Horsford, Eben Norton, 1818-1893

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1818-07-27
Death 1893-01-01
English

Biographical notes:

Horsford (Harvard, A.B., 1847) taught chemistry at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of Eben Norton Horsford, ca. 1857. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76972793

Engineer, college professor and industrial chemist; president of Wellesley.

From the description of E. N. Horsford letter to a Miss Reid [manuscript], 1884 February 14. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 713898870

David Zeisberger served as a Moravian minister.

From the guide to the Essay of an Onondaga grammar; or A short introduction to learn the Onondaga al. Maqua tongue / [edited by John W. Jordan], Circa 1887, (American Philosophical Society)

Prominent chemist who in later life became interested in historical and archeological subjects, including the settlement of the Norsemen in America and Indian languages.

From the description of Letters : Cambridge, Mass., to Mr. Whicher or Whycher [i.e. George Meason Whicher?], 1891 Aug. 8-Dec. 10. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 37855747

Horsford, Eben Norton (27 July 1818-1 Jan. 1893), chemist, was born in Moscow (now Livonia), New York, the son of Jerediah Horsford and Maria Charity Norton, farmers and missionaries. Growing up on the frontier, Horsford witnessed the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The canal opened up markets for wheat grown in the Genesee Valley, but by the 1830s progressive farmers such as Horsford's father recognized that intensive agriculture had resulted in "worn-out soil." Horsford entered the Rensselaer School (now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) in 1837 and graduated the following year with a B.S. in civil engineering. Following graduation, he worked for the New York State Geological Survey and from 1838 to 1839 taught a yearly lecture course in chemistry at Newark College in Delaware. While teaching mathematics and natural history at the Albany Female Academy from 1840 to 1844, Horsford fell in love with a student, Mary L'Hommedieu Gardiner. Her father, however, refused to assent to their marriage unless Horsford improved his station.

Probably on the advice of his friend, the Harvard chemist John White Webster, Horsford set a goal of obtaining a teaching position at Harvard University. In order to enhance his education, Horsford set off in 1844 on borrowed money for the nation of Hessen-Darmstadt (now part of Germany) to study agricultural chemistry with Justus Liebig. Liebig had become world famous following the publication of his book, Organic Chemistry in Its Applications to Agriculture and Physiology (1840), which was especially popular in the Genesee Valley region, and Horsford's friend Webster had translated the first American edition. Liebig's laboratory at Giessen was, consequently, at its peak, attracting advanced students from all over the world. Horsford was at the leading edge of a wave of American students who studied with Liebig in the late 1840s. He worked at Giessen from November 1844 to November 1846 and was admitted to Liebig's laboratory for advanced students during the latter part of that period. His advanced research was on the relative protein content, and presumably therefore the nutritive value, of various grains. Though best known for promoting professional chemical education, Liebig was also a zealous advocate of applying chemistry to industrial development; in both respects, his example shaped Horsford's career.

On returning to the United States in early 1847, Horsford received an appointment to the Rumford chair at the newly founded Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University. In August 1847 he married Mary Gardiner; they had four children. Endowed by Boston industrialist Abbott Lawrence, the new school was part of a general reform movement that was aimed at making American higher education more responsive to the needs of business and industry. At Harvard, Horsford attempted to model chemical instruction on the paradigm of Liebig's laboratory at Giessen, which had assistants to teach introductory courses, perform lecture demonstrations, provide initial laboratory instruction, and oversee the stockroom and monitor inventory. Horsford's new school, however, was underendowed to achieve anything on this scale, and by 1853 Horsford had worked himself ill in the attempt to do everything himself. Low enrollment confounded his efforts to gain better funding.

After 1853 Horsford put less effort into teaching and administration and more into the industrial applications of chemistry. His efforts to develop patentable and marketable chemical commodities paid off, especially with "artificial yeast," a phosphatic baking powder. He resigned from Harvard in 1863 to devote himself full time to the Rumford Chemical Works. Founded in 1856 by Horsford and industrialist George Wilson, the company was a great success, and Horsford made a modest fortune, largely from contracts with the army for baking powder and other commodities during the Civil War. Horsford also improved condensed milk and scientifically proportioned marching rations for the army, and worked on vulcanized rubber and methods to avert the potential contamination of water that flowed through lead distribution pipes.

