Friday, July 25, 2014

18C-early19C Seed Dealers & Nursery Owners from the Philadelphia to Williamsburg


Emerging Seed Dealers & Nursery Owners

The method of selling seeds & plants changed dramatically in the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South after the Revolutionary war. The growth of urban economies gave rise to new commercial gardening ventures, nurseries & seed stores, operated by professional gardeners who initially imported & then grew their own seed & plant stock. (The Middle Atlantic & Upper South usually includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., & Virginia, but I am seldom able to be all-inclusive of the region in my research.)


Americans, who had traditionally lived on farms & plantations, were moving to the towns & opening up shops to take part in the growing urban economies. They had smaller properties on which to grow their food, but now they also had access to the public farmers markets which sprouted in most urban areas. They were acquiring enough money & stability to plant pleasure gardens on their grounds.


Some of the new professional shopkeepers & artisans also retained staffs to lay out & maintain the gardens of others under contractual agreements. Even rural gardeners, who had traditionally saved seeds & traded seeds & plants with neighbors & friends on both sides of the Atlantic, began to patronize capitalistic seed merchants & nursery owners.


These garden businessmen aggressively advertised their wares to a public increasingly concerned with the status of the ornamental, in addition to utilitarian aspects of their gardens. Leisure time was growing in the new nation, & both the gentry & their less wealthy neighbors could now find the time to indulge in an avocation such as pleasure gardening.


Nurserymen & Seed Dealers in New York

As early as February of 1734, John Miller "gardner at the old Bowling Green" was offering "the best kinds of garden seeds, of several sorts" for sale in The New-York Weekly Journal.  Near the junction of what are now Greenwich & Warren Streets in New York City was the Bowling Green Garden, established there soon after the opening of the 18C. It was on a part of the Church Farm, quite out of town, for there were no streets then laid out above Crown, now Liberty Street, on the west side of the town & none above Frankfort on the east.  By January of 1737, Miller was advertising the results of his gardening efforts in the same publication, offering for sale, "dried Herbs of several sorts, to wit, Sage, Time, Savery, &c."  On March 29, 1738, it took fire & in a few minutes was completely consumed. Miller, who was then living in it, saving himself with difficulty.  But, by April of 1740, Miller had expanded his merchandise and his method of selling to both the retail and the wholesale market even further, advertising in the same newspaper, "At the sign of the Thistle and Crown, near Spring Garden or at the old Bowling Green, several Sorts of Garden seeds at Reasonable Rates, either by Wholesale or Retaile, and also young fruite Trees of several sorts." 


Robert Prince, of Flushing, New York, established the Prince Nursery in 1737. It operated for 130 years, until about 1865. It was a major commercial nursery responsible for importing plants from Europe & sending American plants abroad. The nursery grew fruits & roses, producing many of the grafted apple, pear & cherry trees found in the early Northeastern orchards.


William Prince (1725-1802), the second proprietor of the Prince Nursery, is often considered to be the true founder of the nursery. The first known advertisement of the nursery was dated September 21, 1767. The nursery’s earliest catalog, published in 1771, was a broadside featuring a large selection of fruit trees. William was the first to grow pecan trees for sale; in 1772, he planted 30 nuts from which he grew 10 plants.


Under William the business grew rapidly until the Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War, British General Lord Howe ordered the protection of the Prince Garden & Nursery. Over 10,000 grafted cherry trees had to be sold to be used in barrel manufacturing during the war. After the war the orchard was rebuilt. In 1789, George Washington visited the nursery.


At the death of William Prince (1725-1802), the Prince Nursery was divided between his two sons, William & Benjamin. William Prince (1766-1842) was the 3rd proprietor of the Prince Nurseries. He continued the work of his father introducing foreign trees & plants & creating new varieties from seed. The Lombardy poplar was imported by this nursery. Catalogs were issued regularly from 1815 to 1850. William was one of the founders of the New York Horticultural Society (1818).


Many shrubs & flowers from the Lewis & Clark expeditions were sent to the Prince Nursery for propagation & distribution. Before the death of William, the nursery business was taken over by his sons, William & Benjamin. William called his part of the nursery, the Linnaean Botanic Garden & Nursery, & Benjamin called the original location The Old American Nursery.  In 1827, the nursery contained more than a hundred species of Australian plants, & a year later it had more than 600 kinds of roses. In 1828, William Prince published a Treatise on Horticulture.


William Robert Prince (1795-1869) was the fourth proprietor of his family’s nursery. He was a botanist & plant explorer as well as a nurseryman. As a young man he went on plant-collecting expeditions in the eastern states, & in 1849 & 1850 he collected plants in California. He devoted his life to grape culture & the improvement & distribution of native grapes. William Robert, along with his father, published A Treatise on the Vine 1830; A Pomological Manual in 1831; & Manual of Roses in 1846.


