George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882)

Linguist, diplomat, conservationist; born in Woodstock.

A master of several languages by the time he graduated from Dartmouth in 1820, he taught for five years before shifting to law; with a prosperous practice in Burlington, he entered politics, eventually serving in the US House of Representatives (Whig, Vt.; 1843-49), where he opposed slavery and the Mexican War. He resigned to serve as ambassador to Turkey (1849-54).

He had continued his studies of various languages, such as Icelandic, and as an ambassador was noted for his ability to converse with foreigners in many languages. Back in Vermont he pursued a variety of interests: writing a book on introducing the camel into the US and lecturing and publishing a history of the English language.

In 1861 he went off to the new kingdom of Italy as first American ambassador, a post he held with great respect until his death in Italy in 1882.

While in Italy he published Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1864); it was heavily revised and republished as The Earth as Modified by Human Action (1874). Although it did not receive much attention in its day, it was rediscovered in the 1930s, and with its thesis that humans have abused the land and must therefore restore it, it has come to be regarded as “the fountainhead of the conservation movement.”