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Scottish-born William Dunbar (1750–1810) is recognized by Mississippi and Southwest historians as one of the most successful planters, agricultural innovators, explorers, and scientists to emerge from the Mississippi Territory. Despite his successes, however, history books abridge his contributions to America’s early national years to a few passing sentences or footnotes. William Dunbar: Scientific Pioneer of the Old Southwest rectifies past neglect, paying tribute to a man whose life was driven by the need to know and the willingness to suffer in pursuit of knowledge.
From the beginning, research, contemplation, and scholarship formed the template by which Dunbar would structure his life. His mother’s insistence on education motivated him throughout his youth, and in 1771, he sailed to America, prepared to seize any and all opportunities. Settling in the Mississippi territory, Dunbar embarked on the endeavors that would soon gain him renown. He surveyed the boundary between Spanish West Florida and the United States and contributed heavily to the rise of cotton culture through his inventions and innovations in agricultural technology.
In 1804, at the same time that Lewis and Clark were making their way up the Missouri River, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Dunbar—now a fellow member of the prestigious American Philosophical Society—to lead a similar exploration of the southern Louisiana Purchase territory. The 103-day expedition captured the imagination of Americans looking to move westward and yielded the first information about the geographical, geological, and meteorological characteristics of the old Southwest.
Arthur H. DeRosier Jr. traces Dunbar’s life from his ambition as a youth to his development into a man recognized by his contemporaries as a leader in many scientific fields. Drawing upon the private journal of Dunbar’s granddaughter Virginia Dunbar McQueen and neglected historical annals, William Dunbar examines Dunbar’s public and private life, the scope of his interests, and the lasting contributions he left to a country and people he loved.
Historian Arthur H. DeRosier Jr. is President Emeritus of Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana.
"In this entertaining biography of William Dunbar, Arthur H. DeRosier, Jr. rescues an important scientist and explorer from obscurity, and provides an insight into the formative years of the State of Mississippi."—Edward J. Cashin, Augusta State University
"DeRosier has produced a masterful biography of William Dunbar that should be on the reading list of every serious student of American history. He has documented the life and times of Dunbar, who was undoubtedly the intellectual giant of West Florida and the Mississippi Territory. Many Americans are familiar with the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but few know that Thomas Jefferson appointed William Dunbar to lead a scientific expedition of the Ouachita River and the 'hot springs' in the southern portion of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. In his page-turning biography, Arthur DeRosier has assigned Dunbar his rightful place in American history."—Elbert R. Hilliard, Director Emeritus, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
"This is an important work that fills a gap in the historiography of the Mississippi planter class. It will appeal to both the college level scholar of early Mississippi history and the casual Mississippi historian equally."—Journal of Mississippi History
"Arthur H. DeRosier Jr. gives William Dunbar (1750-1810) his full due in this well-researched and clearly written biography."—Journal of American History
"This book gives historians abundant information to plan their investigations of an area and a person much ignored by historians."—Isis
"DeRosier rescues Dunbar from obscurity to provide him a rightful place as one of the most influential scientists and agriculturalists in the Mississippi Valley during the late colonial and early national periods. . . . Dunbar’s life represents a remarkable story of an intellectual farmer whose quest for knowledge knew no bounds."—Jay H. Buckley, Agricultural History
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
William Dunbar, Mississippi, Mississippi Valley, North American exploration
United States History
DeRosier, Arthur H. Jr., "William Dunbar: Scientific Pioneer of the Old Southwest" (2007). United States History. 109.