Monday, April 28, 2014

1770 Maryland convict garden servant grows pineapples in a Pinery

Charles Carroll the Barrister's Convict Garden Servant grew pineapples in 1770 Baltimore


1699 Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)  from Metamorphosis


Some of Maryland’s convict gardeners had practiced the gardening trade before arriving in the colonies, & one possessed an unusual knowledge of sophisticated gardening techniques.  One convict gardener brought pineapples & the structure of the pinery to Maryland before the American Revolution.  He served Charles Carroll (1723-1783) the Barrister who was an American lawyer from Annapolis, Maryland.  The Barrister built his country seat called Mount Clare near Baltimore in 1760.  He was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 & 1777.

In January of 1768, Charles Carroll the Barrister wrote to his English agents, “I am in want of a Gardener that understands a Kitchen Garden…Grafting, Budding, Inoculating & the Management of an orchard & Fruit Trees…under Indenture for four or five years…There come in Gardeners in every Branch from Scotland at Six pounds a year.”

The requested servant arrived at Mount Clare later that year & was apparently well-respected by the Barrister & his fellow gentry, even though he was a convict. When the Barrister's cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton bought a gardener for his father at the docks in Baltimore, he asked the Barrister’s convict gardener to interview the new immigrant & then wrote his father, “I have bought a new gardiner from Captain Frost. I gave 23 pounds currency for him; he is not about 21 years of age, appears to be healthy & stout & orderly; he says he understands a kitchen garden pretty well; Mr. Carroll’s gardener examined him: he has 4 years to serve.”

The Barrister’s convict gardener may have been a good judge of men, but he did have a few negative qualities. Five years into the man’s indenture, the exasperated Carroll placed & advertisement in the Maryland Gazette on May 6,1773: “TEN POUNDS REWARD…Ran away…a convict servant man, names John Adam Smith…by trade a gardener; has with him…a treatise of raising the pineapple, which he pretends is of his own writing, talks much of his trade & loves liquor.”

The issue of the treatise is an interesting one. In October 1770, Mary Ambler of Jamestown, Virginia, had visited Mount Clare & noted in her diary, “at the Garden…he is now building a Pinery where the Gardr expects to raise about an 100 Pine Apples a Year He expects to Ripen some next Sumer.”

It is remarkable that convict gardener Smith talked with Mary Ambler about pineapples in 1770, & had a treatise on the fruit with him in Maryland. The pineapple’s popularity had grown in England, creating a demand for publications giving directions for its culture. James Justice’s plan for a pineapple stove was published in The Scots Gardeners’ Director, 1754.   John Giles (1726-97) published a monograph on the plant in England in 1767.  Since the Barrister’s convict gardener arrived in the colonies in 1768, his claim to have written his own treatise is intriguing, because he built a functioning pinery in the British American colonies by the 1770s.

What is the history of pineapple cultivation in Europe & Britain?

A fine article at BuildingConseration.com written by Johanna Lausen-Higgins here surveys the history of pineapple cultivation in England.  She writes,  "Christopher Columbus first encountered the pineapple in 1493, unleashing a flurry of attempts to convey its exotic flavor to uninitiated Europeans. The superlatives & majestic comparisons continued long after. In a work of 1640, John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I, described the pineapple as: "Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme... being so sweete in smell... tasting... as if Wine, Rosewater & Sugar were mixed together." (Theatrum Botanicum)

"Parkinson wrote those words before the pineapple had even reached the shores of Britain. Its introduction to Europe resulted in a veritable mania for growing pineapples & parading them at the dinner table became a fashion requisite of 18th century nobility..

"Pineapples originate from the Orinoco basin in South America, but before their introduction to Europe, the date of which is uncertain, they were distributed throughout the tropics. Later, this led to some confusion about their origin. The Gardener’s Dictionary of 1759 by Philip Miller, for example, gives the origin of the pineapple as Africa...

"European pineapple cultivation was pioneered in the Netherlands. The early success of Dutch growers was a reflection of the trade monopoly the Netherlands enjoyed in the Caribbean in the form of the Dutch West India Company, established in 1621. As a result, plant stock could be imported directly from the West Indies in the form of seeds, suckers & crowns, from which the first plants were propagated... 

"Dutch methods of pineapple growing became the blueprint for cultivation in Britain, undoubtedly endorsed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 cemented Anglo-Dutch relations. William Bentinck, close adviser of William III, is thought to have shipped the entire stock of Caspar Fagel’s pineapple plants over to Hampton Court in 1692. The fruits were, however, ripened from this stock of mature plants & therefore did not count as British-grown pineapples. Pineapples had been ripened in this way before, as commemorated in Hendrik Danckerts’ painting of 1675 depicting Charles II being presented with a pineapple by John Rose, gardener to the Duchess of Cleveland. Danckerts’ painting led to the common misconception that Rose was the first to grow a pineapple in Britain. 


1670s Hendrick Danckerts (Dutch artist, 1625-1689)  Gardener John Rose presenting a pineapple to King Charles II

What was Marylander Charles Carroll the Barrister's Pinery and how did it work?

A continuation of  Johanna Lausen-Higgins's article:  "The first reliable crop of pineapples in Britain was in fact achieved by a Dutch grower, Henry Telende, gardener to Matthew Decker, at his seat in Richmond between 1714 & 1716. Decker commissioned a painting in 1720 to celebrate this feat & this time the pineapple takes pride of place as the sole object of admiration. From this point on the craze for growing them developed into a full-blown pineapple mania...


"The appearance of innovations seems to follow no clear chronological order. Early attempts at cultivation were made in orangeries, which had been designed to provide frost protection for citrus fruit during the winter months. Orangeries, however, did not provide enough heat & light for the tropical pineapple, which grew all year round. Heating in glasshouses during the mid 17th century was provided by furnaces placed within the structure, but fumes often damaged or killed the plants. Hot-air flues were then devised, which dissipated heat slowly through winding flues built into cavity walls. These "fire walls" were heated by hot air rising from furnaces or stoves & required constant stoking with coal. This was a dangerous method & many early "pineries," as they later became known, burned down when the inevitable accumulation of soot & debris within the flues caught fire... 


1720 Theodorus Netscher (Dutch artist, 1661-1732) Pineapple Grown in Matthew Decker's Garden at Richmond, Surrey

A continuation of  Johanna Lausen-Higgins's article:  "Henry Telende’s method of pineapple cultivation was published in Richard Bradley’s A General Treatise of Husbandry & Gardening in 1721. Telende grew the young plants, called "succession plants," in large cold frames called tan pits. The fruiting plants would subsequently be moved into the stove or hothouse to benefit from the additional heat provided by the hot-air flues. 


"The tan pits were lined with pebbles at the bottom followed by a layer of manure & then topped with a layer of tanners’ bark into which the pots were plunged. The last of these elements was the most important. Tanners’ bark (oak bark soaked in water & used in leather tanning) fermented slowly, steadily producing a constant temperature of 25ºC-30ºC for two to three months & a further two if stirred. Manure alone was inferior, in that it heated violently at first but cooled more quickly. Stable bottom heat is essential for pineapple cultivation & tanners’ bark provided the first reliable source...

