Jeremiah Lott Zabriskie, 1835 - 1910
by Brian Stevenson
last updated February, 2017
After retiring from the ministry in 1884, Zabriskie devoted considerable time to microscopy and biological studies. For at least 7 years, from 1884 until 1891, he prepared and sold microscope slides. He also served as President of the New York Microscopical Society in 1886, and afterward served both as the Secretary of that society and Editor of its journal for many years. A man of diverse interests, Zabriskie published numerous reports on a wide variety of scientific observations.
Figure 1. Dated March 27, 1888, a J.L. Zabriskie slide of transverse, radial, and tangential sections of wood from a giant sequoia tree, (Sequoia gigantea), mounted in glycerine.
Figure 2. An 1885 advertisement for Zabriskie’s microscope slides. He lived in Nyack, New York, for several years after his retirement, then moved to his home town of Flatbush circa 1888.
Figure 3. J.L. Zabriskie, near the end of his life. From a 1910 obituary.
Jeremiah Zabriskie was born on February 3, 1835, in Flatbush, a suburb of Brooklyn (New York City) on Long Island. He was born into an established, wealthy family of that town. Jeremiah was the second of three sons. His father John B. Zabriskie, a physician, died in 1840. Records imply that Jeremiah received a considerable inheritance, as he had a personal estate of $14,000 in 1870.
He graduated from Columbia University in 1853, then studied for the ministry at Rutgers Theological Seminary (New Jersey). Zabriskie served several congregations over the next twenty-odd years, including Port Jervis, New Baltimore, and Nyack, all in New York.
Jeremiah married Sarah Lyles in 1866. The pair had three children: two girls, then a boy.
He was fascinated with biology and microscopy for some time before his retirement. In 1878, Zabriskie published an engaging account of exploring a woodland near his New Baltimore home, with details on a hatching clutch of eggs of treehopper insects.
According to a biographer, “In 1884. Mr. Zabriskie, owing to ill health, retired from active duty, and spent much time in travel”. A memoriam stated, “from that time Mr. Zabriskie devoted his life to studies in natural science, principally in microscopy and the microscopic structure of insects. He was skilled in the preparation of microscopic material; made a collection of sections of wood and mounts of parts of insects”.
Professional production of microscope slides began in 1884. During that year, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal announced, “The list of wood sections prepared for the microscope by the Rev. J.L. Zabriskie includes a large number of species. Transverse, radial and tangential sections of each kind are mounted under one cover, for 60 cents per slide. A set of these preparations would certainly be interesting and instructive to a botanist”. An 1885 advertisement is shown above in Figure 2, and later advertisements are illustrated below in Figure 4.
Zabriskie explored a wide range of biological phenomena and published numerous papers. These ranged from the explosive expulsion of Wisteria seeds from their pods, to fungi that infect caterpillars. Accompanying illustrations show Zabriskie to have been a competent scientific artist (Figure 5). His studies of the carpenter bee Ceratina dupla revealed two parasitic dipteran flies that were named in his honor, Diomorus zabriskii and Axima zabriskiei.
He joined several local scientific organizations. Zabriskie served as President of the New York Entomological Society, the Brooklyn Entomological Society, and the New York Microscopical Society. He later served as N.Y.M.S. Secretary and edited their journal (Figure 6). Both Jeremiah and Sarah were members of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
His advertisements indicate a move from Nyack in 1887-1888 (Figures 2 and 4). A biographer wrote, “a longing for the scenes of his early boyhood, and a desire to be among his friends, impelled his return to Flatbush, where he erected a handsome residence on what was then known as Waverly Avenue, and now as Regent Place. The interior of the house is replete with heirlooms and many interesting articles which have been handed down from his ancestors. Among them is a set of old Dutch tiles that were brought from Holland about the year 1700, and were imbedded around the arch forming the open fireplace in the old Zabriskie homestead, which stood at the corner of Flatbush and Church Avenues until 1877, when it was razed to the ground. Each tile symbolizes an event in Biblical history. In constructing the open fireplace in his new home, Mr. Zabriskie had the tiles placed in a similar position, and above them he has placed a bronze tablet bearing the following inscription: ‘Dutch tiles from the Zabriskie homestead, located for 150 years, until 1877, at N.W. cor. of Flatbush and Church Avenues, Flatbush, L.I. The tiles here set in 1886 by Jeremiah L. Zabriskie’. Mr. Zabriskie combines all the characteristics of his early ancestors, who were noted for their honesty, prudence, patience, and forbearance. He is beloved for his Christian and courteous disposition to all with whom he comes in contact”.