Seed Dealers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

From the middle of the 18C on, gardeners close to Philadelphia could take advantage of local seed & nursery businesses. Although many believe that David Landreth (1752-1836)(who opened his nursery & seed business in 1784) was the first dealer in the area, he was not. John (1699-1777) & William (1739-1823) Bartram had been selling & exporting seeds & plants since the middle of the century from their 1728 botanic garden at Kingsessing just outside Philadelphia. Another early gardener in Philadelphia was James Alexander, who sold vegetable & herb seeds imported from London in Philadelphia in 1751.


From the 1750s through the 1770s, the most successful Philadelphia seed merchant was a Welsh woman, Hannah Davis Dubre (1723-1776) (sometimes spelled Duberry), of the Northern Liberties area two miles from the Philadelphia city limit, on the Wissahickon Road. She & her husband, Jacob Dubre (1719-1768), married in Philadelphia in 1758, & owned 33 acres, which later increased to 50 acres, with a bearing orchard of grafted fruit trees, some meadow land, a large brick house & detached brick kitchen with a pump just outside the door, a barn & several other outbuildings, & a large kitchen garden that included many asparagus beds.





Even after her husband’s death in 1768, “the widow Dubre” kept her garden & business going. From 1754 through 1775 she offered locally grown seed & fruit trees on both a retail & a wholesale basis. She warranted her seeds as “fresh & good: & sold large quantities to local shopkeepers for resale to their clients & to exporters for trade out of the country."
Before 1770, she kept agents in town, including John & Samuel Bissell, John Lownes, & Ann Powell near the Work House on Third Street, to supply both retail & wholesale customers who did not want to travel the 2 miles out of town to visit her plantation. After 1770, she used James Truman, a butcher & meat curer in Elbow Lane near the Harp & Crown Tavern, as her city agent.

By 1766, she was advertising that she could fill large orders for “Captains of Vessels” for exportation to the West Indies “on the shortest Notice.” Over a twenty-year period, Hannah Davis Dubre expanded her operation from a small local seed concern to a large-quantity supply business catering to merchants & international traders.


Peter Crouwells & Co., Gardeners and Florists, in Philadelphia, advertised seeds, bulbs, & roots for sale as far away as the Viginia Gazette in 1786.




In 1780, David Landreth & his family left England for Montreal, Canada, where he intended to establish a seed business. Fairly quickly, the harsh Canadian climate forced him to reconsider; and he relocated to Philadelphia. On January 7, 1784, Landreth started his first garden center on High Street, which is now 1210 Market Street. He chose Pennsylvania; because people appeared to have more free time there, & he believed Philadelphia was the center of wealth & sophistication in the United States. David Landreth was joined in Philadelphia seedstore by his brother Cuthbert Landreth (1746-1828) in 1789.


Landreth's Bloomsdale Farm Circa 1847

Initially, Landreth sold seeds in the Gray's Ferry area of  Philadelphia & to several nearby estates; but his business and his reputation grew steadily and soon he numbered George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and even Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother who married a Baltimore belle) among his customers.  



Landreth’s Bloomsdale Farm 1852

Landreth once extended George Washington 30 day's credit on his unpaid bill. Jefferson in great detail describes his purchases from the Philadelphia brothers in his Monticello diaries. He purchased & planted various fruit trees at his famous Virginia estate after visiting the horticultural hothouses located in Gray's Ferry.


Traveling Seed Dealers

The independent seed dealers & nursery owners converging on the mid-Atlantic area immediately after the Revolution usually were immigrants rather than native-born & European rather than English. A Frenchman, Peter Bellet, was one of the first commercial seedsman & nurseryman appearing in Maryland’s written records specifically offering garden plants & seeds directly to the public.


Bellet’s evolution from itinerant seed peddler to economically successful nursery owner typified the general trend of commercial seed & plant marketing during this period. Beginning as a traveling seedsman based in Philadelphia, where he operated a seed store, Bellet eventually settled in Williamsburg. He continued to advertise throughout the mid-Atlantic after his relocation to the old Virginia capital & sold plants to Maryland & Virginia gardeners for twenty years.


As a traveling seed salesman, Philadelphia-based Peter Bellet advertised in Baltimore in December of 1785, that he was visiting the French section of the town for a brief period & had for sale an extensive variety of flowers & seeds “not know before in this country.” Bellet was lodging in the hear of the town, at The Sign of the Lamb tavern on Charles Street, where he offered prospective customers a printed catalogue listing the names & colors of his bulbs, which were imported from Amsterdam. He carried more practical kitchen garden seeds with him as well.



Bellet’s first Maryland advertisement reflected the preference for Dutch flowers among the middle & upper economic groups in the early republic. Bellet also brought with him “elegant artificial flowers & feathers suitable for the Ladies.” Bellet called himself a “florist & seedsman” on this trip & advertised his flowers as “rare & curious.”

Anatony Antonini, selling artificial silk flowers adorned with birds cast in wax John Thomas Smith. Vagabondiana. London, 1817

Seedsman Bellet’s plant stock became more expansive during successive selling trips. On a journey through the mid-Atlantic almost ten years later, in early 1793, Bellet advertised roots & seeds “collected from Europe,” & he offered to send orders to Europe as well. At this point, Bellet was still based in Philadelphia & had entered into partnership with another European seedsman, M. Kroonem.


