their Geographical Distribution" (vol. ix, Wilkes' "Exploring Expedition Report"). In the fifteenth volume appeared his "Geographical Distribution of Animals and Plants." He had no better luck than many a scientist, for, in the course of printing, Congressional appropriations stopped and therefore the publication of further Reports. He brought out in 1854 a small edition of the first part of his essay and in 1876 a more bulky one "On Plants and Animals in Their Wild State." These writings and some contributions to scientific journals, notably to the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge," constituted his no mean help to the study of natural science, but he had been long and lovingly working on a book yet unfinished when he died, a book edited afterwards by his wife, Sarah S. Pickering, and appearing in 1879 entitled, "Chronological History of Plants, or Man's Record of His Own Existence."

Professor Harshberger says he was singularly retiring and reticent, dry in ordinary intercourse, but to those who knew him well, communicative and genial.

He was a member of the American Philosophical Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to both of which he made contributions.

Some American Med. Botanists, H. A. Kelly, 1914.
The Botanists of Philadelphia, J. W. Harshberger, 1899.
Proc. Acad. Nat. Sc., Phila., 1878, W. S. W. Ruschenberger.
Dictn'y. of Amer. Biog., F. S. Drake, 1872.