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Amos Eaton (1776-1842)
|Born||May 17, 1776
Concord, New York
|Died||May 10, 1842
Troy, New York
Amos Eaton (May 17, 1776 – May 10, 1842) was a scientist and educator in the Troy, New York, area.
Eaton attended Williams College; after graduating in 1799 he studied law in New York City and was admitted to the state bar in 1802. He practiced law in Catskill, New York until 1810, when he was jailed on charges of forgery. He spent nearly five years in prison, where he studied botany and geology and tutored the sons of the board of governors of the prison; one of his students was John Torrey, later a distinguished botanist. On his release, Eaton spent a year at Yale College studying botany, chemistry and mineralogy under Benjamin Silliman and Eli Ives. He then returned to Williams College, where he lectured on zoology, botany and geology and published a botanical dictionary. In 1817, he published his Manual of Botany for the Northern States, the first comprehensive flora of the area; it ultimately went through eight editions.
He returned to New York State in 1817 where DeWitt Clinton arranged for him to deliver a series of lectures to the New York State Legislature on the state's geology in connection with the building of the Erie Canal. Among the legislators who heard these lectures was Stephen Van Rensselaer III, patroon of Rensselaerswyck, who, in 1820, hired him to produce A geological Survey of the County of Albany, which was followed by geological surveys of much of the area through which the canal was built. Ultimately, Eaton would complete a survey of a section fifty miles wide from Buffalo to Boston.
In 1824, with Rensselaer's assistance, he co-founded The Rensselaer School (now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) "for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life". Eaton served as Senior Professor at The Rensselaer School until the time of his death in 1842. Under his leadership, Troy, New York rivaled London, England as a center for geological studies in the first part of the 19th century.
Eaton's influence at RPI is still visible in several areas: The mathematics department is housed in Amos Eaton Hall, and the Amos Eaton Professorship is a named professorship at RPI (currently occupied by Dr. Joseph Flaherty). The Amos Eaton Chair is a chair originally given to Amos Eaton by the RPI students in 1839, and later donated back to RPI by Eaton's family, and is now used by the RPI President during formal events. Amos Eaton was inducted into RPI's hall of fame in the inaugural class of 1998.
- James Dwight Dana — Geologist, zoologist
- James Eights — Antarctic explorer
- Asa Gray — botanist
- James Hall — First New York State Geologist
- Joseph Henry — Developed Electromagnetism
- Douglass Houghton — doctor, chemist, geologist
- John Leonard Riddell — botanist, geologist and author
- John Torrey — botanist
- Duane Isely, One hundred and one botanists, Iowa State University Press (1994), p. 143-144
- Ray Palmer Baker, A Chapter in American Education: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1924., Charles Scribner's Sons: NY(1924).
- Palmer C. Ricketts, History of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1934. John Wiley & Sons: NY (1934, Third Edition).