"James Justice, a principal clerk at the Court of Sessions at Edinburgh, was also a talented amateur gardener. On his estate at Crichton he developed an incredibly efficient glasshouse in which he combined the bark pits for succession & fruiting plants under one roof. (Justice published a very elegant drawing of it in The Scots Gardiners’ Director in 1754.) In a letter to Philip Miller & other members of the Royal Society in 1728, he proudly announces: "I have eight of the Ananas in fine fruit." The letter makes Justice the first documented gardener to have grown pineapples successfully in Scotland...


 The kitchen garden pineapple house at Dunmore, Scotland, the seat of John Murray, Earl of Dunmore. The Pineapple Summerhouse was once flanked by hothouses (1761–1776).

A continuation of  Johanna Lausen-Higgins's article:  "An interesting variant growing structure was the pinery-vinery, first proposed by Thomas Hitt in 1757. Here, vines created a canopy for an understorey of pineapples. The vines would have been planted, as was customary in vineries, outside, & fed into the structure through small open arches built into the low brick wall. A fervent admirer of this method was William Speechly, gardener to the third Duke of Portland, & grandson of William Bentinck, who had sent the first batch of pineapples to Britain in 1692.  Portland inherited Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire in 1762, & his passion for growing pineapples nearly ruined him. Nevertheless, he sent Speechly to Holland like many before him to study all the latest techniques. 
Speechly published his now greatly refined methods in A Treatise on the Culture of the Pineapple & the Management of the Hot-house in 1779"...


1775 English Print of James Sibbald, Gardener to Thomas Devlaval, Holding a Pineapple

"Although Philip Miller & John Abercrombie extolled the virtues of tanners’ bark while lamenting the flaws of manure, many structures that used dung as a heating method were devised into the mid 19th century.  Adam Taylor wrote a tract titled A Treatise on the Ananas or Pine-apple in 1769 in which the use of horse manure was promoted, probably for the first time, as a method of heating a pineapple pit." 


The Greenhouse & Conservatory in Early America


The possibility of growing tender plants in greenhouses had fascinated early Americans at least since the 1st half of the 18C in colonial America. But the price of glass in colonial & early America remained high until nearly the middle of the 19C, making greenhouses available only to those with extra disposable income.

Mount Vernon's Greenhouse

As British America was being colonized in the 17th-century, English garden writers were focusing on greenshouses which needed glass to allow the sun to reach the growing plants. Glass was becoming more affordable & glass no longer needed to be hand-blown. In England, in 1664, diarist & gardener John Evelyn (1620-1706) advised, "Set your...Windows and Doors of the Green-houses and Conservatories open." And in his diary on 30 October 1683, he mentioned, "Greene houses for oranges and mirtles." Born in Surrey into a family that owned the monopoly on the manufacture of gunpowder in England, Evelyn was able to devote his life to intellectual pursuits. In addition to translating noted French gardening books, Evelyn was the author of Kalendarium Hortense. His Diary is full of references to gardens, & to his own famous garden at Sayes Court. In 1691, the London Gazette mentioned another "new Conservatory or Green-House" in a house-for-sale ad.

Detail John Evelyn (1620-1706) by Hendrick van der Borcht, 1641.

In early 18th century England, J. James' 1712 translation of Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond's (1679-1719) The Theory and Practice of Gardening; ; wherein is fully handled all that relates to fine gardening, commonly called pleasure gardens explained that, "Green-houses are large Piles of Building like Galleries...for preserving Orange-Trees, and other Plants...during the Winter." Le Blond was a French architect & garden designer who became the chief architect of Saint Petersburg in 1716, just 3 years before his death. He had derived his gardening expertise from André Le Nôtre (1613-1700), and he illustrated & helped write Dezallier d'Argenville's (1680-1765) seminal work on the principles of French formal garden design. In England, Phillip Miller had published a plan for a greenhouse in his 1754 Gardener's Dictionary, which was owned & read in the British American colonies.

>Much like today, the 18th century colonial greenhouse was a glass-windowed structure of wood or brick or stone in which tender plants were reared & preserved. Revolutionaly iron & glass greenhouses would appear in the first half of the 19th-century allowing more light into the structures.

Virginian William Byrd II (1674-1768) painted by Hans Hysing 1724

Early in 18th-century Pennsylvania, botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) wrote to English botanist Peter Collinson (1674-1768), on July 18, 1740, about Colonel William Byrd's (1674-1744) grounds at Westover in Virginia. "Colonel Byrd is very prodigalle...new Gates, gravel Walks, hedges, and cedars finely twined and a little green house with two or three orange trees...he hath the finest seat in Virginia."

Twenty years later, John Bartram wrote to Peter Collinson in 1760, "I am going to build a green-house. Stone is got...to put some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter's diversion, not to be crowded with orange trees."

Peter Collinson 1694-1768

John Bartram was much more than just a commentator on the homes of colonial gentry, but he certainly would have been intrigued by the possibilities of Byrd's early greenhouse. Born in Darby, Pensylvania, son a Quaker farmer, Bartram was the most important botanist in the colonies. His son William Bartram (1739-1823) helped him collect, replant, & ship his specimens. In 1728, John Bartram established a botanic garden at Kingsessing on the west bank of the Schuylkill, near Philadelphia, where he collected & grew native plants. His correspondence with Peter Collinson, led to the introduction of many American trees & plants into Europe.

Charles Willson Peale's 1808 William Bartram

Greenhouses in Europe filled with Bartram's Boxes of American plants. His plant specimens & seeds traveled across the Atlantic to the gardens & greenhouses of Philip Miller, Linnaeus, German botanist Dillenius (1687-1747), & Dutch botanist Gronovius (1686-1762); and he assisted Linnaeus' student Swedish Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) during his collecting trip to North America in 1748-1750. Although Bartram never visited Britain, in 1765, he was appointed Botanist to King George III. Linnaeus called him "the worlds greatest botanist." Bartram traveled from Lake Ontario in the north, to Florida in the south and the Ohio River in the west. His Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, a trip taken from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, was published. His son William accompanied his father documenting plants, animals, birds, & native peoples of North & South Carolina, Georgia & Florida. William published Travels, writings with his own illustrations in 1791, which impacted the 19th century romantic movement as well as natural history.

Not far from Bartram's nursery just outside of Philadelphia, John Smith described the plantation owned by the family of William Penn at Springettesbury Manor in 1745, "On our way thither we stopped to view the proprietor's greeen-house, which at this season is an agreeable sight; the oranges, lemons and citrons were some green, some ripe, some in blossom." Springettesbury Manor had been named in honor of William Penn's first ie, Gulielma Maria Springett (1644–1694).

Ten years later, Daniel Fisher also described the Proprietor's greenhouse, "What to me surpassed every thing of the kind I had seen in America was a pretty bricked Green House, out of which was disposed very properly in the Pleasure Garden, a good many Orange, Lemon, and Citrous Trees, in great profusion loaded with abundance of Fruit and some of each sort seemingly ripe then."Bartram traveled South in the colonies through Charleston several times, where greenhouses were used to entice real estate buyers.

