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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1832

Vol. I

(Born O.)

Jacob W. Bailey

(Ap'd O.)


Jacob Whitman Bailey: Born Apr. 29, 1811, Ward (Auburn), MA.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1828, to July 1, 1832, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 1, 1832.

Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 1, 1832.

Served: in garrison at Charleston harbor, S. C., 1832‑33, during South Carolina's threatened nullification, — and Bellona Arsenal, Va., 1833‑34; and at the Military Academy, 1834‑57, as Asst. Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, Mar. 18, 1834, to Aug. 31, 1835, — as Acting Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, Aug. 31, 1835, to July 8,

(First Lieut., 1st Artillery, Aug. 6, 1836, to July 8, 1838)

(Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, Military Academy, July 8, 1838)

1838, — and as Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, July 8, 1838, to Feb. 26, 1857.

Civil History. — Degree of A. M. conferred by College of New Jersey, Princeton, N. J., 1837. Member of "Société des Sciences Naturelles de Cherbourg, France," 1853; and of many other scientific associations, 1838‑57. President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1856‑57. Inventor of "Bailey's Indicator," and of many improvements of the Microscope, in the use of which he was highly distinguished, particularly in the examination of Infusoria, Algae, and the products of the deep-sea soundings of the Coast Survey, U. S. Exploring Expeditions, and the Atlantic Telegraph Plateau, of which he made valuable collections and numerous delineations. Author of over fifty papers, in "Silliman's Journal," "Smithsonian Contributions," and "Journal of Microscopic Science," upon subjects of Chemistry, Mineralogy, Geology, Natural History, Microscopic Researches, etc.

Died, Feb. 26, 1857, at West Point, N. Y.: Aged 46.

Biographical Sketch.

Professor Jacob Whitman Bailey was born, Apr. 29, 1811, in the old town of Ward (now Auburn), Mass., at the residence of his grandfather, Rev. Isaac Bailey, the first minister of that village. His great-grandfather was the Rev. Ralph Emerson, of Hollis, N. H., a chaplain in the Continental Army, who was a lover of science, for the study of which he found time amid his pastoral duties. His great-grandmother Whitman was a devotee to botany. The military and scientific tastes of Bailey, thus inherited, were, at an early age, exhibited in his appreciation of the  p502 beautiful in nature, and poetic perception of all its harmonies. Even in his earliest schoolboy days at Providence, R. I., his hours of recreation were spent in the woods gathering wild flowers and picking up minerals, with which he would shut himself up in a garret in order to classify them. He participated little in youthful sports, but, from the age of five, was a student of books and of nature, his thirst for knowledge, and love of flowery meads and woodlands wild, strengthening with his advancing years. Many interesting anecdotes of his childhood could be narrated, for he was as much distinguished as a boy as in his later manhood, his standard of excellence being always very high, and his ambition less for reputation than for right and truth.

At the age of twelve he had to leave school and gain a livelihood in a bookstore and circulating library. Here, however, he employed every moment of leisure, and developed such a passion for natural science that one of the habitués of the library loaned him a work on mineralogy, the plates of which he carefully copied with great accuracy and artistic skill. His employer became so interested in the boy's intelligence that on certain evenings he taught him Latin, while at the same time he learned French under a tutor. Such was his love of languages, and their uses for thorough education, that in after years he diligently studied Greek, and acquired a mastery of German, to fully appreciate its varied literature. He well knew that knowledge did not come by nature, but was only to be acquired by persistent effort. Writing to his son, in 1855, he says: "Don't let anybody talk you into the nonsense of wanting partial courses. If you do, you will feel all your life, as I have done, that I have been partially educated. Knowledge in this country is power, wealth, station, and everything you wish." And again he says: "When you get bothered in geometry, remember that I worked through five books of Playfair's Euclid alone and of my own accord, when I was surrounded by a library full of books of fiction, and when, in the midst of the most difficult proposition, I was liable to constant interruptions from customers; so don't despair."

