Connecticut’s history in stone

In a lecture at the Peabody Museum of Natural History on Thursday, a professor laid out the foundation of Connecticut in stone.

Professor Jelle Zeilinger de Boer, a retired Wesleyan earth and environmental science professor, described the historical uses of Connecticut’s minerals and rocks from a geological perspective in his lecture, “Connecticut’s Stories in Stone.”

De Boer said that the teaching of geology as a science at Yale has a long history. Benjamin Silliman first brought the discipline to the University when he began teaching for the Department of Chemistry and Natural Sciences in 1802.

Silliman had a role in collecting pieces of a meteorite that landed in the town of Easton, Conn., in 1807, which are currently on display at the Peabody, de Boer said.

De Boer added that Thomas Jefferson, upon hearing about the discovery of the meteorite in Connecticut, said, “It’s a lie! It is easier to believe that the two Yankee professors would lie than the stones would fall from heaven.”

In addition to describing Connecticut’s history of “stones from space,” de Boer also spoke about the role of Connecticut minerals in American wars, including the Civil War and American Revolution.

Salisbury iron ores were important in the Civil War because their iron was used in armaments, he said.

In the American Revolution, colonists melted a gilded, iron statue of King George III into bullets, many of which were later used at the Battle of Saratoga, he added.

Mineral resources also contributed to Connecticut commerce and to the clock-making industry, de Boer said. Bristol copper ores led to new production methods for the Connecticut clock industry, and granite was mined in Branford until the end of the 19th century, de Boer said.

But he added that rocks and minerals no longer play as important a role in the state.

“We don’t have anything left,” he said.

The lecture attracted New Haven residents and geology enthusiasts alike.

“I loved the blending in of history,” said Judy Hickey, who attended the talk with her husband Leo, a curator at the Peabody.

David Duffner, a New Haven resident whose wife volunteers at the Peabody Museum, said he liked how de Boer related geology to the economics of Connecticut.

He added that he came to the lecture because he was interested in Connecticut geography and, in fact, keeps a rock collection at home.

Professor de Boer is the author of “Stories in Stone,” “Volcanoes in Human History,” and “Earthquakes in Human History.”

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