In the South Carolina Gazette, November 14, 1748, a house for sale advertisement noted, "TO BE SOLD...Dwelling-house...also a large Garden, with two neat Green Houses for sheltering exotic Fruit Trees, and Grape-Vines."

Exotic plants captured the fancy of colonials early in the century; and by the end of the 18th-century, formal botanical gardens dotted the Atlantic coast. These were both outdoor and indoor, public and private garden areas, where proud collectors displayed a variety of curious plants for purposes of science, education, status, and art.

By 1760, Rhode Islander Abraham Redwood Jr was writing to his farm manager, "I desire that you put up in Durt one dozen of Small orange Trees...four young figg trees and some Guavas roots, to put in my greenhouse...twenty two feet long, Twelve feet wide, and Twelve feet high." In 1743, Abraham Redwood purchased 140 acres farmland near Newport, Rhode Island, where he built a country estate that was considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in North America, which grew plants & trees imported from all over the world.

Abraham Redwood 1709-1788

Josiah Quincy (1744-1775), who kept a journal as he traveled South from Boston for his health in 1773, was also impressed with a greenhouse, when he visited Philadelphia on May 3, 1773, and noted, "Dined with the celebrated Pennsylvania Farmer, John Dickenson Esqr, at his country seat about two and one-half miles from town...his gardens, green-house, bathing-house, grotto, study, fish pond...vista, through which is distant prospect of Delaware River."  John Dickinson (1732-1808), who was actually an attorney trained at Middle Temple, had married Mary Norris, daughter of Isaac Norris, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and moved to the Norris estate of Fairhill, near Germantown. There he wrote, under the pseudonym "A Farmer,"12 essays against the Stamp Acts.

1773 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Norris (Mrs. John Dickinson) with their daughter Sally.

In 1787, clergyman, merchant, & lawyer Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), wrote of the greenhouse at Gray's Tavern, in Philadelphia. "(The Greenhouse) is a very large stone bulding, three stories in the front and two in the rear. The one-half of the house is divided lengthwise, and the front part is appropriated to a green-house, and has no chamber floors. It is finished in the completest manner for the purpose of arranging trees and plants in the most beautiful order. The windows are enormous. I believe some of them to be twenty feet in length, and proportionably wide...We then took a view of the contents of the green-house, beautifully arranged in the open air on the south of the garden. Here were most of the trees and fruits that grow in the hottest climates. Oranges, lemons, etc., in every stage from blossoms to ripe fruit; pine-apples in bloom, and those were fully ripe."

Visiting English agricultural writer Richard Parkinson (1748-1815) stopped at John O'Donnell's (1743-1805) estate named Canton near Baltimore, in 1798. Irishman John O'Donnell had grown wealthy by sending the first ship into China in 1785, for trade goods to sell in America. Parkinson wrote that O'Donnell had, "a very handsome garden in great order, a most beautiful greenhouse and hot house...a very magnificent place for that country."

1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Sarah Chew Elliott (Mrs. John O'Donnell) in her garden in front of a curving wall with urns used as finials.

In 1793 Massachusetts, Boston merchant Joseph Barrell (1739-1804) was ordering plants & a gardener from Britain for his new Pleasant Hill greenhouse, "I want a person that understands green house plants...you will send the trees by the same opportunity the gardener comes that he may attend them on the passage."

John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) Joseph Barrell c 1767

Wishing for more land outside of Boston to try new gardening styles & modern farming techniques, Barrell purchased 211 acres of land across the Charles River in Charlestown, where he created a ferme ornée. Charles Bulfinch designed the house & grounds, one of his 1st commissions.

John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) Hannah Fitch (Mrs Joseph Barrell) c 1771

In Deborah Logan's journal, she mentioned that in 1799 Philadelphia,William Logan had a "Green house in town, as well as a good one (at Stenton). He had many rare and beautiful plants: indeed the large and fine orange and lemon trees which now ornament Pratt's greenhouses at Lemon Hill were originally of his raising."

William Logan (1717–1776) was the son of William Penn's secretary James Logan who became a Philadelphia Mayor & Supreme Court Justice. William inherited Stenton in 1751, and he used it as his country seat, while living in Philadelphia.

In the same year, English born seedsman and nursery owner William Booth of Baltimore advertised in the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser:To Botanists, Gardeners and Florists, and to all other gentlemen, curious in ornamental, rare exotic or foreign plants and flowers, cultivated in the greenhouse, hot-house, or stove, and in the open ground. A large and numerous variety of such rarities is now offered for sale...After reserving a general and suitable stock, he had to spare a well assorted and great variety of those things comprising a beautiful collection, sufficient to decorate, furnish, and ornament a spacious or handsome greenhouse at once... The whole is a truly valuable collection such as is very rarely to be met with for sale on this side of the Atlantic -- indeed a moiety of them would comprise a very desirable and exclusive variety, consisting of many or most of the tropical fruits, and other rare and curious finely ornamental trees, scrubs and plants; with a numerous and abundant assortment of choice bulbous, tubrous, and fibrous rooted flowering and ornamental plants in mixtures... please apply to John Cummings, at the alms-house, Messrs. David and Cuthbert Landreth, gardeners and nursery-men... Now is as good time and proper season to build a green-house, and to remove plants."

Many of Booth's clients and contemporaries in the Chesapeake were becoming excited about collecting and displaying non-native varieties of plants. In his diary, silversmith, clockmaker, & gardener William Faris (1728-1804) noted in Annapolis that his neighbor Dr. Upton Scott (1722-1814) was, "fond of botany and has a number of rare plants and shrubs in his greenhouse and garden." The practical Faris used his cellar as his greenhouse.

Some gardeners & plant collectors were obsessed with showing off their unusual plant collections to visitors. In November of 1803, Manasseh Cutler (1722-1823) wrote to Mrs. Torrey about his visit to William Hamilton's (1745-1813) Woodlands, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "We then took a turn to the garden and greenhouses...ornamented with almost all the flowers and vegtables the earth affords...The greenhouses which occupy a large space of ground, I cannot pretend to describe. Every part was crowded with trees and plants, from the hot climates, and such as I had never seen...He assured us, there was not a rare plant in Europe, Asia, Africa, from China and the islands in the South Sea, of which he had any account, which he had not procured...When we turned to rare and superb plants, one of the gardeners would be called, and sent with a lantern to the green house to fetch me a specimen to compare with it. This was done perhaps twenty times."

Benjamin West (American-born painter, 1738–1820) William Hamilton (1745-1813) of Woodlands with His Neice

Authors Joseph Dennie & John Elihu Hall reported on the greenhouse at the Woodlands in their 1809 Portfolio II, "The front, including the hot-house on each side, measures one hundred and forty feet, and it contains nearly ten thousand plants, out of which number may be reckoned between five and six thousand of different species, procured at much trouble and expense, from many remote parts of the globe, from South America, the Cape of Good Hope, the Brazils, Botany Bay, Japan, the East and West Indies, &c. &c. This collection, for the beauty and rich variety of its exotics, surpasses any thing of the kind on this continent; and, among many other rare productions to be seen, are the bread-fruit tree, cinnamon, allspice, pepper; mangoes, different sorts, sago, coffee from Bengal, Arabia, and the West-Indies, tea, green and bohea, mahogany, magnolias, Japan rose, rose apples, eherimolia, one of the most esteemed fruits of Mexico, bamboo, Indian god tree, iron tree of China, ginger, olea fragrans, and several varieties of the sugar cane, five species of which are from Otaheite. To this green-house, so richly stored, too much praise can hardly be given. The curious person views it with delight, and the naturalist quits it with regret."

