The Papers of Joseph Henry


My Dear Sir:

I address you at the suggestion of a mutual friend, Prof. Marsh[2] of Burlington Vt., who takes as you well know, a lively interest in all investigations promising to add to the general stock of knowledge. I presume he has informed you, and you have probably observed intimations of the fact, in the public press, that in conjunction with Dr. E. H. Davis[3] of this place, I have been pretty actively engaged, for the past two years, in investigating the ancient remains of the West, but more particularly of the Ohio Valley. Before coming to this State, (two years since,) I had had my attention directed to the innteresting subject of our antiquities, and had read, with much Interest though with little satisfaction, the brief and detached notices which had been published relating to them. I found much speculation, and but few facts, and instead of being illuminated found myself involved ↑in↓ deeper darkness. Atwater's paper in the Archelogia American,[4] I found, in[A] common I presume with every person who has read it, to be a congeries of hearsays, many of them improbable and few wellattested—[B]presented rather with a view to excite the marvelousness of the public than to throw any clear and certian light upon our monuments, whereby we might solve the grand ethnological problem which they involve.[5] Upon coming to the State, located as I found my self in one of the centres of ancient population, I was not long in gratifying my curiosity respecting them. The second day after my arrival, found ↑me↓ ten miles in the country, on an expedition to visit the wonderful wells, of which I had read, dug in the solid rock, in the bed of Paint Creek. (Arch. Am. p.[Text omitted. -Ed.])[6] I found them, and would you believe it?—they were—hugh Septaria[7] and their casts!—abundance of which occur in the Slate Strata of this region! A promising begining truly! This circumstance impressed me still more of the with the uncertain nature of our information on the subject of our remains, and contributed materially in inducing[C] me to conceive a Systematic plan of investigations, in respect to them. I soon found an associate, and from that day to this all my leisure has been occupied in pursuing it. It was not intended at the start to publish, and we should not probably think of doing so now, had it not been for the solicitation of our friends at the East, who feel interested in our researches. Upon visiting New York last summer, I took on with me a few relics and a number of plans, sketches &c, for the purpose of laying them before the Ethnological Society of that city with which we had been for some time in correspondence.[8] Mr. Gallatin, the venerable president, became so much interested that he volunteered to advance the funds for bringing out a sketch of the results of our inquiries, in the regular proceedings of the Society. It was at first proposed to publish a paper of 100 or 200 pages, but the interest which has been exhibited as preliminary to a more extended and imposing work, which should embrace in its scope a thorough investigate examination of the whole field. The original design was afterwards extended, (though without abanding the purpose of making a systematic and thorough investigation from the Lakes to the Gulf,) so as to include an ample account of all the facts which our labours have developed. In the ↑[?arrageing] these↓ preperation of these I am now busiley engaged: hoping that their publishing enab even if they ↑it↓ does not enable ↑lead↓ me to complete my c the cherished purpose of ↑a↓ systematic exa investigation of our antiquites, over the whole field of their occurnce, will serve to throw some positive l clear and certain light upon them. The sole purpose of the publicatn is to[D] present facts; leaving speculation out of to others leaving without indulging in speculations; if When believing that it will be quite time enough to draw gene make the genrl &c[9]
Draft, Squier Papers, Library of Congress. Reply: Doc. 38.
    [1] Born in upstate New York, Squier (1821–1888) attended the Troy Conference Academy in Vermont. He taught, considered a career as an engineer, and then turned to journalism. After working in New York State and Connecticut, he settled in Chillicothe in 1845 to edit a weekly newspaper. There he met E. H. Davis and began collaborative research on the ancient mounds in the area. An ardent Whig, he was elected clerk of the Ohio House of Representatives in 1846. His subsequent career included an appointment as chargé d'affaires to Guatemala (1849–1850), archaeological studies in Central America and Peru, the promotion of railroads in Honduras, and journalism. Squier was aggressive, paranoid, emotionally unstable, quarrelsome, and unable to accept criticism well. He suffered increasingly from mental illness. Thomas G. Tax, "E. George Squier and the Mounds, 1845–1860," in Towards a Science of Man: Essays in the History of Anthropology, ed. Timothy H. H. Thoresen (The Hague, 1975), pp. 101–102, 109, 117–120; Robert E. Bieder, "The American Indian and the Development of Anthropological Thought in the United States, 1780–1851" (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1972), pp. 307–308.
[2] George Perkins Marsh, a representative from Vermont who had been a strong supporter of the Smithsonian as a national library during the congressional debate over the legislation, would become a regent later in 1847. Henry Papers, 6:465.