They were also promoting stock that was more difficult to move from place to place than seeds & bulbs, such as trees & shrubbery, & had begun cultivating their imported European seed in Philadelphia soil. Bellet was offering a surprising number of varieties of flowers, especially roses, for sale. Bellet & Kroonem called themselves “florists, seedsmen, botanists, & gardeners” &, as Bellet had done earlier, advertised their extensive plant varieties as “curious.”


On this selling trip, his first taken as a partner, Bellet traveled his usual loop from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Richmond & back. In Richmond he took lodging at Hyland’s Tavern, where he again had on hand a free printed catalogue of his stock for prospective clients. To earn enough to support himself, Bellet also hired out to graft & inoculate trees & lay out flower gardens as reasonable rates. His partner, Kroonem, remained in Philadelphia to mind the store & tend to the nursery garden.


Dealers near Richmond, Virginia

In this bustling new capitol, Richmond, Peter Bellet had competition for the gardening business. In the spring of 1791, Southgate’s General Store advertised fresh, imported garden seeds. Twenty years earlier, garden seeds were being offered at Campbell's Store in Richmond, and also at Miles Taylor's Store in 1775. Taylor was selling seeds imported from Italy.


In the 1760s, William Wills of Richmond & his asscociate John Donley in Petersburg, offered imported garden seeds for sale at their stores. Also in Petersburg, A. Adams advertised seeds that he had for sale in the Virginia Gazette and Petersburg Intelligencer on February 24, 1797. In 1798, Stratchan & Maury of Spotsylvania County were offering grafted apple trees for sale in the same publication. Joseph Davenport offered seeds for sale in his Petersburg store in 1803. By 1803, Samuel Bailey was selling grafted apple trees in New Kent County.




The spring of 1792, a seed dealer named Minton Collins was importing flower roots and seeds from London & offering them for sale at the Shot Factory, at Richards Denny’s store near the market house, & at James Dove’s on the main street. In the fall of 1792, Collins consolidated his stock at Denny’s store & had imported new seeds & flower roots to sell to his growing clientele. By the next spring, he had collected enough capital to open his own shop, devoted solely to garden stock. In 1793, Collins introduced the West India Burr Gherkin (Cucumis anguria), a pickling cucumber plant, originally brought from Angola to the Caribbean by slaves.

Collins’ Seed & Flower Store sat on the north side of Main Street between the post office & the bridge over the James River. He sold retail to the general public & wholesale, or at least “upon moderate terms,” to country shopkeepers from surrounding Virginia communities. By the turn of the century, Collins was also receiving seed from the northern states & had customers in Richmond, Norfolk & Portsmouth.


West India Burr Gherkin, a pickling cucumber


Dealers in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Another businessman, George French, appeared on the scene in 1798, importing seeds from London for sale in nearby Fredericksburg. The competition in the Richmond & Fredericksburg area may have nudged Peter Bellet to look for a more permanent & lucrative base of operation.


Apparently, on one of his trips to Richmond, Bellet ventured east to Williamsburg & found the quiet of its ordered streets & gardens a great relief from the mud & hassle of Philadelphia & Baltimore. In late 1793, he dissolved his partnership in Philadelphia & moved to a 5-acre plot in Williamsburg.


After Peter Bellet settled in Williamsburg, he immediately expanded his stock & began referring to himself as a nurseryman, & from that point on, he ceased proposing to lay out & tend the gardens of others. In the winter of 1799, he advertised from his property on Gallows Street, now known as Capitol Landing Road, that he was still selling imported flower bulbs.


Bellet quickly fit into the Williamsburg community. Local gardener Joseph Prentis was one of his early customers. Prentis’s brother-in-law, Peter Bowdoin wrote from his plantation, Hungars, asking him to purchase plants for a friend at Bellets nursery & offering to expedite the transaction: “My boat will go to the Capital Landing for the purpose of bringing a number of Trees from Bellets.” Bowdoin also asked Prentis to give him plants from his personal garden but added, “if you have not as many to spare as will make fine beds, supply the deficiency from Bellets.”


Dealers in Williamsburg, Virginia

Bellet was not the town’s first seed merchant or seed trader. John Custis (1678-1749) was a prominent citizen of Williamsburg with an impressive garden. He sent seed to John Bartram, the Philadelphia naturalist & botanist. Bartram told Peter Collinson that Custis’ garden was 2nd only to that of John Clayton, the English born Virginia naturalist of Gloucester County. Custis also sent seeds across the Atlantic to Peter Collinson (1694-1768), who was a wealthy English Quaker woolen merchant & botanist.


Williamsburg gardeners Thomas Crease & James Nicholson, who worked consecutively at the college of William & Mary from 1726 until 1773, supplemented their income by selling seeds & plants grown in the college’s botanical & kitchen gardens, as did James Wilson after 1779.


Terraced Kitchen Garden at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg


William Smith advertised trees he was growing in his nursery in Surry County in the 1755 Williamsburg newspaper, as did Thomas Sorsby of Surry County in 1763.


