Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Philadelphia Seed Dealer & Nurseryman - Robert Buist 1805-1880

Robert Buist 1805-1880 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Buist was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, November 14, 1805. He was trained at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and sailed to America in August 1828.

When he arrived in America, he was employed by David Landreth, and then took employment with Henry Pratt who owned Lemon Hill which was probably one of the finest gardens in the U.S. at the time.

He formed a partnership with Thomas Hibbert in 1830 in a florist business in Philadelphia. They imported rare plants and flowers, especially the rose.

After Hibbert’s death he began a seed business, along with the nursery and greenhouse business. The business in Philadelphia started out as Robert Buist's Seed Store, selling gardening supplies, potted plants, shrubs, small fruits, and rose bushes. By 1837, the growing business relocated to 12th Street below Lombard; and in1857, the company moved to a location on Market Street.  And in 1870, it expanded to 67th Street near Darby Road. The Buist farm, Bonaffon, was located in the section of Philadelphia through which Buist Avenue now runs.

Alfred M. Hoffy, lithographer. View of Robert Buist’s City Nursery & Greenhouses. Philadelphia Wagner & McGuigan, 1846.

Buist if often credited with introducing the Poinsettia into Europe, after he saw it at Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia.  During Buist’s early training at the Edinburg Botanic Garden, he met James McNab, a scientist & artist who eventually became the garden’s director.  In the early 1830s, McNab traveled to America with retired nurseryman Robert Brown to study plants native to the United States. While in America, McNab visited his friend Buist in Philadelphia. When McNab met with Buist in 1834, he gave the Poinsettia plant to him to take back to Scotland. The garden’s director, Dr. Robert Graham introduced the plant into British gardens.

Buist was reknown for his roses & verbena.  He was also the author of several books & many catalogues of his plant offerings.  Among his books are The American Flower-Garden Directory (1832); The Rose Manual (1844, 6 editions); and The Family Kitchen-Gardener (c1847).

Buist was obsessed by roses.  Gardener & plant historian Alex Sutton tells us that Buist sailed to Europe every year or two to buy new rose hybrids being developed in Europe.  He purchased much of his stock from M. Eugene Hardy of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. In 1832, Buist saw 'Madame Hardy' for the first time and he wrote: "Globe Hip, White Globe, or Boule de Neige of the French, is an English Rose raised from seeds of the common white, a very pure white, fully double and of globular form. A few years ago it was considered 'not to be surpassed,' but that prediction, like many others, has fallen to the ground, and now 'Madame Hardy' is triumphant, being larger, fully as pure, more double, and an abundant bloomer; the foliage and wood are also stronger. The French describe it as 'large, very double pure white, and of cup or bowl form."  Buist introduced 'Madame Hardy' in Philadephia to his customers, many of whom must have been Philadelphia matrons, as he called them his Patronesses.

In 1839, Buist visited another of his suppliers, Jean-Pierre Vibert, of Lonjeameaux, near Paris, where he found 'Aimee Vibert'. He brought this rose back with him to Philadephia and wrote: "Aimee Vibert, or Nevia, is a beautiful pure white, perfect in form, a profuse bloomer, but though quite hardy doe snot grow freely for us; however, when budded on a strong stock it makes a magnificent standard, and blooms with a profusion not surpassed by any."

Seed storage warehouse of Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist. From an 1891 wholesale seed catalog

In his catalog of 1872 Buist wrote “Three of the celebrated ‘Gordon’s Printing Presses’ are kept constantly at work on seed bags, labels, and other printing matter required in our business, and the stock of type and other printing material we use is equal in extent to that required by some of our daily papers...“When we established ourselves in 1828, the Seed business in this country was in its infancy, the trade was really insignificant in comparison to what it is in the present day.”

He was active with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, treasurer from 1858-1862 and vice-president for twenty-two years. He died in Philadelphia, July 13, 1880.  The family business was carried on by his son, Robert, Jr.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nurseryman - W Atlee Burpee 1858-1915

W. Atlee Burpee–(1858-1915)–Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The W. Atlee Burpee & Company was founded by W. Atlee Burpee in 1876 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Atlee was born in 1858 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

At fourteen years of age, Atlee’s hobby was breeding chickens, geese and turkeys. He corresponded with poultry experts worldwide and wrote scholarly articles in poultry journals. With a partner in 1876, the 18 year old Atlee started a mail-order chicken business in the family home with $1,000 loaned to him by his mother.

Poultry farmers from the Northeast knew of his business, and he soon opened a store in Philadelphia, selling not only poultry but also corn seed for poultry feed. It wasn’t long before his customers started requesting cabbage, carrot, cauliflower and cucumber seeds.

In 1878, Burpee dropped his partner and founded W. Atlee Burpee & Company, mainly for garden seeds, but poultry wasn’t dropped from the Burpee catalog until the 1940s.

By 1888, the family home, Fordhook Farms, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was established as an experimental farm to test and evaluate new varieties of vegetables and flowers, and to produce seeds.

Before World War I, Atlee spent many summers traveling through Europe and the United States, visiting farms and searching for the best flowers and vegetables. Atlee shipped many of the vegetables and flowers he found to Fordhook Farms for testing. Those plants that survived were bred with healthier types to produce hybrids better suited to the United States. Fordhook Farms was the first laboratory to research and test seeds in this way. Fordhook Farms specialized in testing onions, beets, carrots, peas and cabbage.

