Charles Frederic Hartt was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the son of Jarvis William Hartt, a local educator. However, the family moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where young Hartt received his early education, first under the supervision of his father at the Horton Academy and later at Acadia College. Even at the age of 10 or 11, Hartt exhibited a great love for natural history. While a student at Acadia College Hartt's abilities came to the attention of J. William Dawson and under Dawson's guidance Hartt undertook a study of the geology of Nova Scotia. It is reported that Hartt was so excited by his subject that he explored the entire province on foot, from one end to the other. From this field work came Hartt's first paper in which the young geologist disagreed with the ideas of none other than Sir Roderick Murchison with regard to the source of gold in some Nova Scotia rocks. After Hartt's graduation from Acadia College in 1860, the family moved back to New Brunswick, this time to Saint John where his father started a secondary school with Charles as one of the instructors. But Charles was more interested in exploring the region than teaching, and one of his favorite locations was known as "Fern Ledges" on the shore of the Bay of Fundy. In this outcrop of what Dawson identified as Devonian shales (now known to be Pennsylvanian Age), Hartt discovered what were the oldest known insects of the time. This and his other work brought him to the attention of Louis Agassiz and led to an invitation to study at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even after he went to study with Agassiz, Hartt continued to work in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia during the summers, culminating in the summer of 1864 when he was employed with George F. Matthew, Professors L. W. Bailey, and Dawson to do a geology survey of New Brunswick. Hartt left his homeland soon afterward and turned his geological prowess on Brazil, but only after he had learned his craft walking over the hills and valleys of the Atlantic Provinces.

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