Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, as he is known in Europe, (October 22, 1783 – September 18, 1840) was a nineteenth-century polymath
A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable...

 who made notable contributions to botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

, the study of prehistoric earthworks in North America and Mesoamerican ancient linguistics.

Rafinesque was eccentric
Eccentricity (behavior)
In popular usage, eccentricity refers to unusual or odd behavior on the part of an individual. This behavior would typically be perceived as unusual or unnecessary, without being demonstrably maladaptive...

, and is often portrayed as an "erratic genius". He was an autodidact who excelled in various fields of knowledge, as a zoologist, botanist, writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 and polyglot
Polyglot (person)
A polyglot is someone with a high degree of proficiency in several languages. A bilingual person can speak two languages fluently, whereas a trilingual three; above that the term multilingual may be used.-Hyperpolyglot:...

. He wrote prolifically on such diverse topics as anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

, geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

, and linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, but was honored in none during his lifetime. Today, scholars agree that he was far ahead of his time in many of these fields.


Rafinesque was born on October 22, 1783 in Galata
Galata or Galatae is a neighbourhood in the Beyoğlu district on the European side of Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey. Galata is located at the northern shore of the Golden Horn, the inlet which separates it from the historic peninsula of old Constantinople. The Golden Horn is crossed by...

, a suburb of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. His father F. G. Rafinesque was a French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 merchant from Marseilles; his mother M. Schmaltz was of German
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 descent and born in Constantinople. Rafinesque spent his youth in Marseilles and Pisa, and was mostly self-educated, he never attended University. By the age of twelve, he had begun collecting plants for a herbarium
In botany, a herbarium – sometimes known by the Anglicized term herbar – is a collection of preserved plant specimens. These specimens may be whole plants or plant parts: these will usually be in a dried form, mounted on a sheet, but depending upon the material may also be kept in...

. By fourteen, he taught himself perfect Greek and Latin because he needed to follow footnotes in the books he was reading in his grandmothers' libraries.

His father died in Philadelphia about 1793. In 1802, at the age of nineteen, Rafinesque came to Philadelphia with his younger brother, and traveled through Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 and Delaware
Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is bordered to the south and west by Maryland, and to the north by Pennsylvania...

, where he made the acquaintance of most of the young nation's few botanists. In 1805 he returned to Europe with his collection of botanical specimens, and settled in Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

, Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. He became so successful in trade that he could retire by age twenty-five and devote his time entirely to natural history. For a time Rafinesque also worked as secretary to the American consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

. During his stay in Sicily he studied plants and fishes, naming many species of each.

Career in the United States

In 1815, after his son died, Rafinesque left his common-law wife
Common-law marriage
Common-law marriage, sometimes called sui juris marriage, informal marriage or marriage by habit and repute, is a form of interpersonal status that is legally recognized in limited jurisdictions as a marriage even though no legally recognized marriage ceremony is performed or civil marriage...

 and returned to the United States. When his ship Union foundered near the coast of Connecticut, he lost all his books (50 boxes) and all his specimens (including more than 60,000 shells
Mollusc shell
The mollusc shell is typically a calcareous exoskeleton which encloses, supports and protects the soft parts of an animal in the phylum Mollusca, which includes snails, clams, tusk shells, and several other classes...

). Settling in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Rafinesque became a founding member of the newly established "Lyceum of Natural History." In 1817 his book Florula Ludoviciana was strongly criticized by fellow botanists, which caused his writings to be ignored. By 1818, he had collected and named more than 250 new species of plants and animals. Slowly he was rebuilding his collection of objects from nature.

In 1819 Rafinesque became professor of botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

 at Transylvania University
Transylvania University
Transylvania University is a private, undergraduate liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky, United States, affiliated with the Christian Church . The school was founded in 1780. It offers 38 majors, and pre-professional degrees in engineering and accounting...

 in Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 63rd largest in the US. Known as the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World", it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region...

, where he also gave private lessons in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 and Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

. He started recording all the new species of plants and animals he encountered in travels throughout the state. He was considered an erratic student of higher plants. In the spring of 1826, he left the university after quarreling with its president.

Rafinesque traveled and lectured in various places, and endeavored to establish a magazine and a botanic garden, but without success. He moved to Philadelphia without employment. He published The Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, a Cyclopædic Journal and Review, of which only eight numbers appeared (1832–1833). He also gave public lectures and continued publishing, mostly at his own expense.


Rafinesque died of stomach and liver cancer in Philadelphia on September 18, 1840. It has been speculated that the cancer may have been induced by Rafinesque's self-medication
Self-medication is a term used to describe the use of drugs or other self-soothing forms of behavior to treat untreated and often undiagnosed mental distress, stress and anxiety, including mental illnesses and/or psychological trauma...

 years before with a mixture containing maidenhair fern
Maidenhair fern
Adiantum , the maidenhair ferns, is a genus of about 200 species of ferns in the family Pteridaceae, though some researchers place it in its own family, Adiantaceae...

