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Samuel Mitchill

Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764-1831) was an American physician and lawyer, and one of the nation's leading scholars. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Upon returning to the United States, Mitchill studied law and was admitted to the bar.

From 1792 to 1801, Mitchill taught chemistry, botany, and natural history at New York City's Columbia College. He later helped to launch the Rutgers Medical School in New Jersey and was a founding editor of The Medical Repository, America's first medical journal.

In 1791, Thomas Jefferson heard Samuel Mitchill's "Short Memoir on the Wheat-Insect" read at a meeting of the American Philosophical Society. The two men, thus, began their friendship with a common interest in the Hessian fly. The earliest surviving correspondence between Mitchill and Jefferson dates from mid-1800. Over the next quarter century, they would exchange letters that reflected their diverse mutual interests. In June 1800, Mitchill submitted to Jefferson his own report on urban health.1 A few years later, Jefferson sent Mitchill a sample of salt from a cave in Virginia.2 When Mitchill investigated the "remarkable commotion in the atmosphere" that produced hurricane weather, he sent Jefferson his written findings.3 Mitchill well knew the broad range of Jefferson's interests. When sending a package to Jefferson by courier, Mitchill wrote, "I avail myself of the opportunity to send you a few Squash & melon seeds just arrived from Lima ..., and the publications made by our Society here for instructing the deaf and dumb."4 

Mitchill and Jefferson also shared membership in the Democratic-Republican political party. Mitchill served New York as U.S. Representative from 1801-1804 and as Senator from 1804-1809.  When President Jefferson hosted a dinner party for Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, the Tunisian envoy, Senator Mitchill was one of the invited guests.5 In New York politics, Mitchill was an ally to DeWitt Clinton.

Ever an active man, Samuel Mitchill was a founder of New York's Society for the Promotion of Agriculture in 1793, and was founder and president of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York City (1817-1823). He died in New York in 1831.

- Nancy Verell, 1/12/16

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