John Bartram

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John Bartram
John bartram00.jpg
John Bartram by Howard Pyle
BornMarch 23,[1] 1699
DiedSeptember 22, 1777(1777-09-22) (aged 78)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Colony
Resting placeDarby Friends Cemetery, Darby, Pennsylvania
Scientific career

John Bartram (March 23, 1699 – September 22, 1777) was an early American botanist, horticulturist and explorer. Carl Linnaeus said he was the "greatest natural botanist in the world."[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Bartram was born into a Quaker farm family in colonial Pennsylvania. He considered himself a plain farmer, with no formal education beyond the local school. He had a lifelong interest in medicine and medicinal plants, and read widely. His botanical career started with a small area of his farm devoted to growing plants he found interesting; later he made contact with European botanists and gardeners interested in North American plants, and developed his hobby into a thriving business.

Plant collecting activities[edit]

He came to travel extensively in the eastern American colonies collecting plants. In 1743 he visited the shores of Lake Ontario in the north, and wrote Observations on the Inhabitants, Climate, Soil, Rivers, Productions, Animals, and other Matters Worthy of Notice, made by Mr. John Bartram in his Travels from Pennsylvania to Onondaga, Oswego, and the Lake Ontario, in Canada (London, 1751). During the winter of 1765/66 he visited East Florida in the south, and an account of this trip was published with his journal (London, 1766). He also visited the Ohio River in the west. Many of his acquisitions were transported to collectors in Europe. In return, they supplied him with books and apparatus.[4]

Bartram, sometimes called the "father of American Botany",[5] was one of the first practicing Linnaean botanists in North America. His plant specimens were forwarded to Linnaeus, Dillenius and Gronovius, and he assisted Linnaeus' student Pehr Kalm during his extended collecting trip to North America in 1748–1750.

Bartram was aided in his collecting efforts by colonists. In Bartram's Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, a trip taken from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, Bartram wrote of specimens he had collected. In the colony of British East Florida he was helped by Dr. David Yeats, secretary of the colony.[6]

His 8-acre (32,000 m2) botanic garden, Bartram's Garden in Kingsessing on the west bank of the Schuylkill, about 3 miles (5 km) from the center of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is frequently cited as the first true botanic collection in North America. He was one of the co-founders, with Benjamin Franklin, of the American Philosophical Society in 1743.[7]

Contact with other botanists[edit]

House of John Bartram located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, c. 1919

Bartram was particularly instrumental in sending seeds from the New World to European gardeners: many North American trees and flowers were first introduced into cultivation in Europe by this route. Beginning ca. 1733, Bartram's work was assisted by his association with the English merchant Peter Collinson. Collinson, himself a lover of plants, was a fellow Quaker and a member of the Royal Society, with a familiar relationship with its president, Sir Hans Sloane. Collinson shared Bartram's new plants with friends and fellow gardeners. Early Bartram collections went to Lord Petre, Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden, Mark Catesby, the Duke of Richmond, and the Duke of Norfolk. In the 1730s, Robert James Petre, 8th Baron Petre of Thorndon Hall, Essex, was the foremost collector of North American trees and shrubs in Europe. Earl Petre's untimely death in 1743 led to his American tree collection being auctioned off to Woburn, Goodwood and other large English country estates; thereafter Collinson became Bartram's chief London agent.

Bartram's Boxes, as they then became known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson every fall for distribution in England to a wide list of clients, including the Duke of Argyll, James Gordon, James Lee and John Busch, progenitor of the exotic Loddiges nursery in London. The boxes generally contained 100 or more varieties of seeds, and sometimes included dried plant specimens and natural history curiosities as well. Live plants were more difficult and expensive to send and were reserved for Collinson and a few special correspondents.

In 1765 after lobbying by Collinson and Benjamin Franklin in London, George III rewarded Bartram a pension of £50 per year as King's Botanist for North America, a post he held until his death. With this position, Bartram's seeds and plants also went to the royal collection at Kew Gardens. Bartram also contributed seeds to the Oxford and Edinburgh botanic gardens. He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm in 1769.

Most of Bartram's many plant discoveries were named by botanists in Europe. He is best known today for the discovery and introduction of a wide range of North American flowering trees and shrubs, including kalmia, rhododendron and magnolia species; for introducing the Dionaea muscipulia or Venus flytrap to cultivation; and the discovery of the Franklin Tree, Franklinia alatamaha in southeastern Georgia in 1765, later named by his son William Bartram. Bartram's name is remembered in the genera of mosses, Bartramia, and in plants such the North American serviceberry, Amelanchier bartramiana, and the subtropical tree Commersonia bartramia (Christmas Kurrajong) growing from the Bellinger River in coastal eastern Australia to Cape York, Vanuatu and Malaysia.


Bartram was married twice, first in 1723 to Mary Maris (d. 1727), who bore him two sons, Richard and Isaac. After her death, he married Ann Mendenhall (1703–1789) in 1729, who gave birth to five boys and four girls. His third son, William Bartram (1739–1823) was to become a famous botanist, natural history artist and ornithologist in his own right, and was the author of Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida,…. Philadelphia, James & Johnson, 1791.

The family business in North American plants was continued by Bartram's sons John Bartram, Jr. and William Bartram after the American Revolution, and the botanic garden grew through three generations of the Bartram family. Bartram's Garden remained the major botanic garden in Philadelphia until the last Bartram heirs sold out in 1850. The Darby Friends Cemetery in Darby, Pennsylvania contains his grave.[8]

John Bartram High School in Philadelphia is named after him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Bartram of Pennsylvania at
  2. ^ D.C.P. (1929). "Bartram, John". In Johnson, Allen (ed.). Dictionary of American Biography. 2 (Barsotti- Brazer). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 26–28. Retrieved August 25, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Duyker, Edward, Nature's Argonaut. Daniel Solander 1733–1782 (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 1988), p. 66.
  4. ^ Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Bartram, John" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  5. ^ Jane Goodall (27 August 2013). Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants. Grand Central Publishing. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-1-4555-1321-5.
  6. ^ Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, John Bartram, annotated by Francis Harper, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, December 1942, JSTOR
  7. ^ Bell, Whitfield J., Jr., Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 1, 1743–1768. APS: Philadelphia, 1997, pp. 3–4.
  8. ^ Darby Borough
  9. ^ IPNI.  Bartram.


  • Bell, Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., Patriot Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 1, 1743–1768. (Philadelphia: APS, 1997), "John Bartram (1699–1777), p. 48–62.
  • Berkeley, Edmund and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, The Life and Travels of John Bartram: From Lake Ontario to the River St. John. (Tallahassee: University Presses of Florida, 1982).
  • Berkeley, Edmund and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of John Bartram 1734–1777. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992).
  • Claus Bernet (2010). "John Bartram". In Bautz, Traugott (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 31. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 42–49. ISBN 978-3-88309-544-8.
  • Darlington, William, ed., Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall. (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849).
  • Hobbs, Christopher (1991). "The medical botany of John Bartram". Pharmacy in History. 33 (4). pp. 181–89. PMID 11612729.
  • Hoffmann, Nancy Everill; Van Horne, John C, eds. (2004). America's Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram 1699–1777. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The American Philosophical Society. ISBN 087169249X.
  • Isely, Duane, One hundred and one botanists (Iowa State University Press, 1994), pp. 80–81.
  • O’Neill, Jean and Elizabeth P. McLean, Peter Collinson and the Eighteenth-Century Natural History Exchange. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 264. (Philadelphia: APS, 2008).
  • Wulf, Andrea, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession. (London: William Heinemann, 2008).

External links[edit]