On Christmas day in 1803, in Prince George's County, Maryland, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1795-1821) wrote to her father who had returned to Europe, "I am also going to have a small greenhouse built where you planned it--at the wash-house. The cellar makes a very good orangerie." In another letter to her father in 3 years later, she mentioned that the cellar would no longer serve as the greenhouse, "We also have to build a small house, a smoke house, a sairy, and an orangerie."

Gilbert Stuart (Early Americn artist, 1755-1828). Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778 -1821) in 1804

I can find only one other reference to an orangery or orangerie in early America beside those of Rosalie Stier Calvert, leaving me to suspect that the term orangery became popular in America in the 19th century when refering to greenhouses, old and new.

There are earlier references in England, where John Evelyn wrote in his diary on 4 July 1664, "The orangerie and aviarie handsome, and a very large plantation about it." Another reference appears in the 1705 London Gazette, "The Mansion-House, called Belsize, ...with...a fine Orangarie, is to Lett."

In America in 1790, Thomas Lee Shippen, describing Stratford Hall in Virginia, to his father reported, "It was with great difficulty that my Uncles, who accompanied me, could persuade me to leave the hall to look at the gardens, vineyards, orangeries and lawns which surround the house."

By the time Englishman John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) wrote his 1822 Encyclopedia of Gardening, the orangery had fallen out of favor. He wrote, "The orangery is the green-house of the last century, the object of which was to preserve large plants of exotic evergreens during winter, such as the orange tribe, myrtles, sweet bays, pomegranates, and a few others. Geraniums, heaths, fuchsias, and other delicate plants requiring much light, were then unknown. The orangery was generally placed near to or adjoining the house, and its elevation corresponded in architectural design with that of the mansion. From this last circumstance has arisen a prejudice highly unfavorable to the culture of ornamental exotcis, namely, that every plant-habitation attached to a mansion should be an architectural object, and consist of windows between stone piers or columns, with a regular cornice and entablature. By this mode of design, these buildings are rendered so gloomy as never to present a vigorous vegetation, and vivid glowing colors within ; and as they are thus unfit for the purpose for which they are intended, it does not appear to us...that they can possibly be in good taste."

In Maryland, Rosalie Calvert grew plants in pots that could be brought outside in warm weather or ornament the interior of Riversdale house in winter. In 1803, she wrote, “I have arranged all the orange trees and geraniums in pots along the north wall of the house, where they make a very pretty effect, and the geraniums, being shaded, bear many more blossoms and are growing well.”

By 1809, she had added several more types of potted plants, and wrote that they were “a marvelous source of entertainment for me—geraniums, heliotropes, jasmines, China rose bushes, etc. I don’t have any aloes or any of those other plants whose only recommendation is their rarity and which lack beauty.” Heliotropes, she wrote, would be transplanted “outdoors in the summertime with the geraniums, jasmine, rose bushes, etc.”  While we do not have a painting of Rosalie Calvert's indoor parlor plant arrangement, we do have this painting from Connecticut in 1816,

George Freeman (Connecticut artist, 1787-1837) Widow Elizabeth Fenimor Cooper 1816

Rosalie Calvert's orangerie never materialized. Instead, she used a central room of the house, her “grand salon,” with three large south-facing triple-hung windows, as her conservatory. She bragged to her father in 1813 about “my lemon trees. I have four superb specimens which in winter we place in the four corners of the salon, where they make a lovely effect. Last November one of them produced 87 large lemons.”

American diplomat David Bailie Warden visited Riversdale and described Rosalie's salon, "The hall is ornamented with lemon-trees, geraniums, polianthusses, heliptropes, and other plants, which in the summer evenings, invite the humming-birds to taste of their sweetness; and afterwards struggling to escape, they fly incessantly backwards and forwards near the ceiling, until from fatigue they perch on a stick or rod, when they are easily taken by the hand."

Another nurseryman living in Philadelphia was also promoting plants and pleasure gardens. In 1806, Irish American horticulturalist, seedsman, & writer Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), whose book would be read by gardeners in America for the next 50 years, explained the difference between the greenhouse and a conservatory,

"A Green house is a garden building fronted with glass, serving as a winter residence, for tender plants from the warmer parts of the world, which require no more artificial heat than what is barely sufficient to keep off the front...A greenhouse should generally stand in a pleasure ground and if possible, upon a somewhat elevated and dry spot fronting the south...the building ought to be of brick or stone, having the front almost wholly of glassowrk, ranging lengthwise east to west, and constructed upon an ornamental plan...

"The Greenhouse and Conservatory have been generally considered as synonimous; their essential difference is this: in the greenhouse, the trees and plants are either in tubs or pots, and are planted on stands or stages during the winter, till they are removed into some suitable situation abroad in summer.


"In the conservatory, the ground plan is laid out in beds and borders, made up of the best compositions of soils that can be procured, three or four inches deep. In these the trees or plants, taken out of their tubs or pots are regularly planted, in the same manner as the plants in the open air.


"This house is roofed, as well as fronted with glass-work, and instead of taking out the plants in summer, as in the Greenhouse, the whole of the glass roof is taken off, and the plants are exposed to open air."

Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).

Thomas Jefferson, who was always experimenting and adding onto his property, was interested in a greenhouse as well. On August 2, 1807, from Albemarle County, Virginia, even Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) received a letter listing sizes of glass he would need for a "green house."

1799 Artist Lambert ? Bouche. Ann Ogle (Mrs. John Tayloe III) and daughters Rebecca and Henrietta.

The Minute Book of John Tayloe III (1770-1828) noted on August 2, 1812 at his country seat Mount Airy in Richmond County, Virginia, "Gardeners attending to the Greenhouse at Mt. Airy." Tayloe's city residence was Octogon House in Washinton D. C.

Wye House (18th-century greenhouse with hot air duct system, still owned by descendants of Edward Lloyd) Copperville, Talbot County, Maryland. Photo by Janet Blyberg.

By the early 19th century in the new republic, gentlemen were building greenhouses, conservatories, orangeries, hot houses, pineries, and stove houses to grow tender plants for their food value and to impress their neighbors. Some even had their portraits painted holding their favorite plants.

 1801 Rembrant Peale (1778-1860) Rubens Peale with Geranium


George Washington's Greenhouse


1790s Christian Gullager (1759-1826). George Washington (1732-1799).

One of the most intriguing greenhouse stories involves Virginian George Washington & Margaret Tilghman Carroll  of Maryland.

