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Alchemy and Alchemical Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century New England

A thesis presented


Frederick Kyle Satterstrom


The Department of the History of Science in partial fulfillment for an honors degree in Chemistry & Physics and History & Science

Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts March 2004

Abstract and Keywords

By focusing on Gershom Bulkeley, John Winthrop, Jr., and other practitioners of alchemy in seventeenth-century New England, I argue that the colonies were home to a vibrant community of alchemical practitioners for whom alchemy significantly overlapped with medicine. These learned men drew from a long historical tradition of alchemical thought, both in the form of scholastic matter theory and also their contemporaries works. Knowledge of alchemy was transmitted from England to the colonies and back across a complex network of strong and weak personal connections. Alchemical thought pervaded the intellectual landscape of the seventeenth century, and an understanding of New Englands alchemical practitioners and their practices will fill a gap in the current history of alchemy.

Alchemy Gershom Bulkeley Iatrochemistry Knowledge transmission Medicine New England Seventeenth century


I owe thanks to my advisor Elly Truitt, who is at least as responsible for the existence of this work as I am; to Bill Newman, for taking the time to meet with me while in Cambridge and pointing out Gershom Bulkeley as a possible figure of study; to John Murdoch, for arranging the meeting; to the helpful staff of the Harvard University Archives; to Peter J. Knapp and the kind librarians at Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut; and to the staff of the Hartford Medical Society, for letting me use their manuscript collection and for offering me food.


Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................. 1
Historiography ....................................................................................................................................... 3


Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 13 Paracelsus and Iatrochemistry ............................................................................................................ 14 John Winthrop ..................................................................................................................................... 17 John Allin ............................................................................................................................................. 19 George Starkey .................................................................................................................................... 21 Gershom Bulkeley ................................................................................................................................ 22 Bulkeleys Vade Mecum ....................................................................................................................... 27

CHAPTER 2: COLONIAL ALCHEMISTS IN CONTEXT ........................... 35

Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 35 Physics at Harvard in the Mid-Seventeenth Century ........................................................................... 35 Leonard Hoar, Alchemical Visionary .................................................................................................. 41 Charles Morton and Harvard Curriculum........................................................................................... 46 Mortons Compendium Physicae ......................................................................................................... 47

CHAPTER 3: THE TRANSMISSION OF ALCHEMICAL KNOWLEDGE IN THE 17TH CENTURY..................................................................................... 53

Introduction ......................................................................................................................................... 53 The Formation of Scientific Knowledge............................................................................................... 53 Networks and Intelligencers ................................................................................................................ 57 Intelligencer as Model for the Colonies............................................................................................... 61 Bulkeley as Important Node ................................................................................................................. 63 Connection to Chauncy ........................................................................................................................ 67 The Chauncy Family ............................................................................................................................ 69

CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................... 71 ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY ...................................................................... 73

Primary Sources .................................................................................................................................. 73 Secondary Sources ............................................................................................................................... 77


Alchemy is familiar to many through the book Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. The story portrays the Stone as a magical item sought by the evil Lord Voldemort for its capacity to generate unlimited quantities of gold and infinitely prolong life.1 In this context, similar to its depiction in many other works of popular culture, alchemy is a dark and mystical practice. Although entertaining as fiction, such a picture is dangerous the casual reader may be led to place the whole of alchemical history under this modern stereotype. The stereotype is a great misconception, for any attempt to sum up alchemy in one idea, or as one static entity, will necessarily overlook its rich and nuanced history. Alchemy was far from static over its lifespan of several millennia. To gain an understanding of it, we must consider individual time periods. The focus of this work is seventeenth-century New England, where the practice of alchemy significantly overlapped with medicine. Examining individual practitioners reveals that alchemy meant different things even to those practitioners who were in close communication with one another, depending on which alchemical texts they chose to work from. This pragmatic character of alchemy, with its focus on the preparation of chemical medicines, is far different from the magic found in popular stories like Harry Potter. I have focused on four alchemical practitioners to help illuminate the intellectual activity of alchemists in the New England colonies. John Winthrop, Jr., spent significant time in the colonies and was taken quite seriously in alchemical matters. John Allin

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997). The ostensibly less knowledgeable American audience received Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.

exhibited a considerable degree of interest in alchemical medicines, and George Starkey stands out for his influence on prominent English practitioners of the art. Gershom Bulkeley, meanwhile, shows that even a colonial doctor in the seeming backwater of seventeenth-century Connecticut could attain a comprehensive knowledge of alchemical matters. He felt sufficient mastery of the subject to put forth his own written work of natural philosophy and chemical preparations. Taken together, these men prove that the colonies were a vibrant, active community of alchemists who were familiar with current alchemical literature as well as alchemical practice. This lively community of alchemists drew from, and fit within, a larger context of alchemical tradition. During their time at Harvard, men such as Allin, Starkey, and Bulkeley were exposed via scholastic physics to elements of the same matter theory that lay beneath seventeenth-century theories of alchemy. The alchemical practice resulting from such theories was within reach for many private practitioners with their own chemical libraries and experimental apparatus although not for Harvard President Leonard Hoar, whose alchemical vision for the College never came to pass. When Charles Morton and his natural philosophy arrived in Massachusetts, though, Harvard students finally attained an explicitly alchemical facet of their education to better ground them in alchemical tradition. New Englands community of alchemists was also constantly sharing information,2 and I posit a model for the transmission of alchemical knowledge in the seventeenth century. Knowledge came to be accepted through social factors such as
Typical notions of alchemical secrecy apply mainly to preventing knowledge from falling into the hands of non-alchemists rather than any prohibition of sharing knowledge with a fellow alchemist. In this way, alchemical knowledge has been likened to trade secrets; see Lawrence M. Principe, Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy, in Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry, ed. Frederic L. Holmes and Trevor H. Levere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 58.

ones class, which was thought to indicate trustworthiness; it was then transmitted through a complex network of both weak and strong social ties. This network consisted of hubs of differing sizes, and the men who were the nodes with the most connections have been termed intelligencers. The Englishman Samuel Hartlib is the prototypical intelligencer, and I will demonstrate that the term may also be applied to John Winthrop, Jr., in the colonies. I will further show the complexity and activity of the network by examining the alchemical ties of Gershom Bulkeley. By corresponding with physicians and alchemists in the colonies and abroad, and receiving texts from his brother-in-law in London, he was part of a network which brought him the latest in alchemical knowledge.

Examining the approaches past historians have taken when discussing the nature of alchemy allows one to think about the ways in which these attempts influenced subsequent and continue to influence present alchemical scholarship. Such influences have been quite strong, especially during the Enlightenment and the later Romantic reaction against Newtonian science. In dividing and naming these influences and their impact on alchemical history, I am indebted to the excellent essay by Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, whose outline of historiographical approaches I have modified only slightly.3 The first important development in the historiography of alchemy stems from the eighteenth century. Prior to this time, the terms alchemy and chemistry had been

Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, in Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, ed. Newman and Grafton (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 385-431.

employed synonymously, and the discipline referred to by both words included the entire range of an alchemists possible actions. During the eighteenth century, however, Enlightenment writers imposed a gulf between the two fields, making the terms alchemy and chemistry distinct.4 These writers restricted the domain of alchemy to include only those tenets that were being discredited, such as the transmutation of metals, leaving accepted knowledge and new developments under the blanket of chemistry. In this manner, writers were able to portray alchemy as synonymous with gold making and fraud,5 a marginalization which they could use as a counterpoint in their attempts to legitimize the newer aspects of chemistry. Their forcible rhetoric has long led historians to mistakenly see a distinction between the two disciplines in the seventeenth century or even before.6 Due to its association with fraud, alchemy came to be grouped together with other occult practices such as magic and witchcraft that had been discredited by the Enlightenment reason of the eighteenth century. For example, Francis Barrett touted his 1801 work The Magus as a complete system of occult philosophy,7 and he grouped alchemy with such topics as natural magic, talismans, numerology, and astrology. This association of alchemy with the occult remains in many popular works to the present day.8 Juxtaposed thusly, alchemy took on a more mystical air, and it appealed to the

For a good review, see William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake, Early Science and Medicine 3 (1998): 32-65. 5 Principe and Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, 386. 6 Newman and Principe, Alchemy vs. Chemistry, 33. 7 Francis Barrett, The Magus (London: Lackington, Allen, and Co., 1801; repr. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1967), i. 8 For example, Harry Potter. Also, Owen S. Rachleff, The Occult Conceit: A New Look at Astrology, Witchcraft, and Sorcery (Chicago: Cowles, 1971), 90-91, calls alchemy a stepchild of sorcery and asserts that its practitioners were merely out to dupe impoverished aristocrats or greedy kings. Ronald Pearsall, The Alchemists (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976) includes an entire chapter entitled Dupes and Charlatans. Even less shy is J. Finley Hurley, Sorcery (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), 198-204,

same Romantic audiences that enjoyed practices like Mesmerism, wherein an intangible fluid-filled space acted as a medium for transmission of gravity and animal magnetism.9 In the hands of such Romantics, alchemys apparent mystical side surpassed its chemical side in attention and importance. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the occultists generated the influential spiritual interpretation of alchemy. This interpretation, only a step past Barrett or Mesmerism, holds that alchemical texts speak entirely in metaphors. They are supposed to actually deal with spiritual processes, expressed in metallurgic terms. Read in this manner, transmutation of base metal is in fact purification and enlightenment of the soul of the alchemist. Perhaps the strongest and fullest explication of the spiritual interpretation belongs to Mary Anne Atwood (1817-1910), whose A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery asks rhetorically, Man then, shall we conclude at length, is the true laboratory his life the subject, the grand distillatory, the thing distilled, and Self-Knowledge to be at the root of all Alchemical tradition?10 Atwood had grown up studying occult literature, and she completed her Suggestive Inquiry in 1850.11 At Atwoods request, few copies circulated during her lifetime, but the work was published in 1918. It circulated widely thereafter. While Atwood introduced the spiritual interpretation to England, Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1798-1870) introduced a spiritual interpretation of his own to America. Hitchcock, a general in the United States Army, also believed that Man is the subject
who likens the Philosophers Stone to UFOs, believes in the existence of both, and argues for a small cadre of Adepts who secretly rule the world. 9 Principe and Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, 388. For an interesting work on Mesmerism which nevertheless takes the view of alchemy as occult pseudoscience see Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968). 10 Mary Anne Atwood, A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery (Belfast: William Tait, 1918), 162. 11 Walter L. Wilmshurst, introduction to Atwood, Suggestive Inquiry, 6.

upon which the Alchemists employ themselves.12 He published his Alchemy and the Alchemists in 1857, in which he takes a Christian viewpoint that the knowledge of God lies in the nature of man.13 Hitchcock reasoned that alchemists pursued their art in order to learn more about God by looking deep inside of themselves, leading them to live good and moral lives. Though his take differs from Atwoods, it was also influential,14 and they share a complete casting aside of alchemical laboratory practice. The work of Atwood and Hitchcock helped to revive interest in alchemy in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and it also led subsequent writers to take the occult interpretation of alchemy as given. One of these writers, Arthur Edward Waite (18571942), exerted an enormous influence on the development twentieth century alchemical historiography. Waite, author of such works as the Book of Cermonial Magic,15 published his Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers in 1888.16 Although he criticizes Atwood and Hitchcock for denying all existence of laboratory practice in alchemy, his title page says that part of his work will give an account of the spiritual chemistry.17 The occult, spiritual interpretation of alchemy had become ingrained in the historians approach to the subject. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961) picked up the spiritual interpretation and carried it one step farther.18 The Jungian view of alchemy, laid out in his Psychology

Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Alchemy and the Alchemists (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Company, 1857), 126. 13 Ibid., 31. 14 For example, Hitchcock is cited in R. Swinburne Clymer, Alchemy and the Alchemists (Allentown, PA: The Philosophical Publishing Co., 1907), 27, who says that in Hitchcocks work it was proven, as is well known to all students of true Alchemy, that the subject of the Alchemists was Man. 15 Arthur Edward Waite, Book of Ceremonial Magic (London: 1911; repr. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe, 2002). The work is an encyclopedia of magical ritual. 16 Arthur Edward Waite, Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers (London: George Redway, 1888). 17 Waite, 3. 18 That is to say, Jungs views did not come out of a vacuum. See Luther H. Martin, Jr., A History of the


and Alchemy,19 holds that the alchemical practitioner projected images from his mind or, more specifically, the collective unconscious onto the matter in his crucible, which is why alchemical literature includes many of the same images that Jungs patients reported seeing in dreams, including kings and dragons. Jung further argued that the archetypes of the unconscious can be shown empirically to be the equivalents of religious dogmas,20 setting the stage for a later equation of alchemy with religion. As Newman and Principe point out, Jung contended that very few alchemical recipes made any alchemical sense, and he also held the self-fulfilling view that any alchemical treatises which did make sense were not genuine, because alchemy came from the unconscious, which does not work in a clear fashion.21 However, the idea of a collective unconscious has been discredited, and in fact alchemical symbolism can be decoded into rational chemical procedures and recipes whose appearances reflect the somewhat metaphorical descriptions of them.22 The effects of the Jungian view are lasting and widespread. As an extreme example, one alchemical scholar took the phrase This stone is that thing which more than elsewhere is found in thee from an alchemical text and translated it to The Self is in the unconscious psyche of man as the most powerful manifest operative factor.23 The effect of a psychological interpretation is particularly overt in this case, but its effects are strong elsewhere as well. For example, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (1930-1994), a scholar of
Psychological Interpretation of Alchemy, Ambix 22, no. 1 (March 1975): 10-20. Martin agrees with Jungs interpretation, and he cites Ethan Allen Hitchcock and the Freudian psychologist Herbert Silberer as two of Jungs predecessors. 19 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, trans. R. F. C. Hull, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968). 20 Ibid., 17. 21 Principe and Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, 404. 22 See Principe, Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy, 69. 23 Marie-Louise von Franz, The Idea of the Macro- and Microcosmos in the Light of Jungian Psychology, Ambix 13, no. 1 (February 1965): 33.

Isaac Newton, used Jung in an effort to understand seemingly irrational portions of Newtons alchemy. She stated that the insights of twentieth-century analytical psychology as applied to alchemy by C. G. Jung have come to provide a really promising approach to the problem [of alchemy], allowing as they do for an understanding of the many factors in alchemy which are not only obscure but patently irrational.24 Dobbs then attempts to differentiate between Isaac Newtons spiritual alchemy and his rational chemistry, a dichotomy which is anachronistic when applied to the seventeenth century. Dobbs is, of course, but one example of Jungs influence.25 A later explanation of alchemy is the religious interpretation. The groundwork for this view had been clearly laid by Jung, who compared alchemical symbolism with religious symbolism, but the view is typified by 1938s The Forge and the Crucible26 by Mircea Eliade (1907-1986). Like so many historians of alchemy before him, Eliade was interested in the occult, but he was even more interested in comparative religion.27 Eliade searched for, and found, the universal mythological and religious basis for a belief in alchemy.28 Like Jung, Eliade thought that the alchemist was perfecting himself at the same time that he perfected his metal, and he drew a line between irrational alchemy and rational chemistry; unlike Jung, however, Eliade also emphasized mythological ideas
Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, The Foundations of Newtons Alchemy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 26. 25 Jung is also invoked to explain alchemical symbolism in popular works such as Allison Coudert, Alchemy: The Philosophers Stone (London: Wildwood House, 1980), 148-160, which spends a chapter discussing Jung, the collective unconscious, and the spiritual and religious aspects which most historians had previously overlooked or rejected. Jung is also cited in more academically oriented texts such as F. Sherwood Taylor, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (New York: Henry Schuman, 1949), 159, which says that Jung comes near the truth when he claims that the alchemists, in studying matter symbolically, were also symbolizing their own mental content. 26 Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, trans. Stephen Corrin (New York: Harper, 1962). 27 For example, Mircea Eliade, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions: Essays in Comparative Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 56, which compares alchemy to the spiritual practices of other cultures, such as tantric yoga. 28 A work of the same school of thought, although it does not address alchemy directly, is, for example, Alexander Eliot, The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others (New York: Penguin, 1976).

such as vitalism and the sexualization of nature. In this view, matter is seen as alive, and any alchemical processes are akin to the incubation of the living matter. This vitalism makes alchemy possible the redemption of the ensouled matter allows its transmutation, making the Philosophers Stone a symbol for Jesus Christ and it also makes alchemy impossible once a chemistry is developed based upon rational mechanism. These views have led one scholar to summarize Eliades interpretation of alchemy as that of a mystery religion in which matter had the role of the god.29 In addition to the views previously discussed, the religious interpretation of alchemy although it fails to explain the diversity and development of alchemical theory over time remained widely accepted into the 1970s. Outside academia it remains common even to the present. This brings me to a discussion of William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, who represent the most recent historically contextualized scholarship in the history of alchemy. Newmans histories emphasize understanding the theoretical framework of the practitioner in order to properly describe him.30 Principe is an interesting figure in the history of alchemy because he has PhDs in both organic chemistry and the history of science, allowing him to undertake actual laboratory procedures in his attempts to understand alchemical texts. For example, in his essay Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy, he takes specific issue with the spiritual interpretation of alchemy. He argues that at least some of the repeated imagery in alchemy arises because several different alchemists all saw the same experimental results in their attempts to approach

