Samuel George Morton


Samuel Morton was a scientist who worked to prove that there were five different races in the world. He concluded from his studies that cranial size, and intelligence, distinguished the races from one another. He was part of the eugenics movement in the US in the early 19th century.

Beginning in 1834, Morton began to take a deep interest in racial science. His groundbreaking studies of skull size proved was what he eventually became known for. His interest was in identifying and comparing the intellectual capacities and "character" of the races. Morton assembled the largest collection of skulls in North America, which became the basis of his statistical comparisons of human populations.

The first fruits of Morton's research was published as Crania Americana, or, a Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839). He concluded that his measures of the cranium and intelligence distinguished the races from one another.

In his second major work, Crania Aegyptiaca, or, Observations on Egyptian Ethnography, Derived from Anatomy, History, and the Monuments (Philadelphia: J. Pennington, 1844), Morton reported on skulls obtained by George R. Gliddon from archaeological sites in Egypt. The elite of Ancient Egypt, he argued, were Caucasians, and while "Negroes" were abundant, "their social position, in ancient times," he insisted, "was the same as it is now; that of servants or slaves." In essence, Morton argued for the polygenic origins of humanity.

Morton's work was praised by scientists and used as evidence by pro-slavery advocates. Some religious factions who were pro-slavery, however, did not support Morton's work because they saw it as a conflict with the bible's theory of unitary origins.

Morton died in 1851 from pleurisy. Morton's marriage to Rebecca Grellet Pearsall in 1827 resulted in eight children, all of whom survived him.