Bailey, finding his pay in the bookstore inadequate to his support, took a clerkship in a manufacturing establishment at Halifax, Mass., but for personal reasons most honorable to himself soon left it and became an assistant teacher in a high school.

About this time the Corps of Cadets, on its march to Boston, encamped at Providence, where young Bailey became acquainted with some of the officers, whose narrations of their soldiers' life and educational advantages fired his whole soul with a desire to go to West Point. He was fortunate in securing the influence of the Rhode Island delegation in Congress, as also that of the wife of Peter B. Porter, then Secretary of War, which resulted in his securing a Cadet's appointment to enter the Military Academy, July 1, 1828. Here he devoted himself with assiduity to his studies and duties; but, whenever the opportunity offered, he was to be seen mounting the highest highlands, or wading the muddiest marshes, seeking for Nature's treasures. Upon his graduation he was at the head of his class in mineralogy, high in drawing, for which he had a decided skill, and fifth in general merit. Possibly he might have attained a higher position but for his demerit marks caused by his late returns from his rambles in search of wild flowers and rare minerals.

Bailey was promoted, July 1, 1832, to be a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the First Artillery, and joined his company at Fort Moultrie, in Charleston harbor, just as that work was being put in readiness to resist South Carolina's threatened nullification. President Jackson's decision having soon ended all danger from this incipient rebellion, Bailey's station was changed first to Ft. Monroe, and in 1833 to Bellona Arsenal, near Richmond, on the James River, where he remained as Commissary, Quartermaster,  p503 Company and Post Commander, till detailed for duty at the Military Academy. He entered upon this most congenial service, at West Point, as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, March 18, 1834. His duties not being severe, he had abundant time to revel among the scientific books of the Academy library, and wander at will among his favorite hills and dales of the Hudson Highlands. Castle Bailey, his then so‑called quarters, was the picturesque little octagon building with wings which stood about the middle of the eastern plain of West Point. It had been the Quartermaster's office, and finally became the confectionery and barber's shop of the post, till torn down to make room for the Artillery and Cavalry drills.

Whether, while at Bellona Arsenal, the name was suggestive of a goddess for the young Mars, or his multiplied duties necessitated a helpmate, we cannot say, but we know that he there secured his bride, Miss Slaughter, to whom he was married, July 23, 1835, and lived with her in happy wedlock till her tragic death, July 28, 1852. Even on his wedding tour he did not forget his love of Nature's marvels, as his poetic and scientific descriptions of the "Hanging Rocks" of Virginia in his journal attest.

When General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thayer became the Superintendent of the Military Academy he soon recognized the necessity for adding Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology to the curriculum of scientific studies; but, as there was no law authorizing a professor­ship, the head of that department was supplied, from 1820 to 1838, by the detail of an officer of the Army, usually an Assistant Surgeon. Upon Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hopkins being relieved, Aug. 31, 1835, from the position of Acting Professor, his place was filled by his then assistant, Lieut. Bailey, who held the position till July 8, 1838, when he was appointed full Professor, the first to fill the chair of that department.

Till his death he continued in this position of his choice. With what assiduity he devoted himself to this important branch of instruction, and with what distinguished ability he performed the duties of his professor­ship, the annals of the Military Academy bear most satisfactory testimony. We will now follow him in his domestic life and routine of daily duty, leaving till the close of this sketch a summary of his scientific labors in original researches and contributions.

The former stone building on the plain of West Point, between the old South Barracks and Mess Hall, which contained the Library, Philosophical Apparatus, and Chemical Laboratory, was consumed by fire Feb. 19, 1838, and many important records were burned. In the construction of the Academic Building as now existing, the new Chemical Laboratory was in the basement at the southern end, below the surrounding ground, and consequently was so damp that in many places its walls were covered with green moss and lichen, showing that it was no fit habitation for professor or cadets. In this unhealthy, tomblike place Bailey was doomed to hear daily recitations and pursue his chemical investigations. In vain he made frequent and earnest appeals to escape from this dank prison cell, but not till his health was thoroughly undermined did a change to an upper room come. These discomforts and sufferings probably changed his early tastes, which all inclined to chemistry and mineralogy, and drove him from his laboratory to pursue in his more comfortable quarters his investigations with the microscope. In 1848, to the study of the Algae, collected by the U. S. Exploring Expedition, he gave much time, wrote minute descriptions, and made graphic delineations of specimens.