Daniel Merkur, The Study of Spiritual Alchemy: Mysticism, Gold-Making, and Esoteric Hermeneutics, Ambix 37, no. 1 (March 1990): 39. 30 For example, the medieval matter theory found in William Newman, The Summa Perfectionis of PseudoGeber: A Critical Edition, Translation and Study (New York: Brill, 1991) is summarized in and used as a basis for understanding the seventeenth century alchemy covered by William Newman, Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

the [Philosophers] Stone.31 Through his experimental re-creations of alchemical recipes, Principe argues that the primary goal of alchemy was actual laboratory practice. Both Newman and Principe agree that the spiritual interpretation is a romantic misinterpretation and oversimplification of the history of alchemy. It is true that alchemy employed many metaphors and had a spiritual component to it, but causing and understanding chemical change were more important to the alchemist than perfecting his soul. There is a distinct difference between practicing alchemy for the sake of selfperfection and performing alchemy with the aim of transmuting metals, while at the same time allowing that perhaps an impure self could adversely affect the outcome of the attempted experiments. Yet the difference is too often misinterpreted. This mistake is particularly egregious when applied to the seventeenth century, for by that time some practitioners may not have seen a spiritual side at all.32 Many of the aforementioned interpretations of alchemy, especially the religious interpretation, oversimplify the subject to such an extent that they make alchemy seem as though it had been a singular, static discipline for two millennia. This is simply not true. Even though I am familiar with many alchemical interpretations, I would be hard pressed to answer a question as simple as, What is alchemy? I could say that the Greek concepts of matter and form led logically to the idea that one could transmute base metals through a purification procedure which replaced the original form with the perfect essence of gold.33 But I believe that the basic premise of such a question is flawed. How
31 32

Principe, Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy, 68. One of the alchemist George Starkeys vices, for example, was the drinking problem that led to his early death in 1665. See Newman, Gehennical Fire, 203-208. A man as dedicated to alchemy as Starkey would have cast vice aside if he believed that an impure soul could adversely affect the reactions occurring in his chemical flasks. 33 See the Greek influences of alchemy described in Arthur John Hopkins, Alchemy: Child of Greek Philosophy (New York: Columbia, 1934).


can the historian reconcile such an oversimplified view of alchemy with practitioners like Jabir ibn Hayyan, an Islamic alchemist of the 8th-9th century who based his theory on the names of his substances?34 Indeed, alchemy has meant many different things to many different people.35 To define alchemy narrowly is to ignore entirely its fascinating richness. This thesis, then, is an attempt to execute one of the variety of focused case studies36 that Newman and Principe see as key to the development of a better future understanding of alchemy. With its unique set of circumstances on the frontier in an important time of scientific change seventeenth-century New England provides a compelling lens through which to make such a case study. Additionally, Gershom Bulkeley has not yet received serious treatment by a historian of science; I will use his work to better illuminate the situation of an alchemist in the colonies. I want to help provide a nuanced view of alchemy for future scholars, and this can only be done by embracing the complexity of alchemical history.

Syed Nomanul Haq, Names, Natures, and Things: The Alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan and his Kitab alAhjar (Book of Stones), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Robert S. Cohen (Boston: Kluwer, 1994). 35 For example, I have done previous work comparing and contrasting the meaning of the Philosophers Stone between such alchemical practitioners as Roger Bacon (c1214-1292), who saw the Stone as a powerful artificers tool, for use in improving the practical aspects of life; Sir George Ripley (1415-1490), who wrote a poem heavy in religious metaphor about the preparation of the Stone; and Nicholas Flamel, the man attributed with making the Stone in Harry Potter, but whose alchemical exploits were actually the product of the imagination of a seventeenth century publisher. 36 Principe and Newman, Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy, 419.



Chapter 1: Alchemy in the New England Colonies

As I discussed in my introduction, one can too easily hear alchemy and think of a strange-looking recluse practicing a mystical pseudo-science in his darkened laboratory. Such an image could not be farther from the truth: many learned men were involved in the pursuit of alchemical knowledge in the New England colonies.1 It is also easy to think of the colonies as an intellectual backwater, where practical concerns of day-to-day life ruled out the kinds of intellectual pursuits, such as alchemy, that learned Europeans had the time to investigate. This, too, is an important myth to dispel, for not only were many respectable New Englanders practicing alchemy, but the colonies also represented a lively community of alchemists whose ideas were taken seriously both locally and abroad. I will demonstrate this by looking at a select group of seventeenth-century colonial practitioners of alchemy.2 After examining three important colonial alchemists

I have limited my study to those practitioners of alchemy who lived in New England during the intellectual climate of the seventeenth century and who left behind manuscripts, books, or other items which enable their study (i.e., learned, predominantly upper-class white males). Later alchemists will not be covered here, although a few are introduced in Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, New Englands Last Alchemists, Ambix 10, no. 3 (October 1962): 128-138. Wilkinson discusses eighteenth century New England alchemists such as Samuel Danforth, Harvard AB 1715, whose studies included Charles Mortons text on natural philosophy, and who corresponded with Benjamin Franklin about the Philosophers Stone in 1773. He also discusses Danforth Jr. (Harvard AB 1758) and Rev. Ezra Stiles (Yale AB 1746, later Yale President). According to the historian Allen G. Debus, the philosophy of these men remained somewhat current; Paracelsian medicine and chemical philosophy existed throughout the 18th century and fueled the call for a more mystical explanation of nature at the end of the century. See Debus, The Paracelsians in 18th Century France, Ambix 28, no. 1 (March 1981): 50. 2 The scope of this project also forces me to omit the investigation of other likely practitioners of alchemy in the colonies. For example, George Lyman Kittredge has traced the possession of a book on alchemy, De Metallorum Transmutatione... (Hamburg, 1673), from a member of the Stoughton family (Harvard AB 1650) to the Reverend John Danforth of Dorcester (AB 1677) to his son Samuel (AB 1715) to his son Dr. Samuel (AB 1758), who finally gave it to the Boston Athenaeum. See George Lyman Kittredge, 3 February 1904, in George Stirk [Starkey], biographical folder, Harvard University Archives.


John Winthrop, Jr., John Allin, and George Starkey the case study of Connecticuts Gershom Bulkeley will be my focal point.

Paracelsus and Iatrochemistry

All of the alchemists under consideration in this chapter were physicians. Indeed, by the seventeenth century, alchemy had become intimately tied to medicine. This particular form of alchemy chemistry intended to treat the body has been termed iatrochemistry by scholars. The beginnings of iatrochemistry are generally traced back to Paracelsus, and his teachings gained credence, at least in part, from many subsequent philosophers and doctors. Therefore, before examining New Englands alchemical practitioners, we shall take a short look at Paracelsus and iatrochemistry in order to understand the basis of the intertwined natures of alchemy and medicine in the seventeenth century. Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), who called himself Paracelsus, was born to a Swiss medical practitioner of illegitimate birth and a bondswoman of the Benedictine abbey at Einsiedeln late in the fifteenth century. Paracelsuss father educated him in many subjects, particularly mining, mineralogy, and natural philosophy. Paracelsus likely studied at universities and might have taken a medical degree, but he did not agree with the teachings he received there. Contrary to the Aristotelian natural philosophy of the four elements air, water, earth, and fire espoused by the universities of the time, Paracelsus thought that sulphur, mercury, and salt were the three ephemeral substances of which all bodies were made. Additionally, due to his strong distaste for the institutionalized Galenic medicine of the period,


Paracelsus became known as an iconoclast. In 1527, upon taking a position as municipal physician and professor of medicine at Basel, he promptly alienated institutional authorities by vociferously disagreeing with Galenic medicine, introducing a new syllabus based on his experiences, and burning a copy of Avicennas Canon, a symbol of the scholastic medical establishment. He left Basel after a dispute with a magistrate in 1528 and practiced his own style of medicine until his death.3 Paracelsus took two important steps in his rejection of Galenic medicine: first, he introduced an alternative concept of disease; and second, he introduced chemical medicines to the mainstream. As opposed to the accepted Galenic medicine of the time, which conceived of disease as a whole-body condition caused by humoral imbalance, Paracelsus taught that disease was caused by external agents that is, poisonous spiritual (i.e. quasi-gaseous) essences.4 These essences occupied a particular location in the body and disrupted the chemical reactions which he thought normally happened there, resulting in the observed symptoms. More importantly, Paracelsuss all-encompassing system of natural philosophy also taught of a macrocosm-microcosm duality between the heavens and the earth, and this led directly to his application of alchemy to medicine. Metals had for some time been identified with specific planets in alchemical writings, and once one viewed the heavens as analogous to the earth, the application of metals to earthly bodies became a logical step to take. Thus, Paracelsus used chemical compounds to remedy
Walter Pagel, Paracelsus, 2nd Ed. (New York: Karger, 1982) gives an overview of Paracelsuss life, work, and impact. See Peter Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 15001700 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 49-52 for additional context. 4 Mary Lindemann, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 75-85, provides a good, short introduction to the subject. See also Allen G. Debus, Paracelsianism and the Diffusion of the Chemical Philosophy in Early Modern Europe, in Paracelsus: The Man and his Reputation, His Ideas and Their Transformations, ed. Ole Peter Grell (Boston: Brill, 1998), 225-244. For the Galenic medicine just prior to this time period, see Nancy G. Siraisi, Medieval & Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), especially chapter 4, 78-114, and chapter 5, 115-152.


problems with the bodys chemical reactions, and he spurred his followers to do likewise. Although adopted sporadically and rarely wholly, Paracelsuss works were very influential.5 By the seventeenth century, his system of medicine had come to rival that of Galen. In England, for example, the middle of the seventeenth century witnessed large amounts of translation and publication of works by both Paracelsus and his intellectual descendents, such as Jean Baptiste van Helmont (1580-1644), who believed the basic building block of matter to be water.6 By this time, the animosity between the Paracelsian and Galenist schools was tangible. The Galenists believed Paracelsuss ideas to be incorrect and viewed them as a threat to their professional authority; meanwhile, anti-Galenic writers advocated chemical therapies, spoke out against the establishment, and sought reform. Such reform led to the formation of groups such as Englands shortlived Society of Chymical Physitians,7 which attempted to institutionalize Paracelsian medicine in order to rival Galenic medicine. It did not survive long, but it serves as a good example of the competing schools struggle for professional supremacy. However, a middle ground was possible. Although Paracelsuss outspoken criticism of Galenic thought caused his ideas to be viewed as a major break from the past, many scholars have seen his ideas as drawn from Galenic sources. One can, for example, see his principles of mercury, sulfur, and salt, as analogous to the Galenic ideas of form.8 As one leading historian put it:
For example, Paracelsus influenced the cosmology of the astronomer Tycho Brahe. See John Robert Christianson, On Tychos Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants, 1570-1601 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 50. 6 P.M. Rattansi, The Helmontian-Galenist Controversy in Restoration England, Ambix 12, no. 1 (February 1964): 1-23. For van Helmont, see Walter Pagel, Joan Baptista van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). For van Helmonts matter theory and its importance, see Newman, Gehennical Fire, 110-114. 7 C. Webster, English Medical Reformers of the Puritan Revolution: A Background to the Society of Chymical Physitians, Ambix 14, no. 1 (February 1967): 16-41. 8 Lester S. King, The Philosophy of Medicine (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 66.


One can surely continue to speak in terms of a conflict between Galenists and Paracelsians and an understanding of the Chemical Philosophy of the latter is essential for our knowledge of the rise of modern science. However, at the same time there is ample evidence of a contemporary search for a compromise position on the part of major late sixteenth and early seventeenth century authors a position that would adopt the practical chemistry but reject much of the speculative chemical cosmology and medicine of the Paracelsians.9 Thus the reform-minded Paracelsians and the entrenched Galenists had reached a compromise, incorporating parts of the new chemical medicine into the existing Galenic tradition.10 Physicians could simply select the methods from either tradition that seemed to work best.11 This assimilation of practical chemistry into medicine worked smoothly, for in the seventeenth century chemistry and pharmacy were basically the same thing a boundary between the two disciplines arose only later.12 In this way, New Englands alchemists of the seventeenth century were able to pick and choose alchemical and iatrochemical ideas and practices for incorporation into their own repertoire.

John Winthrop
The first major practitioner of alchemy in the colonies was John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-1676), governor of Connecticut and the son of John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Born in England, Winthrop the Younger attended Trinity College, Dublin, but did not receive a degree. His interest in alchemy began around

Allen G. Debus, Buintherius, Libavius and Sennert: The Chemical Compromise in Early Modern Medicine, in Science, Medicine, and Society in the Renaissance: Essays to honor Walter Pagel, ed. Allen G. Debus (New York: Science History Publications, 1972), Vol. 1, 151-165. 10 Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsians (New York: F. Watts, 1965), Ch. 2. 11 Allen G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York: Science History Publications, 1977; repr. New York: Dover, 2002), 201. For a broader discussion of the issues, see the entirety of chapter 3, The Paracelsian Debates, 127204. 12 Jonathan Simon, The Chemical Revolution and Pharmacy: A Disciplinary Perspective, Ambix 45, no. 1 (March 1998): 1-13.


1630, when he began purchasing chemical books and materials; there is evidence he took at least some of these with him when he came to Massachusetts in 1631.13 Over the course of his life, Winthrop collected the most significant and extensive alchemical library in colonial America.14 Winthrops library contained some 275 chemical titles, with an emphasis on writers whose works are Paracelsian and chemical in nature.15 Even at first glance, then, Winthrops extremely large alchemical library shows the seriousness of his pursuit. Winthrops interest in alchemy did not stop at the level of reading, for he went out of his way to visit those who could help him understand the art. In 1642, for example, Winthrop visited Johann Rist (1607-1667), a German poet who had experimented with alchemy. During the visit Rist tried to convince Winthrop that true philosophical mercury, believed to be the material of the philosophers stone, was prepared from a more general spirit or essence rather than from normal quicksilver.16 Winthrop continued his chemical pursuit upon returning to the colonies by 1651, his correspondence with fellow colonists dealt noticeably with chemical medicine,17 and his contacts in this arena included two men whom we shall shortly discuss, George Starkey and Gershom Bulkeley.18 At the same time that he pursued chemical knowledge, Winthrop also studied

Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-1676) and His Descendents in Colonial America, Ambix 11, no. 1 (February 1963): 36-7. 14 Ibid., 33. 15 For example, the collection contained 25 titles by Johann Rudolph Glauber and six by Paracelsus himself. For a full list, see Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-1676) and His Descendents in Colonial America, Ambix 13, no. 3 (October 1966):139-186. 16 Harold Jantz, America's First Cosmopolitan, in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1972 (Boston: Published by the Society, 1973), Vol. 84, 6-7. 17 Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, Hermes Christianus: John Winthrop, Jr. and Chemical Medicine in Seventeenth Century New England, in Science, Medicine, and Society in the Renaissance: Essays to honor Walter Pagel, ed. Allen G. Debus (New York: Science History Publications, 1972), Vol. 1, 227. 18 Newman, Gehennical Fire, 42.


medicine. He employed a wide variety of medicines in his practice, including many chemical ones, such as saltpeter, antimony, mercury, and iron, and he used alchemical means to develop his own therapeutic powder which enjoyed the esteem of some of the most respected European practitioners.19 Indeed, Winthrop gained such a reputation that he has since been described as New Englands foremost physician.20 He applied his alchemy to his medicine, and his medicine earned him fame as a result testimony to the significant contribution of alchemy to medicine in the seventeenth century.

John Allin
John Allin (1623-after 1686)21 is our first example of a Harvard graduate who became interested in alchemy and medicine. Allin came to America from England in 1637 and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts. After receiving his AB from Harvard in 1643, he returned to England, although the exact date is unknown. After spending almost a decade as the vicar of Rye in Sussex, he went to London to study medicine in 1662. The chemical aspects of it clearly became important to him, for in 1667 he received an offer to work in a private chemical laboratory at Oxford, under the charge of Robert Boyle.22 He returned to America to be a minister in 1680, and he died a few years later. The letters Allin left behind attest to a deep interest in iatrochemical matters. Many of them discuss the plague and alchemy in the same breath. For example, Allins letter to Philip Fryth of September 7, 1665, says, The increasing sickness hath now

Robert C. Black III, The Younger John Winthrop (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 169170. 20 Wilkinson, Hermes Christianus, 221. 21 For a biographical sketch, see John Langdon Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University (Cambridge, MA: Charles William Sever, 1873), Vol. 1, 93-101. 22 Ibid., 96.


drawne very nigh mee... If I live I hope to have some materia prima from you.23 We can see how important alchemical pursuits have become to Allin: if he lives through the night, his next thoughts are of obtaining special alchemical matter to further his medical treatment. Indeed, the scholar William Newman believes that Allins materia prima is the starting point for the elixir of life.24 To wit, in 1665 Allin gave his friend Samuel Jeake a book that he had written about the uses of such an elixir.25 Through his letters we see Allin involved in an almost frantic search for the proper preparation of materia prima; his letter to Jeake on November 2, 1665, reads, My head aketh at ye present. Ye Lord fitt mee for what hee intends toward mee. Remember prima materia.26 Another of Allins letters to Jeake bears witness to his belief in the medicinal properties of gold: Friend get a piece of angell gold, if you can of Eliz. coine (yt is ye best), wch is phylosophicall gold, and keepe it allways in yor mouth when you walke out or any sicke persons come to you: you will find strange effects of it for good in freedome of breathing, &c. as I have done; if you lye wth it in your mouth wth out yor teeth, as I doe, viz. in one side betweene your cheke and gumms, and so turning it sometimes on one side, sometimes on ye other.27 Such a belief in the healing power of gold stems from the alchemical idea of gold as a perfect metal with a perfect essence; in a manner of action analogous to that of the elixir of life, its perfect essence would be absorbed by the body, where the essence would then correct the putrefactions of the body. Allin was clearly a man for whom alchemy is central to life, and for whom alchemical ideas and medical ideas overlap significantly.