In 1909, Burpee established Floradale Farms in Lompoc, California, to test sweet peas, and Sunnybrook Farms near Swedesboro, New Jersey tested tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and squashes.

In his travels, Atlee met Asa Palmer, a Pennsylvania farmer who raised beans, and who thought he had one plant that was resistant to cutworms. Burpee turned this bean plant into what is now known as the Fordhook lima bean, one of the company’s most famous items.

Another successful plant was the Golden Bantam sweet corn that the farmer William Chambers of Greenfield, Massachusetts had grown before his death. A friend of Chambers found some of the sweet corn seeds and sold Burpee seeds of the corn, and in 1902, Golden Bantam was featured in a Burpee catalog.

Before 1900 most people thought that yellow corn was fit only for animals, so in order to change their customers minds, many farmers slipped Golden Bantam corn in with the white corn they were selling. Within a few years, people in the United States were converted to yellow corn.

Iceberg lettuce was introduced in 1894 and named for its crispness. A key in Burpee’s business was the 1863 free delivery system, that required post offices to deliver mail to residents’ homes, and in 1896, free delivery was extended to rural areas. This allowed his catalogs to be delivered directly to people’s homes.

Thousands of letters were received annually from Burpee’s customers thanking him for his seeds. Burpee knew that the key to his business was advertising and the catalog was his advertising medium.

In his first year of business, his catalog was 48 pages, but by 1915 his catalogs were 200 pages and he distributed a million catalogs. Burpee personally wrote most of the copy of his catalogs. Burpee set up an advertising department and offered cash prizes for the best advertisements. This competition is what originated the slogan “Burpee Seeds Grow” in 1890.

The 1891 catalog was the first to feature engravings made from photographs, and by 1901 this process was done by machines. Burpee’s move to photography changed the whole industry and the hand-drawn illustration in catalogs disappeared. In another break with tradition, Burpee eliminated cultural information and put in testimonial letters and plant descriptions.

At Atlee’s death in 1915, the company had 300 employees, and it was the largest seed company in the world. At that time the Burpee company distributed over 1 million catalogs a year and received 10,000 orders a day.

Information from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries research.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rochester, New York Seed Dealer James Vick 1818-1882

Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873, issued quarterly, pp. 132.

This article was written by seed dealer James Vick (1818-1882) of Rochester, New York, in  pages 21-24 of Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873.

 Store Front Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


It is acknowledged that I have the largest and best regulated retail Seed House in the world.  It is visited by thousands every year from all parts of this country, and by many from Europe, and 1 take pleasure in exhibiting everything of interest or profit to visitors.  As hundreds of thousands of my customers will probably never have the opportunity of making a personal visit, I thought a few facts and illustrations would be interesting to this large class whom 1 am anxious to please, and be, at least, an acknowledgement of a debt of gratitude for long continued confi­dence, which I can feel, but not repay.

Inside the Store Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

Two Catalogues are issued each year, one of Bulbs in August, and on the first of December a beautiful Floral Guide:, of 130 pages, finely illustrated with hundreds of engravings of Flowers and plants and colored plates. Last year, the number printed was three hundred thousand at a cost of over sixty thousand dollars. In addition to the ordinary conveniences of a well regulated Seed House, there is connected with this establishment a Printing Office, Bindery, Box Making Establishment, and Artists’ and Engravers’ Rooms. Everything but the paper being made in the establishment.

Vick Store and Processing Center on State Street in Rochester, NY 1873 Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide 

To do this work fully occupies a building four stories in height (besides basement) sixty feet in width, and one hundred and fifty feet in length, with an addition in the upper story of a large room over an entire adjoining block.


The large basement is arranged with immense quantities of drawers, &c., for storing Bulbs.  Here, too, are stored the heavier kinds of Seeds, in sacks, &c., piled to the ceiling.  The heavier packing is also done here.


The first floor is used entirely as a sales-shop, or “store,” for the sale of Seeds, Flowers, Plants and all Garden requisites and adornments, such as baskets, vases, lawn mowers, lawn tents, aquariums, seats, &c., &c.  It is arranged with taste, and the songs of the birds, the fragrance and beauty of the flowers, make it a most delightful spot in which to spend an hour.

The Order Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


On the second floor is the Business and Private Offices, and also the Mail Room in which all letters are opened. The opening of letters occupies the entire time of two persons, and they perform the work with astonishing rapidity – practice making perfect – often opening three thousand in a day.  After these letters are opened they are passed into what is called the Registering Room, on the same floor, where they are divided into States, and the name of the person ordering, and the date of the receipt of the order registered.  They are then ready to be filled, and are passed into a large room, called the Order Room, where over seventy-five hands are employed, divided into gangs, each set, or gang, to a State, half-a-dozen or more being employed on each of the larger States.  After the orders are filled, packed and directed, they are sent to what is known as the Post Office, also on the same floor, where the packages are weighed, the necessary stamps put upon them, and stamps cancelled, when they are packed in Post Office bags furnished us by Government, properly labeled for the different routes, and sent to the Postal Cars.  Tons of Seeds are thus dispatched every day during the business season.

