Troost, Gerard

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(b. ’s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, 15 March 1776; d. Nashville, Tennessee, 14 August 1850)

geology, mineralogy, paleontology, natural history.

Troost was the son of Everhard Joseph Troost and Anna Cornelia van Haeck. He attended the University of Leiden and the Athenaeum in Amsterdam, where he specialized in chemistry, geology, and natural history. He received his master of pharmacy from the Athenaeum and his doctorate of medicine at Leiden. He never practiced medicine, and although he was briefly a pharmacist in Amsterdam and The Hague and later in the United States, his interest in geology gradually became dominant.

In 1807 Louis Bonaparte, the appointed king of Holland, sent Troost to Paris, where, as a colleague of Haüy, he became skilled in mineralogy and crystallography. For two years Troost collected for the king specimens of minerals from various parts of Europe. He also studied with A. G. Werner, whom he accompanied on geologic field trips. He translated Humboldt’s Ansichten der Natur into Dutch, and as a result the two men became lifelong friends. In 1809 Troost accompanied a Dutch scientific expedition that sailed for Java by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Although the ship was captured by French pirates, Troost eventually made his way back to Europe and soon tried to reach Java again, by way of the United States. But in 1810, while he was in Philadelphia, Louis Bonaparte, who in too many matters put the interest of his subjects ahead of those of his brother Napoleon, was forced to abdicate; and Holland was incorporated for a while into the French empire. Therefore, Troost decided to stay in the United States. He became an American citizen and established a pharmaceutical and chemical laboratory in Philadelphia. In 1811 Troost married Margaret Tage of Philadelphia, by whom he had two children, Caroline and Lewis. She died in 1819, and he then married a Mrs. O’Reilly of Philadelphia.

Troost was short and portly and had a kindly disposition. He was a polished man of the world and a profound scholar, and his manner was always unassuming. He was proficient in several languages, but Americans noted that he always spoke English with a Dutch accent. He won the respect and friendship of all classes of people.

Troost was one of seven men who in 1812 founded the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and he was its first president. In 1826 a geologic map of Philadelphia and environs, which he had prepared, was published by the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.

In 1825 Troost joined Robert Dale Owen, who with Maclure, Say, and Lesueur, made up what they described as a “boatload of knowledge. “Their boat took them down the Ohio River to New Harmony, Indiana, where they planned to establish a utopian society. Interest waned at New Harmony, however, and in 1827 Troost moved to Nashville, Tennesse, where he lived for the rest of his life.

In 1828 Troost was appointed professor of geology and mineralogy at the University of Nashville, where he also taught chemistry. He held this post until his death and was esteemed by his students. He was state geologist of Tennesse from 1831 to 1839, and he prepared the first geologic map of the state. He was one of the early workers in stratigraphy in the United States and contributed to the knowledge of the mineral resources of Tennesse. He housed his extensive collections of minerals, rocks, fossils, shells, Indian relics, and mounted birds in a private museum at Nashville that was open to the public and considered one of the finest museums west of the Appalachians.

In mid-July 1850, only four weeks before his death, Troost finished the manuscript of his study of the fossil crinoids of Tennesse. He had written it with much difficulty; in his introduction to the manuscript he expressed a fear that since his memory and sight were both sadly impaired, the work might contain some inaccuracies. The manuscript was received 18 July 1850 by the Smithsonian Institution, which undertook to publish it, subject to the editorial approval of Louis Agassiz. After Agassiz had kept the paper for five years without expressing his opinion of its worth, it was sent for review to James Hall, Jr., in Albany, New York. But the manuscript, with Troost’s collection of Tennessee crinoids, was still in Hall’s possession at the time of his death more than forty years later. The fossils and the manuscript were then returned to the Smithsonian Institution.

Hall and his colleagues may have attributed their unconscionable dealay to Troost’s misgivings about possible inaccuracies, although Hall had introduced under his own authorship four of Troost’s genera, quoting Troost’s descriptions for three of them. Troost’s paper was finally published in 1909 with supplementary descriptions and observations by Elvira Wood. But by that time most of the species and genera originally recognized by Troost had been described by others, and his memory was deprived of the credit that would have been accorded it if his important monograph had been printed when it was received more than half a century earlier.


1. Original Works. A bibliography of Troost’s papers is in L. C. Glenn (see below). Papers on mineralogy, published from 1821 to 1848, are primarily in American Journal of Science and Journal of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences. Papers on paleontology, published from 1834 to 1850, are primarily in Transactions of the Geological Society of Pennsylvania. Papers on the geology of Tennessee, published from 1835 to 1849, are in American Journal of Science, Journal of the Tennessee Senate (Nashville), and Tennesse Senate and House documents (Knoxville).

II. Secondary Literature. See J. M. Clarke, “Prof. James Hall and the Troost Manuscript,” in American Geologist, 35 , no. 4 (1905), 256–257, and James Hall of Albany, Geologist and Paleontologist, 1811–1898 (Albany, N. Y., 1923), 233;’ L. C. Glenn, “Gerard Troost,” in American Geologist, 35 , no. 2 (1905), 72–94; Phillip Lindsley, “The Life and Character of Professor Gerard Troost, M. D.,” in The Works of Phillip Lindsley, I (Philadelphia, 1859), 541–588; Dumas Malone, ed., “Gerard Troost,” in Dictionary of American Biography, XVIII (1938), 647–6+48; G. P. Merrill, The First One Hundred Years of American Geology (New York, 1964), 111, 138, 215–216; H. G. Rooker, “A Sketch of the Life and Work of Dr. Gerard Troost,” in Tennesse Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., 3 , no. 1 (1932), 3–19, with portrait opposite p. 3; and Elvira Wood, “A Critical Summary of Troost’s Unpublished Manuscript on the Crinoids of Tennessee, “in Bulletin. United States National Museum, 64 (1909), with portrait.

Ellen J. Moore