Founded in Charleston in November 1853, the Elliott Society of Natural History was established for the purpose of promoting the study of natural history, especially in South Carolina. Named after the city’s noted botanist Stephen Elliott, the organization represented the maturation of scientific interests in Charleston, which by then was the center of natural history studies in the South.
Encouraged by the renowned naturalist Louis Agassiz, the Charleston Museum curator Francis Simmons Holmes played a key role in establishing the society. Eager to emulate the highly successful natural history society founded in Philadelphia in 1812 and the one established in Boston in 1830, Charleston scientists joined with Holmes in creating the Elliott Society. Unlike its sister organizations in the North, however, the society was hampered by a comparatively small urban population and scarcity of funds. Nevertheless, although its membership never exceeded eighty during the antebellum period and while monthly attendance was usually low, it succeeded admirably and managed to publish one volume of its proceedings and one issue of a journal prior to the Civil War. Especially supportive of the society were the naturalists John McCrady and Lewis R. Gibbes, the latter of whom served as the society’s president for most of its existence.
Inactive during the Civil War, the Elliott Society resumed its activities soon afterward. In an attempt to broaden its appeal, the organization changed its name to the Elliott Society of Science and Arts in 1867. Although it enjoyed brief periods of revival, the society was moribund by 1891, thus ending its notable contributions to the study of natural history in South Carolina.
Stephens, Lester D. Science, Race, and Religion in the American South: John Bachman and the Charleston Circle of Naturalists, 1815–1895. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
———. “Scientific Societies in the Old South: The Elliott Society and the New Orleans Academy of Sciences.” In Science and Medicine in the Old South, edited by R. N. Numbers and T. L. Savitt. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.