LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901

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Joseph LeConte, born in 1823, graduated from the University of Georgia in 1841. He enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1844 and received an M.D. in 1845. He married Elizabeth Caroline Nisbet in 1847 and established a medical practice in Macon. Because his first love was geology, however, he enrolled in the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard College in 1850 to study with the famous naturalist Louis Agassiz. Upon completing his studies in 1851 he returned to Georgia and became professor of chemistry and natural history at Oglethorpe University (then located near Milledgeville). In 1852 Joseph was appointed professor of geology and natural history at the University of Georgia. Involved in a dispute with the university president, he left the university a year after his brother departed, and in 1857 he became professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina College... Joseph joined the faculty of the University of California, departing for the West Coast in 1869... The author of about 200 publications, including nine books, Joseph LeConte won special recognition for his Elements of Geology (1877), Sight: An Exposition of the Principles of Monocular and Binocular Vision (1881), and Evolution and Its Relation to Religious Thought (1888)... Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1875, Joseph LeConte served as president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1891) and the Geological Society of America (1896)... LeConte died in 1901 while camping in Yosemite National Park. Joseph LeConte was the father of five children: Emma Florence, Sarah Elizabeth, Josephine Eloise (died in early childhood), Caroline Eaton, and Joseph Nisbet.--"LeConte Family." New Georgia Encyclopedia. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org (Retrieved November 24, 2008)

From the description of Joseph LeConte letter, 10 September 1852. (University of Georgia). WorldCat record id: 276368335

Chemist, geologist, and college professor; professor at Oglethorpe University (Milledgeville, Ga.), University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.), University of South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.), University of California (Berkeley, Ca.); Department chair of Geology and Zoology at University of California (Berkeley, Ca.); son of Louis LeConte (1782-1838) and Ann Quaterman LeConte (d. 1826); brother of John LeConte (1818-1891), a physician and professor of physics and industrial mechanics; and husband of Carolina Elizabeth LeConte.

From the description of Joseph LeConte papers, 1847-1962. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 42638541

Geologist and first professor of geology and natural history and botany at the University of California.

From the description of Joseph LeConte correspondence, 1858-1900. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 122564796

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873, APS 1843) was a zoologist and geologist. A student of Georges Cuvier, Agassiz was renown for his six-volume work Poissons fossils, a study of more than 1,700 ancient fish. Equally important was his Ètudes sur les glaciers (1840). In 1845 Agassiz moved to the United States on a two-year study grant from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to compare the flora and fauna of the United States and Europe. While in the United States he was invited to deliver a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston. He took America and New England by storm and as a result in 1847 was appointed professor of zoology and geology at Harvard’s new Lawrence Scientific School.

Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz was born in Motier, Switzerland on May 26, 1807, the son of a Protestant minister Rodolphe Agassiz and his wife Rose Mayor. Despite family pressure to enter business, Agassiz early decided to devote himself to the study of nature. At the age of twenty-one he predicted that he would become “the first naturalist of his time, a good citizen and a good son.” His determination gained Agassiz an excellent education in the natural sciences at the Universities of Heidelberg and Munich. He also made important contacts in early life that formed his outlook and provided the basis for his early career. The naturalist Johann B. Spix allowed him to publish on a collection of fish from Brazil that Spix had gathered, while the anatomist Ignaz Döllinger trained him to use the microscope and introduced him to the field of embryology. Philosophically, Agassiz was influenced by the German idealism of Lorenz Okenfuss, who built a system of biological classification based upon increasing complexity of sense organs. Agassiz’s scientific thought and practice was characterized by two separate and often contradictory outlooks. One was exact and pragmatic; the other was transcendental. His approach was clearly influenced by French zoologist and paleontologist Georges Cuvier, who passed on to Agassiz his remarkable collection of fossil fish illustrations. He also impressed the geographer Alexander Humboldt, an adviser to the king of Prussia who arranged an appointment for him at the Collège de Neuchâtel in 1832, where he taught natural history for more than ten years. During these years (1832-42) he studied fossil fish in museums and private collections throughout Europe, resulting in his six-volume Poissons fossils that described more than 1,700 primeval fish, that he analyzed according to Cuvier’s comparative method. The work, which won high praise from major Bristish naturalists Sir Charles Lyell and Richard Owen, provided the basis for Agassiz’s scientific fame and fortune. His natural philosophy was infused with the belief in an all-powerful diety, who planned and created every single living being, plant and animal, undercutting any genetic connection between ancient and modern creatures.

