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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00015

William Henry Brewer California Geological Survey papers

Scope and Content

The Brewer California Geological Survey papers comprise manuscripts, field notes, and notes, and are divided into three series by format: Field Notebooks, Bound Volumes, and Manuscripts. Field Notebooks contains 13 notebooks of field notes pertaining to collections made during the California Geological Survey; they are primarily in unidentified handwriting with page headings, plant names, and some descriptions in Brewer’s handwriting. Bound Materials contains copies of the 13 notebooks bound in two volumes with additional documents in unidentified handwriting. Manuscripts contains field notes on grasses in Brewer's handwriting. The collection is closely related to the field notes of Henry Nicholas Bolander, who succeeded Brewer on the California Geological Survey in 1864.


  • 1860-1864


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


1 collection (13 notebooks, 2 bound volumes and 1 folder in file cabinet 11)


William Henry Brewer was born on September 14, 1828, in Poughkeepsie, New York, the eldest son of Henry and Rebecca (Du Bois) Brewer. He grew up on a farm in Enfield and was educated at local schools. His intention was to become a farmer until he became interested in agricultural science. He entered Yale University in 1848 to study soil chemistry under John Pitkin Norton and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. After two years of study he returned to New York, where he held various teaching positions before the desire to work more directly with agriculture motivated him to resume his studies. In 1852 he was one of six men awarded a Bachelor of Philosophy from what would become Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School.

Brewer taught in Ovid, New York, for the next three years, but left to continue his studies at Heidelberg, Munich, and Paris in 1885. While in Europe he went on many trips to botanize and geologize in Germany and Switzerland. He returned to the United States and, in 1858, married Angelina Jameson and worked as Professor of Chemistry and Geology at Washington College in Pennsylvania. The couple were married less than a year when Angelina and their infant son died. After their deaths Brewer accepted an offer from Josiah Dwight Whitney to join the California Geological Survey from 1860 to 1864. He undertook extensive botanical surveys of largely unexplored areas of the state. Mount Brewer, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was one of the peaks summitted by the survey party and is named in his honor.

Brewer accepted the Chair of Agriculture at the Sheffield Scientific School in 1864 and left California at the end of that year. He spent the next four months at the Gray Herbarium, classifying and arranging the botanical specimens collected on the Survey. The resulting "Botany of California" was eventually published in 1876. His work commenced at the Sheffield School in the spring of 1865, where he remained until retiring from teaching in 1903. In 1868, Brewer married Georgiana Robinson; the couple had one daughter, Nora, and three sons, Henry, Arthur, and Carl.

Brewer was known for his public service, serving on numerous committees and boards at the local and national level. He campaigned with Samuel William Johnson, Chair of Agricultural Chemistry at the Sheffield School, for the establishment of an agricultural experiment station in Connecticut, and was a member of its Board of Control for over 30 years. He also helped organize state and local Boards of Health, serving as president on each, and was instrumental in the establishment of the National Department of Forestry (now an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and the organization of the Yale School of Forestry. Brewer was a member of several scientific societies and received honorary degrees from Washington and Jefferson College in 1880, Yale and Wesleyan University in 1903, and the University of California in 1910, among his many honors.

Brewer died at his home in New Haven, Connecticut, on November 2, 1910.


Chittenden RH. 1928. Biographical memoir of William Henry Brewer, 1828-1910. [Washington]: National Academy of Sciences.

Jenkins EH. 1911. William Henry Brewer. Am. J. Sci. Arts. 31:71-74.

Series Description

This collection is arranged in three series: Series I. Field notebooks; Series II. Bound Volumes; and Series III. Manuscripts.


These materials were likely used by Sereno Watson in the preparation of "Botany of California" and remained with his papers at the Gray Herbarium. They were originally part of the Henry Nicholas Bolander California Geological Survey field notes, approximately 1865-1867.

Existence and Location of Copies

The field notebooks have been microfilmed. Microfilm master number 11725.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:

  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965
  2. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  3. Carleton Watkins photograph collection
  4. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  5. Henry Nicholas Bolander California Geological Survey field notes
  6. Jane Gray autograph collection, 1563-1908

Processed by

Lynn McWhood

January 1982

Brewer, William Henry, 1828-1910. William Henry Brewer California Geological Survey papers, 1860-1864: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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