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Mitchell, Elisha

Elisha Mitchell (1793-1857) was born in Washington, CT, the son of Phoebe Eliot and Abner Mitchell, a farmer. He graduated from Yale with Denison Olmsted in 1813 and subsequently taught at Jamaica, NY, at New London, CT, and at Yale as a tutor before becoming professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University in November 1817. He was licensed to preach by the Congregational Church and in 1821 was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He married Maria Sybil North of New London, CT, in November 1819; she was the daughter of a physician. The couple had seven children: three sons—Henry Eliot Mitchell, Matthew Henry (who died in infancy) and Charles Andrews; and four daughters—Mary Phoebe (who married Richard J. Ashe), Ellen Hannah (who married Joseph John Summerell), Margaret Eliot, and Eliza North (who married Richard S. Grant). In 1825 Mitchell succeeded Olmsted as professor of chemistry. Continuing a geological survey of North Carolina begun by Olmsted, Mitchell published several papers and pamphlets. He is best known for measuring the height of Black Mountain, now called Mount Mitchell, in western North Carolina, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. The claim was disputed by Thomas Lanier Clingman, who argued that he and not Mitchell had found the highest point in the range. To settle the controversy, Mitchell went again to the mountains in 1857 and on June 27, 1857, set out alone to make his measurements. He fell down a steep bank into a pool and drowned. He was buried in Asheville and later reinterred on Mount Mitchell (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 4:281-82).