An Event of No Ordinary Interest

On August 28, 1856, at the end of a conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Albany, the visiting scientists met with many of New York’s political elite to witness the inauguration of the Dudley Observatory.  The event probably looked something like this:


This is a painting by Thompkinss Matteson (1813-1884), a successful painter out of New York City and Sherburne, NY.  It’s a fairly large piece – 56 x 72 inches – and it was completed the year after the inauguration.  Completed for whom is the question; there doesn’t seem to be any record of the painting until it was donated to the Albany Institute of History and Art in 1917.  No one knows who commissioned it.  That’s actually important, because the inauguration brought together several competing factions in Albany politics.  Depending on which faction commissioned it, there may be some faces missing.

Many of the faces are too vague to identify.  Most of those that can be seen have been identified.  Here Dudley is indebted  to Norman Rice, former director of the AIHA, Ian Bartky and Christine Bain of the NYS Library for painstakingly matching faces to portraits and identifying the people pictured here.  Their conclusions were published in a paper titles “An Event of No Ordinary Interest: The Inauguration of Albany’s Dudley Observatory,” in 1999.

Interestingly, several of the people pictured here were probably not in attendance.  Former President Millard Fillmore is pictured on the far left, but there is no record that he was attending. Matthew Fontaine Maury, Superintendent of the US Naval Observatory, is pictured in the middle, again despite the fact that there’s no record of his attendence.  This is interesting, because Maury was a rival of many members of the Scientific Committee, including Alexander Bache.  Was this a jab at the Scientific Committee?

A guide and a full list of the identified attendees after the jump:

matteson guide

Names in parenthesis are people suspected of not actually being present.

1 NOTT, Dr. Eliphalet 1773-1866 President. Union College
2 BARNARD, Daniel Dewey 1797-1861 Albany
3 FILLMORE. Millard 1800-1874 Former President of the United States
4 WYCKOFF, Rev. Dr. Isaac N. 1792-1869 Albany
5 DUDLEY. Blandina Bleecker 1783-1863 Widow of Charles Edward Dudley
6 OLCOTT, Thomas W. 1795-1880 Vice-President. Board of Trustees, Dudley Observatory
7 LANSING, Gerrit Y. 1783-1862 Chancellor. University of the State of New York
8 SPRAGUE, Rev. Dr. Wm. B. 1795-1876 Albany
9 PRENTICE. Ezra P. 1797-1876 Albany
10 HAWLEY, Gideon 1785-1871 Regent. University of the State of New York
11 ANDERSON, Martin B. 1815-1890 President. University of Rochester
12 Unknown-1
13 PRUYN. Hon. Robert Newton 1815-1882 Albany
14 CORNING. Erastus 1794-1872 Albany
15 CORNING, Harriet Weld 1793-1883 Albany
18 Unknown-2
17 DEAN. Amos, LLD. 1803-1868 Albany
18 ARMSBY, Dr. James H. 1810-1875 Secretary. Board of Trustees. Dudley Observatory
19 HARRIS, Hon. Ira 1802-1875 Albany
20 PARKER. Hon. Amass J. 1807-1890 Albany
21 HENRY, Joseph 1797.1878 Secretary. Smithsonian Institution
22 SILLIMAN, Benjamin 1779-1864 Yale College
23 HITCHCOCK. Edward 1793-1864 ex-President. Amherst College
24 FERRIS, Isaac 1798-1873 Chancellor, University of the City of New York
25 ROGERS, Wiliam B. 1804-1882 State Geologist, Pennsylvania
26 MITCHEL, Ormsby MacKnight 1809-1862 Director, Cincinnati Observatory
27 (SILLIMAN. Benjamin. Jr.) 1816-1885 Yale College
28 TAPPAN. Henry P. 1805-1881 Chancellor. University of Michigan
29 WILKES, Charles 1798-1877 U.S. Navy. Washington
30 Unknown-3
31 (MAURY. Matthew F.) 1806-1873 Superintendent, U.S. Naval Observatory
32 PRUYN, Hon. John V.L. 1811-1877 Albany
33 (LOOMIS. Elias) 1811-1889 University of the City of New York
34 BARNARD. F.A.P. 1809-1889 Chancellor, University of Mississippi
35 EVERETT. Hon. Edward 1794-1865 Orator and ex-U.S. Senator, Massachusetts
36 HUNT, Washington 1811-1867 ex-Governor, New York
37 PEIRCE, Benjamin 1809-1880 Harvard Colege
38 BACHE. Alexander D. 1806-1867 Superintendent. U.S. Coast Survey
39 GOULD, Benjamin A., Jr. 1824-1896 U.S. Coast Survey
40 AGASSIZ, Louis 1807-1873 Harvard College
41 HALL, James 1811-1898 State Geologist, New York
42 REDFIELD, W.C. 1789-1857 1st President. AAAS
43 LOVERING, Joseph 1813-1892 Harvard College
44 GRAY, Ma 1810-1888 Harvard College
45 GIBBS, (Oliver) Wolcott 1822-1908 Free Academy, New York
46 CHAUVENET, Wiam 1820-1870 U.S. Naval Academy
47 Unknown-4
48 GAVIT. John E. 1817-1874 Albany
49 LECONTE, John Lawrence 1825-1883 Entomologist, Philadelphia
50 HARE, Robert 1781-1858 University of Pennsylvania
51 DANA, James D. 1813-1895 Yale College
52 HORSFORD. Eben Norton 1818-1893 Harvard College
53 SCHOOLCRAFT, Henry R 1793-1884 Ethnologist, Washington
54 COFFIN. John H.C. 1815-1890 U.S. Naval Academy
55 ALEXANDER, Stephen 1806-1883 College of New Jersey (Princeton)
56 BRONNOW, Franz F.E. 1821-1891 Director. Detroit Observatory, Ann Arbor
57 LECONTE, Joseph 1823-1901 Franklin College. Athens. Georgia
58 PETERS, C.H.F. 1813-1890 U.S. Coast Survey
59 MITCHELL Maria 1818-1889 Astronomer. Nantucket Island
60 MITCHELL William 1791-1869 Banker. Nantucket Island
61 Unknown-5
62 SEYMOUR, Hon. Horatio 1810-1886 Ex-Governor, New York
63 BANCROFT. Hon. George 1800-1891 Historian and statesman. New York


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