In addition to his work on fish, between 1837 and 1843 Agassiz did ground breaking work on glacial geology, presented in a paper presented to the Sociètè Helvétique des Sciences naturelles (July 1837) and in his book Etudes sur les glaciers in which he theorized that a massive glacier had once covered all of Europe. Although the idea had first been suggested by Swiss naturalist Jean de Charpentier, Agassiz was the first to publicize the idea and to apply it to all of Europe. A prolific writer, who wished to be personally involved with the production of his works, Agassiz developed a publishing house in Neuchâtel, that employed the latest technology in photo duplication and produced bibliographies, dictionaries and monographs by Agassiz and his assistants. In the spring of 1845 Agassiz’s fortunes abruptly shifted. His wife Cécile Braun Agassiz left her husband and Neuchâtel, his printing business closed due to accumulated debts, and he was forced to leave the Collège de Neuchâtel. Just as his luck seemed to run out, he received word of a 2-year grant secured for him by Humboldt from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia for $3,000 to do a comparative study of the flora and fauna of the United States and Europe.

Shortly after the arrival of Agassiz in the United States, John Amory Lowell, manufacturer and head of the Lowell Institute in Boston, invited him to deliver a course of public lectures. New Englanders found the Swiss naturalist, who spoke enthusiastically about primitive fish and prehistoric glaciers, intriguing. New England scientific luminaries such as Harvard botanist Asa Gray and Yale chemist Benjamin Silliman lauded Agassiz as “full of knowledge on all subjects of science.” His lectures created such a demand for speaking engagements, that within less than two years Agassiz was able to repay $20,000 in European debt. In the fall of 1847 Harvard University offered him a chair of zoology and geology at its newly established Lawrence Scientic School. In July 1848, after his wife’s death, he arranged for his children to join him in the United States. These events, together with his 1850 marriage to a bright well-connected Bostonian Elizabeth Cabot Carey, sixteen years Agassiz’s junior, permanently anchored the Swiss scientist in America. Soon afterward Agassiz’s home in Cambridge became a center of intellectual life. As a Harvard professor he badgered the University continually for funds to build a major natural history museum to instruct the public and help to train advanced students. His efforts paid off in November 1859, when the Museum of Comparative Zoology opened its doors. The Museum provided a unique resource for American students to gain unrestricted, first hand access to natural specimens. Many practicing American naturalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were trained by Agassiz and worked in his museum. The Museum testified to Agassiz’s passion for collecting and identifying the “entire natural kingdom all at once,” a desire that quickly filled the repository to overflowing with specimens. From a philosophical perspective Agassiz planned the Museum as a demonstration of the “master plan” that the diety had executed in the creation of the natural world, displaying the “type plan” of different classes and stressing the separate creation of each species. Agassiz’s core belief in the special creation of species by God undergirded his quest to locate new species. However, some colleagues criticized him as “species mad,” arguing that his museum and his methods added little to the conceptual understanding of natural history.

Agassiz’s reputation took a major hit in a series of Boston debates on evolution, after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Agassiz made a poor defense of special creation against Darwin’s defenders Asa Gray and William Barton Rogers. Furthermore, Agassiz’s understanding of special creationism as applied to human beings led him to view various races as distinct species, a rationale quickly adopted by the proponents slavery, who asserted a scientific basis to white supremecy.

Concerned about the decline of his professional reputation in the 1850s, in 1855 Agassiz announced the forthcoming publication of a projected ten-volume entitled Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America. A total of 2,500 subscribers made advanced purchases at $12.00 each. The initial volume entitled Essay on Classification elaborated Agassiz’s views on classification, the philosophy of nature and the species concept. Appearing two years after Darwin’s Origin of Species, the work drew mixed reviews. Many were put off by the author’s dogmatism, others thought his views dated and moribund. Three more volumes appeared, but the publication of the projected set was never completed.

Many years later in 1872 Agassiz did reconsider evolution, trying to understand Darwin’s views by making a trip around South America, retracing Darwin’s voyage. However, he only became more convinced that the concept of evolution was “a scientific mistake, untrue to the facts, unscientific in its method, and mischievous in its tendency.” To the dismay of the scientific community Agassiz authored strident attacks on Darwinism in the popular press, infuriating Asa Gray and James Dana. Consequently, Agassiz was increasingly excluded from the politics of American science.

