Practical farming & gardening books far outnumbered books devoted exclusively to pleasure gardening on the bookshelves of colonial & early American gardeners. Agriculture was the main source of income for most colonial families. Once a landowner was producing enough off of his land to support his family, he might have the time & the extra funds to begin to transform some of his land, closest to his house, into a pleasure garden. It was his art.
Often the necessary agricultural instruction books contained information on gardening as well. We can learn which farming books were in use in the colonies from death inventories. Marylanders were fairly faithful inventory recorders. Although scattered estate inventory records dating back to 1674, do exist in the state, these documents are nearly complete after a 1715 law required all executors to make an estate inventory within 3 months of death.
Unfortunately inventory takers were not often very specific when recording book titles & seldom listed authors, so the interpretation of precisely what book was recorded in early property lists is difficult. The 1718 inventory of William Bladen, who was Secretary of Maryland in 1701, & Attorney General in 1707, listed John Evelyn's (1620-1706) The Complete Gardener published in London in 1693. It was a translation of a French work by Jean de la Quintinie (1629-1688). The "Art of Gardening" which appears in several early inventories was probably the work of the English author, Leonard Meager. His book, actually titled The New Art of Gardening, was published in London in 1697.
The extant letters of 18th century Marylanders Henry Callister & Charles Carroll the Barrister (of Mount Clare) often mention farming books. Henry Callister (1716-1765) spent several years in a Liverpool counting house, before his employers sent him to manage their store at Oxford on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Evidence of the frequent exchange of books among gardening readers on the Eastern Shore is found scattered throughout his letterbooks.
After his arrival in Maryland, Callister became acquainted with a prosperous planter William Carmichael, who lived near Chestertown. Callister borrowed Carmichael's copy of Jethro Tull's (1647-1741) Horse-Hoeing Husbandry: Or, an Essay on the Principals of Tillage and Vegetation published in 1733. The book was a classic, and Tull came to be called the "father of modern husbandry." Callister also owned a copy of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort's (1656-1708) History of Plants Growing about Paris, With Their Use in Physick, and a mechanical account of the operation of medicines. Translated into English, with many additions, & accommodated to the plants growing in Great Britain by John Martyn, it was published by C. Riverington in London in 1732.
Callister offered to sell this particular book to a fellow gardener in 1765, "I have a small posthumous work of Tournefort...it gives the description & use of plants in medicine, with their chymical analysis; it is an 2v. 12 degree worth 12/6 Currency. I shall send it if you like. I would now, as it might be return'd if not wanted, but there are a few things in it which I would read first."
The book's author Joseph Pitton de Tournefort became professor of Botany at the Jardin du Roi botanic garden in Paris in 1683, and later made various expeditions in Europe & the Near East in search of plants. In 1688, he took his degree of Doctor of Medicine at the University of Orange. The book's English translator, John Martyn (1699-1768) was Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1732 until 1762.
By 1766, Charles Carroll the Barrister was ordering his seeds for Mount Clare from his British factors by noting specific seed types directly from the English gardening books on his shelves. That year he copied a long list of seeds "from Hale's Complete Body of Husbandry," first published in London in 1755/56, asking his English agents to send as many of them as possible to Maryland.
Another book referred to by the Barrister was Thomas Hale's Eden: or a compleat body of gardening...(or ratehr by Sir. J. Hill) published in London in 1756-57. John Hill (1716-1775) was the son of a Lincolnshire clergyman brought up to be an apothecary. During his apprenticeship he attended the lectures on botany of the Chelsea botanic garden. In 1750, he was granted a degree as a Doctor of Medicine from the University of St. Andrews. In 1760, he assisted in laying out a botanic garden at Kew & was a gardener at Kensington Palace. Carroll's copy of Hale's Complete Husbandry still exists in the library at Mount Clare.
The Barrister was also interested in the agricultural reforms sweeping England. He not only knew which specific books he wanted his English agents to buy but was able to direct them to the specific publishing houses in London that stocked the desired works. He ordered, "A new and Complete System of Practical Husbandry by John Mills Esquire, Editor of Duhamels Husbandry printed by John Johnson at the monument... Essays on Husbandry Essay the first On The Ancient and Present State of Agriculture and the Second On Lucern Printed for William Frederick at Bath 1764. Sold by Hunter at Newgate Street or Johnston in Ludgate Street."
The Barrister's distant cousin who signed the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), also ordered farming & gardening books from England. By the mid 1760s, his family's library in Annapolis contained Miller's Dictionary & Richard Bradley's (1686-1732) New Improvement of Planting and Gardening published in London in 1726. Bradley's work appeared in several Maryland inventories in the 1730's. Bradley studied gardening in France and Holland; and in 1724, he was appointed the first professor of Botany at Cambridge.
Another popular English publication in Carroll's library by the mid-1760s was Batty Langley's (1696-1751) New Principles of Gardening... with Experimental Directions for Raising several kinds of Fruit Trees, Forest Trees, Evergreens and Flowering Shrubs. Later the Carrolls added to their library Richard Weston's (1733-1806) Gardener's and Planter's Calendar published in Dublin in 1782. Weston was a thread hosier in Leicester who had travelled in France & Holland as Secretary of the Leicester Agricultural Society.
The letters of Henry Callister & the several Maryland Carrolls show that many of the books owned by Marylanders were imported directly from London in exchange for the annual tobacco shipment or goods such as iron ore. Before the Revolution wealthy planters & merchants depended on their own private libraries often exchanging books with one another. When literate farmers & planters died, their books were passed to others with deliberate care. At the death of Virginian gentleman William Ludlow in the mid 1760s, his books were offered for sale directly to Charles Carroll of Carrollton who chose two gardening books from the Virginian's collection including Batty Langley's treatise.
Direct trade with London booksellers gradually decreased, as tobacco became less important in the economic life of Maryland and as trade was curtailed during the Revolution. As a result, bookstores & circulating libraries began to appear in Annapolis & Baltimore. Their appearance coincided with the rise of a literate merchant class. Before the Revolution, there were a few booksellers in colonial Maryland. William Aikman was an early bookseller in Annapolis who imported quantities of books from London for sale directly to colonial readers. In the Maryland Gazette of June 23, 1774, he advertised for sale "Adam Dickson, A Treatise on Agriculture...2 vol. Edinburgh, 1770."
Several Maryland booksellers quickly realized that not all readers in the new nation could afford to buy books for their personal use & started offering less costly circulating library services to expand their businesses. By 1783, Annapolis had its own circulating library offering a few farming & gardening books to subscribers. These included Richard Weston's Gardener's and Planter's Calendar (published only a year earlier in Ireland) and Thomas Mawe's Everyman His Own Gardener published in London by W. Griffin in 1767. Mawe was the gardener to the Duke of Leeds who only lent his name to give an air of authenticity to the publication actually written by John Abercrombie (1726-1806).
The largest collection of 18th century gardening & agricultural books owned in Maryland is referred to in earliest catalogue of the Library Company of Baltimore. These books formed the nucleus of information for Baltimore farmers for many years. In the December 1780 Maryland Journal, William Prichard advertised that he was opening a bookstore & establishing a circulating library of 1000 volumes in Baltimore. By 1784, a 2nd literary entrepreneur William Murphy opened a circulating library in the city, but the most information remains about the Library Company of Baltimore, which had 60 subscribers & 1300 volumes when it was chartered in 1796. By 1809 when the first catalogue was prepared, the library had over 400 members & 7000 volumes. By the next year there were about 35,000 people living in Baltimore, many visiting the Library Company to borrow an English or classical book on gardening.