23 24

Ibid., 94. Newman, Gehennical Fire, 47. 25 Ibid., 47. 26 Sibley, 95. This is not even the only letter given by Sibley which reads similarly with respect to Allins concern for materia prima. 27 Ibid., 95.


George Starkey
George Starkey (1628-1665) is perhaps the most well-known of all American alchemists, due largely to the excellent scholarship of William Newman. Prior to Newmans work, much debate surrounded the identity of the true author of the seventeenth-century alchemical treatises penned by Eirenaeus Philalethes.28 The texts were held in high regard by famous alchemical practitioners and natural philosophers; for example, Philalethes provided the basis for the matter theory behind Isaac Newtons alchemy29 and has been ranked among his favorite alchemical writers.30 Thanks to a close textual and theoretical analysis of the works by Philalethes and Starkey, however, Newman has conclusively proved Starkey to be the author.31 Starkey, born in Bermuda in 1628, came to Harvard in 1643, where he lived with John Allin.32 Along with a fellow member of the class of 1646, John Alcocke,33 Starkey was likely introduced to alchemy in 1644 by the Charlestown physician Richard Palgrave.34 While Starkey reports that Alcocke found alchemy too tedious to pursue, Alcocke did marry Palgraves daughter and establish a medical practice of his own in Roxbury, as did his son, and the two left behind an extensive library of medical and


See, for example, Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, Letter to the Editor on the Identity of Eirenaeus Philalethes, Ambix 19, no. 3 (November 1972): 204-208 and Wilkinson, Some Bibliographical Puzzles Concerning George Starkey, Ambix 20, no. 3 (November 1973): 235-244, both of which discuss Starkeys likely authorship and Winthrops unlikeliness, given that the tone of their correspondence seemed to indicate that Starkey considered himself an Adept while Winthrop seemed to still be searching for knowledge. See also William Newman, Prophecy and Alchemy: The Origin of Eirenaeus Philalethes, Ambix 37, no. 3 (November 1990): 97-115, which establishes Starkey as Eirenaeus Philalethes. 29 William Newman, The Background to Newtons Chymistry, in The Cambridge Companion to Newton, ed. I. B. Cohen and George E. Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 358-369. 30 Dobbs, The Foundations of Newtons Alchemy, 67. 31 Newman, Gehennical Fire, is the most complete explication. 32 Ibid., 15-18. 33 Sibley, 125. 34 Newman, Gehennical Fire, 48.


chemical books.35 Starkey, meanwhile, traveled to England, where he traded recipes and texts with people such as Samuel Hartlib and Robert Boyle, working on alchemy and chemical medicaments while fighting debt and drinking. So influential was Starkey that he acted as the teacher of Robert Boyle himself36 and was possibly the main impetus for Boyles interest in chemistry at all.37 Thus, even before it was known that Starkey wrote the Philalethes tracts, it was still apparent that his ideas were taken quite seriously by English alchemical practitioners. In Starkey, we see the high level of intellectual influence afforded an alchemist from the New England colonies.38

Gershom Bulkeley
Although Gershom Bulkeley does not provide us with intellectual authority in the same sense as Starkey, who influenced the biggest scientific names of his era, we do see it in his willingness to interact with and question the alchemical texts he read. Born in Massachusetts in 1636, Bulkeley attended Harvard, taking his bachelors degree in 1655 and masters in 1658. Following three years as a tutor, he became minister of the church of New London, Connecticut. Six years later, he moved to become the pastor of Wethersfield, Connecticut. He likely had been dabbling with medicine, though, for when King Philips War broke out in 1675, he became an army surgeon. By 1677, he had quit the ministry in order to focus full-time on his medicine.39 Indeed, medicine must have
35 36

Sibley, 125. Newman, Gehennical Fire, 53. 37 William Newman, personal conversation, 23 November 2003. 38 Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, George Starkey, Physician and Alchemist, Ambix 11, no. 3 (October 1963): 121-152. 39 This information in this paragraph is drawn from Thomas W. Jodziewicz, A Stranger in the Land: Gershom Bulkeley of Connecticut, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1988 (The American Philosophical Society: Independence Square, Philadelphia, 1988), Vol. 78, Part 2, 6-14. This is


exerted quite a pull on Gershom Bulkeley, already middle-aged, to draw him away from following in the footsteps of his father and start him down a new career path. Bulkeleys development as an iatrochemical physician is evident in medical manuscripts currently held at the Meczner Museum of the Hartford Medical Society and also the Watkinson Library at Trinity College, both in Hartford, Connecticut. From these sources, it is apparent that Bulkeley both surrounded himself with and came to feel control of the alchemy of the seventeenth century. The earliest manuscript in the Hartford Medical Society collection dates from 1661-2.40 At this time, Bulkeley had just left Harvard for his position in the ministry of New London. The manuscript consists primarily of theological notes, but also reveals an interest in iatrochemistry: it contains what appears to be a transcribed Latin medical encyclopedia of ailments and their cures, many of which involve metals and minerals such as mercury and antimony. The usage of symbols to represent common chemicals indicates that by this time Bulkeley was familiar with basic chemical terminology. If he were not already familiar with the Paracelsian and influential thinker van Helmont, whose water-based matter theory played an important role in Starkeys Philalethean explanation of transmutation,41 the manuscripts frequent citations of him would serve as a de facto introduction. Bulkeley had thus begun investigating iatrochemistry by, at latest, the beginning of the 1660s. By 1673, Bulkeleys interest in medicine was growing.42 He now had a Latin

the only scholarly examination of Gershom Bulkeley, and it focuses mainly on his political views. 40 Harftord Medical Society (HMS) Manuscript (MSS) 8. 41 William R. Newman, The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes, in Alchemy and Chemistry in the 16th and 17th Centuries, ed. Piyo Rattansi and Antonio Clericuzio (Boston: Kluwer, 1994), 169-170. 42 HMS MSS 16. Dated on 313. The given publishing date of the book is 1660.


transcription of a book which lists remedies for ailments such as diarrhea. Chemicals are absent from many of these remedies; for example, one cures dysentery by sitting on a mesh chair over ginger burning on embers.43 Others do involve chemicals, however, and they seem to assume a familiarity with them: the narrator includes one story where he claims to have tasted a remedy used by a Bohemian doctor and concluded from the tastes similarity to vitriol that vitriol likely some form of sulfuric acid and metal sulfate must be the principal ingredient. Such a familiarity with even the taste of chemicals and metallic compounds indicates familiarity with alchemy. This text also includes the earliest instance of Robert Boyles name being cited in one of the Bulkeley manuscripts, showing Bulkeleys growing familiarity and connection with the European intellectual forefront of chemistry. The beginnings of Bulkeleys chemical practice can be placed at least as early as the following decade. His first obvious chemical log is dated 1679, and it contains items such as a recipe for salt of tartar interspersed with other, more everyday observations such as the 1680 entry May 2. The young black cow calved.44 His chemical practice must have been growing in importance, because a few years later, Gershoms chemical interests spill over into an invoice of goods bought of Mr. Thomas Bulkeley on July 3, 1684. The invoice list and other expense accounts are merged seamlessly with Latin chemical texts, sometimes even squished together on the same page.45 While this may speak to a seventeenth-century mindset of paper as precious and not to be wasted, Bulkeleys manuscripts tended not to run together in this way. I believe that, in Bulkeleys case, it also reveals the degree of his involvement with iatrochemistry: he was
43 44

Ibid., 357. HMS MSS 4, 1-3. 45 HMS MSS 15, 37.


willing to take chemical notes on whatever materials were available to him at the time. By the end of the seventeenth century, Bulkeley appears to have been fully immersed in chemical literature. In a transcription of a Latin work dated June 4, 1694, we find a complete volume in Bulkeleys handwriting, entitled Chemica Rationali, Collecta.46 The volume is very chemical: the first chapters are Of tinchers and elixirs, Of the calcinations, and of metals, Of antimony, Of mercury, and so forth. By the end of the book, the chemical knowledge has been put to use in medicine, covering subjects such as The general way of preparing pills, extracts, etc. The book includes a recipe for potable gold, which, like in the case of John Allin, people sought because they believed that the purifying essence of gold might lead to a universal medicine. The recipe calls for the alchemist to dissolve gold in the solvent Aqua Regis, digest for a night, distill off to purify the gold, and keep the gold overnight in alcohol of wine. The result should be a tincture of gold. At this point, Bulkeley demonstrates his comfort with, and mastery of, the chemical processes under discussion, for he inserts his opinion that the recipe is not sufficient: very confident I am that bare solution in Aq. Regis and the abstraction of the menstruum [i.e. solvent] is not sufficient to make it [gold] give its tincture in the plain alcohol of wine.47 Here, thirty years after the earliest indications of his chemical studies, Bulkeley feels a full command of the chemical literature of his day. He can select from the literature that which best fits into or further develops his alchemical practice. Bulkeley is willing to question alchemical literature on several other occasions as well. For example, after a discussion of how to make universal medicine through

46 47

HMS MSS 17. Ibid., 34.


chemical operations such as distillation and making a tincture with gold and quicksilver, a related step is labeled The Key of Helmont and Lully. Having followed the procedure to this point and believing the Key superfluous, Bulkeley inserts, But what serves the key for?48 Elsewhere, after a recipe entitled A Short and Cleane Description of the Great Philosophicke Stone, Bulkeley shows that he is familiar with the relevant literature on this age-old aim of alchemy as he notes that although this is but Rupeseissas Liber Lucis epitomized, he will nonetheless transcribe the whole thing.49 Finally, at the end of a transcribed recipe of a menstruum for potable gold, Bulkeley says, I doubt this processe is but imperfect: for containing pure [alcohol] and pure [urine], [it] will coagulate, unlesse it be the spirit of unputrified urina.50 Bulkeley seems to be familiar with not only the literature of the period but alchemical laboratory work as well. In his picking and choosing, he discards that which does not fit with his experience. Bulkeleys command of alchemy is no doubt due to the large collection of alchemical literature he amassed.51 His collection includes transcriptions in his own hand of a work of Chymicall Physicke52 and a Latin chemical text, transcribed in 1695, in which Bulkeley made marginal notes pointing out interesting ideas such as potable
48 49

HMS MSS 9, 107-109. HMS MSS 18, 215. 50 HMS MSS 7, 294. 51 It would be redundant to address every chemical work in Bulkeleys possession. To give a feel for what exists in the Hartford Medical Societys collection, however, I should state that Bulkeley also has transcriptions of a large book concerning medicine and alchemy (HMS MSS 21), a medical and chemical notebook (HMS MSS 14), a medical encyclopedia and recipe book (HMS MSS 6), a medical encyclopedia (HMS MSS 1), a Latin pharmacopoeia (HMS MSS 22), a collection of various pages from a lost chemical book that appears to be the collected works of van Helmont (HMS MSS 10). He also has a small notepad of medical and chemical observations in thirty-four sections, with subjects including the griffin and its water, Spirit of opium, and recipes such as the making of a medicine by grinding together mercury and sulphur (HMS MSS 23), as well as a transcription of Fundamental grounds of the Chymicall Art, rationally staked and demonstrated by various examples in distillation, rectification and exaltation of vinous spirits, tinchers, oils, salts, etc. by W. Y.worth Spagyriche, Physician in both medicines and Philosopher by the fire (HMS MSS 19, 89). I believe both medicines refers to Galenic and Paracelsian; the author thus represents a compromise position. 52 Transcription dated July 26, 1694. HMS MSS 17, 376. The given publishing date of the book is 1679.


gold,53 as well as preparations of mercury and antimony compounds.54 He also owned The Family Physician... by George Hartman, which discusses all manner of remedies, such as chemical pills and powders, for a range of ailments from toothaches to epilepsy. The remedies often combine household ingredients with metals for example, it gives a drink to ward off melancholy made of orange juice, apple juice, wine, and steel filings.55 Amongst the manuscripts at Trinity College,56 one finds a transcription, dated July 16, 1699, of Arcana Philosophia, or Chymicall Secrets containing the noted and usefull Chymicall medicine of Dr. Will and Rich. Russell, which summarizes the creation and use of six different medicinal, metallic substances. Together, these works all contribute to the vast amount of seventeenth-century alchemy at Gershom Bulkeleys fingertips.

Bulkeleys Vade Mecum

Bulkeley must have considered himself something of a master of medicine and alchemy, for in 1705, when his grandson Richard Treat was eleven years old and considering the life of a doctor, Gershom sat down and penned a book telling young Richard everything he would need to know. Bulkeley called this book Vade Mecum, which literally translates to Go With Me and was also used for titles of other indispensable medical reference books.57 The Vade Mecum is the only extant chemical

HMS MSS 18, 10. Transcription dated 1695 on page 128. Ibid., 11. 55 HMS MSS 24. 56 Gershom Bulkeley Collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. The collection includes the works mentioned in this paper as well as two tiny books with exquisite Latin handwriting (likely taken by Bulkeley when on medical calls), a humoral book on fevers, a medical account book, four pages of some sort of medical log, and a tall, small Latin medical book with metal clasps. 57 Jodziewicz, 20. The Vade Mecum is found in the Gershom Bulkeley Collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. The name in this case seems to be figurative or conventional, for Bulkeley warns Treat to keep the book in a safe place and not to let others see it.



work of which Bulkeley was definitively the author, and it is thus very important to our present examination. In it, he demonstrates the intellectual depth of colonial alchemy by showing that he has mastered and can converse about a broad range of alchemical topics, including alchemical practice. Bulkeley begins with the basics the Vade Mecum begins with a Preface that discusses the groundings of medical philosophy. He explains, Health is the natural integrity of the body in all its parts and powers, and goes on to say, The seven natural things (usually so called) are these 1. The elements. 2. The parts of the body [members]. 3. The humors. 4. The complexions. 5. The powers of the facultys. 6. The operations. 7. The spirits.58 However, Bulkeley does not accept what he reads or is taught without adding his own thoughts to it he collapses the humors, members, and spirits into one category, and rejects the complexions altogether. This makes four from the original seven. Next, adding the regions of the body, I make five in all.59 Bulkeley then describes the chemical digestions that occur in different parts of the body. He explains that the schools make or reckon 3 digestions, and accordingly divide the body into 3 regions.60 In this system, the first region is the stomach, where food is turned into chyle, and the guts, where the thinner alimentary part is absorbed, continuing to the liver.61 The second digestion is sanguification, performed in the liver... the thicker alimentary part is made into blood62 which is then transmitted to the vena cava. We sense his opinion of this system when he writes that the second region also contains (and I mistake you not) the urinary vessels and passages and why not...
58 59

Vade Mecum, 1. Ibid., 1. 60 Ibid., 3. 61 Ibid., 4. 62 Ibid., 4.


and he goes on to mock it further. Next, the third digestion, or region, is the nourishment of all the solid parts of the body... The third region of the body this is and contains all the solid parts of the body (limbs, bowels, vessels, etc.).63 Importantly, Bulkeley repeats according to them several times throughout his explication, demonstrating familiarity with the iatrochemistry taught at the time, but simultaneously placing himself on a higher plane of knowledge by not fully approving of it. What, then, does Bulkeley agree with? The easy answer is the Paracelsian iatrochemistry of van Helmont. Bulkeley cites van Helmont, saying that there are in fact six digestions, not three, which better distinguish the regions of the body. The first digestion (says he) is performed in the stomach, by a ferment inspired from the spleen, whereby the food in the stomach is transformed into a transparent and acid chyleand so the first region contains the stomach and spleen, and no more.64 However, we still see Bulkeley hesitating to accept someone elses idea without modifying it himself. Of van Helmont, he writes, the second digestion is (according to him) performed in the duodenum and the other small guts, by a ferment inspired from the gall, whereby the acid chyle or liquor of the stomach is transformed into a salt liquor... and so the second region contains the small guts and the gall.65 Once more, Bulkeley has set up a future modification by adding according to him. He then quickly goes through the remaining digestions: the third digestion is cruorification, or the making of the venal blood (which he calls cruor)... By a ferment inspired from the liver;66 like before, this region includes the liver and vena cava. The fourth digestion is sanguinification, where the red venall blood is attenuated into the yellow and
63 64

Ibid., 5. Ibid., 5. 65 Ibid., 5-6. 66 Ibid., 6.