In her 1770 description of the gardens Charles Carroll the Barrister's home called Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland, visiting Virginia widow Mary Ambler mentioned, "there is a Green House with a good many Orange & Lemon Trees just ready to bear." Widow & mother Mary Ambler had traveled to Baltimore from Belvoir in Fauquier County, Virginia, with her 2 children to be innoculated against smallpox.

At Mount Clare, as in many 18th century households, the wife supervised the greenhouse activities, while the husband oversaw the design of the gardens and grounds. Margaret Tilghman Carroll (1743-1817) was renowned for her orange & lemon trees. After her husband Charles Carroll (1723-1783) died in 1783, she devoted much of her time to growing plants in her greenhouse.

1765 John Hesselius (1728-1778). Margaret Tilghman Carroll Mrs Charles Carroll the Barrister.

In addition to her greenhouse, Margaret Carroll also had a 39' by 24' brick structure at Mount Clare, which she called a Stove House, with an intricate hot air heating system for growing plants, such as pineapples, indoors yearound.

Her reputation & skill as a horticulturalist had impressed George Washington (1732-1799) who wrote a letter to her cousin Col. Tench Tilghman in August of 1784,  "I shall essay the finishing of my greenhouse this fall, but find that neither myself, nor any person about me is so well skilled in the internal constructions as to proceed without a probability at least of running into errors. Shall I for this reason, ask the favor of you to give me a short description of the Green-house at Mrs. Carrolls? I am persuaded, now that I planned mine on too contracted a scale. My house is (of Brick) 40 feet by 24, in the outer dimensions."

It is believed that Washington built his greenhouse copying Margaret Carrolls' building, which no longer exists. And in April the following spring Washington noted in his diary, "Planted and sowed in boxes placed in front of the Green House."

Greenhouse at Mount Vernon

In 1788, Lt. John Enys (1757-1818) stopped at Mount Vernon noting that, "The front by which we entered had a Gras plot before it with a road round it for Carriages planted on each side with a number of different kinds of Trees among the rest some Weeping Willows which seem to flourish very well. One the one side of this stands the Garden, green house &c." Enys had come to America during the Revolution and recorded his notes after he returned to England and retired from the British army.


Greenhouse at Mount Vernon

Early in 1789, Congregational clergyman & geographer Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) was also impressed with Washinton's garden & described Mount Vernon in his American Geography, "the green-house, school-house, offices and servants halls, when seen from the land side, bears a resemblance to a rural village --especially as the lands in that side are laid out somewhat in the form of English gardens, in meadows and grass grounds, ornamented with little copcies, circular clumps and single trees."

Greenhouse at Mount Vernon

Wishing to make a present of some of her prized greenhouse specimens to George Washington, including one grafted tree that produced both lemons and oranges, on 29 October 1789, Margaret Carroll sent by boat 20 pots of lemon & orange trees plus 5 boxes of assorted other greenhouse plants to Washington at the harbor in Alexandria.

Apparently Margaret Carroll had spoken about the financial possibilities of erecting greenhouses & stovehouses to George Washington; because the gift of Mount Clare's mistress was in response to a letter that Washington had sent her from New York, on September 16th 1789.

"Madam,
A Person having been lately sent to me from Europe in the capacity of a Gardner, who professes a knowledge in the culture of rare plants and care of a Green-House, I am desirous to profit of the very obliging offer you were pleased some time ago to make me.

"In availing myself of your goodness I am far from desiring that it should induce any inconvenience to yourself—but, reconciling your disposition to oblige, with your convenience, I shall be happy to receive such aids as you can well spare, and as will not impair your collection.


"Trusting that this will be the rule of your bounty, I have requested General Williams to give you notice, when an opportunity offers to transport the trees or plants in the freshest state to Mount Vernon, and to pay any expence which may be incurred in fitting them for transportation, and to receive them from your Gardner for that purpose.


"I have the honor to be, most respectfully, Madam, Your obliged and obedient Servant,

G. Washington"

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Margaret Tilghman (Mrs Charles Carroll the Barrister) This painting depicts Margaret Carroll standing next to the closed or lidded Lidded Campana Urn on a Classical Pedestal which stood on the grounds at Mount Clare in Baltimore.

Several years later, in 1792, French visitor Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754-1793) wrote, "I hastened to arrive at Mount Vernon...after having passed over two hills, you discover a country house of an elegant and majestic simplicity. It is preceded by grass-plats; on the one side of the avenue are the stables, on the other the green-house, and houses of a number of negro mechanics." Brissot was a vocal supporter of the 1789 French Revolution.



This flurry of activity around the greenhouses of Margaret Carroll and George Washington was not new in America. The possibilites of growing tender plants in greenhouses had fascinated Americans since the 1st half of the century in colonial America.


American Indentured & Convict Garden Servants


Slaves, indentured servants, & convict servants formed the core of the garden labor force in the Mid-Atlantic & South. When indentured servants & convict servants became scarce in the early republic, slaves became the main maintenance gardeners.

The vast majority of gardeners of whom there are records were indentured & convict servants from Scotland, Wales, Ireland & England. Although slaves often assisted in the gardens during this period, their tasks or trades were usually not recorded, so it is difficult to verify their numbers.

Originally, most indentured servants imported into the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South worked in the labor-intensive task of raising of tobacco. The second half of the 18th century, especially in Maryland, witnessed growing urbanization & artisan production as well as a steady diversification in agriculture away from tobacco & toward less labor-demanding grain crops, such as wheat.

The Revolutionary War disrupted the flow of indentured & convict servants from Britain to the colonies, & between the end of the war & the turn of the century only five additional white indentured gardeners appeared in Maryland records. White indentured & convict servants increasingly became employed in a variety of trades, as their numbers dwindled in the new republic.

Most indentured & convict gardeners were transported to Atlantic coast docks, & then their labor was sold, much like other imported goods of the period. Their arrival was usually announced in a local newspaper, but little specific information appeared in these notices.

Much information about indentured & convict servants is gained through newspaper ads placed by the master who owned the service of a runaway servant. Most gardeners who ran away during the pre-Revolutionary years were indentured servants, not slaves; & most records of them that survive are fugitive notices in contemporary newspapers. The advertisements placed to apprehend runaway gardeners described these servants ---their clothing, mannerisms, & bad habits---in hope of speedy identification & capture.

The average age of servant gardeners was between 20 & 30. When Charles Carroll the Barrister in Baltimore, Maryland, was making his request to his English factor in January 1768, he wrote, “If the above servants are Turned thirty years of age I shall like them better as they are more Likely to be Riotous & Troublesome if young.”



Many garden servants bore the scars of health problems such as smallpox, frostbite, cataracts, & past violence. Some convict gardeners wore double-riveted steel collars as a mark of their status, especially if they had a history of “stealth of self.”

In 1737, indentured gardener Edward Major, born in England and "bred to Gardening," absented himself from the service of Richard Pearne in Brockley Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

Convict gardeners were running away in Virginia as early as 1738, when gardener Robert Shiels, "a lusty well set fellow about 26 Years of Age" ran from Northumberland, Virginia. English convict garden servant James Spencer ran from Stafford, Virginia, in August of 1747; and John Weller, a convict gardener rode away from John Sutherland in Fredericksburg, Virgina, in 1759, on a large black horse stolen from his master.