The Packing Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


Here is the German Department, where all orders written in the German language are filled by German clerks; a Catalogue in this language being published. On this floor, also, all seeds are packed, that is, weighed and measured and placed in paper bags and stored ready for sale.  About fifty persons are employed in this room, surrounded by thousands of nicely labeled drawers.


On this floor are rooms for Artists and Engravers, several of whom are kept constantly employed in designing and engraving for Catalogues and Chromos. Here, also, the lighter seed are stored.  In a large room adjoining, is the Printing Office, where the Catalogue is prepared, and other printing done, and also the Bindery, often employing forty or fifty hands, and turning out more than ten thousand Catalogues in a day. Here is in use the most improved machinery for covering, trimming, &c., propelled by steam.

The Bindery Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873


The immense amount of business done may be understood by a few facts: Nearly one hundred acres are employed, near the city, in growing flower seeds mainly, while large importations are made from Germany, France, Holland, Australia and Japan.  Over three thousand reams of printing paper are used each year for Catalogues, weighing two hundred thousand pounds, and the simple postage for sending these Catalogues by mail is thirteen thousand dollars.  Over fifty thousand dollars have been paid the Government for postage stamps last year.  Millions of bags and boxes are also manufactured in the establishment, requiring hundreds of reams of paper, and scores of tons of paste-board.  The business is so arranged that the wrappers are prepared for each State, with the name of the State conspicuously printed, thus saving a great deal of writing. as well as preventing errors.

I had prepared several other engravings of German Room, Printing Office, Artists’ Room, Counting Room, Mail Room, Post Office, &c., but have already occupied quite enough space give readers somewhat of an idea of the character of my establishment.  Another year, I may give further particulars.  James Vick

Seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)

James Vick was one of the merchants who dominated the floral nursery industry in New York in the 19C. James Vick was born in Portsmouth, England on Nov. 23, 1818.  In 1833, at the age of 12, he arrived in New York City to learn the printing trade.   By the time he moved to Rochester, he had acquired skills as a printer & writer.

In 1837, he moved with his parents to Rochester, New York, where he set type for several newspapers & journals. In 1849, James Vick was elected corresponding secretary of the Genesee Valley Horticultural Society. From 1849 through the early 1850s, Vick edited & then bought the popular journal The Genesee Farmer in 1855.  He later owned part of a workers’ journal and helped to found Frederick Douglass’s North Star.

Vick’s house in 1871

With Vick as editor, the publication became more elegant & circulation rapidly increased.  A year later he sold out to Joseph Harris.  On the death of A. J. Downing, James Vick bought "The Horticulturist" & moved it to Rochester in 1853.  For for 3 years he published this with Patrick Barry serving as Editor. It was devoted to horticulture, floriculture, landscape gardening, & rural architecture.

About this time, Vick started to grow flowers & began sending seeds out by mail to the readers of his publication.  Vick also started importing seed stock. In 1855, he established a seed store & printing house in Rochester for his growing mail order business.  In 1856, Vick started "Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory".  The first half was a seed catalog & the second a list of nurserymen.  This was taken over in 1857 by Joseph Harris who continued it until 1867.

Vick's Home on the South Side of East Avenue in Rochester, NY. 1877

With Vick’s knowledge of chromolithography & printing, he produce a catalog & later a monthly magazine.  The first, "Floral Guide and Catalogue" was printed in 1862.  His "Floral Guides" provided gardening advice, quality color prints, & reached a circulation of 250,000.  He entertained his readers with anecdotes, published letters he had received, & had a special section for children.

By the 1870s, as many as 150,000 catalogs were sent out each year.  A staff of more than 100 worked in the office & packing house.  There were over 75 acres of seed gardens scattered about the city.  In 1878, Vick started a paper, "Vick’s Illustrated Monthly" which was published by the Vick Seed Company in Rochester & in Dansville until 1909.  This magazine was sold by subscription.  Vick also printed a set of chromolithograph prints which were either sold or offered as premiums with large orders.

The Seed House of James Vick 1881 From Commerce, Manufactures & Resources of Rochester, NY

Vick was one of the most successful American horticultural seedsman, writers, & merchandisers of his day.  The Vick Seed Company continued into the 20C before being sold to the Burpee Seed Co. 

Thanks to the Smithsonian Libraries Biographies of American Seedsmen & Nurserymen 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gardeners - Tasks of Garden Laborers & Entrepeneurs

Definitions of Garden Laborers

As gardening evolved in the British American colonies & in the independent new republic, the tasks & classifications garden labor became more specific.

By the time John Claudius Louden published his 1824 An encyclopaedia of gardening: comprising the theory & practice of horticulture, floriculture, arboriculture, & landscape-gardening, including all the latest improvements; a general history of gardening in all countries; & a statistical view of its present state... many definitions of those involved in gardening had become fairly universally accepted on both sides of the English-speaking Atlantic.

In this essay, I will attempt to use Louden's descriptions of garden positions as closely as possible. That means that you will encounter some amazing punctuation and sentence fragments, but I am trying to keep the tone of Loudon's early 19th century definitions. Where the definition in America differed from the English usage, I have altered the description to reflect American usage.