sipiritous arteriall blood. This takes place in the heart and its arteries. The fifth digestion attenuates the arteriall blood into vital spirit, and it also occurs in the heart and its arteries.67 Now, Bulkeley shows that the authority whose opinion he ultimately trusts can only be himself. He interjects, I think his [van Helmonts] fourth and fifth digestions and regions are but one and the same: for the venall blood is attenuated into arteriall blood, and the arteriall blood ... Is attenuated into vitall spirit in the same shop.68 The sixth digestion, he continues, is the nourishment and growth of every solid part. This happens when the blood is transmuted69 into the secondary humor, or alimentary juice, and is assimilated into the parts. Thus Bulkeley affirms the five regions (van Helmonts with a compressed fourth and fifth) that he sees in the body. Throughout, he has felt a mastery of the material and a willingness to use his experience and opinions to question what he reads. He then continues the natural philosophy background with authority. Bulkeley gives the complexions e.g. Sanguine, hot and moist although he also states that these as built upon the aforesaid fictitious humors, are a figment and vanish with them.70 He lists external medicaments and applications: baths, lotions, plasters, blood letting, scarification, leaches, and so on, and he discusses naturals, nonnaturals, and contranaturals.71 He also lets the young doctor know that some people believe in astrology, either that the moon can influence different parts of the body depending on
67 68

Ibid., 6. Ibid., 6-7. 69 Ibid., 7. A great alchemical metaphor, here applied to bodily processes, reiterates the close relation of alchemy and medicine in this period. 70 Ibid., 7. 71 Ibid., 8-11. In Galenic medicine, generally speaking, the naturals were such things as the elements, body parts, and bodily fluids; the non-naturals were therapeutic measures such as air, food, and drink; and the contra-naturals were such things as disease, its causes, or its symptoms.


what sign of the zodiac it is in, or that diseases take different courses depending on what day of the month they start. However, in each case Bulkeley flexes his intellectual muscle by casting the belief aside.72 He feels the power to decide what is and is not valid. Bulkeley also demonstrates that he has spent many hours in the laboratory, as he is able to provide large amounts of practical advice for laboratory work. For instance, he has much to say of laboratory equipment. He gives a recipe for joining chemical vessels together; he cautions against breaking hot vessels by the touch of cold hands, lest you lose your vessel and work; he recommends the coating of vessels with clay to make them stronger; and he says one can stop cracks in glass or stone vessels by putting a thick oil into the crack for this last task he says he has also used quicklime and egg whites in water. In each case, Bulkeley gives detailed instructions, even down to naming the number of rags one should have at hand.73 Furthermore, he cautions against fumes, and he specifically names fumes of antimony, mercury, and especially of mercury sublimate and arsenick as dangerous. He also tells the young doctor to label his chemicals and keep the medicines away from children, especially such dangerous drugs as mercury, mercury sublimate... whereby they may kill themselves presently.74 The overwhelming impression given by the Vade Mecum is one of a skilled alchemist relating the wisdom of his years, not of a solely book-learned man relating what he has read. Bulkeley continues giving this impression as he spells out his chemical recipes and they are truly voluminous. First, he discusses the preparation of substances such as

For example, with the he makes fun of another doctors chart of what will happen if one falls ill on a given day by pointing out that the chart going from 1 to 30 does not seem to account for the months variation in length. Vade Mecum, 13. 73 Ibid., 23-25. 74 Ibid., 25-26.


acids which play an important role in subsequent recipes. For example, he provides a recipe for aqua fortis, saying that it dissolves all metals but gold and tin, as well as a recipe for aqua regis, which he says dissolves gold and antimony.75 Herbs and other nonchemical substances do not appear for almost 100 pages, and even then only in the context of chemical preparations, ordered by recipe type i.e. organized into pills, powders, and so on. Throughout, he shows comprehensive knowledge; in one typical recipe, involving arsenic, saltpeter, sulphur, and alcohol for Paracelsuss Balsamus Fuliginis,76 he cites numerous authorities, such as Glauber,77 Boyle, van Helmont, and Sala.78 In this instance, he says, I have not yet fully experienced this process, but tells his grandson that when I have I may give you notice of it.79 He does not want to write about preparations he has not tried himself. Thus, Bulkeley consistently shows that he has first-hand knowledge of many of the recipes he relates. For example, of pills made from silver, he states, I have divers times made these pills according to this prescript of Mr. Boyle, and found them excellent, but he has since found another way of making them, I think, much better.80 His recipe is typical of those in the book, as it involves the alloying and purifying of metals in an aqueous environment Bulkeley instructs the young doctor to dissolve silver in aqua fortis and add copper plates; the silver will adhere to the copper. Next, when shaken, the silver will fall to bottom of the container, and more silver will come out of solution to adhere to the copper. In this manner one may purify silver for the pills.

75 76

Ibid., 29-35. Ibid., 41. 77 Ibid., 42. 78 Ibid., 47. 79 Ibid., 44. 80 Ibid., 163-164.


Bulkeley has thought about them, tried them, and improved upon even a recipe of Robert Boyle.


Chapter 2: Colonial Alchemists in Context

Seventeenth-century New England was home to a vibrant community of practicing alchemists who also participated in a larger tradition of alchemical knowledge. Three of the alchemists under consideration graduated from Harvard College, and even though alchemy was not a formal part of the Harvard curriculum, it was nevertheless present via the influence that alchemical matter theory played on the development of scholastic physics from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. Alchemical views could then be adopted by combining university matter theory with specifically alchemical works, such as those cited in Gershom Bulkeleys manuscripts; the story of Leonard Hoar will demonstrate that some people at Harvard were thinking about alchemy in very serious ways. Finally, in the 1680s Harvard curriculum did change, as the arrival of Charles Mortons matter theory brought alchemy into the realm of a Harvard education. Throughout the century, the alchemy of colonial New England had firm intellectual roots.

Physics at Harvard in the Mid-Seventeenth Century

Harvards curriculum was based on the classical teachings of English schools,1 and it therefore contained only small amounts of natural philosophy. Instead, the curriculum largely consisted of the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic,

Sheldon S. Cohen, A History of Colonial Education, 1607-1776 (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1974), 66.


made popular by the humanism of the seventeenth century.2 During this period, Harvard students studied a different subject each day.3 For example, each Wednesday the firstand second-year students studied Greek grammar, while the third-year students practiced their Greek composition. Each Thursday was Hebrew, each Friday rhetoric and declamations, and each Saturday morning divinity catechetical.4 This method must have been firmly entrenched, because the prominent Harvard scholar Samuel Eliot Morison notes that even in 1760 Wednesday was still used for studying Greek and Friday for rhetoric.5 If we are to discuss Harvards natural philosophy curriculum of this period at all, then, we must look to Monday and Tuesday. The programs of study for each of these two days were identical, with each class studying its own subjects in the morning and then disputing them in the afternoon. Here, we do find physics in the curriculum, but it is restricted to first-years, and even then is only studied from eight to nine in the morning for one quarter of the year6 hardly the three-year intensive treatment that a Harvard

Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences, 30. Indeed, humanism impacted more than just education in America: to examine its impact upon the motivations of the settlers themselves, see Andrew Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500-1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 3 The 1642 pamphlet New Englands First Fruits lays out the curriculum as it was in the very early years of the College. A copy of the schedule sheet can be found in the Harvard University Archives, in the curriculum 1642 General Folder. The program of studying different subjects each day probably taken from Petrus Ramus, an influential figure at the University of Paris in the sixteenth century; see Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, The Tercentennial History of Harvard College and University, 1636-1936 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936), 140. For more on Ramus and the early modern university, see also Laurence Brockliss, Curricula, in A History of the University in Europe, Vol. 2: Universities in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800, ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 581. Harvard had modeled itself after the universities in England, and although England had not been affected by the revolt against scholastic tradition led by Ramon Lull in the thirteenth century which became popular on the European continent England was very much a part of the revolt led by Ramus in the 16th century, with effects lasting well into the 17th century. See Wilbur Samuel Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700 (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961), 7. 4 Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 141. 5 Ibid., 147. 6 Ibid., 141.


student could expect to receive in Greek and Hebrew. Nonetheless, an introduction to Aristotle and his physics, as well as the matter theory of contemporary commentators, would have been valuable information for the budding alchemist. It is important keep in mind that the seemingly small amount of physics in Harvards curriculum would not put Harvards future alchemists at any disadvantage relative to their English counterparts. We have already noted that Harvard modeled its curriculum after Englands finest institutions; if any Harvard student were to complain that his education consisted too much of the trivium, he would have registered a similar complaint at Oxford, where the education also centered on logic and disputation.7 Harvard had adopted the Oxbridge system as its model; it neither preceded nor lagged behind8 the European academic establishment, where, in Protestant areas, a mechanical philosophy of nature began to replace Aristotelian natural philosophy in universities beginning in the 1650s.9 At essentially the same time we see the first major indications of Harvard also transitioning away from scholastic Aristotelianism. For example, the notebook of Michael Wigglesworth (AB 1651)10 includes a Physicae Compendium in Latin11 along with his commencement dissertation. In the dissertation, Wigglesworth defends an antiAristotelian thesis.12 He argues for the existence of an interspersed vacuum, or pores, in matter significant because the idea of nature abhorring a vacuum is a key Aristotelian

7 8

V. H. H. Green, A History of Oxford University (London: B. T. Batsford, 1974), 103-104. Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 224. 9 Brockliss, Curricula, 584. 10 Michael Wigglesworth, MS Notebook, 1651, Harvard University Archives. 11 Ibid., 44. 12 Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 228.


view13 that would not be experimentally challenged by Robert Boyles air-pump for another decade.14 Morison downplays the significance of Wigglesworths thesis although he also notes that it lacks the repetitiousness common to Scholastic disputations,15 he groups it with other Aristotelian works and does not believe that the first clear evidence16 for Harvards break from scholastic Aristotelianism occurred until twenty years later. Wigglesworths thesis is more significant than Morison realizes, however, because of the Physicae Compendium in Wigglesworths notebook.17 Newman believes that the anti-Aristotelian thesis of Michael Wigglesworth is simply a commentary on the work of Jonathan Mitchell (AB 1647).18 Mitchell represents a movement away from the Aristotelian concept of absolute lightness and heaviness, and he is especially important because he has begun thinking in corpuscularian terms.19 This means that Mitchell embraced the idea that matter is not infinitely divisible, as Aristotle thought; rather, he believed that form cannot be infinitely large or small, thus preventing both infinite bodies and infinitely divisible substances. The idea of minima naturalia, a concept of minimal natural bodies,20 was first introduced into natural philosophy by the thirteenth-century alchemist pseudo-Geber (Paul of Taranto), thus linking the roots of the natural
Joseph Owens, A History of Ancient Western Philosophy (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959), 315. See also G. E. R. Lloyd, Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle (New York: Norton, 1970), 113114. 14 Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 38-40. As they discuss, philosophical issues about whether the question could even be answered through experiment played a large role, as did access to an air-pump. 15 Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 228. 16 Ibid., 233. 17 Newman, Gehennical Fire, 25. 18 Ibid.,27. 19 Ibid., 25-26. 20 Cecilia Trifogli, Matter and Form in Thirteenth-Century Discussions of Infinity and Continuity, in The Dynamics of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, ed. Leijenhorst, Lthy, and Thijssen (Boston: Brill, 2002), 176.


philosophy discussed at Harvard with medieval alchemical matter theory.21 This idea of minimal natural bodies was to play a key role in the development of seventeenth-century alchemy. George Starkey, who graduated only a year before Jonathan Mitchell, likely encountered the idea of minima naturalia while at Harvard.22 This idea allowed him to expand upon the corpuscular matter theory of van Helmont, which held that water was the primary element and that its underlying principles of mercury, sulfur, and salt could switched their relative spatial orientations in order to effect chemical change.23 Starkey then communicated his ideas to Robert Boyle, who, in the words of the scholar William Newman, knew and absorbed the material theory of alchemy to such a degree that it form[ed] a seamless part of his own work.24 Newman gives the example that Boyle attributes mercurys weight to the close packing of its corpuscles, virtually echoing the sentiment in the Summa Perfectionis that great weight is due to the close packing of many particles.25 The Summa was an important text in the history of alchemical thought, and its influence should not be overlooked. The Summa may even have meant something to Gershom Bulkeley he made a marginal note next to an appearance of Gebers name in one of his manuscripts26 but it by no means constitutes the whole of the intellectual tradition behind alchemy in the seventeenth century. Another man whose ideas are found in the notebooks of Gershom Bulkeley is Michael Sendivogius (1566-1636). Bulkeley owned a transcription of

21 22

Newman, The Summa Perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber, introduction. Newman, The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes, 174. 23 Ibid., 172. 24 William R. Newman, Boyles Debt to Corpuscular Alchemy, in Robert Boyle Reconsidered, ed. Michael Hunter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 107-118. 25 Ibid., 114. 26 HMS MSS 18, including Kircharus, Beccharus, Boilius [Boyle] all on page 31; Glauber, 38; Pico Mirandola, 59; Hermes, 65; Geber, Arnoldus, Lullius, 70; Petrus Bonus, 72; Paracelsus, 80; Philaleth[es] and Starkey, 77; and Sendivog[ius], page 80.


Sendivogiuss Novum lumen chemicum, or New Light of Alchymie,27 originally published in 1604. His work made an important contribution to alchemical thought, even though at the time Sendivogius was not believed to be the author. Instead, a popular story held that he had saved the actual author from prison, who had in gratitude given him a small amount of transmuting powder. After the alchemist died, Sendivogius married his widow and carefully studied the book in a futile attempt to learn the secrets of alchemy.28 This poor view of Sendivogius had become well-known by the late seventeenth century, greatly obscuring his actual philosophical contributions to alchemy. In his New Light of Alchymie, Sendivogius developed a natural philosophy which centered on nitre, also called saltpeter.29 In his neoplatonic system, seeds of the elements are digested by the center of the earth. The shells from these seeds become rocks, and the digested virtues of the elements become a first matter the philosophical mercury of alchemists, or sal nitrum for Sendivogius. This sal nitrum comes up through the pores of the earth, where it combines with philosophical sulfur in varying ways to form different substances. These substances were acted upon by the Archeus of Nature, a power of life, which activated them. Aerial nitre carried special weight in his system; such nitre was thought be both the substance necessary for breathable air and also the central ingredient in the preparation of the Philosophers Stone. It was a powerful, life-infused matter, and it made nitre central to many alchemical and iatrochemical recipes of the seventeenth century. Sendivogiuss ideas traveled widely, and they influenced many men
27 28

Newman, Gehennical Fire, 44. Ibid., 6-7. 29 For an exposition of Sendivogiuss alchemy, see Newman, Gehennical Fire, 87-91. For additional material, see, for example, Zbigniew Szydlo, The Alchemy of Michael Sendivogius: His Central Nitre Theory, Ambix 40, no. 3 (November 1993): 129-146, as well as Zbigniew Szydlo, The Influence of the Central Nitre Theory of Michael Sendivogius on the Chemical Philosophy of the Seventeenth Century, Ambix 43, no. 2 (July 1996): 80-96, and Paulo Alves Porto, Michael Sendivogius on Nitre and the Preparation of the Philosophers Stone, Ambix 48, no. 1 (March 2001): 1-16.


on their way to Bulkeley. For example, such alchemists as Thomas Vaughan (16211666)30 and Johann Rudolph Glauber (1604-1670)31 adopted Sendivogiuss idea of the centrality of saltpeter, the latter of whom is also cited in an alchemical text owned by Bulkeley.32 Continuing to use Bulkeleys notebooks as a guide, we further see that alchemical theories of the Italian Angelo Sala (1576-1637) crossed the Atlantic. Sala saw himself as a Paracelsian, but during the course of his work he sought to reconcile the ideas of Paracelsus and Galen.33 He did not hold all common Paracelsian ideas; for example, he did not believe in the transformability of water, which placed him at odds with such thinkers as van Helmont.34 Sala also rejected the idea of a universal medicine.35 Thus, he could have served as a counterpoint for the recipes in Bulkeleys manuscripts wherein a universal medicine is supposed to be derivable from gold, showing the diversity of views available to the aspiring New England alchemist.

