Samuel George Morton

Samuel George Morton

Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) was an American physician and natural scientist. Morton, reared a Quaker but became Episcopalian in midlife, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1820. After earning an advanced degree from Edinburgh University in Scotland, he began practice at Philadelphia in 1824. From 1839 to 1843, he was the professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Morton was a prolific writer of books on various subjects from 1823 to 1851. He wrote Geological Observations in 1828, and both Synopsis of the Organic Remains of the Cretaceous Group of the United States and Illustrations of Pulmonary Consumption in 1834. His first medical essay, on the user of cornine in intermittent fever, in 1825 was published in the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences.[1] His bibliography includes Hybridity in Animals and Plants (1847), Additional Observation on Hybridity (1851), and An Illustrated System of Human Anatomy (1849). Samuel George Morton is often thought of as the originator of "American School" ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is seen by some as the origin of scientific racism.[2] Morton argued against the single creation story of the Bible (monogenism) and instead supported a theory of multiple racial creations (polygenism). Morton claimed the Bible supported

polygenism, and within working in a biblical framework his theory held that each race had been created separately and each was given specific, irrevocable characteristics.[3] After inspecting three mummies from ancient Egyptian catacombs, Morton concluded that Caucasians and Negroes were already distinct three thousand years ago. Since the Bible indicated that Noah's Ark had washed up on Mount Ararat, only a thousand years ago before this, Morton claimed that Noah's sons could not possibly account for every race on earth. According to Morton's theory of polygenesis, races have been separate since the start.[3] Morton claimed that he could define the intellectual ability of a race by the skull capacity. A large volume meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. He was reputed to hold the largest collection of skulls, on which he based his research. He claimed that each race had a separate origin, and that a descending order of intelligence could be discerned that placed White people at the pinnacle and Negroes at the lowest point, with various other race groups in between.[4] Morton had many skulls from ancient Egypt, and concluded that the ancient Egyptians were not African, but were White. His results were published in three volumes between 1839 and 1849: the Crania Americana, An Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America and Crania Aegyptiaca.