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Raphael Pumpelly (September 8, 1837 – August 10, 1923) was an American geologist and explorer.

Raphael Pumpelly
Raphael Pumpelly
BornSeptember 8, 1837
DiedAugust 10, 1923 (1923-08-11) (aged 85)
Scientific career
Fieldsgeology, archeology
InstitutionsHarvard University
InfluencesLouis Agassiz


Early life and ancestorsEdit

He was born on September 8, 1837, in Owego, New York, into a family with deep New England roots that trace back to Thomas Welles[1] (1590–1659), who arrived in Massachusetts in 1635 and was the only man in Connecticut's history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer, and secretary;[2][3] John Deming,[4] (1615–1705) an early Puritan settler and original patentee of the Connecticut Colony; and Honor Treat, the daughter of Richard Treat (1584–1669) an early New England settler, Deputy to the Connecticut Legislature and also a Patentee of the Royal Charter of Connecticut, 1662.[5][6][7]

He was also a descendant of William Pynchon, a colonial assistant treasurer and original patentee of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He led the 1635 settlement of Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts, which was named after his home village, now a suburb of Chelmsford in Essex, England; and Captain Elizur Holyoke, the namesake of the mountain, Mount Holyoke, and (indirectly), of the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts.

His father was William Pumpelly, son of John Pumpelly and Hannah Bushnell.[8] His father was great grandson of Jean Pompilie, a sea captain who settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was a French Huguenot refugee from Avignon, France, originally from Spoleto, Italy.[8]

His mother, Mary Hollenbeck Welles (born in Athens, Pennsylvania, 6 May 1803; died in Paris, France, 4 December 1879), was a poet. She was the daughter of Prudence Talcott and George Welles (a 1779 graduate of Yale College.)[9] She wrote religious historical poems, including "Belshazar's Feast," "Pilate's Wife's Dream," "Herod's Feast," and "An Ode to Shakespeare." Some of these were collected and published in a volume (New York, 1852).[10]


Pumpelly attended common schools and graduated from Owego Academy in Owego, Tioga County, New York. Against his parents objections, he decided against attending Yale University and chose to study and travel in Europe. He graduated in 1859 from the "Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg" (Translation from the German: Freiberg University of Mining and Technology or Freiberg Mining Academy, University of Technology; TUBAF). He also attended the polytechnic school in Hanover. After graduating, he traveled extensively through the mining districts of Europe for the purpose of studying geology and metallurgy by direct observation.[10]

After graduating, Pumpelly moved to Tioga Point, now Athens, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, where he was soon appointed a Justice of the Peace, and became land agent for the Hon. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland. Carroll held a license as innkeeper in Athens from 1798 to 1809. It was said of him that he was a man of ability, and became possessed of large amount of property.[9]


In 1860 Pumpelly was engaged in mining operations in Arizona. Invited by the respective governments, from 1861 to 1863 he surveyed Yesso Island of Japan.[11] and the coalfields of northern China[10] After this, he made the first extensive survey of the Gobi Desert, and explored Mongolia and Siberia.

From 1866 to 1875, he was Professor of Mining Science at Harvard University. Among his scientific accomplishments was a theory of secular rock disintegration. He was influenced by Louis Agassiz.

In June 1870, he was living in a rooming house in Cambridge, Mass., where former slave and abolitionist author Harriet Jacobs also resided.[12]

From 1870 to 1871, he conducted the geological survey of the copper region of Michigan, for which he prepared "Copper-Bearing Rocks," being part ii of volume i of the Geological Survey of Michigan (New York, 1873). He was called upon in 1871 to conduct the geological survey of Missouri, and for three years devoted his energies to that task, preparing "A Preliminary Report on the Iron Ores and Coal Fields," with an atlas, for the report of the Geological Survey of Missouri (New York, 1873).[10]

When the U. S. Geological Survey was established in 1879, Pumpelly organized the division of economic geology, and as a special agent of the Tenth Census he planned and directed the investigations on the mining industries, exclusive of the precious metals, and prepared volume xv of the Census Reports on "The Mining Industries of the United States" (Washington, 1886). From 1879-80, he conducted at Newport, Rhode Island, an elaborate investigation for the National Board of Health as to the ability of various soils to filter spores from liquids and from air.[10] He became a resident of Newport in 1879, and lived there for 44 years.

In 1879 Pumpelly introduced the idea that the numerous lakes of the Canadian Shield are the result of the creation of basins due to the stripping of an irregular mantle of weathered rock by glacier erosion. This idea was subsequently adopted by Alfred Gabriel Nathorst used it to explain the great number of lakes existing in southern Sweden.[13]

In 1881, he organized the Northern Transcontinental Survey for the Northern Pacific Railroad and published parts of his report in the Tenth Census.[14] This survey collected information concerning the topographical and economic features of Dakota, Montana, and Washington territories. He had charge of this work until its cessation in 1884, and also edited the reports of the survey.[10] He was appointed the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, New England branch, in 1884.[15]

Pumpelly spent his summers in Dublin, New Hampshire, near Mount Monadnock, and in 1884 he blazed a trail from his summer house to the summit along a ridge that carries his name. The Pumpelly Trail is considered one of the most scenic on the mountain.

