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Special Section Spring Home & Garden Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2012
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Guilderland’s Renaissance man
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was a 19th-Century glass manufacturer, mineralogist, and ethnologist. His ancestry and accomplishments were chronicled in the 1930s by the late Guilderland historian Arthur B. Gregg, in his Altamont Enterprise columns
Schoolcraft’s great-grandfather, a surveyor and later a teacher, had come to America during the reign of Queen Anne. Schoolcraft’s father, Lawrence, described as a Romantic figure by Gregg, had fought in the Revolutionary War as a private in Albany County’s 3rd Regiment, and then was a colonel in the War of 1812.
He married Margaret Rowe, and their son, Henry, was born on March 28, 1793. Lawrence Schoolcraft, who worked at the Guilderland Glass Works, became its superintendent in 1802.
Gregg surmises that, as a child, Henry Schoolcraft had witnessed the Indians at the Guilderland Glass House weaving basketry around the demijohns.
Henry, a bright boy, was, according to Gregg, “arduous in his pursuit of knowledge.” He attracted the notice of Lt. Gov. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, a director in the Guilderland Glass Works, who took steps to have him placed with a master. Henry finished his primary studies and, under an improved instructor, prepared to enter Union College.
Later, while managing a glass factory at Lake Dunmore, in Vermont, reports Gregg, Henry carried on his studies “ex academia” at Middlebury College. While specializing in mineralogy, he also studied chemistry, natural philosophy, and medicine. He taught himself Hebrew and German and also studied French.
As a young man, Henry worked with his father, organizing new glass works in the northeast, which, Gregg writes, “were extending all over the country like wildfire.” Henry left the business, though, to study mineralogy, traveling to Missouri and Arkansas when he was in his mid-20s.
In 1820, he was appointed geologist to General Lewis Cass, who was exploring Lake Superior and the headwaters of the Mississippi. This trip was as much about diplomacy with the Native Americans as it was about geography, and it sparked what would become Schoolcraft’s life passion recording the languages and legends of the Native American peoples.
In 1822, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was appointed the Indian Agent for tribes of the lake region in what is now Michigan. And, in 1823, he married Jane Johnston, the granddaughter of Waboojeeg, a well-known Ojibwa chief; she had been educated in Europe.
Schoolcraft wrote dozens and dozens of poems, lectures, and reports on Native Americans as well as a score of more substantial works.
His wife died in 1842, and, five years later, he married Mary Howard of South Carolina. When paralysis confined him to a chair and left him unable to use his hands, she helped him to complete his works.
In 1847, the United States Congress authorized Schoolcraft to obtain information through the Indian bureau reports relating to all the Indian tribes of the country and to collate and edit the information.
He worked on this project until his death, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10, 1864.
“No man in the history of our country had broader knowledge of the Red Man or through his writings, preserved this knowledge for posterity,” wrote Gregg. “Through his influence, many laws were enacted for the benefit and protection of the Indians.”
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