Leonard Hoar, Alchemical Visionary

Surely many aspiring alchemists did live in the colonies, and despite the fact that alchemy had not yet entered Harvards curriculum, everything could have changed drastically in the 1670s. During this decade, Harvard recruited the scientifically reform-


See Thomas and Rebecca Vaughans Aqua Vitae: Non Vitis, ed. and trans. Donald R. Dickson (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001), 11, 13. 31 Kathleen Ahonen, Johann Rudolph Glauber: A Study of Animism in Seventeenth-Century Chemistry (Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan, 1972; Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1994), 104, 109. 32 HMS MSS 18, 38. 33 Zahkar E. Gelman, Angelo Sala, An Iatrochemist of the Late Renaissance, Ambix 41, no. 3 (November 1994): 142-160. 34 Berthold Heinecke, The Mysticism and Science of Johann Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644), Ambix 42, no. 2 (July 1995): 65-78. 35 Gelman, 152.


minded Leon Hoar (AB 1650, MA 1653) to become its next President. Hoar had graduated from Harvard and then traveled to England, where he made a living as a preacher until 1660. Hoar had an interest in iatrochemistry the University of Cambridge granted him an MD degree in 167136 and while in Europe he had befriended Robert Boyle, a man now intensely interested in the subject. In the early 1670s he was asked to accept Harvards presidency, and he arrived in New England on July 8, 1672.37 During the summer and fall, while the Presidents lodgings at Harvard were repaired and a Presidents salary set aside, Hoar preached at the Old South Church in Boston until inaugurated President of Harvard on December 10, 1672.38 Immediately after his inauguration, in a letter to Robert Boyle dated December 13, 1672,39 Hoar reveals both his interest in chemistry as well as his vision of the scientific center he wanted Harvard to become. The letter also begins to illustrate the close ties between the New World and the Old given that Hoar sent a letter to Boyle within three days of his inauguration, it seems as though Boyle was one of the first people he turned to for help. Boyle must have been a close friend, and he must have shared an intellectual vision with Hoar. It is in this shared intellectual vision that we find a definite place for chemistry and alchemy in seventeenth-century Harvards curriculum. Hoar, for example, says at one point that he is not unmindful of your desires to see what rarities the country might yield.40 Accompanying the letter, Hoar says that he has sent Boyle native New England berries as well as a collection of stones. These items

36 37

Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 395. Ibid., 394. 38 Ibid., 395-399. 39 Morison has quite helpfully reprinted this letter as Appendix C at the end of his second volume of Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. 40 Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 645.


might seem unremarkable in themselves perhaps Boyle simply had an interest in the natural products of the region but the description Hoar gives of the berries sheds great light on where his common interests with Boyle must lie. Hoar begins with a visual description, saying that the berries grow closely conglomerated unto the stalk of a shrub, in its leaf, smell and taste, like the broadest leaved myrtle, or to a dwarf-bay.41 His comments thus far are superficial enough. However, he goes on to say that a berry, by plain distillation, yields an almost unctuous matter; and by decoction, not a resina, nor oil, but a kind of serum, such as I have not known ordinarily for any vegetables. I believe it excels for the wind-colick.42 Thus, Hoar reveals that he has taken the berry and distilled it, decocted it, and looked for medical applications of it. These are alchemical practices brought to bear on a natural product in a medicinal context. Once one sees that Hoar has taken an alchemical bent on the items he sends to Boyle, the significance of sending stones quickly becomes apparent, as does the revolutionary impact that Hoars academic interest in alchemy could have on undergraduate education at Harvard College. With the plea that we still hope some helpers from our native land, Hoar then spells out his vision of what he wants Harvard to have: A large well-sheltered garden and orchard for students addicted to planting; an ergasterium for mechanick fancies; and a laboratory chemical for those philosophers, that by their senses would culture their understandings, are in our design, for the students to spend their times of recreation in them; for readings or notions only are but husky provender.43 The significance of Hoars pedagogical ambitions is twofold. First, they show that Hoar was concerned enough with alchemy to desire what would have been the worlds first

41 42

Ibid., 645. Ibid. 43 Ibid.


chemical laboratory.44 Second, they are significant for the phrase readings and notions are only husky provender. Hoar says this in direct reference to his desire for a chemical laboratory, and he thereby demonstrates that Harvard scholars were reading and thinking about alchemy; they only lacked an official laboratory in which to practice it. The desire to remedy this with official university action shows that Hoar, the President of Harvard, would have no doubt integrated it into the curriculum as well. Hoar closes the letter by asking Boyle to help enrich our library, and encourage our attempts this way.45 Hoar indeed had clear a vision for what he wanted Harvard to be. As Morison quite eloquently says of Hoars inauguration, It was a dramatic moment. After thirty-four years existence, Harvard College was to be presided over by one of her own sons Forty-two years old, with a young wife, he had the world before him. Harvard College for him was an instrument to be quickened into vital service for God and man. He would have his alma mater no longer confine herself to suckling nurslings with spiritual milk, and conserving the culture of the past; he would rededicate her to the true advancement of learning, synthesize the great discoveries of the century, [and] boldly experiment with the physical phenomena of this new world so rich in possibilities of human betterment.46 None of this came to pass, however. Hoars vision of a university alchemical laboratory, so exciting in its conception, never materialized. It is not even clear why. Morison, who studied the situation in some detail, could only say It was one of those affairs that everyone discussed and fought over at the time, without leaving anything definite behind.47 Morison quotes a cryptic passage in which Cotton Mather says, Were [Hoar] considered either as a Scholar, or as a Christian, he was truly a Worthy Man; and he was generally reputed such, until happening, I can scarce tell how, to fall under the Displeasure of some that made a Figure in the

44 45

Ibid., 401. Ibid., 646. 46 Ibid., 400. 47 Ibid., 401.


Neighborhood, the Young Men in the colledge, took Advantage therefrom, to ruine his Reputation, as far as they were able.48 Whatever the reason, Hoars job security eroded very quickly. On October 2, 1673, the motion to remove Hoar from office failed at an Overseers meeting.49 This must have seriously undermined Hoars authority and his ability to accomplish reform, and it must have also made things very awkward between Hoar and those who wanted him removed from office. In addition, Hoar does not seem to have helped his own cause. For example, in February, 1674, Hoar had a senior whipped before his classmates for speaking blasphemous words concerning the HG [Holy Ghost].50 Consequently, Hoar only managed to retain a handful of loyal students, and after Commencement in 1674, so few students returned to the College that drastic action was taken: Hoar took a pay cut, all other paid employees were laid off, and the students dissipated until only three remained by mid-November.51 Not surprisingly, Hoars time as President of Harvard ended shortly thereafter. He resigned on March 15, 1675, and he died at the relatively young age of forty-five on November 28, 1675.52 His vision of a chemically revolutionized Harvard had not come to pass, and we can only guess why: perhaps he had asked too much; perhaps he was too much of a visionary; perhaps he had arrived a decade too early.53 Indeed, the kind of scientific mindset that Harvard lacked when Hoar took over would be provided ten years later by the curricular contributions of Charles Morton.

48 49

Ibid., 401-402. Ibid., 404. 50 Ibid., 405. 51 Ibid., 407. 52 Ibid., 408. 53 Newman, conversation, 23 November 2003.


Charles Morton and Harvard Curriculum

The natural philosophy of Charles Morton (1627-1698) brought alchemy into explicit discussion in Harvard curriculum and it had an effect, for extracts from his natural philosophy are found among Gershom Bulkeleys manuscripts, even though Bulkeley had graduated from Harvard decades earlier.54 Mortons own education began when he entered Queens College, Cambridge, in 1646.55 He grew disgruntled with the situation there, however, and he moved to Oxford in 1648, where he received his BA in 1649 and his MA in 1652.56 At this time, Oxford was much more friendly to experimental science than Cambridge, and this outlook shaped Mortons intellectual views greatly.57 In 1675, Morton opened an academy for dissenters that is, those who refused to conform to the Church of England58 at his suburban London home at Newington Green.59 Mortons academy gained fame as one of the best preparatory schools in England, due no doubt to his teaching and his textbooks, at least some of which he wrote himself. While teaching, Morton also continued to pursue the experimental sciences, and in 1676 he even contributed a short paper to the Royal Society.60 In 1685 Increase Mather wrote to Morton on behalf of the First Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, asking him to be the pastor.61 Morton accepted, and he arrived in Boston in June 1686. His influence on Harvard began immediately, for Morton
54 55

HMS MSS 2. Introduction to Charles Morton, Compendium Physicae, in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. 33 (Boston: Published by the Society, 1940), ix. 56 Ibid., x. 57 Ibid., xi. 58 Ibid., xv. 59 Ibid., xvi. 60 Ibid., xiv. His paper, The Improvement of Cornwall by Sea-Sand, is Royal Society Volume X, 1676, 293-6. 61 Mortons Compendium Physicae, xix.


began to give private lectures, drawing students away from the College until Harvard forced him to stop.62 He had brought his textbooks with him, though, and these were copied and studied voraciously at Harvard. Mortons most influential text at Harvard was his Compendium Physicae. The Compendium covers such topics as physics, matter theory and metals. It seems to have been very popular, for it was adopted at Harvard shortly after his arrival the earliest known copy at Harvard dates from 1687, and Morison notes that the number of scientific theses at Harvard rose as soon as Morton arrived.63 An inscription inside a manuscript of Mortons Compendium Physicae shows the degree of success that Morton had achieved. The dedication reads: To the memory of the learned Author Mr. Charles Morton. 1680. Intended then but written in the year 1712 1713. The inscription is followed by verse which declares Morton to be Worthy of glass or marble to have stood / ought sure in the records of fame to live / as long as perishing paper life can give.64 Clearly, Morton and his ideas were respected at Harvard in the seventeenth century.65 As we will see, he had a deep knowledge of Aristotle, Boyle, and the two millennia of scientific development in between.

Mortons Compendium Physicae


Ibid., xxiv. Morton could not have been too angry with the College, though, because he was named a Vice-President in 1697. He died the following year. 63 Ibid., xxiii. 64 Morton MS, A Synopsis of Naturall Philosophy according to the Method of the Ancients but improved and augmented with the Notions of Later Philosophers by Charles Morton, M.A., 1680, facing title page, Harvard University Archives. 65 In fact, Mortons text was used at Harvard at least until 1728. Mortons Compendium Physicae, xxxi.


Physics had finally found a secure and sizable place in Harvards curriculum upon Charles Mortons arrival in New England.66 Morton was an influential and respected teacher, and physics played a primary role in his understanding of the world. Indeed, the central role of matter theory in seventeenth-century science and natural philosophy is reflected in the position that Morton takes in his very first passage of his Compendium Physicae. In his preface, Morton says, the End and last design of the science it self is to enable a man to contemplate and meditate upon the nature of bodyes, the same may be said of all other sciences.67 In other words, he believes that sciences such as physics exist to aid the exploration of matter theory which is, in turn, inextricably linked to the study of alchemy through its concern with the particulars of chemical and material change. Morton begins his discussion of matter theory by summarizing Aristotles physics. For example, he adopts the four common Aristotelian elements of fire, water, earth, and air to explain the compositions of all simple bodies.68 He also discusses the Aristotelian qualities and properties of the elements, but, like Bulkeley, he makes it clear that he does not accept them at face value. For example, he writes, Water is defind (by the Antients) an Element most cold, and humid, (or Moist) Air (by them) was Said to be most Humid, and yet (say they) water [moistens] more than Air because of its more crass parts whereby it better adheres to the thing to be moistened.69 Here, Morton pays homage to ancient philosophers like Aristotle by repeating their ideas; at the same time, however, he distances himself through his parenthetical insertions. He also employs a

66 67

Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, 224. Morton, Compendium Physicae, 3. 68 Morton MS, 40. 69 Compendium Physicae, 53.


key word: air is made up of parts, the minima naturalia of the Summa Perfectionis. This is significant because Morton has now shown us the basis for his alchemical matter theory. Of course, alchemy would be possible even under an Aristotelian system; the concepts of matter and form ensure this. In order to transmute metals, one has only to manipulate the forms present in an object. Specifically, in manipulating the matter and form of metals, Morton is like many alchemists referring to mercury and sulphur, respectively.70 Morton specifies that Chymists say all metalls are specifically the same, only these 2 great principles of constitution (sulfur which hath more of Earth and mercury more congenial to water; according to the various combinations of those in quantity and quality and their different purity or concoction) give the various differences, which we call the kinds of metals.71 The theory of matter and form provides the alchemical idea that transmutation is possible due to a common underlying matter. Even if metals consist of a common matter, though, one still has to explain the chemical change involved in transmutation. To this end, Morton goes a step beyond Aristotle by espousing a particulate and pore-driven philosophy of matter. Discussing fire, he says that smoke and steam is a mixture of the lighter and more volatile parts of water, salt, and sulphur, while earth and fixed salt are left behind as ashes.72 Mortons discussion of the action of bloodstone is an especially interesting one. His description is striking for its particulate nature he explains that particles from the stone emanate

As an example of the principle, an especially simple such transmutation recipe, the final entry in John Frederick Houpreght, Aurifontina Chymica (London: William Cooper, 1680), reads: Sublime [mercury] from his Earthly substance [the ore cinnabar], and then dissolve him into his former substance: then if it be to the Red Work take Sol, if it be to the White Work take Luna [i.e., take gold or silver, depending on what you want to make], and dissolve it in the said Mercury, until they be both one Mercury, which will not be without Putrefaction; then separate the Elements, and decoct them according to their due proportion. 71 Morton MS, 162. 72 Ibid., 52.


through the pores of a victims wound, cause blood to clot by imparting some property from the particles or their motion, and they then emanate back through the victims pores and return to the stone.73 This is not an isolated concept; in Mortons system, even particles of metal can float around and wander through pores. For example, he includes an entire section on golds Attraction of mercuriall and arsenick steams in a wonderfull manner.74 For Morton, chemical and physical changes occur because of changes with particles. In addition to being familiar with the ancients such as Aristotle, Morton is knowledgeable about the contemporary scientists of his time, as would be expected of a man who had published a paper with the Royal Society. For example, he cites Robert Boyle on the origin of gems, saying that they are made of only salt. 75 He also seems greatly influenced by van Helmonts idea that all things are composed of water.76 When Mortons discussion later turns to stones, for instance, he says that their 1st matter is fluor or water in which is dispersed some nitre of the earth; this solution by quiet, cold, and the fixing nature of salt becomes hard.77 The discussion of nitre perhaps also shows that Morton was familiar with the alchemical writings of Sendivogius or one of his intellectual inheritors. Beyond Mortons chemically-driven matter theory, there are many other passages which suggest Morton had more than a passing interest in alchemy. In one story, for example, he names alchemists explicity, saying that gold is the soul of every metall, and

73 74

Ibid., 155. Ibid., 164. 75 Compendium Physicae, 115n. 76 Newman, 110. 77 Morton MS, 164.


extractable in small quantity from each of you.78 Morton elaborates, saying that he had heard of a Dutch captain who was able to extract enough gold to make a ring out of a pool of tin simply by placing a rod into it and collecting the metal that stuck to it. This story is interesting because it shows an interest in gold extraction, a typical alchemical goal. Such a statement reflects alchemical interest in England and the colonies, and it could only encourage more. Morton also knows of the Philosophers Stone and its possible applications. For example, he speaks of the artifice of gold by Alchymy being capable not only of the transmutation of all metalls into gold, but also of curing the Leprosityes of those so afflicted. He says, This operation is called finding the Philosopher's Stone, and he goes on to name men he believes have done it, such as Ramon Lull, Paracelsus, van Helmont, and a group of Venetians.79 Morton is clearly aware of alchemy, its chief aims, its constructed history, and even some of the popular gossip about it at the time, as evidenced by the reference to Venice. Thus, in the use of Mortons text in Harvards curriculum, we see the integration of explicitly alchemical content and matter theory with more conventional natural philosophy and such a view was disseminated widely, for a copy of An Extract of Mr. Charles Mortons System of Phylosophy80 can be found in Gershom Bulkeleys manuscript collection.

78 79

Ibid., 165. Ibid., 166. 80 HMS MSS 2.


Chapter 3: The Transmission of Alchemical Knowledge in the 17th Century

Having seen in the previous chapter that the alchemy in New England had firm intellectual roots, we may now turn to discovering how those roots originated by examining the production and transmission of seventeenth-century alchemical knowledge. This will involve looking at what knowledge is and how it becomes valid, as well as examining the basis for an investigators scientific authority in the seventeenth century. From there, we will consider different ways in which this knowledge is transmitted, including a model for information transmission in the New World analogous to systems previously proposed for Europe. This chapter will also bring us back to Gershom Bulkeley once more, for he was a firmly embedded node in New Englands lively and complex network of alchemical knowledge transmission.