Orchardist William Smith offered, "Hughs’s Crab, Bray’s White Apple, Newton Pippin, Golden Pippin, French Pippin, Dutch Pippin, Clark’s Pearmain, Royal Pearmain, Baker’s Pearmain, Lone’s Pearmain, Father Abraham, Harrison’s Red, Ruffin’s large Cheese Apple, Baker’s Nonsuch, Ludwell’s Seedling, Golden Russet, Nonpareil, May Apple, Summer Codling, Winter Codling, Gillefe’s Cyder Apple, Green Gage Plumb, Bonum Magnum Plumb, Orleans Plumb, Imperial Plumb, Damascene Plumb, May Pear, Holt’s Sugar Pear, Autumn Bergamot Pear, Summer Pear, Winter Bergamot, Orange Bergamot, Mount Sir John, Pound Pear, Burr de Roy, Black Heart Cherry, May Duke Cherry, John Edmond’s Nonsuch Cherry, White Heart Cherry, Carnation Cherry, Kentish Cherry, Marrello Cherry, Double Blossom Cherry, Double Blossom Peaches, Filberts Red & White."


Nurseryman Thomas Sorsby had available, "Best cheese apple, long stems, Pamunkey, Eppes, Newtown pippins, Bray’s white apples, Clark’s pearmains, Lightfoot’s Father Abrahams, Sorsby’s Father Abrahams, Lightfoot’s Hughes, Sorsby’s Hughes, Ellis’s Hughes, New-York Yellow apples, Golden russeteens, Westbrook’s Sammons’s, horse apples, royal pearmains, a choice red apple, best May apples, Sally Gray’s apple, Old .England apple, green apple, Harvey’s apple, peach trees [Prunus persica], and cherry trees."


In 1759, the Governor's Palace gardener placed the following ad in the Virginia Gazette,"Just imported in the Good-Intent, Capt. Reddick, and to be sold Cheap, for ready Money, by the Subscriber, living at the Palace, in Williamsburg; where Gentlemen may depend on being well served, with the following Garden-Seeds, by - Their humble Servant, Christopher Ayscough.

"Six-week Peas, Charlton Hotspur Peas, Marrowfat Peas, Nonpareil Peas, Spanish Morrotto Peas, Sugar Dwarf Peas, Windsor Beans, Long-poded Beans, White Blossom Beans, Green Beans, Nonpareil Beans, large English Turnip, early Dutch Turnip, early Dutch Cabbage, Sugar-Loaf Cabbage, Battersea Cabbage, large Winter Cabbage, Red Cabbage, Yellow Savoy Cabbage, Green Savoy Cabbage, early Colliflower, late Colliflower, Colliflower Brocoli, Purple Brocoli, curled Colewort, Scarlet Raddish, short-topped Raddish, white Turnip Raddish, black Turnip Raddish, white gass Lettuce, black Gass Lettuce, brown Dutch Lettuce, Nonpareil Lettuce, Silesia Lettuce, white curled Endive, white Spanish Onion, English Onion, Leek, Chardoon, Italian Celery, white Mustard, Garden Cresses, Winter Cresses, Charvel, Clary &c."


In Williamsburg, shipments of seeds arriving from England were also sold in local shops. In 1773, a Virginia Gazette notice announced, "JUST arrived, in the Unity, Captain Goosley, and to be sold at John Carter's store, for ready Money, a Variety of fresh GARDEN SEEDS, namely, Early Golden Hotspur Peas, Early Charlton Peas, Ledman's Dwarf Peas, short Sugar Peas, Dwarf Marrow Peas, Long Pod Beans, Windsor Beans, Canterbury Dwarf Kidney Beans, Silver Skin Onion Seed, Carrot Seed, white round Turnip Seed, Salmon Radish Seed, Spinnage, solid Celery, curled Parsley, curled Cress, Early Dwarf Sugar Loaf Cabbage, large ditto, large English Ditto, best Colliflower Seed, purple and green Brocoli, white Coss Lettuce, Silensia."

When early peas became the rage in the 1770s, 2 stores in Williamsburg, Greenhow StoreRobert Nicolson Shop, which did not often sell seeds, offer peas for sale among their general merchandise lines.


James Wilson was the gardener at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. In 1774, he placed an ad in the local paper, "Just Imported, and to be SOLD by JAMES WILSON, Gardener at the College, the following SEEDS, which are all fresh and the best of their Kinds,

PEASE - Earliest, best Charlton, Golden Hotspur, Nonpareil, Marrowfat, Green Rouncival, Spanish Moratto, and Glory of England.


BEANS - Mazagon, Long Pod, Windsor, Early Hotspur, and White Blossom.


CABBAGE - Early Yorkshire, Early Bottersea, Early Sugar Loaf, White Dutch, Red, and Large Hollow.


TURNIP - Early Dutch, Norfolk Early Green, and Round Red.


RADISH - Salmon, Short Topped, White Spanish, and Black-


Green and Yellow Savoy, White and Purple Brocoli, Early and Late Cauliflower, Red and White Beet, White Mustard, Round Leaf and Common Cresses, Solid Celery, London Leek, Early Carrot Skiret, Lettuce Seed of all Sorts, fine Spinage Seed, Cucumber Seed of Different Kinds, and a great Variety of other Seeds, too tedious to mention."


