John James Abert was a military engineer who was born September 17, 1788. Most biographies, including a listing in Kennemond’s Prominent Men of Shepherdstown, state that Shepherdstown was his place of birth, although others claim he was actually born in Frederick, MD.
He was the son of John Abert, who came to this country with Gen. Rochambeau in 176O. Young Abert entered as a cadet of the West Point military academy in 1808. He graduated from the academy in 1811 and was for a time employed by the war office. He resigned in 1813 and became a counselor-at-law.
He served as a private in the District of Columbia militia in War of 1812 and took part in the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814. Reappointed to the army later that year, he served as assistant in the geodetic survey of the Atlantic Coast in 1816 and from 1829 to 1841 he was head of the Army’s topographical bureau. Under his leadership the corps explored, surveyed, and mapped the then-unknown wilderness west of the Mississippi River.
Abert was a member of numerous American scientific and historical associations and of the geographical society of Paris, France, and was instrumental in founding what later became the Smithsonian Institution. He died in Washington, D. C. in 1863.