Garden Laborer. Garden laborers are the lowest grade in the scale of working gardeners. In 18C America, they are usually a convict or indentured servant or slave, male & female. They are occasionally employed to perform the common labors of gardening, as trenching, digging, hoeing, weeding, &c. Men for the more heavy, & women for the lighter employments. Most garden-laborers have not received any professional instruction, farther than what they may have obtained by voluntary or casual observation. In all gardens where 3 or 4 professional hands are constantly employed, some laborers are required at extraordinary seasons & tasks. In the larger gardens of the 19th century American south, most garden laborers are enslaved African Americans.

Apprentice Gardener. Youths intended for serving to learn the trade of gardener, are placed under master or tradesmen gardeners, for a given period, on terms for mutual benefit: the master contracting to supply instruction, & generally food & lodging, or a weekly sum as an equivalent; & the parents of the apprentice gardener granting the services of the latter during his apprenticeship as their part of the contract. The terms agreed on is generally 3 years; or more if the youth is under 16 years of age but whatever may be the period, by the laws as to apprentices it must not extend beyond that at which the youth attains the age of manhood. Few can expect to attain to the rank either of master-gardener or tradesman, who has not served an apprenticeship to the one or the other. In general, it is preferable to apprentice youths to master-gardeners, as their the labor is less than in tradesmen's gardens, & the opportunities of instruction is generally much greater.

Journeyman Gardener. The period of apprenticeship being finished, that of jouneyman commences, & ought to continue till the man is at least 25 years of age. During this period, they ought not to remain above 1 year in any one situation; thus, supposing they have completed apprenticeship in a private garden at the age of 21, & that the ultimate objective is to become a head-gardener, they ought first to engage themselves a year in a public botanic garden; the next year in a public nursery; that following, they should again enter a private garden, & continue making yearly changes in the most eminent of this class of gardens, till they meet with a situation as head gardener. The course to be followed by an apprentice intended for a tradesman-gardener is obvious; having finished his period in a private garden, let him pass through a botanic & nursery garden, & then continue in the most eminent of the class of public or tradesmen's gardens, to which they are destined.

Garden Foreman. In extensive gardens where a number of hands are employed, they are commonly grouped or arranged in divisions, & one of the journeymen of longest standing is employed as foreman to the rest. Wherever 3 or more journeymen are employed, there is commonly a foreman, who has a certain extent of authority at all times, but especially in the absence of the master. This position confers a degree of rank to the garden foreman for the time being, but none afterwards.

Master Gardener. A journeyman has attained the situation of master gardener, when they are appointed to the management of a garden, even if he has no laborer, apprentice, or journeyman under him; but he has not attained to the role of head-gardener till having been a year in such situation. Afterwards should they be obliged to work as journeyman once again, they still retain the rank & title of master-gardener but not of head-gardener.

Head Gardener. A head gardener is a master who has apprentices or journeymen employed under him. Out of a supervising position & working again as a journeyman, they retain the rank & title of master-gardener, but not of head-gardener.

Nursery Foreman. The nursery foreman is entrusted with the numbered & priced catalogues of the articles dealt in; authorized to make sales; entrusted to keep an account of men's time, & as a consequence, this entitles the holder to the rank of head-gardener, while so engaged, & to that of master-gardener ever afterwards; the same may be said of foremen in public botanical gardens & other public gardens.

Traveling Gardener. Traveling gardeners are sent out as a collectors of plants along with scientific expeditions; they are generally chosen from a botanic garden; & their business is to collect gardening productions of every kind, & to mark the soil, aspect, climate &c. in which they have been habituated.

Botanic Garden Director or Curator. Botanic curators superintend the culture & management of a botanic garden; maintain an extensive correspondence with other botanic curators; exchanges plants, seeds, & dried specimens, so as to keep increasing their garden's collection of living plants & herbarium siccum.

Public Gardener. Gardener employed to oversee the gardens & grounds at a publicly-owned building or a facility operated for the good of the public, such as a church or hospital or institution.


Jobbing gardener. The jobbing gardener makes & tends gardens, & keeps them in repair by the month or year under a contract. Generally they use their own tools, in which they are distinguished from the serving gardener; & sometimes they supply plants from a small scale-garden of their own.

Contract Gardener. Contracting gardeners, or new-ground workmen, are jobbers on a larger scale. They undertake extensive works, such as forming plantations, pieces of water, roads, kitchen gardens, & even greenhouses, hot-houses, & other garden structures & buildings.

Seed Grower. Seed-growers are as frequently farmers as gardeners; they contract with seed-merchants to supply certain seeds at specified rates, or to raise or grow seeds furnished to them by the seedsmen on stipulated terms.

Seed Merchant. Seed merchants sell incidental seeds at their place of business, where they carry other products for sale as well.

Seedsman. A seedsmen deals in garden seeds & other garden products. Generally they combine the seed business with that of nurserymen or florists, but sometimes they confine themselves entirely to dealing in seeds wholesale or act as agents between seed growers & nurserymen.

Herb Gardeners. They grow herbs, either the entire herb, as mint, or particular parts, as the bulb of lilium, & the flower of the rose for medical purposes, or for distillation as perfumery.