Late in life, Horsford took up anthropological studies of American Indian languages and of the evidence for pre-Columbian Viking settlements in North America. He was also an active supporter of Wellesley College after it was founded in 1870. Two years after the death of his first wife in 1855, he married her sister, Phoebe Dayton Gardiner, with whom he had one child. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In many ways, Horsford was a victim of his times. As a hard-working social climber, he made chemistry his ladder, but his career predated the formation of institutional science in America. Emulating the German model, he tried to establish an advanced school of chemistry but did so before there was a market for professional chemists. Although he accomplished little original scientific work, through his position at the Lawrence Scientific School he trained a subsequent generation of American scientists, who were able to establish a firm institutional basis for chemistry in the United States. These students included George Chapman Caldwell and Charles Frederick Chandler, who built significant programs at Cornell University and Columbia University respectively. Horsford was an early member of the American Chemical Society, despite his initial opposition to its formation. Driven to succeed by the expectations of his father-in-law, and perhaps by his own expectations as well, Horsford was fortunate to find that some of his chemical ideas were readily translated into business profits. [Pat Munday, "Horsford, Eben Norton," American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000].

From the description of Horsford family papers, 1681-1954 1840-1893. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). WorldCat record id: 123991773

Sylvester Manor and its grounds are located on Shelter Island, a small island situated between the north and south forks of eastern Long Island. The island was inhabited by Montauk Indians until its settlement by the first European settlers in 1652, Nathaniel (Nathaniell in most records) and Grissell (also recorded Grizzell) Sylvester. Shelter Island was settled following its purchase by a group of four merchants, Nathaniel Sylvester, his brother Constant Sylvester, and Thomas Middleton and Thomas Rouse. The four owned a sugar plantation in Barbados and purchased Shelter Island to use as a provisioning plantation to supply timber, food, and other goods to Barbados, where such materials were scarce or land was exclusively used to grow valuable sugar cane. In 1652, Nathaniel Sylvester and his wife Grissell Brinley, moved to Shelter Island, creating the property that would later bear their family name.

The Manor remained in the Sylvester family for two further generations before passing to Mary Sylvester (Nathaniel’s great-great granddaughter) and her husband Thomas Dering, The Manor then remained in the prominent Dering family for another two generations before debt finally forced the sale of the property. Dering records do not appear in any number in the Archive. The property was purchased from the Derings in 1827 by Samuel Smith Gardiner, a Suffolk County and New York attorney who had married into a different branch of Sylvester descendents.

Samuel Gardiner’s wife was Mary Catherine L’Hommedieu, the daughter of Ezra L’Hommedieu, a very prominent attorney, national and state political representative, Suffolk County Clerk for some twenty years, and a great-great grandson of Nathaniel Sylvester. Although Ezra L’Hommedieu never owned Sylvester Manor, the collection houses a substantial volume of his papers. The Gardiner family produced three daughters, Mary L’Hommedieu Gardiner, Phoebe Dayton Gardiner (sometimes spelled Phebe, particularly in earlier records), and Frances (Fanny) Gardiner.

Mary L'Hommedieu Gardiner wed Eben Norton Horsford, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University and a pioneer in food science and chemistry, and later owner of the Rumford Chemical Works in Providence, Rhode Island. Mary and E.N. produced four daughters, Lillian, Mary Catherine (Kate), Gertrude, and Mary Gardiner (Mamie). Mary died in 1855, and E.N. Horsford married her sister Phoebe two years later. Phoebe gave birth to one daughter, Cornelia Conway Fenton (referred to as Nellie in her younger years). Samuel Gardiner died in 1859, passing the Manor to Phoebe and E.N. Horsford, at which time it essentially became a summer home, as the Horsfords were well established in a large home at 27 Craigie Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Following E.N. Horsford’s death in 1893, and Phoebe’s in 1903, Sylvester Manor passed to Cornelia Horsford, who owned the property until her death in 1944. She never married. At Cornelia’s death in 1944, the property passed to the Fiske family, a prominent family of Boston attorneys into which Gertrude Horsford had married. August Henry Fiske first inherited the Manor for a brief time before passing the estate to his son Andrew Fiske, who held the Manor from 1949 until his death in 1992.

