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Dana family papers

Call Number: MS 164

Scope and Contents

The Dana Family Papers document the personal lives and professional activities of the Dana family of Utica, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut. The collection consists of correspondence, writings, printed material, lectures, notebooks, and miscellanea concerning family members and the scientific accomplishments of James Dwight and Edward Salisbury Dana in the fields of geology, mineralogy, and natural science. The Dana Family Papers are arranged in twenty-four (24) boxes, totalling seven (7) linear feet. Span dates for the collection are 1805-1961, with bulk dates of 1833-1894.

The papers are arranged in four series, with each series containing the papers of an individual family member.

I. JAMES DWIGHT DANA (1813-1895) 1805-1895

II. EDWARD SALISBURY DANA (1849-1935) 1872-1947

III. JAMES DANA (1780-1860) 1814-1818

IV. MARIA TRUMBULL DANA (1867-1961) [ca. 1877-1961]

James Dana (1780-1860) was the father of James Dwight Dana (1813-1895). James Dwight Dana was the father of Edward Salisbury Dana (1849-1935) and Maria Trumbull Dana (1967-1961). The Dana Family Papers are a particularly rich source of material on the personal life and professional activities of James Dwight Dana, a leading scientist in the nineteenth century. Dana's work as a naturalist, mineralogist, and geologist place him in the first rank of American scholars.

Series I, JAMES DWIGHT DANA, is organized in three sections: Correspondence; Lectures, notebooks, and miscellanous; and Writings and printed material.

Correspondence contains personal letters from friends and family as well as letters from professional colleagues on a wide range of scientific subjects. The bulk of Dana's professional correspondence is limited to incoming letters. Personal correspondence, however, includes many detailed letters penned by Dana to his parents and family. Selected letters were edited and published by Daniel Coit Gilman, a long-time associate and family friend, in The Life of James Dwight Dana (1899). Many original letters bear Gilman's editorial markings.

Charles Darwin and James Dwight Dana never met, but their association as scientists, explorers, and scholars fostered a prolonged correspondence from 1849-1863. Their common research and explorations in the Pacific, relating to the formation of atolls, barrier reefs, and volcanic regions, provided ample opportunity for the exchange of opinions. The mutual respect between these two giants of science was resolute enough to survive their disagreement on the evolution of the species. Darwin's views on the natural evolution of species conflicted with Dana's belief that science and its laws provided a rational basis for belief in a higher being. Dana's scientific mind left him open to new theories and displays of evidence, however, and this fact permitted Dana to ultimately accept a tacit theory of evolution which acknowledged the presence of both science and religion.

Other men of science who corresponded with Dana shared personal and professional opinions. Louis Aggasiz, the Swiss naturalist, arrived in the United States in 1846 and by 1847 he met Dana, Professor Benjamin Silliman, and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. Aggasiz wrote Dana frequently from 1847-1873, and twenty-six letters have survived. The letters depict the two men immersed in the scientific study of animal life and its evolution. Dana's struggle with his religious and scientific self weighed heavily upon him, and it is no small compliment that Aggasiz wrote, "I, and we all, are greatly indebted to you for fighting so earnestly the cause of an independence versus clerical arrogance. No one can do it as effectively as you..."

Arnold Guyot, the geologist, and Dana were also well-acquainted. Dana's fifth child was named for Guyot, and the two men frequently exchanged family news along with periodic accounts of research and writing in progress. Sir Archibald Geikie, another respected geologist, shared his professional insights with Dana and praised Dana's work on New England's metamorphic rock quite highly. Letters from Asa Gray, the renowned botanist who convinced Dana to undertake the investigation of the Pacific Ocean as a member of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, reveal a warm personal relationship as well as a great mutual respect.

Dana corresponded with several other scientific, academic, and political leaders. Among these individuals are Jons Jacob Berzelius, William E. Gladstone, A. V. Humboldt, Thomas Henry Huxley, John W. Judd, Charles Lyell, Henri Milne-Edwards, Samuel F. B. Morse, John Tyndall, and Robert C. Winthrop.

Letters with family members and friends provide an excellent insight into the personal life and the blossoming scientific career of Dana. Family correspondence includes letters with parents James and Harriet Dwight Dana, wife Henrietta Silliman Dana, and siblings George Strong Dana, Harriet Dwight Dana Jones, Cornelia Elizabeth Dana, John White Dana, and William Buck Dana. Letters with Dana's children include those of Edward Salisbury Dana, whose other papers are arranged in Series II. Letters and a photostatic copy of a journal of Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast and an expert on international law are also arranged here.