In the 1740s, several South Carolina runaway notices mentioned gardeners, both enslaved and serving under an indenture. Run away... a servant man... a Gardener by trade (South Carolina Gazette, January 8, 1750).

In 1741 Philadelphia, the vessel the Snow Prince of Orange arrived from Dublin, with "a Likely Parcel of Servants" including several gardeners. A few months earlier, the Snow Penguin arrived from Cork, also offering a gardener "to be disposed of."

The port at Philadelphia was a popular arrival point for indentured servants. In 1750, the Snow Golden Fleece arrived from Bristol with some gardeners. Several "likely servants" including gardeners arrived in November of 1751; and 1754 saw a "parcel of likely, healthy servant men" including gardeners arrive from London on the brigatine "Lark."

In Philadelphia in 1751, Edward Cross, an English indentured gardener ran away from his service wearing a brown coat with a plush collar, a striped waistcoat, brown stockings, leather breeches, & a dark brown wig. And another gardener jumped the ship Dolphin, when it landed. Stephen Gom, an English gardener, was also wearing a brown wig, when he escaped the vessel and his indenture contract in 1752.

Convict gardener Jacob Parrott, born in the West of England, ran away from Bohemia, Maryland, in 1752. In 1753, Henry Tedder, "born in Essex, England, about 30 & brought up a Gardiner" ran away from John Hall & Jacob Giles in Baltimore, County, Maryland. Henry had a "pretty wide mouth, talks pretty quick, and snaps his eyes when he talks much, which he is apt to do; much given to drink."

Convict Thomas Warner ran from his garden indenture in Baltimore, County, in 1756; while John Johnson, by trade a gardener, about 25 years old, ran away from the ship Anna, in Lower Marlborough, Maryland. A reward was offered for his return.

John Shupard, "an Englishman, a Gardiner by Trade" ran away from his master John Brown in Cecil County, Maryland, in December of 1757. "An old man, a Gardiner, that belonged to Mr. Thomas Ringold" ran away from Chester Town, Maryland, in the fall of 1760.

English convict servant gardener Thomas Humphreys ran from Stephen Bordley in Kent County, Maryland, in 1760. Bordley noted that Humphreys "is a slippery Chap." The following year, John Nelson, a convict servant gardener, ran from Benjamin Rogers in Baltimore Town.

In a daring over-the-wall escape in 1762, John McDaniel, a convict gardener, made it out of the goal in Philadelphia, wearing his own hair. Also in 1762, John Inglis, a servant "gardiner" from Leith, Scotland, escaped his master John Malcolm on the Bristol Road.




In 1766, William Firth, "a Gardiner, an Englishman, about 45 Years of Age" ran away from Rousby Hall, Patuxent River, Maryland. In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Irish servant gardener & shoemaker John Logan, under contract to James Alexander near Philadelphia, was waiting in the Carlisle Goal to be picked up by his master or sold for costs & fees by the local jailer. Less than a year later, English servant gardener Thomas Bowman left John Lee Webster in Bushtown reportedly heading for the bright lights of Philadelphia or New York.

At least two gardeners conscripted into His Majesty's army, ran away from their military service. In 1760, Thomas Holmes, an English gardener, deserted in Philadelphia; and Dublin gardener John Fitzpatrick left the service in Annapolis, in 1762.

Some South Carolina indentured servants did not choose to serve their sea service and fled for terra firma, as evidence by this as in the Gazette on September 28, 1767, ABSENTED on the 25th of Sept. 1767, from the ship Two Friends, Samuel Ball, master, indented servant, JAMES FOSTER, aged about 22 years, well set, about 5 feet 6 inches high, his complexion ruddy, but a good deal sun-burnt , with short brown hair, inclined to curl; born in Norwich, and a gardener by trade, had on when he went away a brown coat, but may have changed his dress.

Some indentured servant gardeners were unwittingly impressed into naval service at European ports during the last half of the 18th century. At least 3 men who ended up as gardeners in the Chesapake had jumped ship; when they arrived in the ports of the bay, in order to get back to terra firma. One of them was 30-year-old white sailor Pierre LaFitte, who fled a French privateer in Baltimore, hoping to return to his original trade as a gardener, further inland, at Frederick, Maryland.

LaFitte quickly came to enjoy some of the benefits of life on land but disliked others. He soon ran away from his gardening chores at Frederick as well; however, he did carry with him several silver spools & a 22-year-old French-speaking black girl wearing a green petticoat.

In 1762, an exceptionally well-dressed servant Englishman John Crocott, who "worked in a Garden at times whilst with me" ran away from Westmoreland County, Virginia. "He took with him a dark Kersey Coat with large Metal Buttons, and Breeches of the same almost new...a blue jump Jacket, double breasted, with small Metal Buttons, white and coloured Stockings."

The ship "Hugh and James" arrived in Philadelphia, from Ireland in 1766, offering servant gardeners among the cargo. The brig "Patty" arrived at Philadelphia bringing "about 100 Servants and Redemptioners, Men Women, Boys, and Girls" among which were serveral gardeners in 1772. It was followed by the Brigatine "Dolphin" in 1774, also with several gardeners "to be disposed of."

Welch convict gardener William Springate ran from Daniel Chamier in Baltimore in 1771; and in 1775, Springate, this time noted to be "a great thief and drunkard" ran again from Job Garretson in Baltimore County, Maryland.

James Vaux of New Providence Township in Philadelphia County, lost his English servant gardener Leonard Broom, who was weraring a handkerchief about his neck, when he took off. In 1776, English servant gardener Thomas Saltar also ran away from New Providence and his owner Rowland Evans.

In 1774 ship, "London Packet," offered "100 likely German & English servants" including one gardener. In 1775, the brig "Dolphin" returned to port with a number of "healthy Servants and Redemptioners" including gardeners, who would serve for a term of 4 years. In the same year, Samuel Hanson of Charles County, Maryland, advertised for the return of his Irish servant gardener Robert Mills. Charles Tippin, a gardener, ran away from William Reynolds in Annapolis in November of 1775.

Irish gardener John McMahon ran away from Tom's Creek in Frederick County, Maryland, in June of 1776. He traveled north to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and was calling himself John Melony there, as he looked for work. The next April, John Brown, "a Gardener by trade" ran away from John Galloway in Chestertown, Maryland.

After 1750, many of the gentry had begun to garden for both sustinance & pleasure at their in-town residences as well as out on their plantations. By the time the young Charles Carroll of Carrollton returned to Annapolis after completing his education in Europe, in 1765, the grounds has already been set in some order. Charles Carroll of Annapolis, his father, had begun working on their gardens in 1730, with the assistance of a servant gardener. Later, when planning the extensive renovations of their property, the Carrolls decided to buy the indenture of a 22-year-old Welsh convict gardener, in addition to renting the two gardeners from Colonel Sharpes.

Over the next few years, they directly employed several indentured servant gardeners as well as slaves to dig drainage ditches. (The gentlemen themselves were busy ordering seeds, grasses, & clover from their English factors.) In 1772, various laborers built garden gates & a washhouse, & by 1774, brick masons had laid the brick wall surrounding the gardens.