Physic Gardeners orHerbalists. They grow herbs for the purpose of medicine, or perfumery, but also collect wild plants for these purposes. Formerly, when it was the fashion among medical men to use indigenous plants as drugs, this was a more common & important branch of trade. Now, they have commonly shops appended to their gardens, or in towns, in which the herbs are preserved, & sold in a dried state.

Collectors for Gardens. The first variety of this grouping is the gipsy-gardeners, who collect haws, acorns, & other berries & nuts, & sell them to the seedsmen; the next are those who collect pine & fir cones, alder-catkins, & other tree-seeds, which require some time, & a process to separate the seeds from their covers, & clean them before they can be sold; & the highest variety are those gardeners who establish themselves in foreign countries, & there collect seeds & roots, & prepare dried specimens of rare plants for sale.

Orchardist. Orchardists of the simplest kind are such as occupy grass-orchards, where they produce is chiefly apples, pears, & plums, for cider or kitchen-use; the next variety occupy cultivated orchard-grounds where fruit-shrubs, as the gooseberry, currant, strawberrry, &c. are grown between the fruit-trees; & the highest variety occupy orchards with walls & hot-houses, & produce the finer stove-fruits & forced articles.

Market or Truck Gardeners. Market gardeners grow culinary vegetables & also fruits; the simplest kind are those who grow only the more common hardy articles for the kitchen, as cabbage, pease, turnips, &c. a higher variety grow plants for propagation, as cauliflowers, celery, & artichoke-plants, & pot-herbs, as mint, thyme; & the highest variety possess hot-beds & hot-houses, & produce mushrooms, melons, pines, & other reed articles & exotic fruits.

Florist. Florists are either market florists who grow & force flowers for the market, & those who grow only hardy flowers to be cut as nosegays, & those who deal chiefly in exotics or green-house plants to be sold in pots. Another is the select florist, who confines himself to the culture of bulbous-rooted & other select or florists' flowers, who has annual flower-shows, & who disposes of the plants, bulbs, tubers, or seeds.

Botanic Gardener. Botanic gardeners devote themselves exclusively to the culture of an extensive collection of species for sale; these may be limited to indigenous kinds. Botanic gardeners also collect & dry specimens of plants, & also of mosses, fungi, alga & offer them for sale: to this they often join the collecting of insects, birds, & other animals.

Nurserymen. Their business is to originate from seed, or by other modes of propagation. Every species of vegetable, hardy or exotic, grown in gardens, to rear & train then for sale, & to pack or encase them, so as they may be sent with safety to distant places. The nurseryman is commonly also a seed-grower, & is generally a seed-merchant, supplying his customers annually with what seeds they require for cropping their gardens as well as with the trees they use in stocking them. The simplest variety of nursery-gardener is he who confines himself to the rearing of hedge plants and forest trees; the highest is he who in addition to all the hardy trees & plants, maintain at the same time a collection of tender exotics.

Friday, July 18, 2014

On Virginia's wild stoned fruits - Robert Beverley History of Virginia 1705

The History and Present State of Virginia, in Four Parts published originally in London in 1705. Beverley, Robert, ca. 1673-1722.


§11. Of fruits, natural to the country, there is great abundance, but the several species of them are produced according to the difference of the soil, and the various situation of the country; it being impossible that one piece of ground should produce so many different kinds intermixed. Of the better sorts of the wild fruits that I have met with, I will barely give you the names, not designing a natural history. And when I have done that, possibly I may not mention one-half of what the country affords, because I never went out of my way to enquire after anything of this nature.

§12. Of stoned fruits, I have met with three good sorts, viz: Cherries, plums and persimmons.

1. Of cherries natural to the country, and growing wild in the woods, I have seen three sorts. Two of these grow upon trees as big as the common English white oak, whereof one grows in bunches like grapes. Both these sorts are black without, and but one of them red within. That which is red within, is more palatable than the English black cherry, as being without its bitterness. The other, which hangs on the branch like grapes, is water colored within, of a faintish sweet, and greedily devoured by the small birds. /The third sort is called the Indian cherry, and grows higher up in the country than the others do. It is commonly found by the sides of rivers and branches on small slender trees, scarce able to support themselves, about the bigness of the peach trees in England. This is certainly the most delicious cherry in the world; it is of a dark purple when ripe, and grows upon a single stalk like the English cherry, but is very small, though, I suppose, it may be made larger by cultivation, if anybody would mind it. These, too, are so greedily devoured by the small birds, that they won't let them remain on the tree long enough to ripen; by which means, they are rarely known to any, and much more rarely tasted, though, perhaps, at the same time they grow just by the houses.

2. The plums, which I have observed to grow wild there, are of two sorts, the black and the Murrey plum, both which are small, and have much the same relish with the damson.

3. The persimmon is by Heriot called the Indian plum; and so Smith, Purchase, and Du Lake, call it after him; but I can't perceive that any of those authors had ever heard of the sorts I have just now mentioned, they growing high up in the country. These persimmons, amongst them, retain their Indian name. They are of several sizes, between the bigness of a damson plum and a burgamot pear. The taste of them is so very rough, it is not to be endured till they are fully ripe, and then they are a pleasant fruit. Of these, some vertuosi make an agreeable kind of beer, to which purpose they dry them in cakes, and lay them up for use. These, like most other fruits there, grow as thick upon the trees as ropes of onions: the branches very often break down by the mighty weight of the fruit.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

President Thomas Jefferson took his favorite garden tools with him to the White House!