Among the earliest surviving letters written by Dana are two detailed financial accounts of his personal, educational, and travel expenses at Yale University. His pursuit of a scientific career was not a popular choice with his father, who saw the family hardware business as a more practical alternative. Dana recorded comprehensive inventories of expenditures to help allay parental concern over the costs of his education.

In 1833 Dana secured appointment as schoolmaster on the navy ship Delaware. This position gave Dana the unique opportunity to undertake scientific observations on a two-year voyage to the Mediterranean. Letters with Henry E. Ballard, captain of the Delaware, and Edward Herrick document Dana's successful attempt to secure this appointment. The voyage was important to Dana's scientific and personal development. In several letters to family and friends Dana wrote of his loneliness, his impressions of naval life and the customs of foreign peoples, and the scientific wonders he encountered.

Dana wrote his brother George from Port Mahon, Minorca, with the usual travel news of weather and accomodations. Dana also noted, with anticipation, his transfer to the ship United States. This transfer gave Dana the opportunity to visit Greece, where he noted that "The Turks are generally the most honest part of the population and some confidence may be placed in them—But Jews and Greeks are set down as cheats universally—." Dana also had the opportunity to visit Italy and make a detailed observation of Mount Vesuvius. Dana considered the possibility of further academic study in Paris, but whether for financial or some other reasons this never came about, and he returned to America late in 1834.

Dana's return to the United States, and to Yale, brought him back, to a cadre of supportive and sympathetic colleagues including Benjamin Silliman and son, and Edward Herrick. Dana was still pressured by family members to forsake his scientific career. He had yet to achieve any financial independence and the immediate prospects were not encouraging. Dana openly debated the prospect of a career change to law, medicine, or the family business, but these held none of the allure of scientific research, and he decided to continue his academic work.

Dana remained at Yale, immersing himself in studies, Silliman's lectures, and his own writings. He began to write his most widely recognized work, published in May, 1837, as the System of Mineralogy: Including an Extended Treatise on Crystallography. The quality and quantity of Dana's work during this period established him as a leading scientific figure in America. An opportunity to participate in the nation's first major scientific expedition was one reward.

The long debated and much delayed United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, received government funding, and in 1837 Dana accepted the appointment as geologist and mineralogist on the expedition. The voyage included stops at the Azores, Brazil, around Cape Horn to Valparaiso, Chile, west to Fiji, Australia, and the Antarctic continent, back to Australia, the Hawaiian Islands, the Columbia River in Oregon Territory, south to San Francisco, back to Hawaii, west to the Philippines, around Africa, and across the Atlantic to New York. Dana's notebooks and writings from this expedition are arranged in appropriate sections of this series. Correspondence relating to the expedition includes letters between Dana and the commander of the expedition, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. This correspondence details the progress—and complications—Dana encountered with Wilkes in publishing the reports, observations, and documents of the expedition.

Family correspondence provides a probing view into Dana's thoughts and activities on this subject. Dana's participation on the expedition cemented his professional credentials and proved the foundation for his research, writing, and teaching for the rest of his life. As departure loomed imminent in the summer of 1838, however, Dana expressed personal doubts as to his abilities, and he noted, with much concern, an awakening religious conviction. Recent letters from home had "...excited again my half allayed fears my half smoothed conscious, and I was led to consider with some anxiety whether it was not with me, now or never; whether this would not be to me the last opportunity; whether I was not to decide now my destiny for an George expressed it, to be left almost alone, and troubled to think of it." Clearly, Dana had personal reservations about the conditions of another long sea voyage away from family and friends.

Once engaged on the voyage Dana apparently placed all self-doubts behind him, as the wonders of natural science and foreign cultures occupied his time. Letters to his parents, family, and friends are replete with observations on the presence and work of missionaries in distant lands. Statements of a more scientific degree, such as his exploration of Hawaiian volcanoes are included almost as an afterthought. Dana chose to detail his scientific observations in writings and letters to scientific colleagues.

The return of the expedition in 1842 was unheralded. Dana began to publish a significant body of work relating to the voyage, and encountered difficulties with Wilkes. The governmental and scientific debate over the content, expense, and distribution of publications relating to the expedition delayed the appearance of Dana's Report on Zoophytes until May, 1846.

Correspondence from the mid-1840s until Dana's death in 1895 concentrates on the professional activities of Dana as editor of the American Journal of Science and Silliman professor of natural history (1850-1864) and Silliman professor of geology and mineralogy (1864-1894). Letters relating to the many awards and certificates of honor Dana received during his professional career are organized in this section (see folders 6 - 8; box 20).