The Manor was initially used as a residence and provisioning plantation, and the original house was constructed soon after Nathaniel and Grissell’s arrival. Provisioning activities likely ended in 1680 at Nathaniel’s death, but farming and trading continued. The current surviving house was constructed around 1735, probably by Brinley Sylvester who appears to have been a successful merchant. By the time Samuel Gardiner became the owner of the manor in the early 19th century, the lands attached to the Manor had been significantly reduced and much of the remaining usable farmland was leased to local farmers. As mentioned earlier, when the Horsfords took possession of the estate, it essentially turned into a summer home, where the family hosted prominent members of the Boston social elite, although some small scale farming still occurred. Formal gardens were created and expanded during this period, and the property included several farming cottages as well as barns and additional out-buildings. Cornelia Horsford returned the home to a year-round residence, continuing work on the gardens and overseeing a substantial renovation to the property in 1908.

The estate currently is made up of approximately 270 acres, the manor house, and several barns and out-buildings. Sylvester Manor remains in the possession of the descendents of Nathaniel Sylvester and is today being used as an organic farm. In addition, several seasons of archaeological digs were conducted by the University of Massachusetts Boston, providing further information on the original buildings and activities conducted on the site. See http://www.fiskecenter.umb.edu/excavations.htm for information on the archaeological activities.

Due to the large number of individuals whose records are included in the Archive, more detailed Biographical Notes are made at the appropriate level of the finding aid.

Sylvester Manor Archive, MSS 208, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.

Thompson, Benjamin F. History of Long Island, Vol. II . Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira Friedman, Inc., 1962

From the guide to the Sylvester Manor Archive, 1649-1996, (© 2010 Fales Library and Special Collections)

Sylvester Manor and its grounds are located on Shelter Island, an 8,000-acre island situated between the north and south forks of eastern Long Island that was inhabited by Manhansett Indians until its purchase in 1651 by the first permanent European settlers . Nathaniel Sylvester, an Englishman born and raised in Amsterdam, and three Barbadian planters, his brother, Constant, Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Rouse, bought the property to use in the Caribbean provisioning trade. Enslaved Africans, impressed Natives, and European indentured servants raised livestock and produced timber for barrels, and food to sell in the West Indies, where most arable land was devoted to valuable sugar cane. In 1653, Nathaniel (Nathaniell in most records) Sylvester and his wife Grissell Brinley (also recorded Grizzell), married and moved to Shelter Island, creating the establishment that would later bear their family name. The property was granted royal manor status by Governor Richard Nicoll of New York Colony in 1666.

In 1752 with the death of Brinley Sylvester, the estate passed to his daughter, Mary (Nathaniel’s great-great granddaughter), and her husband Thomas Dering. The Manor remained in the Dering family for another two generations before debt forced the sale of the property. Dering records do not appear in any number in the Archive. The property was purchased from the Derings in 1827 by Samuel Smith Gardiner, a Suffolk County and New York attorney who had married into a different branch of Sylvester descendents.

Samuel Gardiner’s wife was Mary Catherine L’Hommedieu, the daughter of Ezra L’Hommedieu, a very prominent attorney, national and state political representative, Suffolk County Clerk for some twenty years, and a great-great grandson of Nathaniel Sylvester. Although Ezra L’Hommedieu never owned Sylvester Manor, the collection houses a substantial volume of his papers. The Gardiners produced three daughters, Mary L’Hommedieu Gardiner, Phoebe Dayton Gardiner (sometimes spelled Phebe, particularly in earlier records), and Frances (Fanny) Gardiner.

Mary L'Hommedieu Gardiner wed Eben Norton Horsford, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University, a pioneer in food science, and founder of the Rumford Chemical Works in Providence, Rhode Island. Mary and E.N. produced four daughters, Lillian (also Lilian), Mary Katherine (Kate), Gertrude, and Mary Gardiner (Mamie). Mary died in 1855, and E.N. Horsford married her sister Phoebe two years later. Phoebe gave birth to one daughter, Cornelia Conway Fenton (referred to as Nellie in her younger years). Samuel Gardiner died in 1859, passing the Manor to Phoebe and E.N. Horsford, at which time it became a summer home, as the Horsfords were well established in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Following her mother's death in 1903, Cornelia Horsford, who never married, retained the property until her death in 1944. The property then passed to the Fiske family, a family of Boston attorneys into which Gertrude Horsford had married. Augustus Henry Fiske briefly inherited the Manor before passing the estate to his son Andrew, who held the Manor from 1949 until his death in 1992. His widow, Alice Hench Fiske, retained life interest until her death in 2006.