The Formation of Scientific Knowledge

Before any alchemical knowledge could be transmitted to Gershom Bulkeley in Connecticut, it had to first be established as legitimate scientific knowledge. That is, before we can consider the transmission of scientific knowledge, we must first look at questions of how knowledge is made and how that knowledge could come to be considered authoritative. Thankfully, the seventeenth century has elicited much scholarship in these fields, for it marked an important transition period in the history of


science.1 The beginning of the century saw such works as Francis Bacons New Atlantis, which envisioned a closed scientific collective within society that would gather facts and interpret them, leading to discoveries that would benefit society.2 At the time, even the concept of scientific fact divorced from its context was new. Previous Aristotelian ideas held that nature followed a usual course rather than hard laws, a system wherein the concept of a fact could not exist. Bacon instead focused on apparent anomalies as important indicators of natures ways; he also believed that one could separate the fact of an occurrence from any theory as to why it may have happened. This new science led to new problems in an era when even the idea of a fact was new, investigators were making inferences about nature based on experimentally obtained facts, but they could not conduct all of the possible experiments individually. This meant that they were necessarily relying on elements such as hearsay to provide what they hoped were objective facts.3 How was an investigator to tell which facts could be trusted? Recent scholarship has shown that reports of fact were usually deemed trustworthy based more on social factors than on scientific ones. Many citizens of the

The seventeenth century marks the latter part of a period that has long been known as the Scientific Revolution. Steven Shapin, in The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 1, 3, says, There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, but by this he does not mean that it was not a period of great change. Rather, he means to reject even the notion that there was any single coherent cultural entity called science in the seventeenth century to undergo revolutionary change. Instead, there existed a diverse array of cultural practices aimed at understanding, explaining, and controlling the natural worked, each with different characteristics and each experiencing different modes of change. I consider this view cutting-edge. Even textbooks that take a more conservative viewpoint and assume the semantic utility of a Scientific Revolution still respond to Shapin. They ask the question So, if there was no science at the time of the Scientific Revolution what was there? and then put forth the answer, There was something called natural philosophy, John Henry, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science, 2nd Ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 4. 2 See Jerry Weinberger, ed., Francis Bacon: New Atlantis and The Great Instauration (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1989). 3 See Lorraine Daston, Baconian Facts, Academic Civility, and the Prehistory of Objectivity, Annals of Scholarship 8, no. 3/4 (1991): 337-363, for the invention of facts and the problem of hearsay. As Daston quotes on her page 339, Thomas Hobbes reflected the spirit of the time when he said, The register of knowledge of Fact is called History, in Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), Part 1, Chapter 9. Shapin, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, also discusses matters of fact.


seventeenth-century thought that a lack of education indicated utilitarian knowledge and also a lack of knowledge of or adherence to any particular theory.4 Importantly, the converse was also thought to be true: upper-class refinement5 could be taken to indicate knowledge of abstract ideas associated with the mechanisms of the natural world. In this case, a man could be called a gentleman and a scholar, and the two compliments given him were to some degree synonymous.6 This idea is reiterated and expanded upon in Steven Shapins A Social History of Truth, which argues that gentlemanly status ensured an investigators social and moral standing, and thereby also his trustworthiness. Further, status as a gentleman safeguarded the investigator against charges of mercenary interest, which might be leveled at him were he a tradesman with low social status.7 We see the exception that proves the rule in Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Hooke was without doubt a smart and creative man he helped plan the rebuilding of London after the fire of 1666; he made important contributions to scientific instrument technology; and he helped establish the scientific authority of the Royal Society.8 However, he did not travel the gentlemanly route in his pursuit of natural philosophy as a youth, due to physical infirmity, he spent more time apprenticing with local craftsmen

In this capacity having no adherence to theory the unlearned could be sometimes be used as worthy witnesses, for they would report an objective account of the fact. They lacked the social standing to opine on the facts, however. 5 Although I focus only on social standing, the etiquette expected to accompany this standing was also important see Mario Biagioli, Etiquette, Interdependence, and Sociability in Seventeenth-Century Science, Critical Inquiry 22, no. 2 (Winter 1996): 193-238. 6 Steven Shapin, The Problematic Identity of the Scientific Practitioner in Early Modern England, History of Science 29 (1991): 279-327. 7 See Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Trust and credibility were very important to establishing any kinds of new knowledge about the natural world in the seventeenth century; for an example with geographical knowledge, see C. W. J. Withers, Reporting, Mapping, Trusting: Making Geographical Knowledge in the Late Seventeenth Century, Isis 90, no. 3 (September 1999): 497-521. 8 Stephen Inwood, The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke (London: Macmillan, 2002), ix.


than in school.9 Thus, although he showed great ability in constructing devices, he lacked the philosophical training that a gentleman might receive through an Oxford or Cambridge education. Consequently, when Hooke went to work in Robert Boyles lab at Oxford, and when he was later named Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society, he had a lower social standing than his colleagues, who could still view Hookes job as more menial or mechanical and less philosophical than their own. Perhaps this is why Isaac Newton seemed to hate Hookes letters even as they pushed him to address important questions, and why the Hooke-Newton correspondence is often read on the assumption that Hooke was a cantankerous and friendless troublemaker, while, In reality, Newton possessed many of the characteristics usually ascribed to Hooke.10 Just as gentlemanly status could support ones scientific claims, a lack of gentlemanly status could only hurt them. Gentlemanly status could also be transferred to a group, as with the collective authority of the Royal Society,11 or the same kind of authority found within with a university or a religious order. In fact, simply being Christian also lent moral quality and therefore a greater degree of trustworthiness to an individual. Robert Boyle, for example, led an immensely useful life as a publicly recognized Christian gentleman.12 He was heavily involved in the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England (the New England Company) even while devoting much time to the Royal Society.13 It was very useful for people to know about his devout nature because it helped him gain more
Ibid., 3-11. Ibid., 298-299. 11 We must not forget, of course, that much of the Royal Societys authority came from the fact that it had the word Royal in its name it operated under a royal charter and also drew authority from its association with the monarch. 12 Shapin, A Social History of Truth, 156. 13 John D. Burton, Crimson Missionaries: Harvard College and the Robert Boyle Trust, Masters Thesis, William and Mary, 1989. Held in the Harvard University Archives.
10 9


credibility and be taken even more seriously than he otherwise would have been. Due to his social standing, his scientific affiliations, and even his religion, Boyles ideas constituted quintessential authoritative knowledge.

Networks and Intelligencers

After the creation and legitimization of knowledge, we can discuss the transmission of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century. It is tempting to believe that knowledge arose inside scientific groups such as the Royal Society after little or no discussion with the outside world; this view of scientific development portrays a select group of well-known gentlemen investigators researching nature and legitimating their claims to one another, perhaps only later communicating the now-certain matters of fact to others. Some recent scholarship has reacted against this idea that the experimental philosophy of the seventeenth century developed within closed circles, where scientific information flowed only through strong (i.e., close and personal) ties. Instead, it seems the lines of communication were in fact more open networks.14 Under this model, scientific groups were in constant communication with many different sources outside or tangent to their own circle those to whom they had only weak ties. For example, when the scholars David Lux and Harold Cook consider the correspondence of Henry Oldenburg (c.1615-1677), Secretary of the Royal Society from 1662-1677, they see a nuanced landscape of intellectual communication. Oldenburg maintained a complex network of contacts in his quest to gather


For this distinction I am drawing upon David S. Lux and Harold J. Cook, Closed Circles or Open Networks?: Communicating at a Distance During the Scientific Revolution, History of Science 36 (1998): 179-211.


knowledge for the Royal Society. He did not restrict himself to recording the socially legitimated claims of the members of the Royal Society, with whom he shared strong social ties; rather, he cast his net far and wide with relatively weak contacts and acquaintances on the Continent in an attempt to learn of the latest experimental findings. For example, he received regular updates from French scholars such as Henri Justel (1620-1693) and Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721).15 Lux and Cook note the conversational quality of the correspondence between these men and Oldenburg even though he did not have close, personal ties with the two men, he clearly placed great faith in the information they sent. Thus, although the dichotomy of strong versus weak ties may be used to delineate local groups such as the Royal Society from their contacts on the Continent, they are all part of a larger web of information transmission. Weak ties are important because they serve to maintain the flow of information as an open network rather than containing it within isolated closed circles. For example, Oldenburg learned of a cure for the gout because he was acquainted with Constantijn Huygens, who had relayed to Oldenburg news published in the Netherlands by the son of Hermann Busschoff, a Calvinist Minister in the Dutch East Indies who had learned it from a local healer.16 This relay of information through successive weak ties proved invaluable for the rapid transmission of scientific information. To prove by counterexample, one also sees the diminution of Oldenburgs ability to obtain scientific information from France once the Paris Academy of Sciences came into being the official policy of secrecy of the Academy not only stymied Oldenburgs ability to get

15 16

Ibid., 189. Ibid., 183.


information from France, but it also stifled the scientific activity of the Academy itself.17 With rigid walls drawn, and closed circles truly attained, the whole system of transmission of scientific knowledge had broken down.18 Thanks to the artificial dissolution of weak ties, the Royal Society effectively lost scientific communication with France.19 Such weak ties were clearly indispensable to the dissemination of knowledge in the seventeenth century.20 Oldenburg and the models discussed so far are important for our understanding of how information spread from England to the New World. However, how are we to apply models constructed for regions with formal scientific societies to ones where such societies are lacking, such as the colonies in the late seventeenth century? I believe that we can adjust for this if we make a single conceptual addition: before the coming of formal scientific societies, a man in a position analogous to Oldenburgs has been termed

17 18

Ibid., 199-200. This phenomenon has not always been perceived. For example, one early historian of science in the seventeenth century saw the Royal edict for the creation of the Paris Academy of Sciences as giving a more enduring form to their previous organization. See Martha O. Bronfenbrenner, The Role of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century (Ph.D. thesis, Columbia, 1913; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938), 91. 19 In this way perhaps history is fortunate that the Royal Society did not have such strict boundaries drawn up around it. To be sure, some of its members, such as Robert Hooke, believed that a close-knit, secret society with restricted membership, like the Paris Academy of Sciences, was preferable to the more open structure of the Royal Society. In the end, though, the same lack of funding that kept the Royal Society from emulating the Paris Academy of Sciences also served to keep its doors open, as the Society opened its doors to collect larger amounts of membership fees. See Michael Hunter, Establishing the New Science: The Experience of the Early Royal Society (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1989). 20 Looking to a religious order for another example, we can also see that the Jesuits formed this kind of organic network, reliant upon weak ties, for the transmission of knowledge. Jesuit academics on foreign missions interacted with local peoples and also investigated nature themselves; they then transmitted this information back to Europe for dissemination. Thus the information gathered by the missionaries was surely transmitted via strong ties to their brethren in Europe, but this knowledge would have gone nowhere else, and indeed might not have existed in the first place, without the weak ties forged between the missionaries and the local peoples, and also between the Jesuits in Europe and their scientific contacts there. See Steven J. Harris, Jesuit Ideology and Jesuit Science: Scientific Activity in the Society of Jesus, 1540-1773 (Ph.D. Thesis, Wisconsin-Madison, 1988; Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 2001), 129, 258, 273. For greater detail of knowledge transmission topology, see Harris, Mapping Jesuit Science: The Role of Travel in the Geography of Knowledge, in The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 15401773, ed. J. W. OMalley et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 212-240.


an intelligencer.21 An intelligencer would not belong to a formally established scientific group, but he would correspond widely and gather as much knowledge as possible, then communicate it to other people. In this way the intelligencer held together the informal local scientific and philosophical networks of his region. The prototypical intelligencer is Samuel Hartlib (c1600-1662), whose contemporaries saw him as the hub of the axletree of knowledge.22 Hartlib, who settled in England after graduating from Cambridge, believed that England needed an Office of Address, or a government-run knowledge collection and re-distribution center. This kind of institution did not come to pass in his lifetime, however, and he instead dedicated most of his life to its cause. He saw it as his calling to disseminate information,23 and consequently left behind a massive amount of manuscript correspondence concerning the acquisition and transmission of information. To this end, Hartlib, with his multitude of both weak ties and strong ties, was the most important node in a network connecting many scientific circles. For example, he acted as the center of the circle connecting the alchemically-minded Robert Boyle and George Starkey.24 He used such ties and connections to become the consummate intelligencer a hub of knowledge who compiled as much information as he could from his connections and re-distributed it in turn.


Mark Greengrass, Archive Refractions: Hartlibs Papers and the Workings of an Intelligencer, in Archives of the Scientific Revolution: The Formation and Exchange of Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Europe, ed. Michael Hunter (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1998), 35-47. 22 Greengrass, 20, quoting G.H. Turnbull, Samuel Hartlib: A Sketch of his Life and his Relations to J.A. Comenius (London, 1920). 23 John T. Young, Faith, Medical Alchemy and Natural Philosophy: Johann Moriaen, Reformed Intelligencer, and the Hartlib Circle (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998), 75. 24 For a focus on Starkey, see Newman, Gehennical Fire, 54-84.


Intelligencer as Model for the Colonies

I have focused on Hartlibs role as an intelligencer in pre-Royal Society England because I believe that he, even more than information gatherers for formal societies such as Henry Oldenburg, provides an interesting model through which we can interpret the transmission of information in the colonies. Specifically, I believe that one can cast John Winthrop, Jr., as the local intelligencer of the American colonies. As previously discussed, Winthrop had collected the largest-known scientific library in the colonies at the time. Like Hartlib, he clearly had a voracious appetite for collecting and compiling vast amounts of information about the natural world. He also had a large network of both close personal friends and also more distant acquaintances people with whom he lived and worked, and those whom he may have visited or simply corresponded with. I have, for instance, already discussed Winthrops trip 1642 to visit Johann Rist, a German poet who was interested in alchemy.25 It was through such visits as these that Winthrop built his network of acquaintances. Once Winthrop had built his network, he maintained it by corresponding with a multitude of people about alchemical subjects. For example, Winthrop had a relatively strong tie to Johann Sibert Kuffler, a childhood friend.26 Winthrop sent Kuffler a letter dated August 20, 1659, asking Whether you know Helmonts Alkahest... I doe not desire that matter of secresy should be committed to a letter... But only to know the reality of such things to your understanding in whose word I can confide.27 The letter is clearly an

25 26

Jantz, Americas First Cosmopolitan, 6-7. Ibid., 8. 27 Ibid., 8.


attempt to gather knowledge, and it pertains to a serious alchemical pursuit.28 However, it is not by itself evidence for Winthrop as an intelligencer. Larger and wider alchemical ties would be needed to support an assertion that Winthrop played an important role in the transmission of knowledge from Europe to the colonies. We find such evidence in Winthrops ties to the scientific circles of England. Winthrop corresponded directly with both George Starkey, who wrote him a letter in 1648 asking if Winthrop had any extra mercury or antimony,29 and also with Samuel Hartlib.30 This direct connection to the Hartlib Circle means that Winthrop did not merely solicit alchemical knowledge from close friends, but likely acted as a regional collection and distribution center for information. Furthermore, when Winthrop returned to the colonies from London in 1663, he took with him an informal commission as the Royal Societys correspondent for North America, and he began communicating with Henry Oldenburg and Robert Boyle.31 The information he sent could be judged trustworthy, based on his social class his father was governor of Massachusetts, and he later governed Connecticut himself. Thus, Winthrop was just the person who would be accepted rather easily by an English intellectual circle, and he drew upon his position as a hub in the complex networks of Hartlib and Oldenburg to play the role of intelligencer for the colonies.


In alchemical writing, an alkahest is a universal solvent. Such a substance would greatly simplify alchemical recipes. However, it often begged the question, if an alkahest could dissolve anything, what would you store it in? 29 Newman, Gehennical Fire, 40. 30 Jantz, 8. The letter to Samuel Hartlib is dated December 16, 1659. Jantz uses it to show that Winthrop was still a seeker and not an adept, thereby ruling him out as a possible author of the tracts by the pseudonymous Eirenaeus Philalethes. 31 Black III, The Younger John Winthrop, 307.