In 1849 he had a hemorrhage of the throat, and wished to go to Europe to recruit his health and enlarge his field of science; but instead, for want of means, he went the following winter to Florida. On his way, stopping at Charleston, the hotel in which he was lodged took fire,  p504 imperiling him and his scientific treasures. Though extremely feeble, he summoned all his strength, shouldered his heavy trunk containing his precious microscope and many heavy minerals, and carried it safely from an upper room to the ground, thus saving what he considered as valuable as his own life. In Florida he was continually roaming, but thinking less of his health than of the beautiful Southern flora, the rich plumage of paroquets, or adding a new scorpion to his scientific collection. Upon his return to West Point from the sunny South, Jan. 24, 1850, the irritation of his throat was much diminished, he was able to lecture a little, and give considerable attention in the education of his children, particularly to that of his eldest daughter.

On the morning of July 28, 1852, designing to place this daughter, then sixteen, with a friend on Long Island to enjoy the benefits of sea air, Bailey, with his wife, daughter, and youngest son, took passage for New York on board the steamer Henry Clay, which was ra­cing with the steamer America, close behind. When the Henry Clay reached Yonkers, she was five miles ahead of the America. Soon after 3 P.M. just below Forrest's Castle (two and a half miles below Yonkers), the Henry Clay was discovered to be on fire, immediately under the boilers. Several buckets of water were thrown on the flames, but to no purpose, as the fire rushed up through the companion-way to the upper decks. The boat was instantly put about, and with a full head of steam was run ashore, her bow almost touching the Hudson Railroad track. Those who were in the forward part of the boat were safely landed; but the greater number, being on the after deck, with flames and smoke blowing directly on them, had no resource but to jump overboard into deep water. Among the latter, in this heart-rending scene of despair and death, were Professor Bailey and his family, whose graphic narrative is too long to be here copied.

Over fifty persons were lost by fire and flood in this terrible catastrophe, the most prominent among them being one of our most cherished friends, Andrew J. Downing, who had done so much for fruit culture, landscape gardening, park decoration, and improving a taste for the beautiful in rural architecture.

After the disaster the broken-hearted Bailey returned to West Point, where were truly sympathizing friends; but the friends of friends, his dearest treasures, had left him for the spirit land, as touchingly described in the following beautiful lines from the pen of Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry Coppée, since President of Lehigh College, at Bethlehem, Pa.:—

"I saw two flowers at morning,

The one was a full-blown rose,

And it lay at rest on a matronly breast,

Its hue like the sunset close;

The other an opening rosebud,

As white as the sea-washed pearl,

And it graced, amid masses of dark brown hair,

The head of a beautiful girl.

And the flowers were types of those lovely ones, —

That Mother and Daughter fair;

Sending abroad, o'er life's arid road,

A fragrance everywhere.

"I saw two graves at even,

'Mid the fading light of day,

And there, at the head of the cherished dead,

The morning flowers still lay.

And I said: 'O gentle flowers,

Are those beautiful ones beneath?

Can aught so bright and so lovely

Feel the withering hand of death?'

'Not so! Not so!' spake the flowers,

'Tis but dust beneath this sod,

But the holy souls, on this sunset ray,

Went up to the bosom of God."

 p505  Bailey, on each dread anniversary of the fatal July 28th, would, till a late hour in the evening, wander among his highland haunts, seeking consolation in communion with the sweet spirit of Nature. Being debarred by the feebleness of his voice from the pleasures of society, he for hours would sit in deep contemplation over his microscope, with no other companion than his ever-present affliction and his tenderly loved youngest son, upon whom he lavished the fullness of his devotion, for he had shared his peril and his calamity. Most of his weary latter days were employed in carefully and methodically arranging his professional papers, his microscopic collection, and his beautiful algae, so that they might be practically available to his scientific successors.

