Josiah C. Nott

Josiah C. Nott
Josiah Clarke Nott.jpg
Nott during the 1860s
Josiah Clark Nott

March 31, 1804
DiedMarch 31, 1873 (1873-04-01) (aged 69)
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
OccupationSurgeon, anthropologist
Spouse(s)Sarah Cantey Deas (m. 1832)

Josiah Clark Nott (March 31, 1804 – March 31, 1873) was an American surgeon and anthropologist. He studied the etiology of yellow fever. He supported slavery and engaged in phrenology.

Nott, who owned slaves, used his scientific reputation to defend the institution of enslavement. He claimed that "the negro achieves his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery".[1] Nott was influenced by the racial theories of Samuel George Morton (1799–1851), one of the inspirators of physical anthropology. Morton collected hundreds of human skulls from around the world and tried to classify them. Morton had been among the first to claim that he could judge the intellectual capacity of a race by the cranial capacity (the measure of the volume of the interior of the skull). A large skull meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. By studying these skulls he came to the conclusion of polygenism, that each race had a separate origin.

Early life and education

Born on March 31, 1804 in the U.S. state of South Carolina, Nott was the son of the Federalist politician and judge Abraham Nott. He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1827 and completed his post-graduate training in Paris, France.[2] He moved to Mobile, Alabama in 1833 and began a surgical practice.[2]


Illustration from Indigenous Races of the Earth (1857), whose authors Nott and George Gliddon implied that "Negroes" were a creational rank between "Greeks" and chimpanzees.

Nott took up theories that the mosquito was a vector for malaria, held by John Crawford and his contemporary Lewis Daniel Beauperthy.[3] He is credited as being the first to apply the insect vector theory to yellow fever, then a serious health problem of the American South.[2] In his 1850 Yellow Fever Contrasted with Bilious Fever he attacked the prevailing miasma theory. Nott lost four of his children to yellow fever in one week in September 1853.[4]

Morton's followers, particularly Nott and George Gliddon (1809–1857) in their monumental tribute to Morton's work, Types of Mankind (1854), carried Morton's ideas further and claimed and backed up his findings which supported the notion of polygenism, which claims that humanity originates from different lineages and is the ancestor of the multiregional hypothesis.

In their book, Nott and Gliddon argued that the races of mankind occupied distinct zoological provinces and did not originate from a single pair, they both believed God had created each race and positioned each race in separate provinces. The doctrine of zoological provinces outlined in Types of Mankind did not allow for superiority of one type of race over another, each type was suited to its own province, and was superior in its own area. Nott claimed that because races were created in different provinces, that each race types must be of equal antiquity.[5] However Nott and other polygenists such as Gliddon believed that the biblical Adam means "to show red in the face" or "blusher"; since only light skinned people can blush, then the biblical Adam must be of the Caucasian race.[6]

Nott persistently attacked the scientific basis of the Bible and also rejected the theory of evolution, claiming that the environment does not change any organism into another, and also rejecting common descent. Nott believed monogenism was "absurd" and had no biblical or scientific basis. He pointed to excavations in Egypt which depicted animals and humans as they looked today to refute monogenism and evolution. According to Nott, the monuments and artifacts found in Egypt show us that the "White, Mongolian and Negro existed at least five thousand years ago". Nott claimed that this proved beyond dispute that each race had been created separately.[6]

Nott claimed that the writers of the Bible had no knowledge of any races except themselves and their immediate neighbors, and that the Bible does not concern the whole of the earth's population. According to Nott there are no verses in the Bible which support monogenism and that the only passage the monogenists use is Acts 17:26, but according to Nott the monogenists are wrong in their interpretation of that verse because the "one blood" of Paul's sermon only includes the nations he knew existed, which were local.[6]

In 1856, Nott hired Henry Hotze to translate Arthur de Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–55), a founding text of "biological racism" that contrasts with Boulainvilliers (1658–1722)'s theory of races and provided an appendix with the latest results. Gobineau subsequently complained that Hotze's translation had ignored his comments on "American decay generally and slaveholding in particular".[7]

In 1857, Nott and Gliddon again co-edited a book, Indigenous Races of the Earth.[8] That book built upon the arguments in Types of Mankind that linked anthropology and "scientific" studies of race to establish a supposed natural hierarchy of the races. The book included chapters from Louis Ferdinand Alfred Maury, J. Atkin Meigs, and Francis Polszky, letters from Louis Agassiz, Joseph Leidy, and A.W. Habersham.