Bulkeley as Important Node

Having traced a hypothetical packet of knowledge through its generation, acceptance, and transmission through the scientific communication networks of the seventeenth century to John Winthrop in the colonies, we now find ourselves back at Gershom Bulkeleys doorstep, for he was a close alchemical contact of Winthrops. Bulkeley corresponded with Winthrop and was aware of Winthrops iatrochemical preparations.32 After Winthrops death Bulkeley even spent time as a medical advisor to his children.33 This makes Bulkeley only one step removed from the chemical transactions of the Hartlib Circle. Additionally, he was clearly familiar with alchemical developments in England his manuscript collection includes a few items taken out of the History of the Royall Society of London34 as well as chemical observations from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.35 Therefore, I believe that Bulkeleys role in knowledge transmission warrants further study because he represents an important example of a secondary node in a communication network of scientific information. Continuing one more step in our outward trace, then, we will see that Bulkeley also played an important role in the network, corresponding with many people about alchemy and medicine. Bulkeleys extant manuscripts show that he corresponded with many colonists about alchemical topics. One letter, from a Mr. Johannes Potter, describes a process of glazing and mending broken earthen vessels, using clay, water, rye, and lead, and then

32 33

Jodziewicz, 21. Newman, Gehennical Fire, 44. 34 HMS MSS 19, 27. 35 HMS MSS 3.


putting the vessel into the fire.36 Bulkeley also communicated with a Dr. James Oliver of Cambridge; at the end of a transcription of a Latin work entitled Arcana Philosophia, Bulkeley copied a letter from Oliver dated May 26, 1701, which he notes pertains to the 12th chapter of the text (compounded vegetable menstruums, or solvents).37 Oliver shares multiple medicinal remedies, one of which is for a medicine called Crocus metallorum in wine which he makes through sublimation and calcification and administers to treat a disordered stomach. Immediately following this letter, Bulkeley wrote that he found Olivers recipe to be a slow medicine, which made him a little more negligent in making it as late.38 These letters, and Bulkeleys note, are significant because they illustrate the active role that Bulkeley played in a lively local community of practicing alchemists. He was not part of a network that functioned solely to redistribute information it had obtained from contacts in England; rather, the transmission of information likely went both ways, as practitioners both in Europe and in the colonies exchanged information, carried out experiments, and sent their results and critiques to one another through their social network. One additional letter gives insight into the possible size of Bulkeleys alchemical network. The letter, which appears transcribed at the end of one of Bulkeleys manuscripts at the Hartford Medical Society, is a recipe for making Indian matt. from Mr. Tho. Hooker Minister at Hartford in Connecticutt.39 This is undoubtedly the very same Thomas Hooker who knew Bulkeleys father Peter well and had worked

HMS MSS 17, 380. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. Page 209 of Arcana Philosophia. 38 Page 211 of Arcana Philosophia. 39 HMS MSS 18, 565.



closely with him in the past.40 The two men had known each other since Gershom was a baby; Hooker had moderated a synod with Peter Bulkeley concerning the Antinomian controversy in 1637, during which Anne Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was a minister, yet here we see him writing about alchemical matters. We can only conclude that alchemy, even though schools did not formally teach it, was known to learned men in a diverse number of fields rather than being restricted to chemists or doctors alone. Bulkeley himself, after all, had begun as a minister and ended up two steps from Samuel Hartlib. Thus, the possible number of interested alchemical practitioners is no doubt much larger than the number we can currently fit definitively into Bulkeleys local network. Indeed, the possible depth and extent of Bulkeleys weaker alchemical contacts is staggering. For example, if we look at a medical account book from the end of his life, we find that he treated patients with chemical remedies, but one entrys consumption of antimony is so regular that one thinks Bulkeley may have been preparing the antimony and then selling it to another doctor.41 For example, in 1708 he appears to have sold medicines to Dr. Timothy Baker of Northampton on many occasions; this includes a few ounces of elixir of antimony every month from May to August.42 Was Bulkeley trading chemical preparations with other doctors in the region? This would further broaden the number of possible people with whom he could discuss alchemy. Throughout this discussion of knowledge transmission, one must keep in mind that Bulkeley did not correspond about alchemy for abstract purposes; he regularly
40 41

Jodziewicz, 6. HMS MSS 12. Note: only alternating pages are numbered. The book covers April 25, 1708 to March 9, 1714. The last few entries have different handwriting; this is likely because Gershom was dead (he died in 1713). 42 Ibid., 6.


administered chemicals to his patients. Chemicals are omnipresent throughout the account book. Bulkeley lists many elixirs and pills containing mercury and antimony which he administered to patients such as a Cale Micks of New Haven (May 1708),43 as well as a Richard Goodman Hary, who received antimony on June 23, 1708,44 and a Mr. Daniel Brown of Springfield who, in 1708, received iron in August and antimony in October.45 The knowledge that made its way through the network to Bulkeley was put to practical use, not just kept in books. I have thus far sketched the outline of a model for the communication and transmission of information to and from New England, with a focus on Gershom Bulkeleys node in particular. The model, roughly, traces information through a social communication network from its generation anywhere in the Western world, be it on the European Continent, in England, or in the colonies, to its collection by intelligencers such as Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg, and then through its redistribution to smaller nodal points such as John Winthrop and Gershom Bulkeley. This model could easily be interpreted in a hierarchical fashion, especially given the need for the investigator of nature to have gentlemanly status in Europe in order to be taken seriously. I wish to dispel this notion, for at least in New England, there is no easy hierarchy into which one can fit the alchemical practitioner-correspondents.46 For example, Hartlib served as a quintessential intelligencer while alive, and he corresponded with Winthrop, who in turn exchanged knowledge with Bulkeley. But we are dealing with a network, not a tree, so it
Ibid., 2. Ibid., 4. 45 Ibid., 10. 46 For the philosophically-minded, the non-hierarchical network of alchemical communication approaches the rhizome of Giles Deleuze and Flix Guattari. In their conception, a rhizome system obeys several principles, including those of connection and heterogeneity, which hold that any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. See Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (London: Athlone, 1988), 7.
44 43


should come as no surprise that Bulkeley also had a direct connection to London in the form of his brother-in-law Isaac Chauncy.

Connection to Chauncy
Bulkeleys connection to Chauncy is an interesting example of a strong tie acting at a distance. The connection existed because Bulkeley had married Sarah Chauncy, daughter of Harvard president Charles Chauncy.47 Sarahs brother Isaac lived in London, where most of the books read in England and the colonies were published. The most obvious evidence for Bulkeleys alchemical connection to Isaac Chauncy comes in the form of a letter, dated April 14, 1695, in which Isaac discusses the proper care of chemical glassware, such as careful handling, coating with clay to avoid breakage, and luting the mouth properly.48 Isaacs writing thus illustrates the fact that both men were involved in the practice of alchemy, for issues of proper equipment care seem mutually interesting. The letter, though it shows the exchange of ideas, does not reveal the entire connection. In his manuscript collection, Bulkeley had transcriptions of a multitude of English books on alchemy. Where did he get them? To answer this question, we need to begin with The Works of the Highly Experienced and Famous Chymist, John Rudolph Glauber,49 published in London by William Cooper in 1689. Inside the book, a catalogue is given of subscribers names, and the list includes an Isaac Chancy, M.D.50 This

Jodziewicz, 6. HMS MSS 17, 377-378. 49 Thomas Milbourn, ed., The Works of the Highly Experienced and Famous Chymist, John Rudolph Glauber (London: D. Newman and W. Cooper, 1689). 50 Coopers Glauber, viii, but not paginated.



means that Chauncy pursued alchemy to the extent that he helped raise the funds for the publishing of alchemical works, and also that he would have easily been able to acquire these works and send copies of them to Bulkeley in New England. Bulkeley cited Glauber frequently, and it seems likely that his discussions of distilling, oils of the metals, and the like, utilized a copy of Glauber obtained from Isaac Chauncy as a source. Additionally, the end of the printed Glauber book closes with an advertisement for the Opera Omina of van Helmont Cooper could thus be the origin of Bulkeleys van Helmont transcription as well. Further proof for the Bulkeley-Chauncy-Cooper connection is found in the work of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1655). In 1682, Cooper helped publish a posthumous Collection of rare Secrets and Experiments in Philosophy; as also Rare and unheard-of Medicines, Menstruums, and Alkahests attributed to Digby.51 Digby had been a member of the Hartlib Circle,52 and his book of secrets had been collected during the 1650s and 1660s, when the Circle was at its most productive.53 In Bulkeleys manuscripts, one also finds the collected Chymicall Secrets of Sir Kenelm Digby,54 and they read exactly the same. For example, both give the exact same recipe for the Philosophers Stone, complete with a word-for-word anecdote about the writers laboratory helper. It seems very likely that Chauncy supplied this book to Bulkeley. Given that so many of the alchemical texts Bulkeley became familiar with were printed in London such as the 1678 printing for Cooper of Starkeys Ripley Revivd it seems

A Choice Collection of rare Secrets and Experiments in Philosophy; as also Rare and unheard-of Medicines, Menstruums, and Alkahests; with the True Secret of Volatilizing the fixt Salt of Tartar, collected by Sir Kenelm Digby, published by George Hartman, to be sold by William Cooper (London, 1682). 52 Betty Jo Dobbs, Studies in the Natural Philosophy of Sir Kenelm Digby: Part II, Digby and Alchemy, Ambix 20, no. 3 (November 1973): 143-163. 53 Betty Jo Dobbs, Studies in the Natural Philosophy of Sir Kenelm Digby: Part III, Digby's Experimental Alchemy the Book of Secrets, Ambix 21, no. 1 (March 1974):1-28. 54 HMS MSS 18, 129.


very likely that Chauncy was not only interested in alchemy, but that he supplied books to Bulkeley on a regular basis as well.

The Chauncy Family

We have already seen that Gershom Bulkeley married into a family where his brother-in-law was able to provide him with the latest alchemical texts printed in London. Additionally, Isaacs brother Elnathan Chauncy became interested in alchemy while an undergraduate at Harvard in the late 1650s; he kept a commonplace book in which he wrote down selections from the alchemist Thomas Vaughan, for instance.55 Like Gershom Bulkeley and Isaac Chauncy, Elnathan Chauncy also became a physician. In fact, many of the Chauncys were physicians, including Charles Chauncy, father to Isaac and Elnathan, who was President of Harvard from 1654 to 1672. Medicine, and undoubtedly the iatrochemistry synonymous with it at the time, surrounded the Chauncy family just as the family surrounded Harvard in the seventeenth century. Does this mean that alchemy could have become a major University interest, even if it were never officially taught in the classroom? One scholar has already made similar speculations,56 and I believe that my research into the Bulkeley-Chauncy connection adds further weight to the Chauncy case.

55 56

Newman, Gehennical Fire, 45-46. Ibid., 46.



Alchemy and its practitioners in seventeenth-century New England were a far cry from the shadowy, magical world of Harry Potter. In the colonies, physicians such as Gershom Bulkeley took part in a lively alchemical community, practicing an alchemy that overlapped significantly with medicine as they prepared and employed chemical therapeutics. Bulkeleys Vade Mecum, a synthesis of his alchemical knowledge, demonstrates a feeling of mastery as it manipulates and chooses from different alchemical sources. The position of unofficial Royal Society correspondent held by John Winthrop, Jr., and also the influence exerted on European alchemists by George Starkey, further shows that the ideas of colonial alchemists were taken seriously both in the colonies and in England. Harvard offered an institutionalized home for alchemy in the seventeenth century. Through its modicum of scholastic physics, students were introduced to the basics of matter theory; through the natural philosophy of Charles Morton, students were later introduced to alchemy itself. Starkey and John Allin offer ample evidence that alchemy was a serious pursuit of Harvard students prior to the incorporation of Mortons works into Harvard curriculum, and Bulkeley shows that this pursuit remained strong through the end of the century. Even Harvards Presidents played an active role in New Englands alchemical community Leonard Hoars alchemical vision was not realized, but Charles Chauncys administration lasted for almost twenty years. All of these practitioners took part in a complex network of alchemical knowledge transmission. John Winthrop, Jr., acted as an intelligencer, collecting and distributing


vast amounts of alchemical information between England and the colonies. Other practitioners, like Bulkeley, corresponded with contacts on both sides of the Atlantic as he sought knowledge and gave advice. He represents a vibrant, open alchemical community whose understanding is invaluable to provide a fuller picture of the historical landscape of alchemical development. To quote the historian of science Allen Debus: I know now that we cannot understand the Scientific Revolution without an understanding of the role played by chemistry. But I believe in the future, when we know more than we do now, that we will also be able to say that it is impossible to understand recent world history without a knowledge of the history of chemistry.1 Indeed, when conducting a proper study of alchemy, we cannot help but discuss such fundamental issues as the creation and transmission of scientific knowledge, both down through the years and also as a network of communicating practitioners. Knowledge of alchemy, even though it is no longer practiced as such, is nonetheless applicable to the scientific world of today.

Allen G. Debus, The Significance of Chemical History, Ambix 32, no. 1 (March 1985): 11.


Annotated Bibliography

Primary Sources
Digby, Sir Kenelm. A Choice Collection of rare Secrets and Experiments in Philosophy; as also Rare and unheard-of Medicines, Menstruums, and Alkahests; with the True Secret of Volatilizing the fixt Salt of Tartar. London: George Hartman and William Cooper, 1682. An alchemical treatise contained word-for-word in Gershom Bulkeleys notebooks (HMS MSS 18). Gershom Bulkeley Collection, Hartford Medical Society (HMS) Manuscript (MSS) Collection, Hartford, Connecticut. The 22 manuscripts of this collection contain a variety of English and Latin records and treatise transcriptions, almost all chemical. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 1. An iatrochemical encyclopedia by Johannes Henricus Alsted. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 2. An Extract of Mr. Charles Mortons System of Phylosophy. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 3. Contains chemical observations transcribed from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of the 1660s. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 4. Chemical log. First date 1679. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 5. Chemical notes from 1702-1707. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 6. Medical encyclopedia and recipe book.


Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 7. Long chemical treatise discussing the production and manipulation of alcalis. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 8. Contains theological notes and a medical encyclopedia. Thought to have been written in the early 1660s. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 9. An alchemical work on the nature of metals. Bad condition many pages missing. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 10. Pages with no extant binding. Discusses Hippocrates, Galen, and Aristotle. Possibly a transcription of van Helmont. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 12. A medical account book. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 14. Medical and chemical notes kept by Gershom and a family member. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 15. The Invoyce of Goods bought of Mr. Thomas Bulkeley, July 3, 1684. Merged with chemical notes. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 16. A transcription of Lazarus Riverus, Praxis Medica. Date of work given as 1660. Transcribed 1673. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 17. Includes two Latin volumes, a Chemica Rationali, Collecta, dated 1687, and a Praxis Chemiatrica Rationalis. Transcription dated 1694. Also includes 1695 letter from Isaac Chauncy of London. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 18. A collection of alchemical treatises, including Digbys Chymicall Secrets and


Rare Experiments In Physicke and Philosophy. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 19. Collection of treatises, including excerpts from the History of the Royall Society of London. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 20. A transcription of Medicine for Poor People. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 21. A tiny fragment out of a larger book concerning medicine and alchemy. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 22. Pharmacopoeia in Latin; transcription dated 1700. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 23. A small notepad of Medicall and Chymicall observations. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, HMS MSS 24. The Family Physician by George Hartman, physio-chemist, London, dated 1696. Not in Bulkeley's handwriting. Gershom Bulkeley Collection, Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. This collection includes the Vade Mecum, Bulkeleys synthesis of his medical and chemical knowledge, as well as two small medical handbooks, an account book, four pages of a medical log, a book on fevers, and another small Latin medical work. Houpreght, John Frederick. Aurifontina Chymica. London: William Cooper, 1680. Contains alchemical treatises attributed to authors such as Nicholas Flamel and George Ripley. Linden, Stanton J., ed. The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A well-rounded overview of alchemy through a collection of primary source material. Includes ancient texts, Islamic and medieval texts, and Renaissance and


seventeenth-century texts. This third part contains excerpts from practitioners such as Starkey, Boyle, and Newton. Milbourn, Thomas, ed. The Works of the Highly Experienced and Famous Chymist, John Rudolph Glauber. London: D. Newman and W. Cooper, 1689. Chemical treatises by Glauber. Important here for its listing of Isaac Chauncy on the subscribers page. Morton, Charles. Compendium Physicae. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. 33. Boston: Published by the Society, 1940. ________. A Synopsis of Naturall Philosophy according to the Method of the Ancients but improved and augmented with the Notions of Later Philosophers. Manuscript. 1680. Harvard University Archives. Both the printed and manuscript copies of Mortons manuscript demonstrate the type of natural philosophy taught at Harvard in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. New Englands First Fruits. Curriculum 1642 General Folder, Harvard University Archives. This page-sized chart lays out the study schedule of an undergraduate at Harvard in the middle of the seventeenth century. Sibley, John Langdon. John Allin. In Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, Vol. 1, 93-101. Cambridge, MA: Charles William Sever, 1873. Sibleys work contains many excerpts from Allins letters, unavailable elsewhere. Thomas and Rebecca Vaughans Aqua Vitae: Non Vitis. Donald R. Dickson, ed. And trans. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001. Their recipes reflect the influence of Sendivogiuss central nitre theory. Weinberger, Jerry, ed. Francis Bacon: New Atlantis and The Great Instauration. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1989. Bacons fictional New Atlantis is important to seventeenth-century science for its depiction of the House of Solomon, where empirical scientific facts both existed and were conceptually distinct from theory. Wigglesworth, Michael. MS Notebook. 1651. Harvard University Archives.


Contains his anti-Aristotelian commencement dissertation and also a Physicae Compendium in Latin, discussing matter theory, by Jonathan Mitchell.

Secondary Sources
Ahonen, Kathleen. Johann Rudolph Glauber: A Study of Animism in SeventeenthCentury Chemistry. Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan, 1972. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1994. A comprehensive look at the alchemy of Glauber, including both theory and practice, placing him within the alchemical tradition of neoplatonic animism. Atwood, Mary Anne. A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery. Belfast: William Tait, 1918. An influential work in popularizing the spiritual interpretation of alchemy. Sees alchemy as neoplatonic self-perfection. Barrett, Francis. The Magus. London: Lackington, Allen, and Co., 1801; Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1967. A complete system of occult philosophy. Discusses alchemy alongside such practices as numerology, astrology, and magic. Biagioli, Mario. Etiquette, Interdependence, and Sociability in Seventeenth-Century Science. Critical Inquiry 22, no. 2 (Winter 1996): 193-238. Deals with the social influences of scientific practice in the seventeenth century. Black III, Robert C. The Younger John Winthrop. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. A comprehensive biography of John Winthrop, Jr., which downplays his alchemical interests while emphasizing his interest in nature. Brockliss, Laurence. Curricula. In A History of the University in Europe, Vol. 2: Universities in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800, ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens, 565-620. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Discusses the curricular developments of European universities in the early modern period, including the seventeenth century. The volume as a whole provides a vast array of information about the European university, from student life to the impact of the Scientific Revolution.