. He was buried in in Ronaldson's Cemetery. In March 1924 what were thought to be his remains were shipped to Transylvania University and reinterred in a tomb under a stone inscribed, "Honor to whom honor is overdue."


Rafinesque published 6,700 binomial names of plants, many of which have priority
Principle of Priority
thumb|270px|Boa manditraIn zoology, the scientific study of animals, the Principle of Priority is one of the guiding principles of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, defined by Article 23....

 over more familiar names. The quantity of new taxa he produced, both plants and animals, has made Rafinesque memorable or even notorious among biologists. The standard author abbreviation Raf. is used to indicate Rafinesque as the author when citing
Author citation (botany)
In botanical nomenclature, author citation refers to citing the person who validly published a botanical name, i.e. who first published the name while fulfilling the formal requirements as specified by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature...

 a botanical name
Botanical name
A botanical name is a formal scientific name conforming to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and, if it concerns a plant cultigen, the additional cultivar and/or Group epithets must conform to the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants...


Rafinesque applied to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or ″Corps of Discovery Expedition" was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William...

, but was twice turned down by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

. After studying the specimens collected by the expedition, he assigned scientific names to the black-tailed prairie dog
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
The black-tailed prairie dog , is a rodent of the family Sciuridae found in the Great Plains of North America from about the USA-Canada border to the USA-Mexico border. Unlike some other prairie dogs, these animals do not truly hibernate. The black-tailed prairie dog can be seen aboveground in...

 (Cynomys ludovicianus), the white-footed mouse
White-footed mouse
White-footed Mouse is a rodent native to North America. It ranges from Ontario, Quebec, Labrador and the Maritime Provinces to the southwest USA and Mexico. It is also known as the Woodmouse, particularly in Texas.Adults are in length, not counting the tail, which can add another . A young adult...

 (Peromyscus leucopus) and the mule deer
Mule Deer
The mule deer is a deer indigenous to western North America. The Mule Deer gets its name from its large mule-like ears. There are believed to be several subspecies, including the black-tailed deer...

 (Odocoileus hemionus).

Walam Olum

In 1836 Rafinesque published his first volume of The American Nations. This included Walam Olum
Walam Olum
The Walam Olum or Walum Olum, usually translated as "Red Record" or "Red Score," is purportedly a historical narrative of the Lenape Native American tribe. The document has provoked controversy as to its authenticity since its publication in the 1830s by botanist and antiquarian Constantine Samuel...

, a purported migration and creation narrative of the Lenape
The Lenape are an Algonquian group of Native Americans of the Northeastern Woodlands. They are also called Delaware Indians. As a result of the American Revolutionary War and later Indian removals from the eastern United States, today the main groups live in Canada, where they are enrolled in the...

 ("Delaware Indians"). It told of their migration to the lands around the Delaware River
Delaware River
The Delaware River is a major river on the Atlantic coast of the United States.A Dutch expedition led by Henry Hudson in 1609 first mapped the river. The river was christened the South River in the New Netherland colony that followed, in contrast to the North River, as the Hudson River was then...

. Rafinesque claimed he had obtained wooden tablets engraved and painted with indigenous pictographs, together with a transcription in the Lenape language
Lenape language
The Delaware languages, also known as the Lenape languages, are Munsee and Unami, two closely related languages of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian language family...

, from which he produced an English translation of the tablets' contents. Rafinesque claimed the original tablets and transcription were later lost, leaving his notes and transcribed copy as the only record of evidence.

For over a century after Rafinesque's publication, the Walam Olum was widely accepted by ethnohistorians as authentically Native American in origin. But, as early as 1849, when the document was republished by Ephraim G. Squier
E. G. Squier
Ephraim George Squier was an American archaeologist and newspaper editor.-Biography:He was born in Bethlehem, New York, the son of a minister of English heritage and his Palatine German wife. In early youth he worked on a farm, attended and taught school, studied engineering, and became interested...

, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
Henry Schoolcraft
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was an American geographer, geologist, and ethnologist, noted for his early studies of Native American cultures, as well as for his 1832 discovery of the source of the Mississippi River. He married Jane Johnston, whose parents were Ojibwe and Scots-Irish...

 wrote to Squier saying that he believed the document might be fraudulent. In the 1950s the Indiana Historical Society
Indiana Historical Society
The Indiana Historical Society is one of the United States' oldest and largest historical societies and describes itself as "Indiana's Storyteller". Housed within the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, it is located at 450 West Ohio St...

 published a "re-translation" of the Walam Olum, as "a worthy subject for students of aboriginal culture".

Later linguistic, ethnohistorical, archaeological and textual analyses, particularly from the 1980s and 1990s onward, suggested that the Walam Olum account was largely or entirely a fabrication, and described its record of authentic Lenape traditional migration stories as spurious. After the publication in 1995 of David Oestreicher's thesis, The Anatomy of the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Anthropological Hoax, many scholars concurred with his analysis, and concluded that Rafinesque had been either the perpetrator, or perhaps the victim, of a hoax. Other scholars, writers, and some among the Lenape continue to find the account plausible and support its authenticity.

