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Francis Markoe

Francis Markoe, Jr., was born in Philadelphia (or, some say, in St. Croix, Virgin Islands) on January 19, 1801, the son of Sally Caldwell and Francis Markoe, and the grandnephew of Abraham Markoe, a wealthy planter and merchant in St. Croix who moved to Philadelphia in 1770, while retaining ownership of his extensive properties in the West Indies. He worked as a lawyer in government service from 1831 to 1861, serving as Chief of the United States Consular Bureau (1831), then was appointed as Chief Clerk in the Diplomatic Bureau of the State Department. He applied to be Commissioner of Patents in 1843 but was denied. Thanks to his dedication and hard-working nature he received the second highest number of votes cast for the job of Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1846. He left the State Department when his bureau was technically abolished in 1855.

Markoe was a co-founder (with Joel Poinsett) in 1840 of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science (incorporated by Congress in 1842), which later evolved into the Smithsonian Institution. He served for the first six years as the institute's Corresponding Secretary, often writing several letters a day to scientists around the world. He married Mary Galloway Maxcy in 1834; together they had seven children. He died in Baltimore on October 31, 1871 or 1872.

Markoe had a long-time interest in botany and mineralogy and, according to Canfield (1923), assembled what was at one time the finest collection of minerals in America. It contained many of the best specimens from the collection of Henry Stephen Fox (Minister of Great Britain from 1836 until his death in Washington, DC in 1844), and was ultimately purchased by William S. Vaux, the greatest mineral collector of his time.

CANFIELD, F. A. (1923) The disposition of some American collections of minerals. Privately printed.
KOHLSTEDT, S. (1971) A Step toward Scientific Self-Identity in the United States: The Failure of the National Institute, 1844. Isis, 62 (3), p. 339-362.
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