Agassiz remained at Harvard University until the end of his life. When he died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was deeply mourned by his adopted country.

From the guide to the Louis Jean Rodolph Agassiz papers, 1833-1873, 1833-1873 1833-1873, (American Philosophical Society)

LeConte, a member of a family prominent in scientific endeavors, was born in Liberty County, Georgia (Feb. 16, 1823); graduated from Franklin College, Georgia (1841); attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York (1843-1845); taught at a number of universities in the South (1851-1869); moved to California in 1869; and died there on July 6, 1901.

More biographical information will be found in the collection.

From the guide to the Joseph LeConte's early geological excursion., 1899., (Minnesota Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Gilman, Daniel Coit, 1831-1908. Daniel Coit Gilman correspondence, 1871-1875. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-2019, bulk 1890-1955 Harvard University, Gray Herbarium
referencedIn Keatinge, Harriette C., 1837-1909. Papers of Harriette C. Keatinge, 1903-1909. Library of Congress
referencedIn LeConte and Furman family papers, 1861-1897 [manuscript]. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Douglass, Thomas James Holden, 1839-1890. Thomas James Holden Douglass student notebook, 1858-1883. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
creatorOf Ward, Lester Frank, 1841-1913. Correspondence, 1865-1913, "King" to "Marcon." Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Portraits of University of California individuals and groups, ca. 1850-[ongoing] Bancroft Library
referencedIn University Of California At Berkeley, Bancroft Library. Joseph Leconte Correspondence, 1858 1900.
referencedIn Jacobs, Joseph, 1859-1929. Jacobs, Joseph, 1859-1929 - collection, 1925.
creatorOf Law, Hugh Lide, 1846-1918. Hugh Lide Law papers, 1866-1908. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn National Academy Of Sciences, Archives. Deceased Members.
referencedIn Century Company records New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. [Collected writings] : articles, 1848-1902. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Talley, Elizabeth Nisbet Furman, b. 1874. Elizabeth Nisbet Furman Talley papers, 1776-1931. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Downing, Henry Hawkins, 1853-. Papers of the Minor and Venable families [manuscript], 1828-1904. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn James, George Wharton, 1858-1923. A vacation with Joseph LeConte, [1888] University of Nevada, Reno, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
referencedIn LeConte, John L. (John Lawrence), 1825-1883. Papers, 1812-1897 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn LeConte, John L. (John Lawrence), 1825-1883. Papers, 1812-1897. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Palache, Charles, 1869-1954. Charles Palache autobiography : photocopy. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Townsend, John Henry, b. 1840. John Henry Townsend papers, 1860. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Angell, John H., fl. 1996. John H. Angell collection of research materials on the LeConte family, 1932-1935. Georgia Historical Society
creatorOf LeConte, John, 1818-1891. LeConte Family papers, 1857-1916.
referencedIn LeConte family papers, 1827-1901, 1827-1901 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn LeConte Furman Carter family papers, circa 1795-1999.
referencedIn Library Of Congress, Manuscript Division. Lewis R. Gibbes Papers.
referencedIn Poehlman, H. E. [LeConte Memorial Lodge, Yosemite Valley [graphic] / photographed by H.E. Poehlman.] UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn LeConte, John, 1818-1891. John LeConte papers, 1830-1960. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. Joseph LeConte papers, 1847-1962. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Spencer F. Baird Papers (Mc 2000.11).
referencedIn Simkins, Eldred James, 1838-1903. Eldred James Simkins college notebook, ca. 1857-1859. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. Papers, 1833-1873. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Dwinelle, John W. (John Whipple), 1816-1881. John Whipple Dwinelle papers, 1868-1931. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Letters to William James from various correspondents and photograph album, 1865-1929. Houghton Library
referencedIn David Starr Jordan papers, 1861-1964 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn McIntosh, Edward, b. 1840. Edward McIntosh papers, 1857-1858. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
creatorOf Cope, E. D. (Edward Drinker), 1840-1897. Papers, 1848-1940 (bulk 1855-1896). Haverford College Library
