Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Gardening Books in Early America - Books & Almanacs

By the middle of the 17C, British American colonial gardeners were beginning to recognize that they needed books reflecting the local conditons on this side of the Atlantic. Early colonial almanacs focused on the seasonal changes, the tides, the weather, and celestial occurances used as guides for planting.

Most colonials living along the Atlantic coast believed that astrological changes had a direct affect on their gardens and crops. In 18th century Virginia, Landon Carter recorded in his diary that his field was "dry everything as Usual, and nothing has grown this whole week. Its my 3d planet that governs, and I shall not this year amount to a groat."

This woodcut of a few sheep; some fierce (but dumb) guard dogs; a wolf carrying away a lamb; the moon & stars; and a tipsy shepherd carrying with an early bag pipe may have boosted the seasonal calendar craze. It is from the 1556 Kalender of Shepherdes. The Kalender of the Shepherdes is an archetype of the 17th century farmer's almanac. The 1556 Kalender, influential in literary, religious, & social realms, was fundamentally about achieving salvation. The astrological charts & sherherd's folk wisdom about harvests, diet, & medicine were included as enticements to the religious instructional core of the work. This included the 10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins, & some of the lines of the modern Hail Mary prayer.

By 1640, almanacs published in England were exploring social, political, & religious issues and some included a bit of doggerel verse & homey advice; but the principal part of each booklet was devoted to a calendar with moon phases and planetary movements. In 1457, Johannes Gutenberg printed the first almanac; and by the 1660s in London, almanac sales averaged about 400,000 copies annually.

The first American almanac that I know of was published in 1639, an Almanack Calculated for New England, by William Pierce, Mariner, and was printed on the year old Harvard press. Printed in 16-page book form, early American almanacs usually included a title page, information on eclipses, the annual calendar, plus notes on local court days.

In 1646, Samuel Danforth published a 16 page almanac containing some astrological gardening information on the press in Cambridge, Massachusettes. Almanacs also appeared in New York and Philadelphia before 1700.

In 1732, Philadlephian Benjamin Franklin began publishing Poor Richard's Almanac and in Williamsburg, the Virginia and Maryland Almanac also began publication that year. A year later, Thomas Whitemarsh printed his South Carolina Almanac in Charleston. John Tobler published in Georgia and South Carolina Almanac in Savannah in 1764. All of these periodicals contained some astrological gardening instruction.

almanac producer Nathaniel Ames wrote in 1764, after publishing almanacs since 1726, Astrology has a Philosophical Foundation: the celestial Powers that can and do agitate and move the whole Ocean, have also Force and Ability to change and alter the Fluids and Solids of the humane Body, and that which can alter and change the fluids and Solids of the Body, must also greatly affect and influence the Mind; and that which can and does affect the Mind, has a great Share and Influence in the Actions of Men.

In South Carolina in 1752, Martha Daniel Logan (1704-1779), a widowed mother of 8 who ran a finishing school at her plantation & sold garden seeds, compiled a more practical garden calendar reflecting the South Carolina environment, which was published in John Tobler's South Carolina Almanack and other almanacs for years to follow.  Martha's father Proprietary Governor Robert Daniel, who operated a nursery, died when she was 13. She inherited his business & plantation on the Wando River. The 1753 South Carolina Gazette carried Martha Logan's advertisement for A parcel of very good seed, flower roots, and fruit stones to be sold on the Green near Trott's Point.  After her husband George Logan Jr died, she corresponded & exchanged seeds in a "little silk bagg" with botanist John Bartram in Philadelphia. He wrote to a friend in London, "Mrs. Logan's garden is her delight." They commiserated about the problems of saving seeds & bulbs from season to season. Martha wrote Bartram: "I have lost my tulips and hyacinths, I had in a closet to dry and the mice ate them."

About 1765 in Virginia, John Randolph (1727-1784) wrote what is believed to be the earliest American book on kitchen gardening, A Treatise on Gardening by A Citizen of Virginia. John Randolph was the last King's Attorney (Attorney General) in the colony and was dubbed "John the Tory" because of his loyalist sympathies. His roots in Virginia were deep.  His father was Sir John Randolph, the only colonial Virginian to be knighted. As a young man, John Randolph was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, his cousin, with whom he often played violin. His son Edmund became Governor of Virginia and Attorney General of the United States. John Randolph's Treatise on Gardening, modeled on the works of English nurseryman Philip Miller, was printed in America in 1788, four years after his death. Randolph's 80 page treatise on Artichokes, Asparagus, Beans, Cabbage, & had a brief calendar at the end. The information contained in John Randolph's Treatise on Gardening by a citizen of Virginia & The American Gardener rarely disguised wholesale borrowing from Philip Miller's 1831 Gardener's Dictionary.

Robert Squibb's 1787 Gardener's Kalendar of South and North Carolina was printed in Charleston following in the long tradition eastblished more than 35 years earlier by Martha Logan. Squibb flourished as a botanist, seedsman, writer and gardener in Charleston and other parts of the South from the 1780’s, until his death in 1806 at Silk Hope Plantation near Savannah, Georgia, where he was buried. After several years as a gardener Squibb placed the following notice in the June 29, 1786 issue of the Columbian Herald in Charleston. “FROM the frequent solicitations of a number of gentlemen of this and the adjoining states, the subscriber has been induced to undertake a work, entitled, THE SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND NORTH CAROLINA Gardeners Calender; Which, from its general utility, he flatters himself will meet the approbation of the public at large. The English publications hitherto made use of to point out and direct the best methods of Gardening, by no means answer the purpose, as they tend to mislead instead of instruct, and suit only the European parts for which they were designed. -This work is deduced from practice and experience in this climate, wherein the most certain and simple methods are clearly pointed out, so as to render the art of gardening easy and familiar to every capacity.”

