Bartram Family

This extended family, centering on the Pennsylvania farmer John Bartram, contributed substantially to the study of botany and natural history in British North America. Beginning around 1727, when he was about 28 years old, Bartram became interested in botany, a subject in which he was largely self-taught. Through his correspondence with the London Quaker merchant Peter Collinson, one of the most important intermediaries between English and American science, Bartram entered the world of international botanical exchange, sending seeds, bulbs, and cuttings of American plants to Europe; he received European and other foreign specimens in exchange, as well as monetary payment. Bartram’s efforts contributed to a marked rise in the number of American plant species cultivated in England in the mid-eighteenth century. As his skills were recognized in the learned community in Europe and America, Bartram acquired Benjamin Franklin as a patron and the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus as an admirer. He also published several papers on natural history in the journal of Britain’s Royal Society, Philosophical Transactions, although, curiously, none on botany. Bartram contributed specimens to enable Mark Catesby, who was in London at the time, to finish his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (published 1729–1747). Bartram also corresponded and exchanged plants and seeds with other North American botanists and gardeners, such as Cadwallader Colden of New York and Martha Logan of Charles Town. The botanical garden Bartram started in 1728 at his home outside Philadelphia attracted many distinguished visitors. He participated in the first American Philosophical Society from 1743 to 1746 and was an inactive member of the subsequent Philadelphia organization bearing that name. Bartram made several journeys in search of new American plants. The height of his career was an expedition to the southeastern British colonies in 1765, when George III appointed Bartram king’s botanist. This appointment shocked some American scientists. Bartram, for all his undoubted skill in collecting and raising plants, was not a learned botanist he had little knowledge of Latin and botanical science. Largely self-taught, John Bartram came to be regarded as “the father of American botany.” He collected, studied, and exchanged countless plant species and conducted what are believed to be the first experiments in hybridization. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-68176) Regardless of his colleagues’ skepticism, the trip was a success. Bartram published two accounts of his journeys, Observations on the Inhabitants, Climate, Soil, Rivers, Productions, Animals, and other matters worthy of notice. Made by Mr. John Bartram, in his travels from Pensilvania to Onondago, Oswego, and the Lake Ontario, in Canada (1751) and a journal included in William Stork’s An Account of East Florida, with a Journal, Kept by John Bartram of Philadelphia, botanist to his majesty for the Floridas; upon a journey from St. Augustine up the River St. Johns (1767)……………….. Bartram’s success helped attract his cousin Humphrey Marshall to the sciences. Marshall supplemented Bartram’s botanical exports by sending small American animals and insects to European collectors. Marshall, with broader scientific interests than Bartram, was also a keen astronomer whose observations of sunspots were published in Philosophical Transactions. In his work as a botanist, Marshall wrote a catalogue of American trees and shrubs, Arbustrum Americanum (1785), which attracted considerable interest in Europe, with two reprints. Two of John Bartram’s sons, Isaac and Moses, were apothecaries, active members of the American Philosophical Society, and dabblers in the sciences. Isaac’s interests were in chemistry, botany, and agricultural improvement, while Moses was mostly interested in natural history. Both were deeply involved in the American Philosophical Society’s project to create a silkworm industry in Pennsylvania……….. The most prominent scientist and writer among John Bartram’s sons was the youngest, William Bartram. William Bartram’s keen interest in botany and natural history was manifest in his youth, causing his father to despair of finding him a remunerative career. William was a gifted illustrator and accompanied John on his trip to the southeastern colonies in 1765. He hoped to start a slave-worked rice plantation in Florida, an effort that came to nothing………….. William Bartram is best known for his narrative of a series of his own expeditions in southeastern North America from 1773 to 1776, Travels through North & South Carolina, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws, containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of these Regions, together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians (1791). His scientific interests were broader than his father’s. In addition to information on botany, his writings contain much information about animal life and both colonial and Native American society. Bartram was more sympathetic to Native Americans than were most white American writers at the time. Travels was far less popular in the United States than in Europe, where its influence was greatest among Romantic poets, rather than natural historians………….. William E. Burns See also: Environment and Nature; Science; Science and Technology (Chronology). Bibliography Earnest, Ernest. John and William Bartram, Botanists and Explorers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940. Slaughter, Thomas P. The Natures of John and William Bartram. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. Stearns, Raymond Phineas. Science in the British Colonies of America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

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