Letters from his son, Edward Salisbury Dana, who also carved out an impressive career in natural history and geology at Yale, are quite similar to those Dana wrote his own father in the 1830s. Edward studied both at Yale and in Heidelberg and Vienna in the 1870s and he reported diligently on the financial dilemmas of college life.

Other correspondents of interest include Robert Bakewell, a New Haven friend; Auguste Daubrée, from the Ecole Impériale des Mines in Paris; Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University; and Benjamin Silliman and son, and William Graham Sumner.

Lectures, notebooks, and miscellanea contains the teaching materials, scientific observations, and personal ephemera of James Dwight Dana. Lectures includes a series of eight discourses on the topic of "Evolution" delivered in the classroom between 1870-1890. These handwritten lectures include sporadic notes on the number of lectures given in particular years and the time required to recite various texts. A printed catalogue of these lectures dated 1883, is contained in the initial folder (folder 119), and lists such topics as: "Relation of Theories of Evolution to Theism," and "Origin of Species."

Another group of lectures is organized under the heading "Geology", and contains six lectures dated ca. 1859-1864. These lengthy and frequently annotated talks include a final lecture, number XXX, present only in fragments. notes from Dana's inaugural lecture, delivered as Dana assumed the burden of geology lectures from his mentor and father-in-law Benjamin Silliman, are arranged in this section (folder 129). The lecture was presented on February 18, 1856, and was published, in part, in Gilman's biography.

Notebooks consists of Dana's scientific field notes. Volumes from the U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, are arranged in boxes six through ten. Three volumes relating to Crustacea are in bound volumes entitled "Sea notes on Crustacea," Parts I, II, and III (boxes six through eight). These volumes contain Dana's notes on the various orders of Crustacea observed in the course of the expedition. Box ten contains three pocket notebooks, in nearly illegible script, on observations at New Zealand, Sandwich Islands, Samoa, and the United States (Oregon) in 1840-1841. Box nine contains three volumes of notebooks and illustrations entitled "Memoranda." These items also contain illustrations and entries recorded subsequent to the expedition. Dana donated these volumes to Yale's Peabody Museum in 1869.

A second group of notebooks (folders 135-138) contain geological observations of the New England and New York regions from 1869-1884. These numbered volumes (II-V; VII-XVII) focus on specific areas within the northeast region. An index to volumes II-V is present.

A final notebook with entries begun in July, 1887, records Dana's thoughts and observations as he returned to Hawaii to view the mildly resurgent volcano, Mt. Loa. Sketches of the terrain illustrate portions of this text.

Miscellanea contains a personal account book of Dana's with entries from 1842-1848. Expenses for travel, postage, and goods are included, as are periodic payments from individuals for loans. Dana's passport is also arranged here. Miscellaneous notes and drawings (folders 144-146) contain a variety of notes, sketches, maps, and data relating to Dana's scientific work, including his Mediteranean expedition, 1833-1834, and the U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. Several sketches and drawings, believed to be created by Dana, are arranged here.

Writings and printed material contains only a portion of the published literature produced by Dana. A handwritten draft of the bibliography for the first edition of System of Mineralogy is arranged in box thirteen. Printed material includes both published articles authored by Dana between 1836-1894, and two volumes of geological maps on which Dana sketched many scientific observations.

Series II, EDWARD SALISBURY DANA, consists of the papers of Edward Salisbury Dana, son of James Dwight Dana. This series is arranged in three sections: Correspondence, Printed materials, and Miscellanea.

Correspondence includes family letters with his mother Henrietta Silliman Dana and brother Arnold Guyot Dana. Letters with his father, James Dwight Dana are arranged in Series I. Family letters occasionally include letters from the younger Dana, while professional correspondence is limited to routine incoming correspondence.

Edward's letters to his mother (folders 200-204) date from May, 1872 to September, 1875, thus corresponding to his years of study in Heidelberg and Vienna. A remarkably consistent letter-per-week was dispatched to his mother. Detailed accounts of Dana's European travels, the educational opportunities available to him, and requests for financial help are characteristic components of these letters. Letters to his brother Arnold are those of an older brother, revealing some of the interesting activities of life in Europe.

Printed material contains a group of German pamphlets, 1872-1873, and miscellaneous items.

Miscellanea includes a personal account book of expenses, 1872-1874, with loose pages, and an 1875 diary detailing Dana's activities as a member of the Ludlow expedition to Yellowstone National Park. Two other journals arranged here include an 1881 account of a canoe trip, part of a summer's journey along the coast of British Columbia, and a retrospective essay on the same trip, a short time after its conclusion.

