A prolific author, Shepard wrote dozens of papers reporting on his mineral observations, many of which were published in the American Journal of Science, which Silliman edited.
Chemist, mineralogist, naturalist. Shepard was born in Little Compton, Rhode Island, on June 29, 1804, the son of the Reverend Mase Shepard and Deborah Haskins. As a schoolboy Shepard became interested in mineralogy from reading Benjamin Silliman’s Journal of Travels and began his first mineralogical cabinet while a student at Providence Grammar School. When Shepard was fifteen years old, his father died and his mother moved the family to Amherst, Massachusetts. He graduated from Amherst College in 1824 and then studied botany and mineralogy in nearby Cambridge with the mineralogist Thomas Nuttall. He returned to Boston, where he taught botany and mineralogy and corresponded with Silliman. In 1827 he became Silliman’s assistant at Yale College. On September 23, 1831, he married Silliman’s adoptive daughter, Harriet Taylor. The couple had three children.
A prolific author, Shepard wrote dozens of papers reporting on his mineral observations, many of which were published in the American Journal of Science, which Silliman edited. From 1832 to 1833 Shepard visited and surveyed areas in Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia as part of Silliman’s investigation of sugar production requested by the secretary of the treasury. He also published his Treatise on Mineralogy (1832–1835), was a lecturer at Yale College from 1833 to 1847, and then taught at Amherst College from 1847 until his retirement in 1877.
In 1834, acting on a recommendation from Silliman, the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston appointed Shepard professor of chemistry. He taught during the colder months at the Medical College until 1861, returning to New Haven each spring. A highly respected and popular teacher at the Medical College, Shepard also arranged mineralogical collections and botanical facilities on the campus with specimens gathered from across the United States and Europe. Together with his students, he also explored the state’s mineral deposits, with his findings frequently becoming the subject of papers and publications. Perhaps his greatest contribution was the investigations in the late 1850s of the vast phosphate deposits in the South Carolina lowcountry. Benjamin Silliman, Jr., the son of his mentor, remarked, “No observation or original research of Dr. Shepard has been fruitful of so much good in its consequences” as the discovery of these deposits “and the distinct recognition of the fact of its great value for agriculture.” Shepard published three pamphlets on these investigations: On the Development and Extent of the Fertilizer Industry, Charleston Phosphates (1869) and Guano as a Fertilizer (1869).
Shepard left Charleston in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War but returned in 1865 to resume teaching at the Medical College. He resigned his professorship at Charleston in 1869 and was succeeded by his son, Charles Jr., though he continued to lecture at the Medical College for several years afterward. Shepard died in Charleston on May 1, 1886, following an extended illness.
Wilson, Leonard G., ed. Benjamin Silliman and His Circle: Studies in the Influence of Benjamin Silliman on Science in America. New York: Science History Publications, 1979.