In 1903, he mounted a Carnegie-funded archeological dig with his son at the Anau mounds in Turkmenistan. (Not far from the site of Gonur Tepe, famously excavated over 60 years later.)[16]

He was a member of the New Hampshire Society of the Sons of the Revolution. He was president of the Geological Society of America in 1905.[17][18]

Pumpelly died at the age of 86 on August 10, 1923, in Newport, Rhode Island. He is buried in Berkeley Memorial Cemetery in Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island.[19]


Marriage and familyEdit

Mrs. Raphael Pumpelly (née Eliza Shepard), John Singer Sargent, 1887

He married on October 20, 1869, at Dorchester, Massachusetts, Eliza Frances Shepard,[20] born March 14, 1840, in Dorchester, Massachusetts and died on February 5, 1915, in Newport, Rhode Island. She was the daughter of Otis Shepard and Ann Pope. Her sister, Rebecca Kettell Shepard married author and publisher George Haven Putnam, the eldest son of publisher George Palmer Putnam and Victorine Haven Putnam. Rebecca and George were the parents of medieval historian Bertha Haven Putnam. Another sister of hers, Lucy Elizabeth Shepard, married the Rev. Dr. Thomas Hill, the son of Thomas Hill, president of Antioch College from 1860 to 1862, and then of Harvard University from 1862 to 1868 and Henrietta Barker.

Raphael and Eliza were the parents of five children.[20] Their daughter, Elise Pumpelly, married Thomas Handasyd Cabot, the son of James Elliot Cabot[21] and Elizabeth Dwight. He was the great grandson of Thomas Handasyd Perkins; and a grand nephew of William Morris Hunt, an American painter. Elise and Thomas were the parents of three children: Thomas Handasyd Cabot, Jr. Elizabeth Dwight Cabot who married Henry Holt, Jr., the son of Henry Holt, founder of Henry Holt and Company and Florence Taber, and Pauline Cabot who married George Pierce Metcalf, son of Stephen Olney Metcalf.




  1. ^ Norton, pp. 19-21
  2. ^ Raymond, Marcius D, p. 17
  3. ^ Case, L. W., p. 35
  4. ^ Deming, p. 4
  5. ^ Treat, p. 31
  6. ^ Treat, p. 33
  7. ^ Treat, pp. 20-31
  8. ^ a b Reynolds, pp. 451-455
  9. ^ a b Dexter, pp. 129-130
  10. ^ a b c d e f   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Pumpelly, Mary Hollenback Welles" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  11. ^ "Surimono From Osaka and Edo: The Pumpelly Album". Rhode Island School of Design. 2008. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Lidmar-Bergström, K.; Olsson, S.; Roaldset, E. (1999). "Relief features and palaeoweathering remnants in formerly glaciated Scandinavian basement areas". In Thiry, Médard; Simon-Coinçon, Régine (eds.). Palaeoweathering, Palaeosurfaces and Related Continental Deposits. Special publication of the International Association of Sedimentologists. 27. Blackwell Science Ltd. pp. 275–301. ISBN 0-632 -05311-9.
  14. ^ Foster, Mike. "Mapping Mountains: A. D. Wilson, Nineteenth-Century Colorado Cartographer", Colorado Heritage, no. 4, pages 22-33, 1988
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lawler, Andrew (November 30, 2006). "Central Asia's Lost Civilization". Kalmbach Media. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  17. ^ Fairchild, Herman LeRoy, 1932, The Geological Society of America 1888-1930, a Chapter in Earth Science History: New York, The Geological Society of America, 232 p.
  18. ^ Eckel, Edwin, 1982, GSA Memoir 155, The Geological Society of America — Life History of a Learned Society: Boulder, Colorado, Geological Society of America Memoir 155, 168 p., ISBN 0-8137-1155-X.
  19. ^ Raphael Pumpelly at Find a Grave
  20. ^ a b Pope, pp. 166-171
  21. ^ Henderson, James. "White Mountain Art & Artists: James Elliot Cabot (1821-1903)". Retrieved 2017-12-20.


  • Case, Lafayette Wallace. The Hollister family of America: Lieut. John Hollister, of Wethersfield, Conn., and his descendants Publisher Fergus printing company, 1886.
  • Deming, Judson Keith. John Deming and His Descendents. Dubuque, Iowa. Publisher: Press of Mathis-Mets Company, 1904.
  • Dexter, Franklin Bowditch.Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale college with annals of the college history ... Volume 4 of Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History Publisher: Holt & Company, 1907.
  • Norton, Frederick Calvin The governors of Connecticut: biographies of the chief executives of the commonwealth that gave to the world the first written constitution known to history, Publisher Connecticut Magazine Co., 1905.
  • Pope, Charles Henry. A history of the Dorchester Pope family. 1634-1888: With sketches of other Popes in England and America, and notes upon several intermarrying familie Publisher The author, 1888.
  • Raymond, Marcius D. Sketch of Rev. Blackleach Burritt and related Stratford families : a paper read before the Fairfield County Historical Society, at Bridgeport, Conn., Friday evening, Feb. 19, 1892. Bridgeport : Fairfield County Historical Society 1892.
  • Reynolds, Cuyler Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911.
  • Siemiatkoski, Donna Holt. The Descendents of Governor Thomas Welles of Connecticut, 1590-1658, and His Wife, Alice Tomes Baltimore: Publisher, Gateway Press, 1990.
  • Treat, John Harvey. The Treat family: a genealogy of Trott, Tratt, and Treat for fifteen generations, and four hundred and fifty years in England and America, containing more than fifteen hundred families in America Publisher The Salem press publishing & printing company, 1893.

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