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Joseph Gilbert Totten

Joseph Gilbert Totten, American military man and mineral collector, was born in New Haven, Connecticut on August 23, 1788, the son of Grace Mansfield and Peter Gilbert Totten (1757-1813), a career diplomat. Peter was appointed U. S. Consul at Santa Cruz, and left his son Joseph under the care of his maternal uncle, Jared Mansfield, a graduate of Yale College, and a learned mathematician who, in 1802, was appointed Capt. of Engineers and a teacher at the new U. S. Military Academy at West Point. That same year, at the age of 14, Joseph enrolled in the first class of cadets at West Point.

In 1805, at the age of 16, Joseph received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Corp of Engineers. He resigned this commission for two years (1806-1808) in order to work as Secretary to the Surveyor General of the Northwest Territories, then returned to rejoin the Army for the rest of his life. He served during the War of 1812 as Chief Engineer, and fought in many battles. In 1838 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Corp of Engineers. He served under Gen. Winfield Scott during the War with Mexico (1846-1848) and served under various commanders during the Civil War, until his death in Washington, DC, on April 22, 1864, at the rank of Brevet General.

Despite his military duties he maintained an active interest in mineralogy, conchology and geology, publishing a paper on the use of the blowpipe in 1824. In 1841 he donated his mineral collection to the National Academy. In 1846 when Congress authorized the Smithsonian Institution, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents. Ultimately his mineral collection was housed in the new institution along with James Smithson's mineral collection, where they were both destroyed by fire in 1865. His 30-page collection catalog, however, survived the fire and is preserved today in the Library of Congress. It is entitled List of a Cabinet of Minerals Presented to the National Institution in the City of Washington by Col. Joseph G. Totten (1841). The list describes 728 specimens, primarily minerals plus a minor number ores, rocks, fossils and artifacts; localities, sometimes rudimentary, are also recorded. The minerals are organized according to the system of Parker Cleaveland's Elementary Treatise on Mineralogy and Geology (second edition, 1822).

GRUNDEL, E. (2011) General Joseph Gilbert Totten: An early collector of Franklin, New Jersey, Minerals. The Picking Table, 52 (1), 25-28.
DUSENBERRY, M. E. (1880) A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Thomas Carhart of Cornwall, England. Barnes & Co., New York, p. 101.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2019)
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The Mineralogical Record - Joseph Gilbert Totten Gen. Totten, toward the end of his career.
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