From 1830 to 1833, Edward Hitchcock (1793–1864) of Amherst College conducted a geological survey of the state of Massachusetts, the first comprehensive government-sponsored survey in the United States. It was an ambitious undertaking that resulted in a 700-page report published in 1833. The main goal of the survey was to assess the state’s mineral resources, the better to promote their extraction and utilization. Increasing the understanding of the geological history of the state was a secondary goal. Some of Hitchcock’s projections of potential economic benefit such as from coal, bog iron, and peat, proved to be illusory. But many of the geological insights gained from the survey were formative for Hitchcock and important in the development of geological thought in America. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the survey was its influence on other states, encouraging governors and legislators to emulate the high standard set by Hitchcock. In this paper I examine the major findings of the survey, the effects of those findings on Hitchcock’s geological thinking, and the influence of the survey on American geology in the mid-nineteenth century.
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