Global Warming, Part 1

In 1797, Reverend Samuel Williams (1743-1817, sorry, no portrait) wrote a book entitled Natural and Civil History of Vermont (2 vols).  In this book he provided a detailed description of the Vermont topography and climate, and made use of his astronomy skills to define the boundary of Vermont with Canada.    Ten years before this book became famous, Reverend Samuel Williams of Massachusetts was a Harvard student who graduated and became a professor in philosophy and mathematics.  In 1788, he was forced to remove to Vermont due to a financial scandal related to misappropriated funds.  In Vermont, he worked as a Congregational minister for seven years and with his cousin, Judge Samuel Williams, helped found the University of Vermont (see  During his years in Vermont, two of Williams’ major areas of interest were the theory for the formation of the earth and the fossil records, both in relation to what would later be called evolution.  Reverend Williams work on this subject resulted in considerable support for his work, and a considerable amount of criticism from at least one scholar residing in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York–Noah Webster, author of Webster’s Dictionary.  

James Hutton

At the time there were the Uniformitarianists led by James Hutton (1726 – 1797),  who believed that the present world evolved at a fairly constant rate over very long periods of time.  They liked to explain the changes in the earth’s surface based on its geological layering as the result of natural events such as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, rain, wind and erosion. 

Georges Cuvier

Opposing the uniformitarians were the Catastrophists headed by Georges Cuvier (1769 – 1832).  The catastrophists believed in creation, the Great Flood, Adam and Eve, and of course, God.  Supporting the catastrophists’ theory was the discovery of the fossil beds, the more complex examples of which were found close to the surface.  This resulted in the principle of superposition, which implied that old organisms were destroyed and with each period of destruction replaced by newer organisms designed by the Creator that were more sophisticated in their form and nature.  This theory suggested that a number of periods of drastic change or catastrophes had taken place–natural catastrophes like the Great Flood produced by God.

Like the other catastrophists,  Williams was aware of the climatic differences inferred in the Old Testament when two different historical recounts of the same region were reviewed for two different time frames.  Such was the case for a review of the Book of Job by Moses and the writings of David composed 400 years later.  Williams believed that a warming of Palestine had occurred due to deforestation.  This deforestation process he claimed is what caused the greater seasonal changes in wind patterns and temperature being noted as time passed, causing some areas to become colder than in the past, and others much warmer. 

Painting of a portly gentleman in a powdered grey wig and richly embroidered clothes.

Comte de Buffon

Other Bible historians who believed in this theory at the time included the famous French naturalist and pre-Lamarckian Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788).  Buffon was the first to propose a theory very close to Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Also supporting this belief in climate change was Scottish naturalist and philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and a theologian from Boston known as Dr. Holyoke (probably Edward Augustus, 1726-1826, but could have been his father Edward, who was once President of Harvard.  See and   Dr. Holyoke popularized the theory that the large evergreen forests could be related to the climate changes noted in the Bible for some regions, the removal of which led to much warmer summers and colder winters. 

David Hume

Each of these scholars were drawn by the natural philosophy inferred by the following quote contained in the Bible [Psalm 147:16-18]:

“He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoar frost like ashes; He casteth forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold?  He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow , and the waters flow.”

To prove that Buffon, Hume and Holyoke were correct, Reverend Williams made use of his meteorological training during his years at Harvard to compare the weather and climate descriptions found in the Book of Job by Moses with those in the writings of David composed 400 years later.  The common belief then was that both Moses and David resided in the same place when they wrote their stories–the land of Midian or Palestine.   Comparing these two writers’ entries about snow patterns observed for their region and details as to whether or not the local rivers were completely frozen over during these two time periods, Williams  was able to determine that there was a 6 degree increase in winter temperatures during the 400 years that passed.   In Palestine, the climate was getting hotter over time.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Williams publicized this detail about a possible warming of certain parts of the earth, due possibly to wind changes and deforestation.  During this time, medical climatology was the ‘buzz word” for the medical profession.  Disease was no longer a problem related just you as a person.  It was now a product of the local environment and whether or not you were adapted to living in that environment, a product of Lamarckian philosophy and theory developed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829).  One of the most important questions a doctor could ask his patients at the time was: ‘Are you and your parents acclimated?’  If your parents were acclimated, than according to Lamarckianism you were also acclimated; if not, since it took a generation or two for someone to become acclimated and pass this on to the children, it was going to be a struggle to try to adapt to this new environment in the United States.

Thomas Malthus.jpg

Thomas Robert Malthus

Accompanying the theory of Lamarckianism was the philosophy of Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834).  In his An essay on the principles of population, he wrote that the population was growing at a faster rate than food productivity could be increased by the farming industries.  This meant that as time passed, more people would most likely succumb to starvation and become more susceptible to disease.  This in turn would not only play a role in a particular society’s chances for survival, but also have an impact on the ever-changing political powers of the various national governments.  For this reason, some of the scientists and politicians speculated, the goal of governments was to keep its people poor and repressed, by offering limited food stores and placing this burden instead on local businesses and community leaders.   The most important statement in Malthus’s 1798 essay, published anonymously, was:

“That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,

That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and,

That the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.”

Bos primigenius

Both Dr. Williams’ and Malthus’s writings became quite popular over the next few years.   William’s writings on climate change suggested to locals that by eliminating the forests of the Hudson Valley, we were paving the pathway towards human destruction.  Regarding the increasing number of yellow fever epidemics passing through some urban settings, this led others to try to relate the recent increases in yellow fever epidemics as a consequence of both either nature or God, either way due to recent growth in populations that were too fast for nature or farms to keep up with.  [For more, see my” The Trinity Years” and “Poughkeepsie Trinity” under “The Post-War Years”, and “Thomsonian Trinity” in the section “Early Thomsonianism”.]

