Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/225

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221
PEALE'S MUSEUM

PEALE'S MUSEUM
By HAROLD SELLERS COLTON, Ph.D.

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

AN almost neglected chapter in the history of the natural sciences in this country is that dealing with Peale's Museum.[1] Of the accounts of the museum that have appeared from time to time, one alone is worthy of consideration, being written from a scientific point of view. The work referred to is by Mr. Witmer Stone[2] and considers the ornithological collections alone.

Through the great kindness of Mr. Horace Wells Sellers, access has been had to the diaries, letter books and unpublished autobiography of Charles Willson Peale. With the material thus furnished by Mr. Sellers, to whom the writer is deeply indebted, and much other material from the Pennsylvania Historical Society and the Philadelphia Library, very little of which has been referred to by biographers, many clouds enveloping the history of Peale's Museum have been cleared away. As this history is so intimately connected with the life of the founder, a better beginning can not be made than by reviewing briefly his career.

His life was a long one—eighty-six years. It divides itself very naturally into four periods—of about equal length—twenty to twenty-four years: the period of youth, the period of the prime of life, the period of middle age, and the period of old age. The first period begins with his birth in Queen Anne County, Maryland, April 15, 1741. His progenitors were English. In the paternal line, they were for several generations rectors of the parish of Edith Weston in Rutlandshire. Charles Peale, his father, although educated in turn for the church at Cambridge, did not take a degree, but came to this country and became headmaster of the Kent County Free School in Maryland. Although the school was popular and patronized by the best families of Kent County, yet he, at times, had great difficulty in making both ends meet; and died when his eldest son Charles Willson Peale was nine years old. His widow, being left with very little to provide for a large family, removed to Annapolis, and, by dressmaking, maintained herself and her children.

  1. The official name was "The Philadelphia Museum," but must not be confused with the now existing "Philadelphia Museum," which was founded forty-five years after the former ceased to exist.
  2. Awk, April, 1899, Vol. XVI., pp. 166-177.