Although not a member of the Lazzaroni, James Hall maintained close professional relationships with many of its members, particularly Louis Agassiz, with whom he corresponded for many years. He was respected by all the members: Dana believed that without Hall, "the geological history of North America could not have been written;" and Agassiz was so fascinated by Hall's collection of fossils that he tried to persuade Harvard officials to bring him--and his collection --to Cambridge.
The son of a poor New England family, Hall became determined at an early age to gain an education despite the many obstacles arising from his poverty. As a youth, by securing private tutoring and attending public lectures, he managed to compensate for the school time lost in work to supplement his family's meager finances. At the age of 19, he made the trek on foot to Rensselaer Institute in Troy, New York, where he was graduated in 1832.
Here, his inclination for the sciences--a bent that had already been fostered by his boyhood friendship with Dr. Martin Gay, a chemist and lecturer living in Hall's native town--came into full bloom under the tutelage of botanist Amos Eaton and geologist Ebenezer Emmons. After spending the summer months on field excursions with Emmons, Hall settled on geology as a career and in the summer following his graduation, he went to the Heldeberg Mountains near Albany to undertake his first independent geological study. Shortly afterward, Eaton brought Hall to the attention of Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer, benefactor of the Rensselaer Institute, who hired the youth to complete a survey of New York's St. Lawrence County. Impressed with his work, his new patron obtained appointment for Hall as an assistant in the New York State Geological Survey. Within a short time, he took over as head of the Survey's fourth district. With the publication of his study of the region under his charge in 1843, Hall's