Friday, August 24, 2007

Alchemy in Colonial America

J.L. Bell at Boston1775 writes on Cambridge (MA) Dr. Samuel Danforth's flirtations with alchemy during the 1770s, making note of Danforth's 1773 letter to Benjamin Franklin announcing that he'd discovered the Philosopher's Stone (Franklin's response is, naturally, priceless).

It would be fascinating to see a full study of alchemical thinking in colonial New England; I remember being quite surprised and intrigued to discover that among the Winthrop Library books at MHS are John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica, as well as Five Treatises of the Philosopher's Stone, Michael Maier's Jocus Severus, and Agnello's A Revelation of the Secret Spirit (there are probably more such with the majority of the Winthrop books at the New York Society Library).

Bell's post got me doing a little digging and I've discovered a few interesting articles on John Winthrop Jr.'s alchemical predilections, including several of those in the footnotes to this piece.


Derek said...

Have you seen William R. Newman's Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution?

It's quite early (Starkey lived from 1628-1665), and not particularly general, but it does deal with the state of alchemy and its connection to sciences as they were taught at Harvard College.

JBD said...

derek, no, I haven't seen that, but I will certainly hunt it up - it sounds excellent. Thanks very much for the suggestion!

MMcM said...

An older survey is in Kittredge's “Dr. Robert Child the Remonstrant.” Again it is centered on one person and so focused on the 17th century, though the later Danforths get a mention. Out of print and Google Books can't seem to manage the copyright (1920) arithmetic and so offers snippets. But comes through. (The alchemical stuff starts in earnest about page 123, though personal favorite Kircher and his barnacle geese make a brief appearance earlier.) It's also in most Boston research libraries, of course.