Stonemasons & slaves completed a sea wall at the bottom of the garden terraces in 1775, & the next year laborers were erecting the two octagonal pavilions that would sit 400 feet apart at either end of the sea wall. The servants’ & slaves’ final addition to the grounds, a bathhouse, was up & working in 1778. The artisans & gardeners who achieved these complicated additions to the Carroll grounds at Annapolis worked side by side with Carroll slaves regularly assigned to garden work.

By the 1780s, the Carroll garden was established & only needed to be maintained, so after that date the Carrolls employed few new white garden indentured servants, using for the maintenance work the slaves who had been trained during the renovation.

Similarly, young Annapolis attorney William Paca married wealthy Mary Chew in 1763, & immediately began to plan his Annapolis home & gardens, which he began building in 1765. Paca employed at least one indentured garden servant, who doubled as a shoemaker, to help plan & construct his brick-walled pleasure grounds. His garden was dominated by geometric terraces that fell to a small naturalized wilderness garden boasting a pond, a Chinese-style bridge, & a classical pavilion.

Of the 30 gardeners identified in Maryland documents before the Revolution, all but four were white indentured servants. Many were seasoned British gardeners. The first Maryland servant gardener appeared in Anne Arundel County records in 1720.



Mid-Atlantic & Upper South colonists often looked for specific experience in their indentured servant gardeners. Charles Carroll of Annapolis asked each prospective gardener “How long he served, in what Place, in what places & Gardens He has Worked Since He was out of his apprenticesh[ip], in What Branch He has been Chiefly employed, the Kitchen or Flower Garden of Nursery, whether He understands Grafting Inoculating & Trimming.”

During the 1770s, these indentured servants were usually paid between 6 pounds & 32 pounds per year plus their meat, drink, washing, & lodging. Garden servants often supplemented their regular duties in the winter by doubling as dyers, & weavers. Familiarity with the dyes produced by various plants led gardeners naturally into textile trades. The combination of crafts flourished outside the Mid-Atlantic & Upper South as well. Slaves who served as summer gardeners also sometimes doubled as shoemakers during the winter months.

Some of Maryland’s convict gardeners had practiced the gardening trade before arriving in the colonies, & one possessed an unusual knowledge of sophisticated gardening techniques. In January of 1768, Charles Carroll the Barrister, cousin to the Carrolls of Annapolis & Carrolton, wrote to his English agents, “I am in want of a Gardener that understands a Kitchen Garden…Grafting, Budding, Inoculating & the Management of an orchard & Fruit Trees…under Indenture for four or five years…There come in Gardeners in every Branch from Scotland at Six pounds a year.”

The requested servant arrived at Mount Clare later that year & was apparently well respected by the Barrister & his fellow gentry, even though he was a convict. When Charles Carroll of Carrollton bought a gardener for his father at the docks in Baltimore, he asked the Barrister’s convict gardener to interview the new immigrant & then wrote his father, “I have bought a new gardiner from Captain Frost. I gave 23 pounds currency for him; he is not about 21 years of age, appears to be healthy & stout & orderly; he says he understands a kitchen garden pretty well; Mr. Carroll’s gardener examined him: he has 4 years to serve.”

Carroll Barrister’s convict gardener may have been a good judge of men, but he did have a few negative qualities. Five years into the man’s indenture, the exasperated Carroll placed & advertisement in the Maryland Gazette on May 6,1773: “TEN POUNDS REWARD…Ran away…a convict servant man, names John Adam Smithby trade a gardener; has with him…a treatise of raising the pineapple, which he pretends is of his own writing, talks much of his trade & loves liquor.”



Occasionally masters placed a spiked iron collar around the necks of their white indentured servants for other offenses. In 1770, one of the servant gardeners of Charles Carroll of Annapolis got drunk & insulted several women in the Carroll family. Carroll threatened to have the man whipped, but the women begged for leniency on his behalf.

Carroll wrote to his son, “Squires was not whipt, He wears a collar in terrorem to others, & as a Punishment which He justly deserves, but I think to take it off soon." Carroll felt fully justified in often whipping his favorite servant gardener, John Turnbull, for drinking too much & was surprised when the man chose to work for Carroll no more, when his indenture expired in 1772.  Ah, freedom.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

In gardens, on buildings, & at cemeteries in Early America - The Ornamental Urn


An urn is a marble, stone, earthenware, or metal vessel or vase of a round or ovoid form standing on a rectangular or circular base. Traditional Greek & Roman forms of ornamental garden urns are the tazza, a cup-shaped form whose width exceeds it height; & the campana, or upturned bell-shaped form.

Because early urns also were used to hold ashes of the departed, urns are usually solemn ornaments of reverence, taste, & refinement. Cremation was prevalent among the Greeks & during the Roman Empire, 27 B.C. to 395 A.D., it was widely practiced. The custom called for cremated remains to be stored in urns, which were sometimes elaborate & often placed within detached columbarium-like buildings in Roman & Greek gardens.

Detail of Closed or Lidded Campana Urn on an oversized Pedestal. 1772 William Williams (American artist, 1727-1791). The William Denning Family.

Christians considered cremation pagan, & Jews preferred traditional sepulcher entombment. By 400 A.D., as a result of Constantine's Christianization of the Roman Empire, earth burial replaced cremation, except for rare instances of plague or war, for the next 1,500 years throughout Europe & its colonies.

In fact, it was news in the colonies, when urns filled with charred remains were found in Ireland in 1733. The South Carolina Gazette reported, "Dublin, Octob . 31. Last Week as some Workmen were digging up Stones for the Buildings at Power's Court, in turning over some great Rocks, they found several great curious Pieces of Antiquity, being 3 old Urns of a very uncommon Make, deposited together, and filled with Ashes, supposed to belong to some of the Danes, or old Roman People, who formerly visited this Island."


Detail Closed or Lidded Campana Urn on a Classical Pedestal at Mount Clare in Baltimore. Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Margaret Tilghman (Mrs Charles Carroll the Barrister).


In 1737, the South Carolina Gazette also reported on an extract of a letter from England, "There was lately discover'd on Mr. Campton's Estate, at Coddlestock, near Oundle in Northhamtershire a beautiful Roman Pavement 20 Foot square and very little defac'd by Time; near it were found Bones, Ashes, and Pieces of Urns , an Indication that the Body of some noted Heathen had been buryed there."

Thirty years later in 1767, the Virginia Gazette reported similar findings "from Perth, that as some labourers were sinking a well near Abernethy, in Scotland, they discovered two urns , containing several pieces of antique silver coin, and from their inscriptions it appeared that that place had formerly been a Roman station." Later in the same year, they noted that in "Glasgow that some fishermen lately drug up, in the island of ST. Kilda, two antique urns , containing a quantity of Danish silver coin, which by the inscription appears to have lain there upwards of 1800 years."


Closed or Lidded Campana Urn. 1784 Charles Willson Peale.(1741-1827). Mrs. Thomas Russell.