When gardener James Stewart, who was also a dyer & weaver, returned in 1775 from several months in England, he offered seeds & roots of dye plants for sale to his fellow Virginians with instructions on their cultivation & the manufacture of dyes for linen, cotton, & woolen fabrics.


Joseph Hornsby, who lived in Williamsburg in the Peyton Randolph house from 1783 until 1796, purchased from Bellet just before moving to Kentucky. When he decided to move West, Hornsby began gathering up seeds & small plants from his own garden & sorting them into labeled bags. Those plants that he could not easily remove, he purchased from Bellet to plant in his new garden in Kentucky. In his Diary of Planting & Gardening, in March 1798, he reported that he had sown the seeds from Bellet, & “the Plants were very fine.”


Bellet used the same technique to sell his flower stock. He appealed to the immediacy of the senses rather than the memories of his prospective customers, in the days before color-illustrated advertising. Bellet also offered flowering shrubs & ornamental trees as well as more practical fruit trees & vegetable seeds.



In the fall of 1799, Bellet’s newspaper advertisements listed prices for the first time, & they noted that he was still importing seeds & plants from London. The ad promised that he would prepare a new catalogue for potential clients in the coming spring. By 1799, Bellet has also added grafted fruit trees to his stock.

Bellet’s next public notice appeared in October 1800. Now permanently settled in Williamsburg, his business was developing into a regional nursery & seed distributorship. How seeds, trees, & shrubs were shipped to mid-Atlantic gardeners who placed orders was not specified in the newspaper notices. By 1800, Bellet was collecting & saving seed from his own Virginia beds & offering them for sale to the public in addition to his usual imported seed stock. He offered to sell seed by the pound or by the box.


Nurseryman Bellet expanded his base of operations southwards to Norfolk. He completed his 1801 catalogue during the slow winter months of 1800, & offered it to prospective buyers at the store of a French merchant named Bonnard, at the Norfolk Market. Bellet advertised in the fall of 1801, that he had 8,000 growing trees for sale plus his usual supply of flower & vegetable roots & seeds. His nursery stock consisted of 1-4 year old varieties of grafted trees including 46 apples, 44 pears, 30 peaches, 18 plums, 10 nectarines, 10 apricots, 20 cherries, 4 almonds, 5 mulberries, and 5 walnuts. He had imported 80 varieties from Normandy alone.


By 1803, Bellet’s stock of fruit trees at this Williamsburg nursery had grown to 20,000; and he had regular sales agents in both Petersburg & Richmond who would accept orders for seed & plant stock. His agents in nearby towns were given their own supply of free printed catalogues. 


In an 1803 advertisement Bellet offered to sell his trees wholesale, retail & on credit. So large was his stock that he was proposing to supply “country stores” with seeds & plants for resale “on the most moderate terms.” Store owners intrigued by the idea could apply to Bellet directly at this nursery in Williamsburg or to his Richmond agent, said the ad.

Bellet had increased the size of his 5 acre nursery in 804, by buying 15 acres of adjoining land. Here he planted even more trees, but apparently his health & energy were beginning to fail. After 10 years in Williamsburg, Bellet decided to return north. In the winter of 1804, he offered for sale his 20-acre nursery of “well-manuered” land plus his gardening tools, eight slave gardeners, & livestock.




By now his stock of fruit trees had grown to 100,000, but he had allowed his seed supply to dwindle to only “a small quantity,” & he had bought no new perishable stock. Bellet’s intention was to sell his stock, slaves, & tools before May 1, 1805, or put them all up for sale at public auction on that date, after which he planned to sell any remaining plant stock “on lower terms than usual” & then more to New York State. Orders for any part of the property or the whole could be left with Bellet’s agents in Richmond or Petersburg. Bellet had sold 5 acres of his nursery & was attempting to dispose of his last two slave gardeners, when he placed his final newspaper notice two winters later, just before he died in Williamsburg.

Itinerant seed huckster Peter Bellet’s astute marketing tactics had expanded his mid-Atlantic business from a nursery of a few seedlings to 100,000 trees in little more than a decade of residence in Williamsburg.


Throughout the mid-Atlantic, private gardeners were also selling bulb stock directly out of their gardens to meet the growing appetite for flowers among their neighbors. Henri Stier, a well-to-do neighbor of William Faris, like Faris, sold tulips & other bulb plants to fellow Annapolitans by opening his garden at full bloom in the spring, so that buyers could mark with notched sticks the varieties they wanted dug from the ground after the blossoms & leaves had faded away in the heat of summer.

Dealers in Baltimore, Maryland

A second professional nurseryman from Europe, a German immigrant named Philip Walter, arrived in Maryland in 1786, a little over a year after Bellet’s first advertisement appeared. Walter wanted no part of the traveling life. He was a serious gardener who yearned to ten the land all year round.


