Rafinesque, Constantine

Rafinesque, Constantine (Samuel)

(1783–1840) naturalist; born in Galata, Turkey. Son of a German mother and French father, he came to the U.S.A. in 1802 and worked in a Philadelphia countinghouse. An amateur naturalist, he traveled to the west and his work brought him into contact with President Thomas Jefferson. In 1805 he went to Palermo, Sicily, where he engaged in commercial and scientific activities. He returned to the U.S.A. in 1815 (arriving naked and penniless after his ship wrecked off Connecticut) and after serving as a tutor in the wealthy New York Livingston family, he obtained a post as professor of botany, natural history, and modern languages at Transylvania University (Lexington, Ky.). He continued his travels as a naturalist and in 1826 returned to Philadelphia where he died in poverty. Drawing on his extensive travels and observations, he had published some 1,000 articles and books, but for all their occasional insights—he somewhat prefigured Darwin's ideas on the origin of species—his work often betrayed his lack of formal scientific education and discipline.