Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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FOSTER, John Wells, geologist, born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, 4 March 1815: died in Chicago, Ilk, 29 June 1873. He left the Wesleyan University in 1834, having completed the scientific course, and, removing to Zanesville, Ohio, was admitted to the bar in 1835. His scientific studies were continued in moments of leisure from his legal practice. In 1837 he became an assistant in the geological survey of Ohio, and made a very thorough report on the great central coal bed of Ohio, with a detailed section of the carboniferous limestone near Columbus as far as the uppermost bed of coal near Wheeling. He was occupied with this work until 1844, when he returned to Massachusetts and followed civil engineering, meanwhile giving attention to the study of metallurgy and geology.
In 1845 he was sent to the Lake Superior region, in the interests of several mining companies, and examined the copper deposits then recently discovered. Two years later, with Josiah D. Whitney, he was appointed by the U. S. government to assist Charles T. Jackson in a geological survey of the Lake Superior region, and in 1849 the completion of the work was entrusted to them. The results were published, by direction of congress, as a "Report on the Geology and Topography of a Portion of Lake Superior Land District in the State of Michigan : Part I., Copper Lands" (Washington, 1850), and Part II., "The Iron Region, together with the General Geology" (1852). These reports first clearly established the richness and variety of the mineral resources of that region, and still remain an authority. Subsequently Mr. Foster returned to Massachusetts, and became one of the organizers of the "Native American" movement; but in 1855, as he differed with them on the slavery question, he withdrew with Henry Wilson, and was active in the formation of the Republican Party in 1855 he was a candidate for congress from the Springfield district, but was defeated by a small majority.
Three years later he removed to Chicago, and for some time was land commissioner for the Illinois Central railway. He spent much time in studying the mounds and other evidences of ancient races in the Mississippi valley. Mr. Foster was a member of numerous scientific societies, and for some time president of the Chicago academy of sciences. In 1869 he was president of the American association for the advancement of science, and the subject of his presidential address was " Recent Advances in Geology," He contributed papers to scientific journals, and published monographs on American ethnology and antiquities, and also "The Mississippi Valley, its Physical Geography, including Sketches of the Topography, Botany, Climate, Geology, and Mineral Resources; and of the Progress of Development in Population and Material Wealth" (Chicago and London, 1869): " Mineral Wealth and Railroad Development" (New York, 1872); and "Prehistoric Races of the United States" (Chicago, 1873).
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