To the canker of grief was added the decay of physical force, his bronchial affection having wasted his strength till his voice was reduced to a whisper; yet his mind continued active, one of his valuable papers on microscopic researches having been prepared for "Silliman's Journal" but a few weeks before he was no more.

Feebleness of health had prevented his presence at the meeting, in July, 1856, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which, for the ensuing year, he was chosen President, in recognition of his high attainments, original researches, and wide influence in the extended domain of science; for, besides his many contributions to the advancement of chemistry, mineralogy, and botany, he was the father of microgeology in America. He was a born naturalist, and to live with Nature and study her was his daily joy. But he was not spared to have the crowning honor of presiding at the next annual meeting of the Association, for he died Feb. 26, 1857, at West Point, N. Y., before he had completed his forty-sixth year. After a quarter of a century given to the study and promotion of Natural History, which had laid the foundation for his most enduring fame, in the midst of his usefulness he was summoned by the Creator of all of Nature's works and laws to enjoy in a higher sphere the full fruition of all the aspirations of his earthly career.

Professor Bailey in a fragile frame had a nervous organization as sensitive as an Aeolian harp, which pulsated with every harmony of nature and was jarred by all its discords. Early habits of method, punctuality, and laborious industry fitted him for the accomplishment of the heavy tasks which he afterwards assumed. From his childhood we trace the gradual, progressive expansion of the same tastes, the same peculiar talents, the same quiet reserve, and in a great degree the same modes of thought and action, which characterized his manhood. Prominent were his exalted principles, ardent fondness for nature, strong attachment to home and family, and deep devotion to his Alma Mater, to which he bequeathed a choice collection of shells, fossils, and minerals, all of which are carefully preserved in a special cabinet, where they can be seen by his brother graduates, many of whom were his loved and loving pupils. Though generally retiring and shrinking from society, he had some intimates, and where he gave his confidence he was most genial, even playful and jocose, for he enjoyed quiet humor and his own keen wit most where he found flint for his steel. He had also a delicate fancy, which often exhibited itself in rhyming letters to friends, and had full scope in those to his family, redolent with the fragrance of his dear home life. For genuine poetry he had a perfect passion, particularly for that of the old English bards, from which he would recite page after page, in the twilight hours of his later life, to his youngest son, his constant companion. The vast volume of nature, however, was his treasure-house of true poetry, for here he found "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." Here was the mighty cathedral for his worship, where the birds warbled hymns, the venerable woods and  p506 steepy mountains joined in prayer, the flowers exhaled frankincense, the microscopic myriads in the oozy ocean-bed murmured their music to the voiceful sea, the rugged valleys echoed anthems to the Most High, and the starry firmament declared the glory of God. Here all was law and harmony, and of the beauty of truth. Truth! mighty truth! in nice balance he weighed as gold, but for its dross of cant and shams he had a holy horror. Theological dogmas and cramping creeds were his detestation, and he had a profound contempt for proselyting. To all such applications by letters and personal appeals he turned a deaf ear. Yet on his death-bed he said: "Do people think that I, who have lived in the very presence of God all my life, who have studied the mysteries of Nature, am without faith! I believe not less but more than they!" And almost with his last breath he repeated his favorite lines from Southey:—

"They sin who tell us love can die:

· · · · ·

Love is indestructible:

Its holy flame forever burneth;

From heaven it came, to heaven returneth."

