December 1992

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Henry A. Ward


Robert G. Koch

Part Two, Part Three

Part One

Henry Augustus Ward sprang from a prominent and wealthy Rochester family in 1834, the year of the city's incorporation. He became a distinguished, colorful and globe-trotting citizen. According to a biography by his grandson, Roswell Ward, published by the Rochester Historical Society, he was reading the Bible at 3, which greatly pleased his mother, a religious fanatic. He had a prodigious memory, but his home-based education was spotty. Early interest in nature led him to Dr. Chester Dewey, the scientist who headed the Rochester High School, and later was on the first faculty of the University of Rochester.

At ten Henry Ward was thought too young for high school; but he tagged along and won his place among older students on Dewey's geological and natural history field trips. One day alone young Henry found a fossil that puzzled him, so he took it to the school, "Then he remembered [that the] commencement ceremonies were being held…downtown. Straight into old Corinthian Hall he walked, disregarding speakers, audience, and everything except his specimen. He mounted the platform, walked to Dr. Dewey's chair, and proudly exhibited his fossil. Dr. Dewey spoke a few words to him and somewhat crestfallen, young Henry left the platform to sit impatiently in the audience until he could get the ear of the doctor…"

When Henry was 12 his father, an "easy going bookworm,…genial farmer-surveyor, whom his family looked down on and his son adored,…packed his personal belongings, his books, and his surveyor's compass, and …departed." Soon a letter arrived from Chicago, and the next morning the boy sneaked off to Buffalo where he spent his savings on a lake steamer to the Windy City. He found his father surveying the site for the city hall. After the reunion, young Ward was shepherded back to Rochester by a clerk dispatched from home.

A considerable stay on the Genesee Valley farm of Jerediah Horsford, who had interests in nature and subscribed to Scientific American, furthered his explorations and fended off his mother's zeal to make him a man of the cloth. At 15 he entered Middlebury Academy in Wyoming, New York, earning part of his way by doing janitor work around the school. He also began his life-long habit of keeping a daily diary.

Two years later, Professor Dewey convinced Ward's grandfather to send him to Williams College, Dewey's alma mater. At Williams he concentrated almost exclusively on geology, while steering clear of religious controversy. At the time, as his biographer writes, "Men who cared to speculate about the earth's creation; the meaning of fossil life; or the antiquity of man, did so privately. Otherwise they would lose their jobs, their social position, everything."

Soon however he left Williams, in part the victim of his rather haphazard education. At home he was seen as a failure and ingrate, so he started out for Chicago again, "largely on foot and averaging twenty miles a day, but not forgetting, even in the midst of this grave crisis in his affairs, to visit the Galena Lead Mines enroute." After he had a stint as a bill-collector back in Rochester, an uncle entered him in Temple Hill Academy in Geneseo.

There he extended his geological interests and had the good fortune to befriend fellow-student Charles Wadsworth, whose father James S. Wadsworth, the General, "had a weakness for 'rocks' himself…" Henry classified a collection that Wadsworth had donated to the academy and proved a good influence on the General's high-spirited son. A trip to the St. Lawrence with Charlie to collect rocks for the General led to a geological trip to the Maritimes.

Back in Western New York, Ward heard that the eminent scientist Louis Agassiz was coming to Rochester. After a 30 mile walk through January snow, mud, and freezing rain, he earned the privilege of showing the great man the Genesee gorge and Pinnacle Hills, which led in turn to Agassiz's inviting him to study at Harvard. There again Ward invoked his life-long habit of chockful days—rising a 4 am. to whip from one activity to another, often until midnight.

In 1854, at 20, he was off again—once more under the General's sponsorship—to accompany Charlie Wadsworth to the French School of Mines in Paris. There, young Wadsworth became extremely sick, was told to seek a milder climate. Led by Henry Ward, the two youths traveled to Egypt, ascended the Nile a thousand miles, had high adventures going overland from Alexandria to Jerusalem, and returned bronzed and healthy.

Back in Paris, the 21 year old prowled the natural history museums and hardened his resolve to gather such materials for collections, or "cabinets," wherever in the world that might lead him. Meanwhile, Western New York wheat, a base for the Wadsworth fortune, was in decline, and the sponsored European adventure was ending. But Ward visited other collections to fill out the Wadsworth "cabinet" and discovered that trade in specimens could be profitable, especially with a network of contacts.

At 23 he was in Moscow, where he saw the remains of the great Siberian Mammoth and a collection of meteorites, both of which influenced his later collecting. One morning there, failing to convey that he wanted two eggs for breakfast, he drew a picture of such. "The waiter…dashed to the kitchen, to return…with two apples on a plate. Throwing all restraint aside, Henry rendered a lusty imitation of a clucking fowl and held up four fingers…[the waiter brought him] four roast chickens…The bill cut deeply into [his] meagre store of rubles, but he…carried away three of the chickens wrapped in a newspaper. For the rest of his stay in Moscow, he lived on roast chicken."

Then in early 1859, Henry Ward disappeared on the coast of West Africa. How we'll find out next time.

Part Two, Part Three
© 1992, Robert G. Koch
Index to articles by Robert G. Koch
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