Bartram, John 1699-1777

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John Bartram's grandfather came to America in 1682. John received little education. He went to country schools and whenever opportunity offered he studied Latin and Greek. He inherited a small farm while young from his uncle but in 1728 he bought two tracts of land, one of 102 acres and the other consisting of five acres. This latter plot of ground was presumed to be the precise location of a garden but the Brief of Title shows that his house and garden were on the larger plot. This plot is presumably the location of what has been called the first botanic garden in America which now together with his house is preserved or part of the park system of Pennsylvania. He sold the five acre plot in 1740. He moved again in 1729 and had 9 children, one of which died young.

He became an excellent farmer producing exceptional crops of wheat and hay. He also raised flax, oats, and Indian corn and developed a successful animal enterprise involving many horses and cattle.

During this period he harvested extensively in search of plants. Peter Collinson, a wealthy wholesale draper in England whose hobby involved the search for new and exotic plants, was introduced to Bartram. John Bartram was suggested as a source of plants and as a result he set out to discover and send to Collinson a wide range of American species and varieties. Others came from Collinson, the Dukes of Richmond, Norfolk and Bedford. At one time Collinson listed 57 subscribers to whom Bartram supplied plant material. Others included the well-known Earls of Bute, Leiciesh and Lincoln; the Dukes of Argyll, Marlborough and many others including Philip Miller, the author of Gardener's Dictionary. It is interesting to note that all of these members of the aristocracy had developed outstanding gardens in England and Scotland. Peter Collinson and Philip Miller were the foremost individuals who subscribed to Bartram's introductions of American trees. Philip Miller at this time was the most famous of English horticulturalists.

Bartram also sent to England large supplies of plants previously in cultivation in small quantities. British growers received many shrubs and trees that were considered rare. Philip Miller developed the ancient Physics Gardens at Chelsea into possibly the finest botanic garden in Europe. During his later years he harvested extensively through the Eastern United States. These travels yields "great botanical treasures" and much botanical and horticultural information.

He was an original member of the American Philsophical Society (1742) and his name followed that of Benjamin Franklin who headed the list. He was a friend of Franklin and other prominent colonists. He held the post of botanist to the King for the American Colonies under George III.

He was probably the first American to perform successful experiments in hybridization. For many years his garden was the largest and best collection of trees in America and the services of the garden to American horiculture were outstanding. Bailey called him by far the most "picturesque" of the early botanists and horticulturalists of America. He had a simple, wholesome, "powerful" personality.

About the American Philosophical Society


Isaac Bartram's son's account book