Thus this great scientist of singular purity, goodness, and usefulness left the earthly arena of trial and tribulation; his life without reproach; who sought not honors, but whom all delighted to honor; whose ambition was not to magnify self, but to glorify his Maker; whose gentle nature was adorned with modesty and sweet serenity of temper; to whom white-robed Truth was the amaranthine wreath of life; and whose chiefest happiness was the discovery and elucidation of the works of Nature's God, before whom he is now giving an account of his efficient earthly stewardship, showing there is —

"nothing worth that lies concealed;

And science is not science till reveal'd."

Bailey's position among scientists is so ably and so fully set forth in Dr. A. A. Gould's Eulogy, delivered Aug. 19, 1857, before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that we shall close this sketch with an extract from it, but somewhat condensed:—

"In the departments more especially relating to Bailey's position at West Point, he held a high rank, and his publications show that he introduced many improvements in chemical manipulation. His correspondence, too, shows that he was extensively consulted on some of the most difficult points of analysis and general physics. His observations were always of the most careful and accurate character; and he early began the important practice of making notes of them, accompanied by delineations, leaving nothing to recollection or mere indefinite statements; thus having always at hand permanent data for his subsequent papers. The volume containing these, which he denominated 'Microscopic Sketches," is of itself a surprising evidence of his industry and skill. There are four hundred and fifty sheets, containing about three thousand sketches. By his great skill with the pencil he rendered himself independent of artists; an accomplishment for the lack of which many of the best observers lose their labors. These drawings date back to 1838, enabling us to trace out the course of his studies, as well as his wanderings; for, wherever he went, his microscope and his collecting bottles went with him. At first we have mostly sketches of vegetable and animal tissues, and occasionally an entire animal or plant. In January, 1839, he perceived a curious object, — a Gomphonema as it subsequently proved, — which he did not understand. This excited his attention in that direction, and soon we find many others of the more common Diatoms delineated. In March, 1839, he sketched a new one, to which Ehrenberg gave the complimentary name Stauronema Baileyi; and finally he devoted himself with great zeal to  p507 the varied objects included under the general term Infusoria, and also to a department almost equally demanding his skill as a microscopist, namely the Algae. So far as the Infusoria were concerned, he stated, in 1843, that no one else in the country had studied them; and that it was almost impossible to procure any works relating to them. Ehrenberg's work he had not seen, though he modestly utters the thought that Ehrenberg might some time see and correct his paper. He, however, gradually possessed himself of all the important works on these subjects, and became the active correspondent of Ehrenberg, Kützing, Agardh, Quekett, Ralfs, Harvey, Greville, De Brébisson, Montagne, and very many others. Fossil deposits, mud, and guano were collected from every quarter for investigation. The various exploring expeditions were laid under contribution, and more recently the objects brought up on the sounding-lead in the Coast Survey, and by Lieutenant Berryman's line of soundings across the Atlantic, made in reference to the laying of the telegraph cable, occupied his attention. In pursuing these examinations, he found the relics from the bottom so well characterized in certain localities and at certain depths, that he suggested the possibility of being able, in some instances at least, to determine the safety or otherwise of a vessel by an examination of the organisms brought up on the sounding-lead, when prevented by darkness, snows, or fogs from deciding by ordinary observations.

"Not a little of the obligations of microscopists to Professor Bailey is due to his labors to improve the microscope. It is said that his early observations were made with globules of glass blown by himself. After he became possessed of a proper instrument, many modifications in the construction of the stage and its movements, and in other appendages, were made by him; and it is to his experience and scientific deductions, coupled with the genius and incomparable mechanical skill of Spencer, that we are indebted for the most power­ful microscopes that have yet been made. His masterly and triumphant defense of them against the detractions of transatlantic pens, also exhibits his exploit mastery of the subject. One of his last essays was to construct an Indicator, by means of which the place of an object on a slide might readily and certainly be found. No one, in looking at the card, would credit the labor and thought which he, in conjunction with his friends, Judge Johnson and Mr. Gavit, bestowed upon it. Many futile efforts were made, and many quires were used in correspondence, before the accuracy of its measurements, and a method for the unerring application of it, were satisfactorily accomplished.