Series III, JAMES DANA, contains material relating to James Dana, the father of James Dwight Dana and grandfather of Edward Salisbury Dana. This series consists of an account book kept by James Dana for the family hardware business in Utica, New York. Entries run from September, 1814 to September, 1818.

Correspondence of James Dana with his son, James Dwight Dana, is arranged in Series I.

Series IV, MARIA TRUMBULL DANA, contains a small quantity of correspondence, articles, and clippings from Maria Trumbull Dana, the youngest child of James Dwight Dana. These materials consist entirely of photocopies; the originals remain in the possession of Mrs. Philip English, who is the daughter of Arnold B. Dana and granddaughter of James D. Dana. Material in this series relates primarily to the life of James Dwight Dana. Correspondence includes several letters written to Maria's mother Harriet Silliman Dana, on the occasion of the death of James Dwight Dana in 1895. Articles by Maria T. Dana include a description of the U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, with research materials and typed excerpts from Dana's letters, and a review of Hillhouse Avenue, the well-known New Haven street where the Dana Family resided for several years. Clippings contain newspaper accounts of James Dwight Dana's 1877 voyage to Hawaii, and includes several reviews of Daniel Coit Gilman's The Life of James Dwight Dana.

The Dana Family Papers were donated to Yale University by Maria Trumbull Dana in 1936 and 1952, and by Mrs. Philip English in 1976. Yale University's Peabody Museum also donated a portion of Dana's notebooks to the collection.

Additional correspondence and material relating to James Dwight Dana and Edward Salisbury Dana may be found in the following collections:

Baldwin Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 55)

Beecher Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 71)

Betts Autograph Collection (Mss. Gr. No. 603)

Brewer, William Henry, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 100)

Brush Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 108)

Burr, Enoch Fitch, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 689)

Gilman, Daniel Coit, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 582)

Gilman Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 240)

Herrick, Edward Claudius, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 691)

Keller, Albert Galloway, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 768)

Kingsley Memorial Collections (Mss. Gr. No. 604)

Knollenberg, Bernhard, Collection (Mss. Gr. No. 26)

Marsh, Othniel Charles, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 343)

Morse Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 358)

Murray, Joseph Bradley, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 363)

Natural Science Manuscript Group (Mss. Gr. No. 583)

Penniman, James H., Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 9)

Pierrepont, Edwards, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 400)

Salisbury Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 429)

Silliman Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 450)

Smith, Joel Sumner, Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 461)

Whitney, William Dwight, Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 555)

Williams, William, Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 558)

Woolsey Family Papers (Mss. Gr. No. 562)

Yale Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection (Mss. Gr. No. 1258)

Yale University. Department of Geology. Mineralogical Papers YRG 14-P

Two microfilm holdings also contain material relating to the Dana Family, and James Dwight Dana in particular. Film 487 contains the correspondence of Dana housed at Harvard University, the New York State Library, the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress. Film 722 contains two volumes of pictures and printed material relating to Hillhouse Avenue and the residence of the Dana Family. This material, in original form, was the property of Arnold Guyot Dana.

The Dana Family Papers are available on microfilm (HM160). Selected printed material in the collection was not filmed.


  • 1805-1961


Conditions Governing Access

The entire collection, excluding the additions, is available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 160 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

The entire collection, excluding the additions, is also available on microfilm (15,798 frames on 9 reels, 35mm.) from Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Material in part transferred from Beinecke Rare Book Library in 1974.


Arranged in four series and one addition: I. James Dwight Dana (1813-1895). II. Edward Salisbury Dana (1849-1935). III. James Dana (1780-1860). IV. Maria Trumbull Dana (1867-1961).


7.25 Linear Feet (20 boxes, 5 folio)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, printed material, lectures, notebooks, and miscellanea documenting the personal lives and professional careers of members of the Dana family. James Dwight Dana, a prominent American scientist, and his son, Edward Salisbury Dana are two primary figures in the papers.

Biographical / Historical

JAMES DWIGHT DANA was born in Utica, New York on February 12, 1813. He graduated from Yale College in 1833. Dana sailed as a member of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. He authored several books and articles on mineralogy and geology, and taught at Yale University from 1849-1890. Dana died in New Haven, Connecticut on April 14, 1895.


Born November 16, 1849, in New Haven, Conn.

Died June 16, 1935, in New Haven, Conn.