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

Margaret Bayard Smith (1778-1844) was a friend of Thomas Jefferson & chronicler of early life in Washington, D.C. She met Jefferson through her husband, Samuel Harrison Smith, a Republican newspaperman & founder of the National Intelligencer.  She kept a diary of her experiences, which was published in 1906.

"When he took up his residence in the President's House, he found it scantily furnished with articles brought from Philadelphia and which had been used by General Washington. These, though worn and faded, he retained from respect to their former possessor. His drawing room was fitted up with the same crimson damask furniture that had been used for the same purpose in Philadelphia. The additional furniture necessary for the more spacious mansion provided by the government, was plain and simple to excess.

"The large East Room was unfinished and therefore unused. The apartment in which he took most interest was his cabinet; this he had arranged according to his own taste and convenience. It was a spacious room. In the centre was a long table, with drawers on each side, in which were deposited not only articles appropriate to the place, but a set of carpenter's tools in one and small garden implements in another from the use of which he derived much amusement. Around the walls were maps, globes, charts, books, etc."

1804 Jefferson's White House. Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson regarded the White House mansion as overly-grand & "Hamiltonian" & considered not moving in at all. Despite his complaints that the house was too big, "big enough for two emperors, one pope, and the grand lama in the bargain," his love of architecture got the better of him, & he began to consider the house a challenge.

The house that President Thomas Jefferson entered in March of 1801 was still unfinished. The great Public Reception Chamber (East Room) that Abigail Adams had used for laundry still had no plaster walls & ceiling.  A drawing of the White House's 1803 first floor marks the State Dining Room as the "Library or Cabinet" & shows that the Family Dining Room & the Butler's Pantry were a single public dining room space.

Jefferson created a wilderness museum first in the East Room & then in the Entrance Hall, with mounted animals & Indian artifacts. Jefferson bought various habits & inventions with him to Washington. He had many hobbies & filled his presidential library/office with them.

Back at Monticello, Jefferson used his Southeast Piazza as his greenhouse for growing plants. This greenhouse was part of Jefferson's suite of private rooms that included his book room, writing office (Cabinet), & bedroom. Flanked by two "venetian porches"  His workbench was also located in the greenhouse area, where he is known to have made locks & chains.  The room probably also served as home to the pet mockingbird he took with him to Washington DC.  The room contained his work table & tools, as well as flowers, seeds, & flats for sprouting.

It is not surprising that Jefferson brought carpenter and garden tools with him to the White House. One of his slaves, Isaac Jefferson, wrote of Jefferson in the 1780s. "My Old Master was neat a hand as ever you see to make keys and locks and small chains, iron and brass. He kept all kind of blacksmith and carpenter tools in a great case with shelves to it in his library...been up thar a thousand times; used to car coal up thar. Old Master had a couple of small bellowses up thar."

In 1786 on March 3, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Joseph Mathias Gerard de Rayneval, first secretary of the French foreign office, "...Vergennes having been pleased to say he would give orders at Calais for the admission of certain articles which I wish to bring with me from follows...A box containing small tools for wooden and iron work, for my own amusement..."

Margaret Bayard Smith commented in March of 1809, "In one of the rooms [in the Library], we remarked a carpenters workbench, with a vast assortment of tools of every kind and description. This, as being characteristic, is worthy of notice; the fabrication with his own hands of curious implements and models, being a favourite amusement."

Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend & Revolutionary War hero, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, on 26 February 1810, "I am retired to Monticello, where, in the bosom of my family, & surrounded by my books...from breakfast to dinner I am in my shops, my garden, or on horseback among my farms...I talk of ploughs & harrows, seeding & harvesting, with my neighbors, & of politics too, if they chuse...& feel at length the blessing of being free to say & do what I please, without being responsible for it to any mortal."

After his death in 1826, visitor to Monticello Anne Royall wrote in February of 1830, "There were besides these [Entrance Hall, Parlor, Dining/Tea Room], four rooms on the lower floor, two on the right and two on the left, those on the right were quite small to those on the left: one was the room in which Mr. Jefferson worked, which it appeared he did, from the appearance of the room, the impliments for working in wood, squares, &c. lying about the room, --the one next to it, wsa Mr. Jefferson's chamber in which he died."

Friday, July 4, 2014

Revolutionary War Hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko's Secret 1778 Garden at West Point

Recently my husband was reading The Peasant Prince by Alex Storozynski, and he asked me if I knew of Kosciuszko's 18C garden at West Point. I did not.

c 1810 Artist Kazimierz Wojniakowski (1771-1812) Tadeusz Kosciuszko

Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817) arrived in August of 1776, to aid the colonists in their fight against Britain. Born in Lithuania, then a part of Russian Poland, Kosciuszko sailed for America, after an extensive education in military engineering in both Poland & France. On October 18, 1776, Kosciuszko was offered the rank of Colonel of Engineers.