"At a very early date Professor Bailey began to publish the results of his observations, a duty too often neglected by scientific men. His published papers, more than fifty, extend from 1837 to his death.​a They were, for the most part, very brief, free from ostentation, aiming to communicate facts in the simplest and most direct manner. In the words of his friend, Professor Gray, 'they are all clear, explicit, and unpretending, as they are thorough; and every one of them embodies some direct and positive contribution to science.' Most of them were terminated by a condensed statement of the general facts elicited, so as to show, at a glance, the subject, and the result arrived at. They are mostly to be found in 'Silliman's Journal,' or in the 'Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge,' except one in the first volume of the 'Transactions of the Association of Geologists and Naturalists,' which embodied his previous papers on the Infusoria of the United States, with additions, and which gave him at once a high position as a scientific naturalist.

"Bailey's Microscopical Collection will constitute his most splendid monument.​b The slides, of which there are five hundred and fifty, are arranged in boxes in the form of octavos, of which there are twenty-four volumes. More than three thousand objects, fixed upon slides, are catalogued and  p508 noted with reference to Bailey's Indicator, thus enabling any one readily to find with certainty the identical specimens described by him. There are also very many other slides not included in the regular collection. Both objects either described by himself or given to him by other describers, this collection must always possess the highest authority, and must be our ultimate reference in all cases of doubt.

"The Collection of Algae is equally complete and authentic. It consists of thirty-two portfolios, containing about four thousand five hundred specimens; and it may safely be said that few collections in the world are superior to it.

"It is probably well known that Professor Bailey bequeathed his Microscopical Collections, his Collection of Algae, his books on Botany and Microscopy, his Memoranda, and his Scientific Correspondence to the Boston Society of Natural History. While the Society intends to keep this bequest sacredly, it means also to make it as extensively useful as possible.

"Such are some of the principal events in the history of the distinguished Associate and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and such are some of the accumulated fruits of his scientific labors, which were performed in addition to the full duties of a professor­ship executed with military precision and punctuality. He may well be styled the Ehrenberg of America, and has won for himself a place by the side of the most eminent microscopists and algologists of the Old World. He will always stand as the father, in this country, of those branches of Natural History that relate to the world of atoms, and must forever remain the standard reference here in relation to them. Let no man think lightly of them because they relate to little things, too small to be discerned by the unassisted eye. Are they not equally the handiwork of Him who made and sped the spheres, and formed man in his own image? And if he, by the microscope, demonstrated the vegetable structure of coal, illustrated the lowest habitable depths of the ocean, settled the nature of some of the important geological strata, and of the vast deserts otherwise deficient in geological indications, — questions of practical importance in our investigations of the rust of the earth, — let him receive a corresponding rank with him who points the telescope to the mighty orbs above, determines their magnitudes and movements by scientific induction, and thereby enables us to determine our place upon that crust."

Dr. Gould concludes his Eulogy by quoting from a letter to Professor Bailey upon learning of his appointment as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The writer says: "I am sure every one acquainted with what you have done for the advancement of Science, American Science, and American Scientific character, will say that no appointment at the present time could be more appropriate or more just. I hope the great Disposer of events, whose minute works you have done so much to place before our eyes in all their exquisite beauty of form, of workman­ship, and of adaption, will give you yet many years to enjoy the honors you have so honestly acquired, and to add many more discoveries to those you have already secured." And will not all sincere scientists respond: Would that this desire had been granted!

Thayer's Notes:

a A partial list — 32 papers — is given in Botanical Gazette, XIII.5 (May 1888), pp121‑124.

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b Among them, Prof. Bailey's collection of diatomaceae, now in the Farlow Herbarium of Harvard University, was much used by scientists in the 19c, and much stolen from; but a good deal of it remains, still sees occasional use, and was deemed worthy of careful study and cataloguing toward the end of the 20c. An excellent account of their history and current state, with a full catalogue of hundreds of specimens, is online: Jacob Whitman Bailey Diatom Collection.

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