In a letter of February 23, 1847 (Squier Papers, Library of Congress), Marsh told Squier that "it has been suggested that you would do well to offer the results of your investigations to that body [the Smithsonian] for publication." Squier replied in a letter (not found) which Marsh showed Henry. On March 6 (Squier Papers, Library of Congress), Marsh wrote Squier that Henry "desires me to say to you that the Smithsonian Institution will publish your essay in the best style both of letter press and of illustration."
    [3] Edwin Hamilton Davis (1811–1888) was educated at Kenyon College and the Cincinnati Medical College. A long-time resident of Chillicothe, he was very familiar with the mounds. In 1850 he became a professor at the New York Medical College, which he left in 1860 to practice medicine. His later anthropological work centered on an ethnological map of the United States. Tax, pp. 102–103; DAB.
    [4] Caleb Atwater, "Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States," Archaeologia Americana. Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, 1820, 1:105–307. The first systematic investigation of the earth mounds of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, Atwater's publication hypothesized that the mounds were built by the ancestors of the cultures of Mesoamerica. The mound builders were not, in his view, the ancestors of modern Indians. Atwater, a lawyer living in Ohio, had personally surveyed some of the mounds, but relied heavily on the fieldwork of others. Thomas G. Tax, "The Development of American Archaeology, 1800–1879" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1973), pp. 130–132; Curtis M. Hinsley, Jr., Savages and Scientists: The Smithsonian Institution and the Development of American Anthropology, 1846–1910 (Washington, 1981), p. 23; DAB.
    [5] The problem was the nature of American Indians. Prior to the work of Squier and Davis, the accepted paradigm was that the mounds were built by a non-Indian civilization which fell victim to the Indians, migrants from Asia and a much more savage people than the Moundbuilders. There was no consensus regarding the origins of the Moundbuilders. The ancestors of the Moundbuilders were sometimes identified with Asian civilizations, sometimes with the Mesoamericans, sometimes with Europeans (for example, the Welsh), sometimes with the ancient Israelites. Even mythical people were sometimes credited with building the mounds. There was general agreement, however, that the ancestors of the Indian tribes were incapable of building the mounds and represented a decline in the level of civilization from their predecessors in North America, a decline further evident in the contemporary tribes. Tax, "The Development of American Archaeology," pp. 63–96.
    [6] On pages 150–151, Atwater classified these "wells" not as natural objects but as man-made, resembling "those described to us in the patriarchal ages."
    [7] Limestone nodules whose cracks were filled with crystallized carbonate of lime, septaria were a source of cement. Edward Hitchcock, Elementary Geology (Amherst, 1840), pp. 15–16.
    [8] In addition to the American Ethnological Society, Squier had sought patronage from the American Antiquarian Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Tax, "Squier and the Mounds," pp. 104–107.
[9] Thus began the process which culminated in the publication of Squier and Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations, 1848, SI Contributions, vol. 1 (Washington, 1848). This landmark publication was the catalyst in the transformation of American archaeology. Thanks to Henry's editorial control over the publication, "solid evidence replaced conjecture as the dominant archaeological method." Tax, "Squier and the Mounds," p. 99.
Subsequent letters in this volume will document the steps in the path from this letter to finished publication. Five themes dominate those letters. First, Henry was determined that the first Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge would establish proper precedents, especially the procedure for refereeing submissions, even if it meant manipulating the correspondence and falsifying the record. Second, Henry felt it important that the first Smithsonian publication not be in the physical sciences, but rather in a field he was not identified with personally, to demonstrate the breadth of the institution's interests. (Henry had argued both privately and publicly that the Smithsonian should support a wide range of disciplines. In support, he cited the breadth of Smithson's own research. Henry Papers, 6:499; Smithsonian Report for 1847, pp. 178–179.) Third, Henry would come to consider Squier rash and untrustworthy. Fourth, and conversely, Squier would feel himself ill-used by the Smithsonian, both financially and intellectually. Last—but for the history of archaeology, most important—Henry was determined to purge as much speculation as possible from the Squier and Davis manuscript.
In the end, Ancient Monuments refrained from gross speculation. It offered no explanation for either the origin of the Moundbuilders or their subsequent disappearance. In a footnote, Squier and Davis did suggest that the native civilizations of Central and South America may have originated in a migration of Moundbuilders from North America. There was also speculation, attributed by historians to Squier, about the importance of comparative religious studies. Squier and Davis, pp. 302–303; Bieder, pp. 325–326.
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