The original house was probably constructed soon after Nathaniel and Grissell’s arrival. Provisioning activities likely ended in 1680 at Nathaniel’s death, but farming and trading continued. After Brinley Sylvester, a successful merchant operating regionally in the New England and New York sphere, tore down the first dwelling, he constructed the current surviving house around 1735 By the time Samuel Gardiner became the owner of the manor in the early 19th century, the Manor property had been significantly reduced and much of the remaining arable land was leased to local farmers. When the Horsfords took possession they hosted members of Boston's intellectual and social elites during the summers. Some small scale farming continued. The existing gardens were formalized and expanded, and the Horsfords set up monuments and fenced enclosures including two extant graveyards, to relate their understanding in landscape features of the property's history. After her mother's death, Cornelia Horsford maintained the home as a summer residence, continuing work on the gardens and overseeing a substantial renovation to the residence by the well-known architect, Henry Bacon, in 1908.

The estate currently comprises approximately 243 acres, the manor house, and several subsidiary houses, barns and out-buildings, most of which date to the nineteenth century. Sylvester Manor remains in the possession of family descendents and is today being cultivated as an educational organic farm. In addition, nine seasons of field schools were conducted by archaeological teams from the University of Massachusetts Boston, providing further information on the original buildings and activities conducted on the site. See http://www.fiskecenter.umb.edu/excavations.htm for information on the archaeological activities.

Due to the large number of individuals whose records are included in the Archive, more detailed Biographical Notes are made at the appropriate level of the finding aid.

Sources:

Sylvester Manor Archive, MSS 208, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.

Thompson, Benjamin F. History of Long Island, Vol. II . Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira Friedman, Inc., 1962

From the guide to the Sylvester Manor Archive, 1649-1996, (© 2012 Fales Library and Special Collections)

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http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w60k2761
Ark ID:
w60k2761
SNAC ID:
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Subjects:

  • Novelists, American--19th century
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History--17th century
  • Baking--History--19th century
  • Authors--United States
  • Shelter Island (N.Y.)--History
  • New York (State)--History--1775-1865
  • North Atlantic Region
  • Farm produce
  • Cookery, American--History--19th century
  • Authors, American--19th century--Correspondence
  • New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
  • Rubber--Patents
  • Food--Composition
  • Sylvester Manor
  • Rumford Chemical Works
  • Food science and technology--History
  • North Atlantic Region--Commerce--History--18th century
  • Saltpeter
  • Plantation life
  • Genealogy
  • Food science and technology
  • Names, geographical
  • New York (N.Y.)--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
  • Education and state--United States--History--19th century
  • Harvard University--History--19th century
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History--20th century
  • Books and reading--United States--History--20th century
  • Norumbega (Extinct city)
  • Education, Higher--United States--History--19th century
  • Farming
  • Onondaga language
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History
  • Governors--New York (State)
  • Slavery--America--History
  • Law--New York (State)--History
  • American literature--19th century
  • Chemistry--History--19th century
  • North Atlantic Region--History
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Agriculture and state
  • Norumbega (Legendary place)
  • Operational rations (Military supplies)--History--19th century
  • Chemistry, Analytic--History--19th century
  • New York (State)--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History--19th century
  • Vikings--North America
  • Long Island (N.Y.)--History--Colonial period
  • North Atlantic Region--Commerce--History--17th century
  • Authors and artists
  • Fiction--19th century
  • Book collecting
  • Indians of North America--Languages
  • Slavery--New York (State)--Long Island--History
  • Law--United States--History
  • Food industry and trade--New York (State)--New York
  • Gardening--History
  • Water--Analysis
  • New York (N.Y.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783

Occupations:

  • Chemists
  • Farmers--New York (State)

Places:

  • Shelter Island (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--Shelter Island (as recorded)
  • America (as recorded)
  • Shelter Island (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • Massachusetts--Cambridge (as recorded)
  • New York (State) |x Genealogy |v Archival resources. (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • Cambridge (Mass.) (as recorded)
  • New York (State) |x Genealogy |v Archival resources. (as recorded)