Early Life

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My parents, Joseph and Mary Dean, were Welsh immigrants who came to the United States from England in 1830 by way of boat. My father was an influential Methodist minister who was eager to share in all that the U.S. had to offer. I was born on March 24, 1834 in Mount Morris, New York, and given the name John Wesley Powell after one of the founders of my parents’ Methodist religion. My father was eager to train and mold me into a strong spiritual leader, just as he and the man I was named after were. My family and friends called me Wes.

My family and I moved from New York to Jackson, Ohio, when I was four years old. Eventually everyone who lived in the town of Jackson came to know my father, and would listen to him deliver fiery sermons condemning slavery. During this time, slavery was a very controversial issue and many of the townspeople favored it. Those who favored slavery were not very fond of abolitionists like my father, which ended up having a profound affect on me. One afternoon when I was walking home from school, I was beaten and stoned, returning home to my mother a bloody mess. Fed up and tired of the taunting and beating at the young age of seven, my mother did not allow me to return to school. Fortunately for me, several years earlier my family befriended a man named George Crookham, a self-taught naturalist who offered to tutor me. Crookham was an individual who was skilled in various subjects like botany, ornithology, zoology, ethnology, geology and paleontology, and was considered to be a naturalist based on his job of identifying natural history.