Noah Webster

This led the local expert on climate and disease, Noah Webster (1758-1843, author of A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, 1st ed., 1806), to make his own comments on Williams interpretations of weather in the Bible and public concerns for Malthus’s claims.  Webster presented his findings regarding Williams’ claims to the  Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1799 during a quarterly meeting in New Haven.  Like Dr. Williams, Noah Webster based the results on a review of the Bible, to which he added his own reviews of the natural history of the Middle East and its climate, as well as some quotes from the works of Hippocrates and numerous Greek and Roman classical writers, and a number of local natural history findings. 

In the end, Noah Webster developed his own theory of climate change.   Like Holyoke he blamed it on the absence or presence of vegetation, but differed from Holyoke on the types of impacts this vegetation change was having:

“While the earth is covered with wood, it never froze . . . “. 

Webster’s claim however was completely opposite of those of Holyoke and Williams.  He blamed the colder climates in Palestine  on the local deforestation that had taken place soon after Moses and the Israelites moved in.  He concluded:  

“The country therefore could not have been covered with wood, but every foot of land was covered by husbandmen” 

and then later adds

“All the alterations in a country, in consequence of clearing and cultivation, result only in a different distribution of heat and cold.” 

Seven years later, in 1806, Webster following up this initial speech with a supplement providing further support of his claims.   Another year later, around 1807 or 1808,  Rev. Samuel Williams’ theory about climate change and disease was revived when yet another book on the same controversy was written by John Williams (not at all related to Rev. Williams).  This book arrived in New York City and made its rounds in the intellectual environment, probably by way of the New York School of Medicine or the local medical journal published in New York, The Medical Repository.    

John Williams work only pertained to Great Britain.  Noah Webster’s theory pertain the world as a whole.  In America, Webster’s theory won out in the end.  Everyone local to the states of Connecticut and New York believed in Noah Webster writings.  In turn, these events led to a revival of Webster’s claim on global cooling, a revival supported by the republishing of  his 1799 speech and a review of this research by the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences in their Memoirs published in 1810 .  This served as the final proof people needed that Webster’s claims were the most reliable came when the possibility for global climate changes ensuing some time in the future.   

The belief in Noah Webster’s global cooling theory and the field of medical climatology were now fully developed.  New methods for disease prevention were now being developed in the Hudson Valley.  According to some of these believers, the way to combat global cooling theory was also hinted at in Psalm 147:16-18–”He giveth snow like wool . .  .”   The establishment of a local woolen industry was now more important than ever.   


Ovis orientalis aries var.merino

This led a number of local families in the Hudson Valley to initiate a local wool industry during the early 1800s.  This woolen industry was initiated by the Livingstons and promoted by the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the local agricultural committee with Physician, Sheep-raiser, and later Congressman Bartow White as one of its first members.  According to Minister to France Robert Livingston (1746-1813), following one his tours through Europe, Merino sheep from Spain was the way to go.  (This Livingston was Minister to France 1801-1804, and very instrumental in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.)

Chancellor and Minister Robert Livingston

The common belief by many entrepreneurs about the region was that wool was the way to go to save the problems related to the rapidly growing local population.  The region had a growing need for farmed fruit and vegetable products along with whatever dairy products, meats and poultry the local farms could produce.  For this reason, deforestation was essential to meeting the Malthusian-defined demands of the region.  This in turn made sheep-raising for wool appear to be the best way to adapt to these pending environmental changes.   The only problem was, to raise more sheep, we had to remove more trees. 

And so the story continues for the next 3o or so years in the Hudson Valley.  In large part this is why the Hudson Valley remains prime territory for raising Merino sheep today. [see]

And by the way, all of this took place more than two centuries ago, long before the currently popular global climate change theory was created. 

For more see my pages on this and 

Noah Webster.  A Dissertation on the Supposed Temperature Change of Winter.  Read before the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.  1799.  Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 1, Part 1, 1810.  New Haven, Ct.  Accessed at


END NOTE added 7/29/2011.

This page relates to, which in turn is a consequence of and

About the same time the latter writer was penning his end product I was delving into what Webster’s climate change theory meant to common people and physicians.  The early “American obsession” (‘American’ ethnocentrically referring to United States mostly) with wool during the very early 1800s had much to do with the unstable relationship developing between the US and western European industries.  The European population was now growing too fast, and the needs of the European people couldn’t be met in terms of food, clothing, and other basic necessities in life.  Along with this Malthusian problem was the ideology that the world was getting warmer (or colder according to Webster, depending on how you view and conceptualize things).  The fact that the rich were getting richer and the poor getting poorer within the youngest of the world’s societies–the United States–didn’t help due to the problems now stirring.  

In France, or the US, if you were of low income status, you typically went to the almshouse to stay warm or get your next meal.  Few governments spent or had the time and money needed to assist you personally as a part of this rapidly growing problem with society.  The government essentially had developed the philosophy that it need not care too much about the poor.  Members of the lower class did little to assist a financially dependent group of upper class citizens climb higher in the political food chain.  Even within this kind of society, nature has the capacity and ability to strike back–new diseases and epidemics ensue due to natural laws.  In some cases these natural laws are momentarily suspended as a consequence of human behavior and politics, an example of culturally-defined Lamarckianism giving way to social Darwinism.  In the end, due to its financially driven nature, this form of social Darwinism never wins.  Only Nature wins.