Walter was determined to begin his American business venture as a settled commercial nurseryman specializing in orchard plants. He decided to sell his products near the busy Market House at the foot of Belvedere, the elegant estate of then-colonel John Eager Howard. Townspeople came to shop at the market on Wednesdays & Saturdays, when neighboring farmers would load up their wagons with produce to sell & journey to Howard’s Hill.


With an establishment at the market, Walter figured, clientele would be drawn continually to his location, & they would be inspired to new heights in gardening by the awesome example of Colonel Howard’s park like gardens & grounds. Walter first advertised in the spring of 1787, calling himself a seedsman & a nurseryman, but he concentrated on selling primarily orchard stock. Twenty years after arriving in the busting port town, Walter was robbed & murdered at his nursery, on Hookstown Road.


Crops maturing in Thomas Jefferson's Kitchen Garden at Monticello


While some European seed merchants & nursery owners such as Walter & Bellet decided to settle down & grow their stock in mid-Atlantic soil, others continued to import & travel. In the spring of 1790, John Lieutaud, a gardener & florist from France, passed through Maryland selling seeds, roots, & bulbs imported from France & Holland. Lieutaud used much of the same method of operation as his fellow Frenchman Bellet did on his mid-Atlantic selling rounds.


Lieutaud, who was from the province of Dauphiny, also offered the “curious” a printed catalogue. He boarded at the home of Captain Gould, on busy Charles Street in Baltimore, where potential customers could come to pick up a catalogue & , he hoped, buy seeds. To supplement his income Lietaud proposed to prune, graft, & inoculate trees “at a moderate price.”




The next European seedsman & nursery owner to appear in Maryland records was Maximillian Heuisler, in immigrant from Munich, Bavaria. While Heuisler settled permanently in Baltimore, he often made day trips to neighboring towns, such as Annapolis, to meet local gardening enthusiasts & to hawk his wares. He was a regular seed supplies to William Faris.

Heuisler personally delivered both plants & seeds to his mid-Atlantic customers. His wife never knew whether her husband would return from these trips with cash, new plants, or baskets of food: Heuisler traded for new seeds & plants to expand his varieties & stock, he sold for cash, & he accepted produce in trade.


Plant dealer Heuisler’s first advertisement as a commercial seed vendor appeared in 1791. Aggressive in advertising his wares, he was always looking for new ways to attract potential customers. He paid to have his advertising notice in the February 1795 issue of a Baltimore newspaper illustrated with a woodcut of potted plants. His nursery situated on 40 acres about 1 ¼ miles north of Baltimore on the Philadelphia Road, was depicted on an 1801 map of the town. He regularly advertised an extensive assortment of trees & shrubberies, both useful & ornamental, for mid-Atlantic “plantation,” orchard, kitchen, & flower gardens, plus fresh garden seeds of every description.


Heuisler was thought by one contemporary to be the best professional gardener in Baltimore at the end of the 18C. In 1803, Heuisler sold his Philadelphia Road nursery & established one closer to his Annapolis market, on the Portland-Ferry-Branch, near the southwest corner of Baltimore. Maximillian Heuisler died in 1816, but his son, Joseph A. Heuisler, carried on his father’s determination to build & maintain a well-respected seed & nursery business throughout much of the 19C.




At least two immigrants to Baltimore who became professional nursery owners near the turn of the century began their careers in America as gardeners under contract to busy gentlemen who had planted elaborate gardens for both food & status. Each of these gardeners saved enough capital to become successful nursery owners as the new century dawned.

One was a French immigrant, John Bastian, who had come to Baltimore to supervise the elaborate gardens at Harlem, owned by Adrian Valeck. The other was James Wilkes, who had been apprenticed as a gardener in England then immigrated to oversee the gardens of George Grundy at his country house Bolton in Baltimore, where Wilkes worked for 3 years.


When Wilkes went into business for himself in 1798, he continued to offer his services as an independent gardener, available by the day, month, or year. To further supplement his income, he worked as a part-time nursery gardener for Heuisler. By 1803, he had amassed enough capital to buy Heuisler’s Philadelphia Road nursery, when the Heuislers opened the nursery in southwest Baltimore. Wilkes sold fruit trees & a large variety of ornamental shrubbery, greenhouse plants, & seeds imported from London, the same stock that had been the basis for Heuisler’s business at that location. From 1803 until the 1820s, Wilkes sold vegetables, flowers, & exotic hothouse & greenhouse plants from his nursery.


John Bastian arrived in Maryland before 1790, & was still working as gardener for the estate of Harlem in 1802. By 1808, he had begun his own independent seed & nursery business near Baltimore, & it continued until 1839. Even when his contract to tend Harlem had ended, Bastian augmented his income by tending gentlemen’s grounds & gardens. Just as many of his European colleagues did, Bastian offered a full range of services to the mid-Atlantic gardening public, from designing to planting to “repairing.”




The most successful nursery business in the late 18C Maryland was operated by an Englishman William Booth and, after his death, his wife, Margaret. They began the business around 1793, with the sale of imported seed at two locations. Booth advertised in a Baltimore newspaper in April of 1793, that he was lodging at the home of Thorowgood Smith, Esq., in downtown Baltimore, & offering garden seeds imported from London. His second location was at Bowley’s Wharf, at the harbor, where local shopkeepers acted as his agent.

