Edwin James (scientist)

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Edwin James
Born (1797-08-27)27 August 1797
Weybridge, Vermont
Died 28 October 1861(1861-10-28) (aged 64)
Burlington, Iowa
Nationality American
Fields Geology, botany
Alma mater Middlebury College

Edwin P. James (27 August 1797 – 28 October 1861) was a 19th-century American botanist, geographer and geologist who explored the American West. James completed the first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak. In addition to his explorations, James was also known for his time spent aiding in creating relationships with the Native Americans as well as helping African Americans to escape slavery. James was primarily known for his work serving as a botanist and geologist during Thomas Say's expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains and was in charge of charting and taking note of the new discoveries on the journey. His work on the expedition was similar to that of Alexander Von Humboldt's.

Born in Weybridge, Vermont, to Daniel and Mary (Emmes) James, he prepared for college at Addison County Grammar School before entering Middlebury College in 1812. After receiving his A.B. in 1816, James moved to Albany, New York, to continue study in medicine (with his brother Daniel James), botany with John Torrey, and geology with Amos Eaton.[1] In 1819 James became a part of the American Geological Society and within on year had authored articles on the subject.[2] He married Clara Rogers on 17 April 1827; they had one child who was also named Edwin.[3]

Journey to the Rocky Mountains[edit]

In 1820, at the age of 23, James was appointed to Major Stephen Harriman Long's expedition "from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains"; he served as botanist and geologist and is considered one of the first scientists to explore the Rocky Mountains and environs. Before his time serving as a botanist and geologist helping to lead the expedition across America to the Rocky Mountains, James was known as a station agent on the Underground Railroad. He helped slaves from the south escape to Canada.[4] While James was hired as a botanist and geologist during the adventure, the writings and purpose of the trip focused on the Native Americans more so than the exploration, most likely due to the fact that they were hired by Senator John C. Calhoun to continue his "effort to expand American influence in and knowledge about the West by using Indian Office and Army personnel".[5] When observing the expedition, many focus more on the adventure and the interactions with the Natives rather than on the botanical and geological findings from the journey and note that James was not as interested in the plant life[2] while others recognize the many notes and contributions from the notes of James.[2]

After arriving in St. Louis by Steamboat, the journey had begun to take longer than expected. The company spent two weeks in St. Louis before departing on May 4, 1819.[2] It was not long before the explorers learned that they would not be receiving the funding promised to them by Calhoun. The journey continued with a lack of supplies, funding, and tools to use on the trip.[5] During the expedition, the company met with the Pawnee Indian tribe where they attempted to learn from, and communicate with the tribe before moving Westward to the Rocky Mountains.[5] Through their travels, James was able to locate and identify some of the sites and plants described by Lewis and Clark on their own expedition. Jame's also played the role of physician when he "bled" many of his comrades when they were affected by the altitude.[2]

James led the first known ascent of Pikes Peak in 1820.[6] He made the first ascension of James Peak, which was later named in his honor.[7] In the Pikes Peak area, he discovered the healing benefits of the mineral waters found in what is now Manitou Springs, Colorado.[8]

In some scholarship, mainly by Nichols and Halley, James was not depicted as the best person for the job. The text often references his lack of tools, partially due to the under funding of the expedition as well as their lack of time and effort put into learning about the science along the way.[5] Other sources also refer to the expedition as a "side show."[2] Despite these negative responses to the account of the exploration, it is noted that James was responsible for noting many botanical findings along the way which were sketched by Titian Peale.[2] Upon completion of their ascent of Pikes Peak, James was able to note many discoveries of species in flora and fauna as well as map out the base of the mountains by viewing them from above. James was also credited with the discovery of "Jamesia", commonly referred to as waxflower.

Later in Life[edit]

Upon completion of the expedition to the Rocky Mountains, James was hired on a two-year assignment to compile an account of the journey from the notes of the explorers on the trip.[4] The expedition notes were recorded in the 1823 publication of Expedition to the Rocky Mountains 1818-1819, which he authored.[9] James was appointed a surgeon in the U.S. Army, serving at outposts on the American frontier. He also served as an Indian agent and learned the Ojibwe language, taking on the role of an amateur linguist, naming the pidgin Broken Oghibbeway and editing A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, published 1830.[10]

After leaving government service, James settled in Iowa and published nine books, including the first translation of the Bible in Ojibwe. He died on 28 October 1861 in Burlington, Iowa.


  1. ^ http://coloradosherpa.net/home/edwin-james/
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Evans, Howard (1997). Natural History of the Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 83–156. ISBN 0-19-511184-2. 
  3. ^ Wiley, Edgar J. (1917). Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Middlebury College, Middlebury College.
  4. ^ a b A Forgotten Iowa Author. Annals of Iowa 4(3). 1899. pp. 233–235. ISSN 0003-4827. 
  5. ^ a b c d Nichols, Roger; Halley, Patrick (1980). Stephen Long and American Frontier Exploration. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc. p. 117. ISBN 0-87413-149-9. 
  6. ^ http://historicmorrison.org/history/Pioneers/Stories/EdwinJamessPeak.php
  7. ^ Dziezynski, James (1 August 2012). Best Summit Hikes in Colorado: An Opinionated Guide to 50+ Ascents of Classic and Little-Known Peaks from 8,144 to 14,433 Feet. Wilderness Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-89997-713-3. 
  8. ^ Historic Manitou Springs, Colorado - 2013 Visitors Guide. The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, Visitors Bureau & Office of Economic Development. 2013. p. 6. 
  9. ^ http://middarchive.middlebury.edu/u?/diglectarc,172
  10. ^ http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=olbp29751

External links[edit]

  1. ^ IPNI.  E.James.