John Bartram

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Above: “Bartram’s house as it was in 1895. Built in 1730-31. In the margin is the Petre pear, raised by Bartram from a seedling sent from England in 1760 by Lady Petre,” in L. H. Bailey, ed., Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1927), new edition, vol. II, fig. 1851, and here. Below: “Old Deciduous Cypress in Bartram’s Garden. This tree still stands, although dead,” in L. H. Bailey, ed., Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1927), new edition, vol. I, fig. 308, and here.

“In 1760 John Bartram planted in his garden on the Schuylkill a pear tree sent from England by Lady Petre; more than one hundred and twenty-five years later I took cions from the tree and set them in a young pear of my planting, and the tree is still fruitful.” –LHBGC, p. 149

Bartram, John, called by Linnæus the greatest natural botanist in the world, was born at Marple, near Darby, Pennsylvania, March 23, 1699, and died September 22, 1777. He was a Quaker farmer, who became interested in botany after the age of twenty-four. In 1728, at Kingsessing, on the Schuylkill River, he established the first botanic garden in America (page 348, Vol. I), which, together with his house, built in 1731 of stone hewn by his own hands, is preserved as part of the park system of Philadelphia (Fig. 1851 [above]). He traveled much in America, and was for many years the chief medium of exchange between Europe and America of plants of all kinds, especially new and important species, as Rhododendron maximum and Cypripedium acaule. His correspondence with Peter Collinson lasted nearly half a century. The letters, preserved to us in Darlington’s ‘Memorials of John Bartram and Humphrey Marshall,’ are rich in botanical, historical and general interest. ‘Observations on the Inhabitants . . . made by John Bartram in his Travels from Pensilvania to Onondago, Oswego, and the Lake Ontario . . . London, 1751,’ is similarly readable, and a document of great value in the study of aboriginal races.

“At the age of seventy he undertook, with his son William, an expedition to Florida, which is recorded in the ‘Journal Kept upon a Journey from St. Augustine up the River St. Johns.’ Bartram was probably the first American to perform successful experiments in hybridization. His sons, John and William, continued his garden. For many years it was the largest and best collection of trees and shrubs in America, and the services of the garden to early American horticulture were very great. He is commemorated in Bartramia, a genus of mosses, and in ‘Bartram’s Oak,’ for the literature of which see I. C. Martinale’s ‘Notes on the Bartram Oak, Quercus heterophylla, Michx.,’ published at Camden, New Jersey, 1880. Bartram’s garden is a unique spot in America. Many of the trees have attained great age, size and beauty. The garden also contains many quaint and picturesque relics which have associations of great interest. On the whole, John Bartram is one of the most illustrious, and by far the most picturesque, of the early botanists and horticulturists of America, and his simple, wholesome, powerful personality presents a picture that is altogether amiable. New editions of the works of Bartram and Darlington are much to be desired, and offer a promising field to critical labors. John Bartram’s son William is well known to students of American history for his ‘Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians, 1789.’ It is very much to be regretted that no authentic portrait of John Bartram is known. For an excellent illustrated account of Bartram and his garden, see article by Miss M. L. Dock in ‘Garden and Forest,’ 9:121-124 (1895). See also ‘Harper’s Magazine,’ 60:321-330 (1880).” -Wilhelm Miller, in The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (1914-17), edited by L. H. Bailey, Popular Edition, vol. II, 1947, pp. 1564-5

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