Study of prehistoric cultures

Rafinesque made a notable contribution to North American prehistory with his studies of ancient earthworks, especially in the Ohio Valley. He was the first to label these the "Ancient Monuments of America." He listed more than 500 such archaeological sites in Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 and Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

. Rafinesque never excavated; rather, he recorded the sites visited by careful measurements, sketches, and written descriptions. Only a few of his descriptions found publication, but his work was used by others. For instance, he identified 148 sites in Kentucky. All sites in Kentucky which were included by E. G. Squier
E. G. Squier
Ephraim George Squier was an American archaeologist and newspaper editor.-Biography:He was born in Bethlehem, New York, the son of a minister of English heritage and his Palatine German wife. In early youth he worked on a farm, attended and taught school, studied engineering, and became interested...

 and Davis in their notable Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848), were originally identified by Rafinesque in his manuscripts.

Rafinesque also made contributions to Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

n studies. The latter were based on linguistic data which he extracted from printed sources, mostly those of travelers. He designated as Taino
Taíno language
Taíno, an Arawakan language, was the principal language of the Caribbean islands at the time of the Spanish Conquest, including the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys, and the Lesser Antilles...

, the ancient language of the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 island of Hispaniola
Hispaniola is a major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The island is located between the islands of Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, within the hurricane belt...

. Others later also used the term to identify the ethnicity of indigenous Caribbean peoples.

Although mistaken in his presumption that the ancient Maya script
Maya script
The Maya script, also known as Maya glyphs or Maya hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered...

 was alphabetical in nature, Rafinesque was probably first to insist that studying modern Mayan languages
Mayan languages
The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras...

 could lead to deciphering the ancient script. In 1832 he was the first to partly decipher ancient Maya. He explained that its bar-and-dot symbols
Maya numerals
Maya Numerals were a vigesimal numeral system used by the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization.The numerals are made up of three symbols; zero , one and five...

 represent fives and ones, respectively.


Thomas Nuttall
Thomas Nuttall
Thomas Nuttall was an English botanist and zoologist, who lived and worked in America from 1808 until 1841....

 named a new genus Rafinesquia after Rafinesque in 1841, feeling indebted to Rafinesque after he had given Nuttall's Flora a positive review. It now contains two species, Rafinesquia californica
Rafinesquia californica
Rafinesquia californica is a species of flowering plant in the daisy family known by the common names California chicory and California plumeseed. It looks like a weedy daisy, bearing heads of elegant white-petaled flowers. The ligules of the flowers are often striped with lavender or pink on the...

Nutt. (California Plumeseed or California Chicory) and Rafinesquia neomexicana A. Gray (Desert Chicory or Plumeseed).

In 1892 James Hall
James Hall (paleontologist)
James Hall was an American geologist and paleontologist. He was a noted authority on stratigraphy and had an influential role in the development of American paleontology.-Early life:...

 and J. M. Clarke proposed the genus name Rafinesquina in honor of Rafinesque for a number of fossil brachiopod
Brachiopods are a phylum of marine animals that have hard "valves" on the upper and lower surfaces, unlike the left and right arrangement in bivalve molluscs. Brachiopod valves are hinged at the rear end, while the front can be opened for feeding or closed for protection...

 species then belonging to genus Leptaena; the genus is now in the family Rafinesquinidae.

Notable publications

  • 1832–1833: Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge. Philadelphia.
  • 1833: Herbarium Rafinesquianum. Philadelphia.
  • 1836: A Life of Travels. Philadelphia.
  • 1836: Pars Prima, Pars Secunda, Pars Tertia & Pars IV Et Ult.
  • 1836: The American Nations (two volumes). Philadelphia.
  • 1836: A Life of Travels and Researches in North America and South Europe
  • 1836: "The World", a poem.
  • 1836–1838: New Flora and Botany of North America (four parts). Philadelphia.
  • 1837: Safe Banking
  • 1837: Notes to Thomas Wright
    Thomas Wright (astronomer)
    Thomas Wright was an English astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect and garden designer. He was the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way and speculate that faint nebulae were distant galaxies....

    's Original Theory, or New Hypothesis of the Universe.
  • 1838: Genius and Spirit of the Hebrew Bible. Philadelphia.
  • 1838: Alsographia Americana. Philadelphia.
  • 1838: The American Monuments of North and South America. Philadelphia.
  • 1838: Sylva Telluriana. Philadelphia.
  • 1839: Celestial Wonders and Philosophy of the Visible Heavens.
  • 1840: The Good Book (Amenities of Nature). Philadelphia.
  • 1840: Pleasure and Duties of Wealth.

Further reading

A comprehensive work which contains all of Rafinesque's malacological writings, including all his plates. (Includes a CD that contains transcripts of more than 2,000 pages of Rafinesque's correspondence.) (Indexes Rafinesque's plant names.) (Reprints Rafinesque's autobiography and the books by Call and Fitzpatrick.)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.