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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

John Bartram

John Bartram (1699-1777)

On March 23, 1699, America received her first native-born botanist[1]. By the end of his life, John Bartram would leave a large mark on the history of North American exploration, horticulture, and plant discovery. Even outside of history and botany books, his legacy continues. His botanical garden near Philadelphia, where he performed the first recorded North American plant hybridization experiments[2], remains internationally famous today. Like various other great American figures, John Bartram came from a modest background and used passion and diligence to climb to the top of his field. Unlike his science scholar peers, he was a self-educated Quaker farmer. Nevertheless, Britannica Encyclopedia would later label him the “father of American botany[3].”

As his interest in American plants developed, he contacted other botanists in both America and Europe. After his collection of seeds and plant specimens caught the attention of prominent European naturalists like Carl Linnaeus, his reputation across the Atlantic boomed. As more plant scholars purchased Bartram’s collections, he gained the financial means for further travel and study. His nature explorations then took him to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Delaware, where he acquired valuable samples and observations of the areas’ flora and fauna. Subsequently, in 1765 George III appointed Bartram his Royal Botanist in America, which he remained until his death in 1777. This position funded his expeditions further south. Bartram and his son William, also a plant enthusiast, gathered invaluable knowledge through their travels in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida[4]. Fortunately, he published his travel journals, which remain precious to anyone interested in American history and nature.

During his lifetime, Bartram experienced more fame in Europe than in his homeland. Other American botanists trivialized Bartram’s work as “simple collecting” due to his failure to systematically classify his discoveries according to the Linnaean structure[5]. Ironically, Linnaeus proclaimed him “the greatest natural botanist in the world[6].” Today he remains an important figure in American nature studies as he and his son are held responsible for the identification and cultivation of 200 of America’s plants[7].
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[1] "John Bartram." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 8 Sep. 2011http://www.encyclopedia.com/.
[2] "John Bartram (American naturalist) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/54465/John-Bartram.

[3] "John Bartram (American naturalist) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/54465/John-Bartram.

[4] Paul S. Boyer. "Bartram, John (1699–1777), botanist, father of William (1739–1823)." The Oxford Companion to United States History. 2001. Retrieved September 08, 2011 from Encyclopedia.com:http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O119-BrtrmJhn16991777btnstfthr.html

[5] "John Bartram." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 8 Sep. 2011http://www.encyclopedia.com/.

[6] Duyker, Edward, Nature's Argonaut. Daniel Solander 1733-1782, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1988, p66.

[7] "Bartram's Garden History." Bartram's Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Sept. 2011. .

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