creatorOf Hitchcock, Martha Taliaferro. Hitchcock family papers. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn LeConte Family. Papers, 1827-1901. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn John Torrey Papers, 1788-1871 (bulk 1806-1871) New York Botanical Garden, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
referencedIn Farish Carter family papers, circa 1800-2006.
referencedIn Stephens, Linton, 1823-1872. Linton Stephens letter and carte de visite, 1823-1872.
referencedIn Cahill, James Arthur, 1878-1970. [Portrait of Joseph LeConte] [graphic] UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Coffin, James H. (James Henry), 1806-1873. James Henry Coffin Papers, 1848-1884 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn LeConte, Emma - photograph album, 1900.
referencedIn Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers, 1835-1908, (bulk 1875-1898) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Gibbes, Lewis Reeves, 1810-1894. Papers, 1793-1894 (bulk 1838-1894) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. Joseph LeConte correspondence, 1858-1900. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Colby, William Edward, 1875-1964. Interview with William Edward Colby : oral history transcript / conducted by Hal Roth on February 27 and 28, 1961 at Big Sur, California, 1961. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Bedriaga, J. von. Anatomy - Amphibia and reptilia. [By] Townson, Mertens, Huxley, LeConte, Wiedersheim, Lataste [et al.]. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn LeConte, James Augustus, 1870-1941. LeConte genealogical collection, 1900-1943.
referencedIn Voy, C. D. Relics of the Stone Age found in California : comprising the results of extensive travels and explorations in different parts of the state : manuscript, 1894. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Library Of Congress, Manuscript Division. Simon Newcomb Papers.
creatorOf Ayers, Howard. Sensory - Mammals and reptiles. [By] Geoffroy, Arnold, Osawa, Eigenmann ... [et al.]. California Digital Library
creatorOf Keeler, Charles Augustus, 1871-1937. Papers of Charles Augustus Keeler, 1895-1944. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Wailes, Benjamin L. C. (Benjamin Leonard Covington), 1797-1862. Papers, 1843-1862. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Palache, Charles, 1869-1954. Six weeks in the saddle : a trip to Stockton...in July and August 1889..., 1889. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Berkeley Club Papers, 1873-1960 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Gibbes, Lewis Reeves, 1810-1894. Papers, 1793-1894 (bulk 1838-1894) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn LeConte, Emma. Furman and Le Conte family papers, 1810-1896. Georgia Historical Society
referencedIn Nettles, Joseph Edward. College notebook, 1859, Columbia, S.C. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Anderson, Charles Roberts, 1902-1999. Charles R. Anderson papers, n.d. South Carolina Historical Society
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. An early geological excursion, 1899. Minnesota Historical Society, Division of Archives and Manuscripts
creatorOf Joseph LeConte's early geological excursion., 1899. Minnesota Historical Society
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn Ames, Life & Letters Of Lesley. [Contact repository for more information].
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. Letter, 1880. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Bates, Alfred, b. 1840. Biographical sketches of John and Joseph LeConte, [18--]. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf LeConte, Joseph, 1823-1901. Joseph LeConte letter, 10 September 1852.
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIh, 1892-1896 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Louis Jean Rodolph Agassiz papers, 1833-1873, 1833-1873 1833-1873 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Joseph LeConte collection, 1890-1911.
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1865-1891 Smithsonian Institution Archives
referencedIn McHenry, Ellen Josephine Metcalfe, 1827-1922. LeConte scrapbook. UC Berkeley Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. person
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Charles Roberts, 1902-1999. person
associatedWith Angell, John H., fl. 1996. person
associatedWith Bache, Alexander Dallas person
correspondedWith Baird, Spencer F. person
correspondedWith Berkeley Club corporateBody
correspondedWith Bishop, John person
associatedWith Buckland, William, 1784-1856 person
associatedWith Butterworth, Samuel F. person
associatedWith Cahill, James Arthur, 1878-1970. person
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
associatedWith Colby, William Edward, 1875-1964. person
correspondedWith Columbia Athenaeum (Columbia, S.C.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Cooper, James G. person
