After the Ohio Historical Society’s annual meeting on June 20, I bypassed the drinks and hors d’oeuvres being served in the Red Carpet area of the Ohio History Center and headed straight for the “Nature of Ohio” exhibit. True to form, I was hunting something down. This time, it was a display box housing over 150 geological specimens belonging to Joseph Sullivant (1809-1882), William Starling Sullivant’s younger brother.
Sullivant’s personal mineral collection is enumerated in An Alphabetical Catalogue of Shells, Fossils, Minerals, and Zoophites in the Cabinet of Joseph Sullivant, printed by Cutler and Pilsbury of Columbus in 1838. Wrapped in paper reminiscent of “Palace Blue,” one of the stunning shades in Benjamin Moore’s new Colonial Williamsburg paint collection, the catalogue is part of the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library collections.
Just as his brother created A Catalogue of Plants, Native or Naturalized, in the Vicinity of Columbus, Ohio to trade specimens with other botanists around the country, the hero of this story prepared this catalogue of his collection because he wanted to exchange some of his duplicates for other specimens which he did not have.
“Having my specimens arranged in cases and drawers, more with reference to their size than a proper grouping, I have concluded to catalogue them in the same way, as more convenient for me,” Sullivant wrote in the introduction to the section on minerals. Following this arrangement scheme, he provided the name and originating location of each item.
Sullivant’s mineral specimens hailed from various places, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Missouri, Indiana, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Staten Island and Niagara Falls. Foreign lands included Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, Siberia, Scotland, England, Italy, Cuba, Nova Scotia, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland, Sicily and Austria.
Now, I’m not very informed about minerals, but this cabinet of curiosities is fascinating to read about and admire. For example, Sullivant’s collection included peat from the north of Ireland; primitive slate from the vicinity of Edinburgh; amber containing insects; crystals of selenite from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky; “precious garnets in scaly talc” from the Tyrol; “calcareous spar in small radiating crystals” from Mackinaw; “a piece of the rock of Gibraltar, showing beautiful agate-like bands;” and “part of the meteoric stone which fell in the neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee May 9th, 1827.”
He also described having “a polished agate, exhibiting the appearance of a landscape (beautiful);” “a deep green transparent hexagonal crystal of Emerald” from Brazil; and “red oxyd of titanium in the form of a cross in rock crystal cut, polished and mounted as a breast pin,” from South America. At the conclusion of the list, he included “three small busts, beautifully executed in agate and cornelian, in which the artist has availed himself of the different colored bands, for the purpose of forming the head, drapery and face.”
Collecting minerals wasn’t Joseph Sullivant’s only unique accomplishment. Before he was 21, he was appointed to create the Philosophical and Historical Society of Ohio, of which he was secretary and curator for many years. He also developed plans for Green Lawn Cemetery; started a literary, scientific and library association known as the Columbus Lyceum; and initiated the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, a state-supported institution that is now known as The Ohio State University. Besides helping to develop the curriculum, he drafted a list of professorships to be created and a $25,000 fund to cover the school’s startup costs.
The Joseph Sullivant Papers (MSS 220 AV) in the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library include correspondence, manuscripts relating to the beginning of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, as well as newspaper clippings, photographs and journals pertaining to Sullivant.
The Ohio Historical Society’s collections also include a few objects that Sullivant received for his service to a couple of state organizations.
Sullivant was a member and treasurer of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. In 1851, this organization awarded this silver commemorative medal to Sullivant for designing it. Housed in a black box lined with purple velvet, the medal has bas-relief designs of female figures on one side; an inscription to Sullivant is on the other. Above the inscription, there’s a shield with a rising sun, sheaf of wheat and cluster of arrows reminiscent of those that appear on the Great Seal of the State of Ohio, surrounded by a border of corn. The Ohio State Board of Agriculture also awarded this electroplated silver goblet to Sullivant “for his skill and taste in laying out the grounds for their Second Annual Fair, September 24, 25 and 26, 1851.” The base of the trumpet-shaped goblet is decorated with anthemion motifs, while its step collar is decorated with heavy foliation. Chased swags of a grapevine and bunches of grapes hang from beaded molding around the lip rim.
Both of these items were presented to Sullivant by his other brother, Michael (1807-1879), a lifelong farmer who organized and twice served as president of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. Developed by the Ohio State Board of Agriculture to promote agricultural education and recognize agrarian achievements, the second Ohio State Fair was held on Michael’s Franklinton farm.
Columbus public school teachers also recognized Sullivant for his contributions. On March 27, 1857, they presented Sullivant with an ebony cane with an engraved gold head to thank him for his service as president of the Board of Education.
Other Sullivant items in the collection include a circa-1850 black velvet vest embroidered with a green silk leaf design, as well as this oil portrait of Sullivant. Painted over a photograph, the portrait gives an idea of what Sullivant looked like towards the end of his life, circa 1870-1882. As we admired the painting, Cliff astutely summed it up as the “Grizzly Adams” look. Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to another bearded gentleman from Ohio’s past.