He set about designing a system of fortifications 3 miles downstream from Philadelphia, to protect from any possible attack by the British fleet. Kosciuszko worked on fortifications at Billingsport & Red Bank on the Delaware River until April 1777, at which time he followed his commander General Horatio Gates northward to defend the boundaries of the Canadian Frontier.

Gates asked Kosciuszko to select a site to station the army for what was felt to be a decisive confrontation with the British. Kosciuszko chose Bemis Heights along the Hudson River, fortifying it with five kilometers of earthenworks. From this vantage point the colonists defended themselves in what came to be a turning point in the Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga.

Six months later, George Washington assigned Kosciuszko to the fortification at West Point on the Hudson. West Point was Kosciuszko's greatest engineering achievement. The project took two & a half years to complete with a work force of 82 laborers, 3 masons, and a stone cutter. It would hold 2500 soldiers.

In 1778, West Point served briefly as headquarters for General Washington. For years West Point remained the largest fort in America.

While serving as Fortifications Engineer for West Point, Kosciuszko selected a secluded site for a personal garden on the ledge of a cliff below Fort Arnold. Because it was to be a private place of serenity for reading & contemplation, he never asked soldiers, civilian laborers, or prisoners of war to help him clear away the wild vegetation or to channel the mountain stream, or to cart soil down to the rock-bound garden.

Gardening & portraiture were his favorite pastimes. He devoted much of his spare time at West Point to planning his garden, constructing a fountain & waterfall, & carrying baskets full of soil to the rocky site, so that flowers might have some earth in which to grow. He discovered a spring bubbling from the rocks in the middle of the cliff, and there he fashioned a small fountain.

The garden ruins were discovered in 1802, during the first year of the Military Academy at West Point, and repaired by cadets. The spring water now rises into a marble basin. Seats overlook the fountain & ornamental shrubs dot the site which has a fine prospect of the river from the cliff.

Presidents & military officers as well as ordinary citizens have enjoyed the spot for over 200 years.

1778: Here I had the pleasure of being introduced to Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a gentleman of distinction from Poland... He had amused himself while stationed at the Point, in laying out a curious Garden in a deep valley, aboudning more in rocks than in soil. I was gratified in viewing his curious water fountain with spraying jets and cascades.--Military Journal during the American Revolutionary War, from 1775-1783; Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of This Period, with Numerous Facts and Anecdotes. Boston: Cottons and Barnard, 1827. Page 138. Entry for July 28, 1778.

1802: Early in this summer of 1802, Lieutenant Macomb and myself repaired to the dilapidated Garden of Kosciuszko, relaid the stone stairway to the dell, and opened the little fountain at the base of Kosciuszko's Rock in the Garden; planted flowers and vines and constructed several seats, which made the spot a pleasant resort for a reading party...--Memoirs of General Gardner Swift. (General Swift was the first graduate of the United States Military Academy.) United States Military Academy Archives, National Archives Record Group 404, Cadet Library, West Point, New York.

1817: The following day, the party at West Point, and Mr. Monroe (President James Monroe), met the officials in the Garden of Kosciuszko, and there he related the following story of that Pole: When Kosciuszko came from Europe wounded, he seemed unable to move when applying to Congress, and received a grant of land. It was said lameness was assumed to excite sympathy among cold-blooded members. Mr. Monroe said it was not, but to impress a Russian spy that he was not longer able to wield a sword, who was so impressed; and Kosciuszko resumed his health lost in a Russian prison. Mr. Monroe said Kosciuszko had been a faithful friend of the American cause, and that he had recently remitted him several hundred dollars to sustain him in his retreat in Switzerland. This sojourn at West Point and the examination of the Cadets, was very refreshing after city fatigues.--Memoirs of General Gardner Swift. Reference: "Tour of President Monroe in the Northern United States, in the Year 1817." United States Military Academy Archives, National Archives Record Group 404, Cadet Library, West Point, New York.

1834: After a fatiguing walk to Fort Putnam, a ruin examined by every visitor to West Point, I sought the retreat called Kosciuszko's Garden. I had seen it in former years, when it was nearly inaccessible to all but clambering youths. It was now a different sort of place. It had been touched by the hand of taste, and afforded a pleasant nook for reading and contemplation. The Garden is about thirty feet in length, and in width, in its utmost extent, not more than twenty feet, and in some parts much less. Near the center of the Garden there is a beautiful basin, near whose bottom, through a small perforation, flows upward a spring of sweet water, which is carried off by overflowing on the east side of the basin toward the River, the surface of which is some eighty feet below the Garden. It was here, when in its rude state, the Polish soldier and patriot sat in deep contemplation on the loves of his youth, and the ills his country had to suffer. It would be a grateful sight to him if he could visit it now, and find that a band of youthful soldiers had, as it were, consecrated the whole military grounds to his fame.--From the Diary of Samuel L. Knapp of New York. United States Military Academy Archives, National Archives Record Group 404, Cadet Library, West Point, New York.