associatedWith Cope, E. D. (Edward Drinker), 1840-1897. person
correspondedWith Dargan, J. Thornwell person
associatedWith Davis, Charles Henry, 1807-1877 person
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Douglass, Thomas James Holden, 1839-1890. person
associatedWith Dwinelle, John W. (John Whipple), 1816-1881. person
associatedWith Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926 person
correspondedWith Elliott, John B. (Dr.) person
associatedWith Emery, Charles Edward, 1838-1898 person
correspondedWith Gibbes, Lewis Reeves, 1810-1894. person
associatedWith Gilman, Daniel Coit, 1831-1908. person
correspondedWith Graham, Miss Mary person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Gray, John Edward, 1800-1875 person
associatedWith Hall, James person
associatedWith Harden, Mrs. person
associatedWith Hartt, Charles Frederick, 1840-1878 person
associatedWith Harvard University. Gray Herbarium. corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. Museum of Comparative Zoology. corporateBody
associatedWith Haven, Franklin, 1857-1908 person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Holbrook, Dr. person
associatedWith Holbrook, J. G. person
associatedWith Holbrook, John Edwards person
correspondedWith Hotchkiss, Jedediah, 1828-1899. person
associatedWith Hyatt, Alpheus, 1838-1902 person
associatedWith Jacobs, Joseph, 1859-1929. person
associatedWith James, George Wharton, 1858-1923. person
correspondedWith James, William, 1842-1910 person
associatedWith Johnson, Samuel William person
associatedWith Jordan, David Starr, 1851-1931 person
associatedWith Keatinge, Harriette C., 1837-1909 person
associatedWith Keeler, Charles Augustus, 1871-1937. person
associatedWith Kidder, Frederic, 1804-1885 person
associatedWith Law, Hugh Lide, 1846-1918. person
associatedWith Layard, Austen Henry, Sir, 1817-1894 person
associatedWith LeConte, Emma. person
associatedWith LeConte family. family
associatedWith LeConte Family. family
associatedWith LeConte, James N. person
associatedWith LeConte, John, 1818-1891. person
associatedWith LeConte, John L. (John Lawrence), 1825-1883. person
associatedWith LeConte, Joseph N. (Joseph Nisbet), 1870-1950. person
correspondedWith Lesley, J. Peter person
associatedWith Lesquereux, Leo, 1806-1889 person
associatedWith Lick, James person
correspondedWith Martin, Carlisle P. B. person
associatedWith McHenry, Ellen Josephine Metcalfe, 1827-1922. person
associatedWith McIntosh, Edward, b. 1840. person
associatedWith McLane, Allan person
associatedWith Milne-Edwards, H., (Henri), 1800-1885 person
associatedWith Nettles, Joseph Edward. person
correspondedWith Newcomb, Simon person
correspondedWith Nisbet, Eugenius Aristides, 1803-1871 person
associatedWith Oglethorpe University (Milledgeville, Ga.) corporateBody
associatedWith Palache, Charles, 1869-1954. person
associatedWith Parsons, Thomas William, 1819-1892 person
associatedWith Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth, 1812-1899. person
associatedWith Poehlman, H. E. person
associatedWith Powell, John Wesley person
correspondedWith Rising, Willard B. person
associatedWith Sherman, William Tecumseh person
associatedWith Simkins, Eldred James, 1838-1903. person
associatedWith South Carolina corporateBody
associatedWith Stephens, Linton, 1823-1872. person
associatedWith Talley, Elizabeth Nisbet Furman, b. 1874. person
associatedWith Townsend, John Henry, b. 1840. person
associatedWith Tyndall Fund corporateBody
associatedWith University Of California corporateBody
associatedWith University of California (1868-1952) corporateBody
associatedWith University of Georgia corporateBody
associatedWith University of South Carolina corporateBody
associatedWith Voy, C. D. person
associatedWith Wailes, Benjamin L. C. (Benjamin Leonard Covington), 1797-1862. person
associatedWith Ward, Lester Frank, 1841-1913. person
associatedWith Wilson, Henry, 1812-1875 person
associatedWith Winsor, Justin, 1831-1897 person
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Columbia (S.C.)
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Apostle Islands (Wis.)
Saint Anthony Falls (Minn.)
Saint Louis River (Minn. and Wis.)
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South Carolina--Charleston
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Mississippi River
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Great Lakes (North America)
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United States
Fort Mackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.)
Mackinac Island (Mich.: Island)
Saint Anthony Falls (Minn.)
La Pointe (Wis.)
Duluth (Minn.)
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Minnesota River (S.D. and Minn.)
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Birth 1823-02-26

Death 1901-07-06




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