John Clayton (botanist)

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John Clayton
Born 1694 or August 1695[1][2]
Died December 15, 1773
Occupation Botanist
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Whiting
Children 8 children

John Clayton (1694/5–1773) was a Colonial plant collector in Virginia.

Personal life[edit]

Clayton was born in England and is believed to have moved to Virginia around 1715 with his father, also named John Clayton, who later served as one of the Attorneys General for colonial Virginia.[3] He did not officially show up on any colonial records until October 7, 1720, when he was identified as a clerk in Gloucester County.[1]

He married Elizabeth Whiting, granddaughter of Peter Beverley. The two had three daughters and five sons, one of which was William Clayton, who went on to serve on the Virginia Ratifying Convention.[1] Clayton died on December 15, 1773.


Clayton explored the Gloucester County region botanically and in 1734 sent many specimens and manuscript descriptions to the English naturalist Mark Catesby, who then sent them on to the Dutch botanist Jan Frederik Gronovius.[4] Clayton would also send work to Gronovius directly.[1]

Unprepared for the amount of material sent to him, Gronovious enlisted the help of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. However unbeknownst to Clayton, Gronovious would later use much of Clayton's specimen and manuscript work in his 1739 book Flora Virginica without seeking his permission.[5] Whether or not Gronovious properly credited Clayton in the work is the subject of debate, as some felt that Gronovious greatly downplayed his contributions.[5] However in 1975 William T. Stearn stated that Gronovious was the true author of the work, as he had performed quite a bit of work with the material prior to the publication of Flora Virginica and that "but for Gronovius's publication Clayton's work would lack modern relevance."[6] A second part of Flora Virginica was published in 1743 with additional information. Clayton sought to publish his own version of Flora Virginica but was unable to find a publisher before a second edition of Gronovious's book was printed in 1762.[5] His manuscript is believed to have been lost, likely in a 1787 fire in the New Kent County's clerk's office where the papers were being stored.[1]

Clayton's work was also studied by the European botanist George Clifford and Linnaeus later named a flower in Clayton's honor, a common eastern North American wildflower, the spring beauty, Claytonia virginica. Linneus also recommended Clayton to the Swedish Royal Academy of Science, who elected him as a member on May 3, 1747. The specimens sent to Gronovious were later collected by Joseph Banks and the material is now part of the Natural History Museum in London and makes up the John Clayton Herbarium.[1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley (1963). John Clayton: Pioneer of American Botany. University of North Carolina press, Chapel Hill.  (Reviewed for example in Ewan, J. (1963). "John Clayton: Pioneer of American Botany. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley. University of North Carolina press, Chapel Hill, 1963. xii + 236pp. $6". Science 141 (3585): 1027. doi:10.1126/science.141.3585.1027-b. ).


  1. ^ a b c d e f Julienne, Marianne E. "John Clayton (1695–1773)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Clayton, John (1694/1695-1773/1774), botanist". Oxford Index. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Tarter, Brent. "John Clayton (ca. 1666–1737)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  4. ^ ENNULAT, CHRISTINE. "This Spud's for You". Virginia Living. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Purvis, Thomas L. (1999). Colonial America To 1763. Facts on File. pp. 267–268. ISBN 0816025274. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  6. ^ Dutton, Joan Parry (1979). Plants of Colonial Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9780879350420. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "Author Query for 'J.Clayton'". International Plant Names Index. 

External links[edit]