Thomas Jefferson Papers

George Gibbs to Thomas Jefferson, 11 March 1817

From George Gibbs

New-York Institution, March 11. 1817.


By request of the Mineralogical Committee of the New-York Historical Society, I have the honour to forward to you a notice of their intention to form a collection of the minerals and fossils of the United States. The object of this undertaking being of great public utility, they trust that it will meet with general encouragement. Allow me, Sir, in their behalf, to request of you such donations of minerals and petrefactions of the United States as you may have it in your power to procure for us, and such information as yourself or friends may possess of the mineralogy of any part of the United States.

I have the honour to be, Sir, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

George Gibbs Chairman.

RC (ViW: TC-JP); printed circular, with month, day, final digit of year, and Gibbs’s signature in his hand; with enclosure subjoined; at head of text: “(CIRCULAR.).” RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Lancelot Minor, 3 June 1817, on verso; addressed in Gibbs’s hand: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked New York, 15 Mar.

George Gibbs (1776–1833), mineralogist and patron of science, was born in Newport, Rhode Island. His father, expecting him to follow in the merchant-shipping business from which the family derived its wealth, sent him to China in 1796. The younger Gibbs, however, preferred travel and mineralogy. He toured, studied, and amassed a mineral collection in Europe, 1801–05. When Gibbs returned to the United States, his holdings of mineral specimens were the largest in North America, and he opened them to scholars for study. By 1812 his friendship with Professor Benjamin Silliman led him to place a portion of the collection on deposit at Yale College (later Yale University), and in 1825 the school purchased it in its entirety for $20,000. Gibbs also funded student prizes at Yale and encouraged Silliman to found the American Journal of Science and Arts. He died at his estate on Long Island and was buried in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The mineral gibbsite is named in his honor (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; WHi: Gibbs Family Papers; OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ; Newport Mercury, 10 Aug. 1833; American Journal of Science and Arts 25 [1834]: 214–5).

Index Entries

  • fossils; and New-York Historical Society search
  • Gibbs, George; and New-York Historical Society search
  • Gibbs, George; identified search
  • Gibbs, George; letter from search
  • mineralogy; and New-York Historical Society search
  • New-York Historical Society; mineralogical committee of search