Sarah died in 1901. Jeremiah died on April 2, 1910, “after a brief illness, in his seventy-sixth year”. His memoriam in The Journal of the New York Entomological Society continued, “notwithstanding his advanced age, Mr. Zabriskie was an active member of the Society, in constant attendance at its meetings. His physical and mental powers were remarkably preserved; he took part in the 1909 Decoration Day Excursion and at the meeting of March 15, about two weeks before his death, he spoke for an hour on the anatomy of Bruchus discoideus, illustrating his remarks with lantern slides prepared by himself.”
Figure 4. Advertisements for Jeremiah Zabriskie’s microscope slides, from 1888 (left) and 1891 (right). The 1888 advertisement made a typographical error with his middle initial.
Figure 5. Illustrations by J.L. Zabriskie from his 1885 paper on fungi that infect caterpillars and other insects. (A) “New Zealand caterpillar fungus either Torrubia Sinclairii or Torrubia robertsii”; (B) “a species native to this country, and frequently met with, is the Torrubia militaris. It infests those pupae of moths which are concealed just beneath the surface of the ground. The fruiting stem issues usually from the head, but sometimes from the articulations, of the pupa, and it rises in the air to perfect its fruit”; (C) “one more native species, the Torrubia clavulata … It infests the coccus, or scale-insect, of the Black Ash. … The male is a two-winged creature, which passes through its sportive life in a very short period. But the noticeable member of the family, on account of her endurance, and her attachment to her home, is the female. When very young, she fastens herself to some suitable spot on the ash twig, thrusts her beak into the bark, and lives on the sap of the plant. She now begins to be covered with a shell. This enlarges and hardens into a nearly hemispherical mass firmly attached to the twig and about a quarter of an inch in diameter. Here the insect lives and dies, without ever moving from her selected station. She is frequently affected with the fungus last mentioned, - the Torrubia clavulata - which, as autumn approaches, bursts through various parts of the rounded shell in little fruiting stems about one-tenth of an inch in length. I have collected this fungus on Haight's Island, - an island in the Hudson River, about fifteen miles below Albany, - where it appears to be quite frequent. Sometimes the fruiting stems number from fifteen to nineteen on one insect. Usually the stems are simple, slender, and curved; and the head, which is about one-quarter or one-sixth the length of the stem, is black, broadly elliptical, and crowded with the comparatively large, rounded perithecia, thus presenting the appearance of a miniature mulberry. On one specimen the stems were nearly all branched - an unusual occurrence”.
Figure 6. Front matter from an 1894 issue of the Journal of the New York Microscopical Society, showing J.L. Zabriskie as both the journal’s Editor and the society’s Corresponding Secretary.
The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1884) Note on J.L. Zabriskie’s microscope slides for sale, Vol. 5, page 239
Cresson, E.T. (1879) Hymenopterous insect from stems of the black raspberry, Psyche, Vol. 2, page 189
Flatbush of To-Day (1908) Vol. 2, page 141
Howard, L.O. (1890) A North American Axima and its habits, Insect Life, Vol. 2, pages 365-367
Journal of the New York Entomological Society (1910) Memoriam of J.L. Zabriskie, Vol. 18, page 127
Journal of the New York Microscopical Society (1885) Advertisement for J.L. Zabriskie’s microscope slides, Vol. 1, January issue, inside cover
Journal of the New York Microscopical Society (1894) Front matter
The Microscope (1888) Advertisement for J.L. Zabriskie’s microscope slides, Vol. 8, December issue advertisements
The Microscope (1891) Advertisement for J.L. Zabriskie’s microscope slides, Vol. 11
Schenck, P.L. (1881) Historical Sketch of the Zabriskie Homestead (removed 1877), Flatbush, L.I., self-published
U.S. census, birth, marriage, and death records, accessed through ancestry.com
Yearbook of the Brooklyn Institute (1889) Membership lists, Vol. 1, pages 17-18 and 38-39
Zabriskie, J.L. (1878) The birth of a tree-hopper, The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science, Vol. 3, pages 56-58
Zabriskie, J.L. (1883) Dispersion of seed by Wisteria, The American Naturalist, Vol. 17, pages 541-542
Zabriskie, J.L. (1885) Limitation of the visual field of the worker honey-bee’s ocelli, Journal of the New York Microscopical Society, Vol. 1, pages 88-89
Zabriskie, J.L. (1885) A caterpillar fungus from New Zealand, and some related species of the United States, Journal of the New York Microscopical Society, Vol. 1, pages 89-94