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Parker Cleaveland collection

Identifier: M034

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Scope and Content

The Parker Cleaveland collection contain correspondence, scientific records, notes and catalogs, financial records, images, clippings, printed ephemera and book drafts that document Cleaveland's professional career. Included are exchanges with scientific colleagues, weather observations, information about the preservation and cataloging of natural history collections, and the draft of Cleaveland's never published 3rd edition of An Elementary Treatise on Mineralogy and Geology.

Much of the correspondence is with some of the most notable American scientists of Cleaveland's day, both amateur and professional, including: Caleb Atwater, James Bowdoin III, Chester Dewey, George Evans, John Farrar, George Gibbs, John Gorham, Benjamin Hale, Levi Hedge, Edward Hitchcock, Charles Thomas Jackson, Stephen Longfellow, William Maclure, Elijah Parish, Isaac Ray, and John Torrey.

The Cleaveland Cabinet series consists of catalogues, research, and material from Bowdoin’s Geology Department relating to the mineral collections that resided in the original Cabinet. The series includes correspondence from various other geologic organizations, notably the Laval Institute in Quebec, Canada, during the re-cataloging process in the 1970s. The series also contains photographs and slides of minerals and rocks within the collection along with oversized bound catalogues of minerology, petrology, and paleontology that originated from the Geology Department. These oversized folios are in the Folio collection.


  • Creation: 1795 - 1994
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1805 - 1858


Access Restrictions

No restrictions

Biographical/Historical Note

Parker Cleaveland (1780-1858) was an educator, studied law and theology, and was, in 1803, appointed tutor at his alma mater, Harvard (class of 1799). In 1805, he became Bowdoin's first professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, soon adding to his disciplines chemistry and mineralogy. He served the Medical School of Maine as secretary of the faculty and professor of materia medica, and he attended to the college's specimen collection.

Cleaveland's interest in mineralogy and geology developed from studies of local samples, particularly those found along the banks of the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers. He consequently recognized the need for an American textbook to supplant the European works then in use. His An Elementary Treatise on Mineralogy and Geology (1816, 2nd ed. 1822) became a standard text. Cleavealand's scientific interests also included astronomy, biology, conchology, the collection of natural history specimens, and instrument design, among others. He was renowned for his exciting classroom demonstrations, both at Bowdoin and at popular public lectures in Portland, Hallowell and Portsmouth; for his eccentric personality; and for his continuing interest in the Bowdoin men he had taught. Cleaveland married Martha Bush in 1806. They had three daughters and five sons; all four sons who survived into adulthood graduated from Bowdoin.

In 1873, Bowdoin College’s collection of rare mineral, rock, and fossil collections were given the name “Cleaveland Cabinet.” The collection’s namesake, Parker Cleaveland, was called the father of American mineralogy and taught chemistry, mineralogy, and natural philosophy at Bowdoin and the Medical School of Maine from 1805 to 1858. He personally assembled a vast collection of minerals, seashells, and stuffed birds that filled what would come to be called the Cleaveland Cabinet. During its installation in Massachusetts Hall, the Cabinet contained the mineral collections of James Bowdoin III and Professor Parker Cleaveland, the Shattuck Shell Collection, and an assortment of other natural history specimens. In 1936, the collections were relocated to accommodate renovations of Massachusetts Hall. A large selection of the minerals and specimens ended up in barrels and boxes, largely unused, resulting in many of the original labels falling off, rotting, or becoming lost so that tracing back to the collection became increasingly difficult. The Cleaveland Cabinet eventually was rehoused to the basement of the college chapel, where humidity and mold removed and rotted any remaining labels. Some specimens were stolen.

In 1956, the new Department of Geology established an interest in revitalizing the Cleaveland Cabinet collections. Still housed in the damp chapel basement, members of the Geology Department began identifying specimens, correlating them to the different collections using Cleaveland’s original catalogues and re-cataloguing. This process uncovered parts of the collection that were long considered lost, including portions of the James Bowdoin III collection that originated from renowned “father of Modern Crystallography” René Just Haüy. The Haüy collection and other selections from the Cleaveland Cabinet were provided with a public display by the Geology Department. In the decades that followed, interest in the mineral collection holdings of Bowdoin College increased the visibility of the Cleaveland Cabinet and allowed for more research and cataloging to be completed.


11 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence, scientific records, notes and catalogs, financial records, images, clippings, printed ephemera and book drafts, documenting Parker Cleaveland's professional career. Also catalogues and research of the Cleaveland Cabinet, Bowdoin College’s mineral, rock, and fossil collections.

Related Materials

For related materials, please see the Cleaveland-Chandler Family Papers (M35). For additional material on the Cleaveland Cabinet and Geology Department, see the Arthur M Hussey papers (M336).

Guide to the Parker Cleaveland Collection
Emma Barton-Norris
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine 04011 Repository

3000 College Station
Brunswick Maine 04011 USA
(207) 725-3288