1848: Emerging from the remains of Fort Clinton, the path, traversing the margin of the cliff, passes the ruins of a battery, and descends, at a narrow gorge between huge rocks, to a flight of wooden steps. These terminate at the bottom upon a grassy terrace a few feet wide, over which hangs a shelving cliff covered with shrubbery. This is called Kosciuszko’s Garden, from the circumstance of its having been a favorite resort of that officer while stationed there as engineer for a time during the Revolution. In the center of the terrace is a marble basin, from the bottom of which bubbles up a tiny fountain of pure water. It is said that the remains of a fountain constructed by Kosciuszko was discovered in 1802, when it was removed, and the marble bowl which now receives the jet was placed there. It is a beautiful and romantic spot, shaded by a weeping willow and other trees, and having seats provided for those who wish to linger. Benson J. Lossing. Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. 1850. Vol. 1. Chapter XXX.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Kosciuszko's Garden 19C

View of West Point on the Hudson River in New York. 19C

Kosciuszko's Garden 1963

Kosciuszko's Garden 2003

Kosciuszko's Garden 2003

A Little More About Thomas Jefferson and Thaddeus Kosciuszko...

Kosciuszko & Jefferson were dear friends. As abolistionist Kosciuszko was leaving the United States in March, 1798, to avoid the Alien & Sedition Acts, he wrote his will with Jefferson as witness, executor, & beneficiary. Kosciuszko wanted his money to go toward freeing & educating America's slaves, specifically Thomas Jefferson's slaves--all of his slaves, not just Sally Hemings & the her children.

I beg Mr. Jefferson that in the case I should die without will or testament he should bye out of my money So many Negroes and free them, that the restante (remaining) sums should be Sufficient to give them aducation and provide for thier maintenance, that . . . each should know before, the duty of a Cytyzen in the free Government, that he must defend his country against foreign as well as internal Enemies who would wish to change the Constitution for the worst to inslave them by degree afterwards, to have good and human heart Sensible for the Sufferings of others, each must be married and have 100 Ackres of land, wyth instruments, Cattle for tillage and know how to manage and Gouvern it well as well to know [how to] behave to neyboughs [neighbors], always wyth Kindnes and ready to help them . . . . T. Kościuszko.

Jefferson called Kosciuszko "the truest son of liberty I have ever known;" but after the Pole's death, Jefferson did not live up to his pact with his friend, leaving the will to languish in American courts & leaving his slaves to be sold on the lawn of Monticello.

See Gary B. Nash & Graham Russell Gao Hodges. Friends of Liberty: A Tale of Three Patriots, Two Revolutions, and the Betrayal that Divided a Nation: Thomas Jefferson, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull. Basic Books 3, April 2008.

Naming plants in Early America to honor national heros & republican ideals

Gardening To Honor National & Classical Heros

In the new republic the garden had inspired & been a stage for displaying nationalism since its inception. The names Annapolis craftsman William Faris (1729-1804) chose for his tulips reflect the craftsman's enthusiasms, for the new nation & for classical republican ideals.

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (Dutch Baroque Era Painter, 1573-1621) Glass with Four Tulips 1615 

Naming flowers for national & classical heros was not a new concept. In the 1630s, Dutch citizens from every walk of life were caught up in an extraordinary frenzy of buying & selling tulips. The flower rapidly became a coveted luxury item & status symbol.

Between December 1636 & January 1637, fortunes were made & lost in the Netherlands--in tulip bulb futures trading. In hopes of making their bulbs the most desirable, growers named their new varieties with exalted titles.

Many early forms were prefixed Admiral, often combined with the growers' names—Admirael van der Eijck was perhaps the most highly regarded of about 50 so named. General was another prefix that found its way into the names of around 30 varieties. Later came varieties with even more superlative names, Alexander the Great, "Admiral of Admirals," & "General of Generals."

A Dutch contemporary explained that you give a "name you fancy, and stand a bottle of wine to your friends that they may remember to talk about it." The market for tulips crashed in February of 1637, but the concept of naming tulips for heros lingered in the minds of early American flower growers.

In his diary on July 3, 1801, Annapolis clockmaker & silversmith William Faris listed his tulip varieties by name. They included war heros “General Washington & Lady Washington,” "General Williams,” “General Wayne,” “General Smallwood,” “General Putnam,” “General Harry Lee,” “General Morgan,” “General Gates,” & “Colonel Howard.”

Faris also named his precious tulips after political leaders--- “Adams,” “Hamilton,” “Madison,” & “Dr. Franklin”-- & for classical heroes-- “Aristides” “Fabius,” “Pompey the Grate,” “Archimedes,” “Cato,” “Cicero,” “Domostines,” & “Cincinnatus.”

Naming flowers after national & classical heroes was not peculiar to Faris in the early republic. On April 9, 1804, he recorded in his dairy receiving balsam plants from his neighbor Alexander Contee Hanson (1749-1806), whose father John Hanson (1721-83) had signed the Articles of Confederation & served as the first president of the Congress in 1781.

The son was deeply affected by the Revolution & wrote, “during the whole memorable interval between the fall of the old & the institution of the new form of government, there appeared to exist among us such a fund of public virtue as had scarcely a parallel in the annals of the world.”

It is not surprising that the younger Hanson named his balsam plants “General Washington,” which Faris described as white, purple, & crimson; “Franklin,” which was purple; “Lady Washington,” “flesh mixed”; “the President,” crimson & pink; “Aristides,” white & purple; & “General Green,” which Faris left undescribed.

Hybridizing new varieties of flowers to be named for classical & national heroes became a popular pastime after the Revolution in the Chesapeake.