Samuel L. Mitchill

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Samuel Latham Mitchill
United States Senator
from New York
In office
November 23, 1804 – March 4, 1809
Preceded byJohn Armstrong, Jr.
Succeeded byObadiah German
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
December 4, 1810 – March 3, 1813
Preceded byWilliam Denning
Gurdon S. Mumford
Succeeded byJotham Post, Jr.
Egbert Benson
Constituency2nd district
In office
March 4, 1801 – November 22, 1804
Preceded byEdward Livingston
Succeeded byGeorge Clinton, Jr.
Constituency2nd district (1801–03)
3rd district (1803–04)
Personal details
Born(1764-08-20)August 20, 1764
Hempstead, Province of New York, British America
DiedSeptember 7, 1831(1831-09-07) (aged 67)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican

Samuel Latham Mitchill (August 20, 1764 – September 7, 1831) was an American physician, naturalist, and politician who lived in Plandome, New York.[1]

Early life[edit]

Samuel Mitchill was born in Hempstead in the Province of New York, the son of Robert Mitchill and his wife, Mary Latham, both Quakers.[2]

He was sent to Scotland and graduated in 1786 from the University of Edinburgh Medical School with an M.D., his education being paid for by a wealthy uncle.[3] Returning to the United States after medical school, Mitchill also completed law school.[4] As a lawyer, he oversaw the purchase of lands in western New York from the Iroquois Indians in 1788.[2]


Mitchill taught chemistry, botany, and natural history at Columbia College from 1792 to 1801 and was a founding editor of The Medical Repository, the first medical journal in the United States. In 1793, he was elected a Foreign Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were James Gregory, Dugald Stewart, and John Rotherham.[5]

In addition to his Columbia lectures on botany, zoology, and mineralogy, Mitchill collected, identified, and classified many plants and animals, particularly aquatic organisms. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1797.[6] From 1807 to 1826, he taught at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York and then helped organize the short-lived Rutgers Medical College of New Jersey, which he served as vice president until 1830. While at Columbia, Mitchill developed a fallacious theory of disease; however, it resulted in his promotion of personal hygiene and improved sanitation.[7]

Mitchill served in the New York State Assembly in 1791 and again in 1798 and was then elected as a Democratic-Republican to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1801 until his resignation on November 22, 1804.[8] As a congressman, he was one of the impeachment managers who, in the impeachment trial, successfully prosecuted the articles of impeachment adopted by the House against Judge John Pickering.[9] In November 1804, Mitchill was elected a U.S. Senator from New York to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Armstrong, and served from November 23, 1804, to March 4, 1809. He then served again in the House of Representatives from December 4, 1810, to March 4, 1813.[8]

Mitchill was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814.[10] On January 29, 1817, Mitchill convened the first meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences, originally called the Lyceum of Natural History, of which he was later elected president.[11]

Mitchill strongly endorsed the building of the Erie Canal, sponsored by his friend and political ally DeWitt Clinton; they were both members of the short-lived New-York Institution.[12] Mitchill suggested renaming the United States of America Fredonia, combining the English "freedom" with a Latinate ending. Although the suggestion was not seriously considered, some towns adopted the name, including Fredonia, New York.[13] Some freebooters established a short-lived republic under that name in Texas in the late 1820s.


Mitchill was a man of "irrepressible energies... polyglot enthusiasms... [and] distinguished eccentricities" who was not "a man afraid to speak out loud about the loves of plants and animals; indeed, he was not a man afraid to speak out loud on most any topic. In the early nineteenth century, Mitchill was New York's "most publicly universal gentleman... a man known variously as the 'living encyclopedia,' as a 'stalking library,' and (to his admired Jefferson) as the 'Congressional Dictionary.'"[14] "Once described as a 'chaos of knowledge,' Mitchill was generally more admired for his encyclopedic breadth of understanding than for much originality of thought." As a personality, he was affable but also egotistical and pedantic. Mitchill enjoyed popularizing scientific knowledge and promoting practical applications of scientific inquiry.[7]

Published works[edit]

  • Mitchill, S. L. 1818. Description of three species of fish. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1, 407–412. (BHL link)

Taxon described by him[edit]

Taxon named in his honor[edit]

The Bay Anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli Valenciennes, 1848 was named after him.[15]


  1. ^ Details - Plantae Plandomenses; or, A catalogue of the plants growing spontaneously in the neighbourhood of Plandome, the country residence of Samuel L. Mitchill. - Biodiversity Heritage Library Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Samuel Latham Mitchill – Biography".
  3. ^ D. Graham Burnett, Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature (Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 45.
  4. ^ "Mitchill, Samuel Latham, (1764 - 1831)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  5. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Keir B. Sterling, "Mitchill, Samuel Latham" American National Biography Online.
  8. ^ a b "Mitchill, Samuel Latham". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  9. ^ "List of Individuals Impeached by the House of Representatives". United States House of Representatives: History, Art, & Archives. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  10. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  11. ^ Baatz, Simon (1990). "Knowledge, Culture and Science in the Metropolis: The New York Academy of Sciences, 1817–1970". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 584: 1–256. doi:10.1111/nyas.1990.584.issue-1. PMID 2200324.
  12. ^ See Mitchill's speech at the dedication of the Erie Canal Archived May 24, 2000, at
  13. ^ George R. Stewart, Names on the Land (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967) 173.
  14. ^ Burnett, 44. In 1828, Martin Harris, an associate of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, visited Mitchill to ask him to authenticate the "Reformed Egyptian" characters that Smith said were taken from golden plates to which he said he had been directed by an angel. Mitchill would have been unsympathetic to the view that Indians were related to the Jews or the Egyptians because he was one of the few scholars of his day who believed that Native Americans were descended from Asians. Mitchill left no record of Harris's visit.Richard E. Bennett (Winter 2010), "'Read This I Pray Thee': Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East", Journal of Mormon History, vol. 36, pp. 178–216; Richard Bushman (2005), Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. 64; Fawn Brodie (1971), No Man Knows My History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. 51.
  15. ^ The Etyfish Project

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York
Served alongside: John Smith
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 2nd congressional district

with Gurdon S. Mumford and William Paulding, Jr.
Succeeded by