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Thomas  Barton
(1730-1780)

Thomas Barton (1730-1780) was born to an English family long established in Monaghan, Ireland. He graduated from the University of Dublin, and in 1751 settled in Philadelphia, taking the position of tutor at the academy there (now the University of Pennsylvania). He married Esther Rittenhouse, sister of the famous American astronomer David Rittenhouse, in 1753, and in 1754 he returned to England for a year to be ordained in the Established Church. He served for nearly 20 years thereafter as rector at St. James Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was deeply interested in science, especially mineralogy, and he is said to have built a mineral collection which, upon his death (on May 25, 1780), was inherited by his younger son, Benjamin Smith Barton.

William Barton, Thomas Barton's elder son, was also a mineral collector. He was born April 11, 1754 in Philadelphia and grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1775, with the American War of Independence under way, he went to England, where he studied heraldry. During his time in Europe, he also met some of his maternal relatives in the Netherlands. Returning to Pennsylvania in 1779, he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and established his practice in Philadelphia. In 1781, he married Elizabeth Rhea, niece of Continental Congressman Jonathan Bayard Smith. They had five daughters and four sons, including the botanist William P.C. Barton. In 1781 the University of Pennsylvania awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree, and in 1785, the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) followed suit. He died in 1817; the disposition of his mineral collection is unknown.

Benjamin Smith Barton (born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on February 10, 1766; died December 19, 1815) was interestsed primarily in medical and botany, but he did retain and add to the collections inherited from his father. He had studied medicine and natural sciences at Edinburgh and London, no doubt acquiring an exposure to the mineralogists and collectors there. Following his European studies he taught as a professor of natural history and Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, and gained recognition for his contributions to natural science and medicine. He is most noted for writing the first textbook on Botany written in the United States, Elements of Botany (1804).

Barton knew Meriwether Lewis, and originally planned to join him on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Instead, however, he taught Lewis how to correctly collect and label specimens, and taught him how to name the specimens with Latin names. Upon the return of the expedition, Lewis and Clark delivered most of the specimens to Barton for inspection, classification, and further analysis.

Shortly before Barton's death he purchased Silvain Godon's mineral collection in 1812, outbidding the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science. Barton's collection, along with Godon's, was purchased for the Academy by Joseph Watson a few years later, and is still preserved there, although the provenance of individual specimens may no longer be identifiable.
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References:
WILSON, W.E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting 1530-1799. Mineralogical Record, 25 (6), 241 pp.
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Mineralogical Record
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The Mineralogical Record - Thomas  Barton
The Mineralogical Record - Thomas  Barton
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