Father, Professor James Dwight Dana (B.A. 1833). Mother, Henrietta Frances (Silliman) Dana. Yale relatives include: Ebenezer Silliman (B.A. 1727) and Jonathan Trumbull (LL.D. 1779) (great-great-grandfathers); Gold S. Silliman (B.A. 1752) and Jonathan Trumbull (LL.D. 1797) (great-grandfathers); Benjamin Silliman (B.A. 1796) (grandfather); Gold S. Silliman (B.A. 1796) (great-uncle); Benjamin Silliman (B.A. 1837) and William B. Dana, '51 (uncles); George D. Coit, '66 S. (brother-in-law); and James D. Coit, ex-'03 S., and Albro N. Dana, '20 (nephews).

Hopkins Grammar School. Hurlbut Scholarship Freshman year; philosophical oration appointments Junior and Senior years; member Delta Kappa, Phi Theta Psi, Psi Upsilon, Scroll and Key, and Phi Beta Kappa.

Graduate student in mineralogy Sheffield Scientific School (1870-1872), and Heidelberg and Vienna (1872-1874); M.A. Yale 1874, Ph.D. 1876; tutor mathematics, physics, and chemistry at Yale 1874-1879, assistant professor of natural philosophy 1879-1890, professor of physics 1890-1917, professor emeritus since 1917; curator of mineralogy Peabody Museum 1874-1922; made important contributions to administration of Yale College through committee service, especially the Committee on the Course of Study (chairman 1906-1917) and Committee on Ways and Means (chairman 1911-1917); trustee Peabody Museum 1885-1929 (secretary 1895-1899, chairman 1899-1929); foremost American mineralogist of his time; made the first investigation of a rock and its constituents from the petrographic point of view (1872) and published the first important memoir in petrography to appear in the United States ("Trap Rocks of the Connecticut Valley," 1875); research activities (1872-1890) concerned with crystallographic and optical descriptions of minerals (47 papers); with his classmate George Bird Grinnell member of Captain Ludlow's expedition from Carroll, Montana Territory, to Yellowstone National Park, in summer of 1875; in January, 1875, became an editor of the American Journal of Science (founded in 1818 by his grandfather, Benjamin Silliman); served with his father and Benjamin Silliman, Jr., until February, 1885, with his father from March, 1885, to April, 1895, sole editor May, 1895, to 1926 when, owing to his serious illness, ownership of the magazine was transferred to Yale University; continued, however, until his death to assist in its publication; author: A Textbook of Mineralogy, with an Extended Treatise on Crystallography and Physical Mineralogy (1877; rewritten for edition of 1898); A Textbook of Elementary Mechanics, for the Use of Colleges and Schools (1881); sixth edition of the James D. Dana System of Mineralogy (1892); Minerals and How to Study Them (1895); co-author with Professor Chester R. Longwell, Walks and Rides in Central Connecticut and Massachusetts (1932); was a great lover of nature and a famous walker; had a summer home at Seal Harbor, Maine; Alumni Fund Agent for his Class since 1932; member Mineralogical Society of America (elected honorary president for life 1925); American Museum of Natural History and New York Mineralogical Society (elected honorary life member 1934); National Academy of Sciences (1884), Edinburgh Geological Society, Mineralogical Society of Great Britain, the Philosophical Society (Cambridge), and the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna); corresponding member Vienna Reichsanstalt (elected 1874), Sociedad Mexicana de Historia Natural (elected 1874), Mineralogical Society of St. Petersburg (elected 1884); honorary member American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, Geological Society of America, and the Physical Society of America; foreign member of the Geological Society, London (corresponding member 1888).

Married October 2, 1883, in New Haven, Caroline, daughter of William Brooks Bristol (B.A. 1825) and Caroline (Bliss) Bristol, granddaughter of William Bristol (B.A. 1798), great-granddaughter of Moses Bliss (B.A. 1755) and of Simeon Bristol (B.A.1760), niece of Albert G. Bristol (B.A. 1827), and of Louis Bristol (B.A.1835), grandniece of George Bliss (B.A. 1784), and of William M. Bliss (B.A. 1790), and sister of Louis H. Bristol, '59, Eugene S. Bristol, '68 S., and John W. Bristol, '77. Children: Mary Bristol, the wife of Alexander C. Brown, '07; James Dwight, '11; and William Bristol, '18. Mrs. Dana died September 7, 1916.

Death due to arteriosclerosis. Buried at Seal Harbor, Maine. Survived by daughter, sons, seven grandchildren, one of whom is Alexander C. Brown, Jr., '35, a brother, Arnold G. Dana, '83, and a sister, Miss Maria Trumbull Dana, of New Haven.

Yale University Obituary Record, pp. 11-13.

Guide to the Dana Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by William E. Brown, Jr., Kathleen Curran, and staff of Manuscrips and Archives
May 1983
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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