February 26, 2013—Less than six years following the release of William Smith’s famous geologic map of England in 1815, and nearly two decades before the founding of the Ohio Geological Survey, enterprising and observant individuals were advancing the new science of geology. In Ohio, Ebenezer Granger of Zanesville led the study of rocks and plant fossils found in the Muskingum River and its vicinity.
Granger, a native of Suffield, Connecticut, came to Muskingum County with brothers Oliver, Henry, and James before the War of 1812. Oliver and Ebenezer became partners in a Zanesville store before 1815. Ebenezer was also a member of the Muskingum County Bar Association from 1810 to 1817 and tutored others in the practice of law. Zanesville was an important early center of the glass, brick, pottery, and building stone industry in Ohio, primarily due to the abundance of local geologic materials, such as clay, shale, coal, sandstone, iron ore, and limestone. Early transportation routes, such as the Muskingum River and Zane’s Trace, facilitated manufacturing and trade. Prior to the construction of the Muskingum River locks and dams in 1836, much of the rocky bottom of the river and tributaries was exposed during low water. Ebenezer and his associate William A. Adams began to systematically collect and record the strange fossil plants that were found in the rocks of the river, as well as the excavations of the original canal at Zanesville that was constructed in 1816.
In 1821, Ebenezer Granger wrote to the influential American Journal of Science to ask for help in identifying the fossils. The letter to the editor, the journal’s response, and two pages of plates with detailed drawings of the “vegetable impressions” were published in Volume III of the journal.1 Ebenezer astutely observed that the fossil plants suggested a tropical origin, evidence that “poles of the earth have at some remote period been changed.” He also mentions finding river pebbles of “primitive” origin, noting that there were no such rocks cropping out in the area. Such observations were baffling others studying geology around the world, leading to the concept of large-scale glaciation in the 1830s and the theories of continental drift (1912) and plate tectonics (in the 1960s).
M. Adolphe Brongniart, in his singular 1828 publication Histoire des Vegetaux Fossile (History of Fossil Plants), documents and analyzes fossil plants from around the world and relies heavily on the detailed plant fossil drawings supplied by Ebenezer Granger for worldwide comparisons. The original, wonderfully preserved fossils were lost when the boat delivering them to New Orleans for shipment to France sank on the Mississippi River. And unfortunately, Ebenezer died in 1822 before Brongiart’s work was published. Nonetheless, a fossil fern from Muskingum County—Neuropteris Grangeri—is named to honor this pioneer of the study of Ohio geology.
Bulletin 70: Fossils of Ohio, R. M. Feldmann and M. Hackathorn, eds., 577 p., 1996 (Revised 2005).
1 American Journal of Science, 1821, Article II—Notice of vegetable impressions on the rocks connected with the coal formation of Zanesville, Ohio, in a letter to the editor, from Ebenezer Granger, Esq. dated August 18, 1820: New Haven, American Journal of Science, vol. 3, p. 5–7.