Charles Darwin opposed Nott and Gliddon's polygenist (and creationists) arguments in his 1871 The Descent of Man, arguing for a monogenism of the species. Darwin conceived the common origin of all humans (aka single-origin hypothesis) as essential for evolutionary theory. Darwin cited Nott and Gliddon's arguments as an example of those classing the races of man as separate species; Darwin disagreed and he concluded that humanity is one species.[9]

Nott was a founder of the Medical College of Alabama, established in Mobile in 1858, and served as its Professor of Surgery. In 1860 he successfully appealed to the state legislature for a monetary appropriation and a state charter for the school. During the American Civil War he served as a Confederate surgeon and staff officer. During the early years of the war he served as director of the Confederate General Army Hospital in Mobile; later he served in the field as medical director on the staffs of Brig. Gen. Daniel Ruggles and Gen. Braxton Bragg, and hospital inspector. He lost both of his remaining sons to the war. Upon his own death in 1873 he was interred in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile.


Honors Hall at The University of Alabama was previously named Nott Hall in honor of Nott, for his work at the predecessor Medical College of Alabama. This attracted controversy in 2016, with several student groups petitioning that either the building be renamed or an educational plaque be added due to Nott's open racism even by the standards of his era.[10][11] On August 5, 2020, his name was removed from the building.[12]


See also


  1. ^ Dewbury, Adam (January 2007), "The American School and Scientific Racism in Early American Anthropology", in Darnell, Regna; Gleach, Frederic W. (eds.), Histories of Anthropology Annual, 3, p. 141–142, ISBN 978-0803266643
  2. ^ a b c "Josiah Clark Nott, M.D. (1804-1873)". Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2008-02-20.
  3. ^ Chernin E (November 1983). "Josiah Clark Nott, insects, and yellow fever". Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 59 (9): 790–802. PMC 1911699. PMID 6140039.
  4. ^ Downs, WG (April 1974). "Yellow fever and Josiah Clark Nott". Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 50 (4): 499–508. PMC 1749383. PMID 4594855.
  5. ^ David Keane, Caste-based discrimination in international human rights law, 2007, pp. 91-92
  6. ^ a b c Scott Mandelbrote, Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: 1700–present), Volume 2, 2010. pp. 151 - 154
  7. ^ Burnett, Lonnie Alexander (2008), Henry Hotze, Confederate propagandist: selected writings on revolution ..., University of Alabama Press, p. 5, ISBN 9780817316204
  8. ^ Indigenous Races of the Earth (Philadelphia 1857)
  9. ^ Darwin, Charles (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1st ed.). London: John Murray. p. 217
  10. ^ Student group seeking change targets building namesakes with racist pasts
  11. ^ Why keep a KKK leader's name on a University of Alabama building?
  12. ^ [1]

Further reading

  • Horsman, Reginald (October 3, 2011). "Josiah C. Nott". The Encyclopedia of Alabama. Alabama Humanities Foundation.
  • Horsman, Reginald (1987). Josiah Nott of Mobile: Southerner, Physician, and Racial Theorist. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0807113660.
  • Keel, Terence. (2018). Divine Variations: How Christian Thought Became Racial Science. Stanford, Cali.: Stanford University Press.
  • Peterson, Erik L. (2017). "Race and Evolution in Antebellum Alabama: The Polygenist Prehistory We'd Rather Ignore." In: C.D. Lynn et al. (eds)., Evolution Education in the American South, 33–59. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: 10.1057/978-1-349-95139-0_2.

External links

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