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Amos Eaton

1776 - 1842

Amos Eaton (1776-1842) was born and died in New York. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts and studied law in New York City. He served as a surveyor, land agent, and lawyer for eight years until he was accused of forgery during a land dispute. For this crime he spent almost 5 years in jail and made good use of his time there by studying the natural sciences. 

Once released, Eaton continued his scientific studies under Benjamin Silliman and Eli Ives at Yale College in Connecticut, and after a year became a lecturer at Williams College, where he published a Manual of Botany for the Northern States and A Botanical Dictionary. Eaton also traveled throughout New York and New England lecturing, often at lyceums, where he inspired a number of people such as Edward Hitchcock, to study the sciences. He believed strongly in educating girls and women and gave advice and support to Emma Willard in designing the science curriculum for her school in Troy, New York. 

Eaton wrote scientific textbooks, conducted agricultural and geological surveys across New York, and developed a teaching style, surprisingly modern for his time, that involved hands-on learning, rather than learning by rote. In 1824, Eaton and Stephen Van Rensselaer co-founded the Rensselaer School, which eventually became the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Eaton taught there for the rest of his life.