By May of 1794, Booth had accumulated enough capital to lease a house, & he moved next to one of the town’s best-known citizens, Dr. James McHenry. Although Booth did not locate near one of the town’s busy farmers’ markets, the house was just a half-mile west of Baltimore town, & his choice of location was a clever one. The popular McHenry had been George Washington’s surgeon during the Revolution & was instrumental in developing the Constitution afterwards, so travelers & neighbors often stopped to pay their respects to him. In fact, the sociable McHenry organized regular fox hunts from his grounds into the surrounding countryside.


Initially Booth sold only seeds, which he imported from London. He worked tirelessly on the grounds & his stick during the summer, fall, & winter of 1794 & by spring of 1795, was ready for broader ventures. He placed a large notice in a local newspaper informing the public of his intention to establish a permanent nursery & seed shop on his premises adjoining the property of McHenry, with whom he had negotiated a long-term lease.




McHenry’s land & now Booth’s new shop & home were located on the road leading to the “Federal City” & to busy Frederick town. Also, access by road to the traditional Annapolis market was easier from the south side of Baltimore than from the north of the water-bound east side.

Booth had leased not only the land but also McHenry’s greenhouse & had bought all of McHenry’s hothouse plants, which he decided to offer for sale in pots. The surgeon had raised plants for medicinal use as well as botanical interest.


Nurseryman Booth had a grand design for these potted plants, & he advertised it in a Baltimore newspaper. He proposed that he ladies of the town & its environs ornament their interiors with these & other potted plants during the summer months, return them to Booth for care over the winter (for a slight fee), & receive them the following spring in “full perfection.” He had not only come up with an ingenious method for continuing to gain income from the pants after selling them, he planned to expand his clientele by appealing to the ladies & suggesting that they use plants to decorate the interiors of their homes, traditionally the real of women.

During this same period, Grant Thorburn (1773-1863), a New York store owner who would become a famous Atlantic coast seed dealer, was drawn less intentionally into the world of ladies & plants. Thorburn was born near Dalkeith, Scotland, and was employed as a nailmaker there; before he sailed for America at age 21. Thorburn arrived in New York in 1794. He sold novelties and hardware at his little store in New York City, but the he discovered that his flower pots sold better when they were painted and with flowers in them.


Until 1801, he had operated his small hardware store, where he also sold flower pots. “About this time,” he later wrote, “the ladies…were beginning to shrew their taste for flowers.” To make his pots more attractive, he painted some green & set them in a window. They were so popular that the following spring he added geraniums to his green pots, & from that point on he gave up the grocery business to become a seed & plant merchant. Thorburn began selling seeds in 1805. The G. Thorburn & Son’s catalog of 1822 was issued in pamphlet form and included illustrations. Thorburn died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 21, 1863.




Serendipity played less of a role in William Booth’s promotion of garden enterprises. Booth’s capitalistic brain had been working relentlessly during the winter of 1794-95. That spring he simultaneously announced a plan to carry on a kitchen garden business that would supply specific customers with fresh vegetables of their choice by the week, month, or year. The concept of planting pre-chosen vegetables to supply produce on a contractual basis to his clients was an inspired version of the traditional truck farming of the region. It was Booth’s clever attempt to control both his supply & demand. Booth continued his original line of business, selling seeds he imported from London, as he launched his nursery, greenhouse, & kitchen garden ventures in 1795.

Booth was soon the most successful professional gardener in Maryland. His training in Britain had been sound. The visiting English agriculturalist, Richard Parkinson, reported that booth had been a gardener for the Duke of Leeds before his arrival in America.


In addition to his many other gardening pursuits, William Booth designed & planted some of Baltimore’s most famous gardens, including the terraced falls at Hampton & those at Solomon Birckhead’s Mount Royal.


Booth’s 1801 seed & plant catalogue is the earliest one remaining from the period in Maryland & lists hundreds of plants for the kitchen garden, sweet herbs, medicinal (“physical”) plants, “seeds to improve the lands,” fruit trees, annual flowers, biennial & perennial flowers, “herbaceous plants,” bulbous roots, forest trees, flower shrubs, evergreens, greenhouse, & “stove plants,” including “a great variety of new & elegant sorts.”


Nineteenth-century Maryland historians claimed that William Booth was among “the earliest botanists, florists, & seedsmen in the United States” & that “his own grounds. . . Were celebrated for the care & exquisite cultivation with which they were kept.” Booth’s nursery was depicted on the 1801 Warner and Hanna Map of Baltimore. When Booth died in 1818, his inventory recorded a diverse stock, which were being made available to the Baltimore public at his seed store & at his 5-acre nursery. His widow, Margaret Booth, continued to operate the seed store & nursery through the 1820s.