A leading agricultural figure in Pennsylvania & Maryland after the Revolution was John Beale Bordley (1721-1804). Bordley studied law & held several important colonial offices. However, his interest lay in agricultural reform; and in 1770, when he came into possession of a plantation containing 1600 acres on Wye Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore, he gave up the law entirely.  Bordley farmed this land for decades, while he experimented with new theories for native agriculture. He grew wheat instead of tobacco & experimented with crop rotation. Like the Carrolls, he imported both seed & agricultural books from England. In 1785, he was a leader in forming the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.  In 1784, Bordley published A Summary View of the Course of Crops, in the Husbandry of England and Maryland. He published his Sketches on Rotation of Crops and Other Rural Matters in 1792. His most important work was Essays and Notes on Husbandry and Rural Affairs, first published in 1799, & revised in 1801. It contained over five hundred pages describing crop rotation, fruit culture, fertilizer, plantations, & farm buildings comparing English with newly developing American agricultural methods. He also wrote Gleanings from the Most Celebrated Books on Gardening and Rural Affairs published anonymously in 1803, in Philadelphia, just a year before he died.

Washington D.C. gardeners, David Hepburn and John Gardiner combined their knowledge with information lifted from English kitchen gardening books to publish The American Gardener in 1804 in the new District of Columbia.  Certainly the 1804 The American Gardener was written to promote the professional gardening careers of Gardner & Hepburn. In 1818, Joseph Milligan, at Georgetown, published a second enlarged edition of "The American Gardener, containing directions for working a kitchen garden every month in the year and instructions for the cultivation of flower gardens, vineyards, nurseries, hop yards, green houses and hot houses. To which is added a Treatise on Gardening by a citizen of Virginia."  In this edition, the publisher wrote "The recommendations with which this work came forth in the first instance to the American public were these: At a time when no work of the kind, adapted to the climate of the United States, had fallen from the American press, Mr. David Hepburn, a gardener of forty years experience— twenty in England and twenty in this country—aware of the inconvenience and frequent loss of crops sustained all over the Union, by the want of some book of methodical instructions, in company with Mr. John Gardiner, a person of skill and experience in horticulture, prepared the work in question for the press, and it was published at Washington in the year 1804 with a certificate from General J. Mason, which stated that the said Hepburn 'had been for six years employed by him on Mason's Island, Georgetown; that he had for that time conducted all the improvements at that place; that he parted with him with great regret; that he could with truth say, Hepburn was well skilled in all the branches of gardening, and that as a practical man in the culture of vegetables and fruit trees he could not be excelled.' "

Immediately after the Revolution, clever European gardening entrepreneurs immigrated to America to entice the new nationals to buy their books, seeds, & services. They set about to create a market not only among the already pleasure gardening gentry, but also among the rising merchant and artisan classes as well. And they succeeded.  At the end of the century, pleasure gardening was growing. Ladies were becoming more interested in decorative flowers & potted plants offered to them by the new seed and nursery dealers. Men were collecting new specimens of plants imported from throughout the Americas and Europe.

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."

A contemporary wrote, "Bernard M'Mahon found American gardening in its infancy, and immediately set himself vigorously to work to introduce a love of flowers and fruit. The writer well remembers his store, his garden and greenhouses.  The latter were situated near the Germantown turnpike, between Philadelphia and Nicetown, whence emanated the rarer flowers and novelties, such as could be collected in the early part of the present century, and where were performed, to the astonishment of the amateurs of that day, successful feats of horticulture that were but too rarely imitated.  His store was on Second Street, below Market, on the east side. Many must still be alive who recollect its bulk window, ornamented with tulip glasses, a large pumpkin, and a basket or two of bulbous roots; behind the counter officiated Mrs. M'Mahon, with some considerable Irish accent, but a most amiable and excellent disposition, and withal, an able saleswoman. Mr. M'Mahon was also much in the store, putting up seeds for transmission to all parts of this country and Europe, writing his book, or attending to his correspondence, and in one corner was a shelf containing a few botanical or gardening books, for which there was then a very small demand; another contained the few garden implements, such as knives and trimming scissors, a barrel of peas and a bag of seedling potatoes, an onion receptacle, a few chairs, and the room partly lined with drawers containing seeds, constituted the apparent stock in trade of what was one of the greatest seed-stores then known in the Union, and where was transacted a considerable business for that day. Such a store would naturally attract the botanist as well as the gardener, and it was the frequent lounge of both classes, who ever found in the proprietors ready listeners, as well as conversers; in the latter particular they were rather remarkable, and here you would see Nuttall, Baldwin, Darlington, and other scientific men, who sought information or were ready to impart it."

American garden books, epecially M'Mahon's, which grew in demand & popularity from 1646 through the first years of the 19th century, marked the transition from America's 18th century dependence on English farming & gardening books to the widespread American agricultural publications that flowered up & down the Atlantic coast during the first decades of the nineteenth century.