The South Carolina Gazette printed a pastoral elegy to a local gentleman in 1757, which not only referred to urns but also to the crop he must have grown, rice. "Port-Royal plains! let never balmy dew, Pouring from chrystal sluices, water you, Nor, from their silver urns , the Pleiad 's poar The fruitful rain and soft prolific show'r. May blights and mildews on your fields remain. And wormy insects gnaw your ricy grain: For in your neld's, entomb'd, does Damon lie. Port-Royal gods! Why did my Damon die?"

Urn-shapped tea ware, usually silver-plated or japanned & often called Roman urns, appeared in the colonies by the 1760s. In October of 1764, the Pennsylvania Gazette was advertising classical tablewar, including urns, "Just imported in the Philadelphia Packet, Captain Budden, and Sparks, from London, and to be sold on the lowest and best terms...silver pillared and fluted candlesticks of the Corinthian order...chased and plain ewers, urns and milkpots."


Detail Closed or Lidded Campana Urn on a Stone Wall. 1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) Mrs. John O'Donnell (Sarah Chew Elliott).

In the same year, jeweler Philip Tidyman of Charlestown, South Carolina advertised, "just imported, in the Friendship, Capt. Bail, and Heart of Oak, capt. Gunn...a few articles of plate of the most fashionable kind, viz. fine pierced and polish'd bread baskets, orange strainers, punch ladies, chais'd urns and ewers."

By 1769, Jacob Hanke placed an ad in the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce his architectural ornaments, "THE subscriber takes this method of informing the public, that he has set up the Turnerbusiness (which he formerly followed in this city) and makes and sells...columns, urns , newel posts, bannisters, and all kinds of Turnerwork, at his shop, at the Sign of the Spinning Wheel...in Spruce street, near the Drawbridge."

Closed or Lidded Campana Urn on a Classical Pedestal. 1789 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Claypoole Peale.

Mantle ornaments in the shape of urns appeared in 1773, when Nicholas Langfore, a bookseller in Charlestown advertised in the local newspaper, " a Consignment of a Set of Ornaments for a Chimney Piece, confisting of seven Petrifactions of Water from Derhyshire, resembling Jasper, in the Form of Altars, Urns , Vasses, &c. most elegantly mounted in Or Moule, which are to be sold at a small Advances, on the first Cost."

An intriguing carved walking cane went missing in Charleston in 1774, "With a golden Head, engraved with Urns and Festoons."

Few garden urns are mentioned in early American documents, but painters of the period occasionally depicted urns in their portraits. Open urns are often referred to as vases by colonial observers. Maryland-born artist Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was particularly partial to painting urns as props in his portraits.

Hannah Callender visited William Peters' garden at Belmont in 1762, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She noted, "On the right you enter a labyrinth of hedge of low cedar and spruce. In the middle stands a statue of Apollo. In the garden are statues of Diana, Fame and Mercury with urns."

The 1778 South Carolina Gazette advertised the property of Thomas Loughton Smith for sale after his death, noting, "there are a few elegant urns and statues in the garden which will be sold with the premises."

Early colleges in America often had walled grounds. My favorite description of one of these walls was by Moreau de St. Mery (1750-1819), when he visited Princeton, New Jersey in the 1790s. In a 1764 print, Nassau Hall is depicted with a wall & urns. He wrote, "Before it is a huge front yard set off from the street by a brick wall, and at intervals along the wall are pilasters supporting wooden urns painted gray."


Detail of Nassau Hall with Wooden Campana Urns on the Wall, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1764.

After Thomas Jefferson's death, a Monticello visitor noted, "cattle wandering among Italian mouldering vases." The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg was recorded as having "lead vases" in its gardens. A description of Eliza Hasket Derby's garden in Salem, Massachusettes, was said to have "large marble vases" which gave it a finished appearance.


Closed or Lidded Campana Urns at Falling Garden in Annapolis, Maryland at the William Paca (1740-1799) House. These urns have recently been replaced by large pineapple or artichoke (Cynara) finials on classical pedestals.

Tazza Urn on a tall pedestal at Belvedere, Home of Governor John Eager Howard (1752-1827), Baltimore, Maryland. Painting by Augustus Weidenbach c 1858.

Urn at Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg

In the Early Republic & well into the 19C, depictions of urns in the landscape were used as memorial objects in the work being produced by American girls in private female academies, where the young women learned decorative painting & sewing as well as reading & writing. Outdoor memorial urns were usually depicted with a nearby weeping willow tree.

By the time of George Washington's death in late 1779, the weeping willow tree was firmly established as a solemn memorial; as the Pennsylvania Gazette reported on Mount Vernon high above the Potomac River in Virginia, "Now the flocks, the shades, the walks, the weeping willows, the mourning bird of night, the pensive streams, and the sad murmurs of the broad Potomac, which in pride rolled its waves before the mansion of its great improver, call, again and again, the sad story which has filled the world with sorrow, that the illustrious Chief of Mount Vernon is no more."

The emerging middle-class of the early republic & later Industrial Revolution embraced classic Roman & Greek literature & motifs. Urns appeared on imported wallpapers; on mourning jewelry; as furniture inlay; on funeral carriages; as knife cases; and as architectural ornamentation on private homes, outbuildings, & public buildings.


In 1789, needing more space & wanting a building of their own, Benjamin Franklin's Library Company bought a parcel of land near the corner of Philadelphia's 5th & Chestnut Streets. William Thornton, physician & amateur architect, won the design competition. His proposed building featured white pilasters & a balustrade surmounted by urns.

Samuel McIntire, South Front of the Greenhouse in the East Building Elias Hasket Derby House

The John Peirce House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, built in 1799, featured a lantern tower crowned by urns. The Samuel McIntire, Peirce-Nichols House in Salem, Massachusettes, begun in 1782, has urns punctuating its fence. In 1795, he recorded in his journal paying for "Carving 4 Vases for the Summer House." The Elias Hasket Derby House, also in Salem, built in the late 1790s, had a roof balustrade with pilasters supporting 6 urns. 

Urns remained in the landscape designs of the Early Republic.  Urns & weeping willow trees dotted 19C cemeteries, but it would be many decades before cremation was once again a commonly accepted form of burial in America.

1789 Detail Schoolgirl Depiction of a Memorial Urn.

1792 Mourning Brooch. 2 funeral urns, plus locks of hair memorialize Mann Page & Anne Corbin Page of Virginia. Made in Philadelphia.


1811 Sally Miller's Needlepoint Urn from Litchfield Female Academy.

1815 Detail Schoolgirl Memorial Urn.

1817 Detail of Miss Diademia Austin Haines composition of silk, spangles, paint and ink on silk. Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

1819 Memorial for Lucy Libby. Miss Mayo's School, Portland, Maine.

1822 Memorial for Robert B. Harding. Miss Mayo's School of Portland, Maine.

1836 Detail Schoolgirl Memorial Urn.

For more about schoolgirl needlework, see Girlhood Embroidery, American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework by Betty Ring (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993) and The "Ornamental Branches," Needlework and Arts from the Lititz Moravian Girls' School Between 1800 and 1865 by Patricia T. Herr (Lancaster, Pennsylvania: The Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County, 1996).