05 July 2005

The life and times of Thomas Say 1

1787: Thomas Say was born in Philadelphia.
1799: Enrolled at Westtown, a Quaker boarding school. Classes included writing, grammar, French, Latin and “arithmetick”.
1812: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia was founded with Say as one of its founders.
1812?-?: Operated a drug store in Philadelphia for some years in parthership with John Speakman before the venture failed.

1814: Served in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry against the British.
1817: Published his first scientific papers.
Fall 1817-Spring 1818: Joined William Maclure, George Ord and Titian Peale for an expedition to Florida, then under the control of Spain. Say and his companions explored the Sea Islands along the coast of Georgia. After they reached Florida, they explored along St. Johns River and collected specimens. However, the trip was cut short for fear of an Indian attack.

"…here we are thus far upon our journey to that promised land [Florida], not flowing with milk & honey it is true, but abounding in insects &c which are unknown, & if they remain unknown I am determined it shall not be my fault…"
Letter from T. Say to J. F. Melsheimer, Washington [D.C.], Dec 12th 1817.

To be continued.

Say’s portrait (circa 1812) by Joseph Wood is from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
Philadelphia scene is from Weiss & Ziegler, 1931.

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