Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Developing a Chronology for the New Orleans Academy of Sciences

In order to track down the existence of the alleged 'Demotic Gospel of Thomas' we have to figure out who was 'President' of the organization at the time of the publication of the article which makes reference to the fragment.  It would seem that the organization was founded by a Joseph S Copes (whose papers are housed at Tulane University) in 1853 and he continued with the organization.  The first President however is listed as Dr Josiah Hale in this document.  Hale was apparently a well known Louisiana botanist.  By 1859, the President was a Professor named John Leonard Riddell who is also associated with Tulane.  I have learned from another article that the Academy was inactive during the Civil War (1861 - 1865).

It is also interesting to note that the 'Secretary' mentioned in the Depuydt article seems to have been a permanent secretary as indicated in this document.  His name was 'Dr Benedict.'  I learn from the 1859 charter that his name was Noah B Benedict.  Another document makes reference to the President at this time was Dr Edward Hall (E H) Barton with a membership of 50 Fellows.  This document indicates that Barton was the President in 1854. Here is an account from a recent scholarly publication on the subject the founding of the organization and the Academy's association with Riddell:

One of its early meetings, May 23, 1853, was held in his home. He was appointed, along with Dr. Edward Hall Barton and Caleb G. Forshey, to represent the Academy at the 1853 meeting of the American Association for the Science ... Riddell was elected vice-president of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences in 1854, and president in 1855. He was re-elected annually and was still serving as president at the time of his death in 1865. From some of the discussions in the Academy minutes we wonder whether Riddell's popularity in that organization might be due to the fact that those who opposed him either died or left New Orleans during the early years of the Society, and since there was a blackball system for new members, only those who were friendly to Riddell constituted the Society. It was the policy of the Academy to have the president read an Annual Address at a public gathering in February of each year. These occasions gave Riddell an opportunity to demonstrate his extraordinary abilities as a lecturer, and we find several of these speeches printed in pamphlet form, and also carried by the local press. For, example, the February 25, 1856, lecture appeared in the New Orleans Sunday Delta, and also as a pamphlet. It is a remarkably good resume of scientific activities of the year 1855-1856, citing developments in astronomy, geography, , metallurgy, chemistry, physics, botany and geology, with remarks about the circulation of blood and the atmosphere.
So what was the original order of Presidents?  It would seem:

1853 - Josiah Hale
1854 - Edward Hall Barton
1855 - 1865 - John Riddell
This would seem to indicate also that (a) the minutes of the organization from the period leading up to the Civil War survive and (b) Dupuydt's article published in February of 1875 seems to follow the pattern of some sort of public announcement in February.

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