English immigrant Booth’s attempts to appeal to a broader market were apparently successful. In September of 1799 he advertised to the public a huge collection of “rare exotic” plants, raised in a greenhouse in cooperation with other seed & plant dealers in Philadelphia & New York. The advertisement also linked the name of William Booth with some of his well-known Atlantic seaboard colleagues, David & Cuthbert Landreth in Philadelphia & David Williamson in New York, who were acting cooperatively as agents for the sale of this large collection. Also arriving in Philadelphia at the turn of the century was Bernard M’Mahon, the most important of the early 19C seed & plant dealers and garden authors.

Back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The most important of the new garden entrepreneurs was Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), who came to Philadelphia from Ireland in 1796, to establish a seed and nursery business. "He enjoyed the friendship of Thomas Jefferson...the Lewis and Clark expedition was planned at his house...(he was) instrumental in distributing the seeds which those explorers collected."

In 1806, M'Mahon wrote The American Gardener's Calendar, which was printed in 11 editions between 1806-1857. A Philadelphia newspaper called the book "a precious treasure" that "ought to occupy a place in every house in this country."


M'Mahon's main motive in writing was to expand his profitable nursery enterprise. Almost all of America's earliest indigenours gardening books served as the liason between the nurseryman & an emerging middle-income group of home gardeners. An increasing leisure time & interest in the craft grew, there were not enough trained professional gardeners to go around nor the funds to employ them.


By 1806, M'Mahon understood the proud new country well enough to appeal to guilt and national hubris in his efforts to sell his readers on the concept of pleasure gardening. In his introduction, M'Mahon lamented that America had "not yet made that rapid progress in Gardening...which might naturally be expected from an intelligent, happy and independent people, possessed so universally of landed property, unoppressed by taxation or tithes, and blest with consequent comfort and affluence."


M'Mahon concluded that one reason for this neglect was the lack of a proper reference book on American gardening, a situation which he volunteered to rectify. In 1804, his catalogue of seeds included 1,000 "species."


By the end of the 18C, enterprising plant & seed dealers were successfully spurring on ever-widening circles of clients to new heights of interest in plant collecting & in emerging botanical class & order delineations. They also persuaded their customers that greenhouses & stovehouses were status symbols. Their sales pitch was definitely aimed at those who would see plant collection as a reflection of their superior taste & knowledge.




Mid-Atlantic gardeners at the end of the 18C did not depend solely on seed merchants & nursery owners for their seeds & plants. In fact the gentry & the middling sorts alike were still using traditional techniques of exchanging plants. Wealthy Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote from Annapolis to friends in England for seeds he remembered from his years of British schooling. While the Carrolls continued to buy seeds from London & the colonies, the elder Carroll instructed his son as to which neighbors would give him seeds & starts from plants he admired.

During the same period, Annapolis craftsman William Faris both bought & traded seeds & plants. On March 3, 1792, he noted in his diary, “Planted Carrots & parsnips that Mr. Wallace sent me for Seed;” & on May 5 of that year he wrote, “Doct Scott sent Me Some Carnation or rather pink plants & I sent him some Evening primrose plants.” Faris traded for or received as gifts most of his garden plants & seeds, as did the majority of gardeners at the turn of the century.


When craftsman Faris did buy seeds & plants from Baltimore, he sometimes sent cash for the garden stock by way of ship Captain John Barber, who ran an regular shuttle between Annapolis & Baltimore. Faris recorded in his fiscal accounts on March 7, 1798, “Cash sent by Capt. John Barber to Mr. C. Robinson for garden seeds-7/6.” Usually, however, Faris bough his Baltimore seeds from Maximillian Heuisler, who personally delivered them to Annapolis. The capitalistic nursery & seed business was nipping at the heels of traditional garden barter exchanges.


Some gardeners still ordered their stock directly from England, especially the gentry, like the Carrolls, who had been ordering goods from Britain through their factors for decades. Faris’s neighbor, Dr. Upton Scott made a list of flowers from the English garden periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine & recommended to the Edward Lloyd family, at Wye plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that “if cultivated at Wye, (they) would add greatly to the beauty & elegance of that delightful Place.” Scott advised the English dealer, “It is hoped the Nurseryman employ’d will endeavour to execute this Commission with fidelity & dispatch …under an assurance that, if he transacts the Business satisfactorily, he will have more calls upon him from this quarter of the Globe.”


But direct orders to England diminished as early mid-Atlantic seed merchants & nursery owners began to offer a wide variety of seeds & plants, both imported & locally grown, to the public. They could appeal directly to potential customers’ senses, by selling flowers at the height of their bloom, & to status seekers who were amassing plant collections, by offering unusual stock.


They also tailored their sales promotions to the changing gardening market in the region, as it expanded beyond traditional gardeners, who planted principally for sustenance, to those who planted for pleasure & status during their growing leisure time, decorating both house & grounds with plants.


Gardening for pleasure was no longer just the province of a few wealthy planters but increasingly an avocation of the expanding of artisans & merchants, who were amassing capital that they could exchange for ornamental luxuries that would proclaim their status to their neighbors. In the early years after the Revolution, these emerging groups were continually coaxed by clever entrepreneurs to dispose of their extra capital on ornamental gardening.