Bronfenbrenner, Martha O. The Role of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia, 1913. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938. A somewhat dated look at European scientific societies in the seventeenth century. Includes discussions of Italian societies, the Royal Society, and the Paris Acadmie des Sciences. Burton, John D. Crimson Missionaries: Harvard College and the Robert Boyle Trust. Masters Thesis, William and Mary, 1989. Harvard University Archives. Discusses Robert Boyles involvement with the attempt to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Christianson, John Robert. On Tychos Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants, 15701601. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Takes a deep look at the life, work, and legacy of the respected astronomer Tycho Brahe, significant here for his Paracelsian scientific beliefs. Clymer, R. Swinburne. Alchemy and the Alchemists. Allentown, PA: The Philosophical Publishing Co., 1907. Follows the spiritual interpretation of alchemy, asserting that the first aim of the alchemist is the perfection of his own nature. Cohen, Sheldon S. A History of Colonial Education, 1607-1776. New York: Wiley & Sons, 1974. Gives an overview of both lower and higher education in the colonies. Coudert, Allison. Alchemy: The Philosophers Stone. London: Wildwood House, 1980. A popular work, strongly influenced by Jung and the spiritual interpretation of alchemy. Darnton, Robert. Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968. Describes Franz Anton Mesmer and the mystical approach to nature of his animal magnetism, or mesmerism, in late eighteenth-century France. Daston, Lorraine. Baconian Facts, Academic Civility, and the Prehistory of Objectivity. Annals of Scholarship 8, no. 3/4 (1991): 337-363. Examines the advent of the scientific fact and the social aspects of seventeenthcentury scientific practice.


Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Provides an overview of the period generally called the Scientific Revolution. Includes important background, context, and information on such important figures as Paracelsus, Bacon, and Newton. Debus, Allen G. Buintherius, Libavius and Sennert: The Chemical Compromise in Early Modern Medicine. In Science, Medicine, and Society in the Renaissance: Essays to honor Walter Pagel, ed. Allen G. Debus, Vol. 1, 151-165. New York: Science History Publications, 1972. Describes the compromise and mutual assimilation between the Galenic and Paracelsian schools of medicine. ________. The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Science History Publications, 1977; New York: Dover, 2002. Discusses Paracelsus, his philosophy, his impact, the debates surrounding his work, and his intellectual descendants. ________. Chemists, Physicians, and Changing Perspectives on the Scientific Revolution. Isis 89, no. 1 (March 1998): 66-81. An excellent essay which explores the historiography of the debates incurred by the Paracelsian chemical philosophy. ________. Paracelsianism and the Diffusion of the Chemical Philosophy in Early Modern Europe. In Paracelsus: The Man and his Reputation, His Ideas and Their Transformations, ed. Ole Peter Grell, 225-244. Boston: Brill, 1998. Follows the spread of Paracelsian medicine through Europe. The collection of essays contains works on the historical study of Paracelsus, the social and religious aspects of Paracelsus, and Paracelsian philosophical and medical practices and theories. ________. The Paracelsians in 18th Century France. Ambix 28, no. 1 (March 1981): 36-54. Another work by Debus describing the impact of Paracelsus and Paracelsian medicine. ________. The Significance of Chemical History. Ambix 32, no. 1 (March 1985): 1-14.


Discusses the history of chemistry and its importance for understanding the present as well as the past. Deleuze, Giles and Flix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Brian Massumi, trans. London: Athlone, 1988. A work of philosophy noteworthy here for its concept of the rhizome, akin to a non-hierarchical network in which each point is connected to every other point one possible approximation of knowledge transmission in the seventeenth century. Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter. The Foundations of Newtons Alchemy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975. An investigation of Newtons alchemical practice, which Dobbs sees as a religious endeavor distinct from Newtons mechanical philosophy. ________. Studies in the Natural Philosophy of Sir Kenelm Digby: Part II, Digby and Alchemy. Ambix 20, no. 3 (November 1973): 143-163. ________. Studies in the Natural Philosophy of Sir Kenelm Digby: Part III, Digby's Experimental Alchemy the Book of Secrets. Ambix 21, no. 1 (March 1974): 128. Studies of the life and alchemical practice of the seventeenth-century natural philosopher and alchemist Sir Kenelm Digby. Eliade, Mircea. The Forge and the Crucible. Stephen Corrin, trans. New York: Harper, 1962. ________. Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions: Essays in Comparative Religions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. Eliade popularized the interpretation of alchemy as a cross-cultural mythological and religious practice. Eliot, Alexander. The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others. New York: Penguin, 1976. An example of Mircea Eliades influence. Discusses universal mythic themes. Fitzmaurice, Andrew. Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


Sees humanism in all aspects of American colonization for example, the classical ideal of glory as an impetus for colonization itself. Gelman, Zahkar E. Angelo Sala, An Iatrochemist of the Late Renaissance. Ambix 41, no. 3 (November 1994): 142-160. Describes the life and work of Sala, a Paracelsian iatrochemist who sought to reconcile Galenic and Paracelsian medicine. Green, V. H. H. A History of Oxford University. London: B. T. Batsford, 1974. An overview of the history and development of Oxford University. Includes two chapters which discuss life and education at Oxford in the seventeenth century. Greengrass, Mark. Archive Refractions: Hartlibs Papers and the Workings of an Intelligencer. In Archives of the Scientific Revolution: The Formation and Exchange of Ideas in Seventeenth-Century Europe, ed. Michael Hunter, 35-47. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1998. Describes the vast holdings of the Hartlib archive. Haq, Syed Nomanul. Names, Natures, and Things: The Alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan and his Kitab al-Ahjar (Book of Stones). Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Robert S. Cohen, ed. Boston: Kluwer, 1994. A complex exposition of the interesting alchemical theory and practice of Jabir, who based his alchemical recipes upon the syllables of an ingredients name. Harris, Steven J. Jesuit Ideology and Jesuit Science: Scientific Activity in the Society of Jesus, 1540-1773. Ph.D. Thesis, Wisconsin-Madison, 1988. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 2001. ________. Mapping Jesuit Science: The Role of Travel in the Geography of Knowledge. In The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. J. W. OMalley, et al., 212-240. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. In these two works, Harris discusses Jesuit scientific activity in the early modern period. The thesis discusses the society, its ideology, and scientific practice; the journal article identifies Italy as the central node which transmitted scientific knowledge to, and received scientific knowledge from, missionaries traveling abroad. Heinecke, Berthold. The Mysticism and Science of Johann Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644). Ambix 42, no. 2 (July 1995): 65-78. Overview of the theories of van Helmont.


Henry, John. The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science, 2nd Ed. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Outlines the major figures of the Scientific Revolution and places the origins of modern science within the neoplatonic tradition of natural magic. Hitchcock, Ethan Allen. Alchemy and the Alchemists. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Company, 1857. Hitchcock, along with Mary Anne Atwood, helped popularize the spiritual interpretation of alchemy. Hopkins, Arthur John. Alchemy: Child of Greek Philosophy. New York: Columbia, 1934. Portrays alchemy as beginning with Greek philosophy and receiving its deathblow from Lavoisier; attempts to cover all major alchemists in between. Emphasizes a spiritual component of laboratory practice. Howell, Wilbur Samuel. Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700. New York: Russell and Russell, 1961. Discusses developments in logic in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Hunter, Michael. Establishing the New Science: The Experience of the Early Royal Society. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1989. Discusses the early Royal Society, including strategies for development and selfpromotion. Hurley, J. Finley. Sorcery. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. A very helpful work for the aspiring magician. Less helpful for the aspiring scholar. Enjoyable nonetheless. Inwood, Stephen. The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Strange and Inventive Life of Robert Hooke. London: Macmillan, 2002. A biography of Robert Hooke. Discusses in detail his dealings with the Royal Society. Defends Hooke from accusations of being self-centered or disagreeable and presents him as inventive and energetic. Jantz, Harold. America's First Cosmopolitan. In Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1972, Vol. 84, 3-25. Boston: Published by the Society, 1973.


A life of John Winthrop, Jr., which discusses his alchemical interests. Jodziewicz, Thomas W. A Stranger in the Land: Gershom Bulkeley of Connecticut. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1988. The American Philosophical Society: Independence Square, Philadelphia, 1988. 78(2). Examines the life of Gershom Bulkeley. Briefly covers his medical practice while focusing on his political views. Jung, C. G. Psychology and Alchemy. 2nd ed. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968. Jung assumes the spiritual interpretation of alchemy to be true and rationalizes alchemical writing by claiming that authors metaphors reflect psychic projections from the collective unconscious. Jungs arguments served as the primary impetus for infusing the spiritual interpretation of alchemy into alchemical scholarship of the twentieth century. King, Lester S. The Philosophy of Medicine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. Discusses the philosophy of medicine in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, including iatrochemistry and chemical physicians. Lindemann, Mary. Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Provides a good overview of many aspects of medicine in early modern Europe, including epidemics, medical education, medical practice, hospitals, and an introduction to Paracelsian medicine. Lloyd, G. E. R. Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle. New York: Norton, 1970. Outlines the theories of the major Greek philosophers. Lux, David S. and Harold J. Cook. Closed Circles or Open Networks?: Communicating at a Distance During the Scientific Revolution. History of Science 36 (1998): 179-211. Lux and Cook discuss the transmission of scientific knowledge, as well as the importance of weak ties binding together different scientific circles. Martin, Jr., Luther H. A History of the Psychological Interpretation of Alchemy. Ambix 22, no. 1 (March 1975): 10-20.


Traces the psychological interpretation of alchemy from Jungs predecessors to the late twentieth century. Merkur, Daniel. The Study of Spiritual Alchemy: Mysticism, Gold-Making, and Esoteric Hermeneutics. Ambix 37, no. 1 (March 1990): 33-45. Another discussion of spiritual or psychological alchemy. Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. The Tercentennial History of Harvard College and University, 1636-1936. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936. Morison is a historian of Harvard, and my knowledge of the College in the seventeenth century would have been nearly nonexistent if not for his valuable, comprehensive work. Newman, William R. The Background to Newtons Chymistry. In The Cambridge Companion to Newton, ed. I. B. Cohen and George E. Smith, 358-369. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Discusses the influence of George Starkeys corpuscular matter theory, which drew heavily upon van Helmont and Sendivogius, on the alchemy of Isaac Newton. ________. Boyles Debt to Corpuscular Alchemy. In Robert Boyle Reconsidered, ed. Michael Hunter, 107-118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Newman offers much the same analysis here with respect to Boyle as he does above for Isaac Newton, comparing Boyle to the medieval pseudo-Geber, whose matter theory influenced Starkey. ________. The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes. In Alchemy and Chemistry in the 16th and 17th Centuries, ed. Piyo Rattansi and Antonio Clericuzio, 161-182. Boston: Kluwer, 1994. ________. Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. Newman goes into great detail discussing both the matter theory espoused by Starkey and his pseudonym, Eirenaeus Philalethes, and their influence on alchemy in England. His historiographical approach is worthy of emulation. ________. Personal conversation. 23 November 2003. This is where Professor Newman pointed out Gershom Bulkeley to me as an


important figure in the history of alchemy who had not received serious study. My thesis would have been impossible without his advice. ________. Prophecy and Alchemy: The Origin of Eirenaeus Philalethes. Ambix 37, no. 3 (November 1990): 97-115. Identifies George Starkey as the author of the Philalethes corpus. ________. The Summa Perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber: A Critical Edition, Translation, and Study. New York: Brill, 1991. Newman offers a translation and analysis of the late thirteenth century alchemical text that spawned the corpuscular tradition of alchemy, which would influence not only Starkey and Newton but all of seventeenth-century alchemy. Newman, William R. and Lawrence M. Principe. Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake. Early Science and Medicine 3 (1998): 32-65. Outlines the reasons for the mistaken impression that alchemy and chemistry were distinct practices in the seventeenth century. Owens, Joseph. A History of Ancient Western Philosophy. New York: AppletonCentury-Crofts, 1959. Describes Greek philosophy, including Aristotle and his Physics. Pagel, Walter. Joan Baptista van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Discusses van Helmonts conception of nature, biology, and disease, but not matter theory. Pagel, Walter. Paracelsus. 2nd Ed. New York: Karger, 1982. Paracelsuss life, works, and philosophy. Pearsall, Ronald. The Alchemists. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976. A history of alchemy which equates alchemical theory with wish-fulfillment. Porto, Paulo Alves. Michael Sendivogius on Nitre and the Preparation of the Philosophers Stone. Ambix 48, no. 1 (March 2001): 1-16. The importance of saltpeter in the alchemical pursuits of Sendivogius.


Principe, Lawrence M. Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy. In Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry, ed. Frederic L. Holmes and Trevor H. Levere, 55-74. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. Proves that the language used by alchemists to describe their reaction vessels had a basis in what they actually saw and was not entirely metaphorical. Principe, Lawrence M. and William R. Newman. Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy. In Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, ed. Newman and Grafton, 385-431. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. This essay provides a firm grounding in the historiographical development of the study of alchemy. Rachleff, Owen S. The Occult Conceit: A New Look at Astrology, Witchcraft, and Sorcery. Chicago: Cowles, 1971. A work reflecting the power of the Enlightenment reaction against alchemy. Here, alchemy is grouped together with other occult practices such as astrology, and the author heroically debunks it as nothing more than sorcery and fraud. Rattansi, P.M. The Helmontian-Galenist Controversy in Restoration England. Ambix 12, no. 1 (February 1964): 1-23. Describes the debates between the Galenic and Paracelsian schools of medical thought. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. A popular culture portrayal of alchemy as magic. Shapin, Steven. The Problematic Identity of the Scientific Practitioner in Early Modern England. History of Science 29 (1991): 279-327. ________. The Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. ________. A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Shapin examines the social factors involved in the creation of knowledge and practice science in the seventeenth century; his work is crucial for an understanding of the character of scientific knowledge of the time. Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.


Examines Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle, and the nature of science and fact in the seventeenth century. Simon, Jonathan. The Chemical Revolution and Pharmacy: A Disciplinary Perspective. Ambix 45, no. 1 (March 1998): 1-13. Shows that alchemy and pharmacy were not distinct disciplines during the seventeenth century. Siraisi, Nancy G. Medieval & Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Discusses many aspects of medieval Galenic medicine, including medical education, anatomical theories, conceptions of disease, and medical practice. Szydlo, Zbigniew. The Alchemy of Michael Sendivogius: His Central Nitre Theory. Ambix 40, no. 3 (November 1993): 129-146. ________. The Influence of the Central Nitre Theory of Michael Sendivogius on the Chemical Philosophy of the Seventeenth Century. Ambix 43, no. 2 (July 1996): 80-96. These two works investigate the matter theory of Sendivogius, the importance he attributed to saltpeter, and his influence on subsequent alchemists. Taylor, F. Sherwood. The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry. New York: Henry Schuman, 1949. Attempts to give an overview of the entire history of alchemy. Presents alchemy as a practical pursuit with a strong spiritual component. Trifogli, Cecilia. Matter and Form in Thirteenth-Century Discussions of Infinity and Continuity. In The Dynamics of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, ed. Leijenhorst, Lthy, and Thijssen, 169-187. Boston: Brill, 2002. Describes the idea that matter was thought to be neither infinitely expandable nor infinitely divisible in the thirteenth century. Von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Idea of the Macro- and Microcosmos in the Light of Jungian Psychology. Ambix 13, no. 1 (February 1965): 22-34. A work heavily influenced by Jung which analyzes Paracelsian-derived philosophy.


Waite, Arthur Edward. Book of Ceremonial Magic. London: 1911; Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe, 2002. ________. Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers. London: George Redway, 1888. Waite associates alchemy with the occult and shows that the spiritual interpretation of alchemy was quite prevalent by the late nineteenth century. Webster, C. English Medical Reformers of the Puritan Revolution: A Background to the Society of Chymical Physitians. Ambix 14, no. 1 (February 1967): 16-41. Discusses the Society of Chymical Physitians, an attempt to institutionalize Paracelsian resistance to Galenic medicine. Wilkinson, Ronald Sterne. The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-1676) and His Descendents in Colonial America. Ambix 11, no. 1 (February 1963): 33-51. ________. The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-1676) and His Descendents in Colonial America. Ambix 13, no. 3 (October 1966): 139-186. ________. George Starkey, Physician and Alchemist. Ambix 11, no. 3 (October 1963): 121-152. ________. Hermes Christianus: John Winthrop, Jr. and Chemical Medicine in Seventeenth Century New England. In Science, Medicine, and Society in the Renaissance: Essays to honor Walter Pagel, ed. Allen G. Debus, Vol. 1, 221-241. New York: Science History Publications, 1972. ________. Letter to the Editor on the Identity of Eirenaeus Philalethes. Ambix 19, no. 3 (November 1972): 204-208. ________. New Englands Last Alchemists. Ambix 10, no. 3 (October 1962): 128138. ________. Some Bibliographical Puzzles Concerning George Starkey. Ambix 20, no. 3 (November 1973): 235-244. Sterne investigates alchemy in the colonies. His second article on Winthrops library gives a complete inventory. Withers, C. W. J. Reporting, Mapping, Trusting: Making Geographical Knowledge in the Late Seventeenth Century. Isis 90, no. 3 (September 1999): 497-521. Discusses the importance of social factors such as trust for the production of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century.


Young, John T. Faith, Medical Alchemy and Natural Philosophy: Johann Moriaen, Reformed Intelligencer, and the Hartlib Circle. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998. Describes the alchemist Johann Moriaen and his correspondence with the intelligencer Samuel Hartlib.