Sunday, July 19, 2020

Botany - Development of 1766 Botanic Garden

Historian Joel T. Fry tells us in the HALS Report for Bartram's Garden that John Bartram in the autumn of 1728 purchased an improved farm of a little over 100 acres on the lower Schuylkill. This farm had been part of a much larger plantation on the west bank of the Schuylkill known as Aronameck, first occupied in 1648 during the Swedish colonial settlement of the Delaware Valley. Bartram, a third generation Pennsylvania Quaker, from nearby Darby, began the construction of a stone farmhouse soon after the purchase, whose initial manifestation was completed by 1731.

Bartram probably first planted a kitchen garden at the site in 1729. Bartram probably chose this favorable site with the intention of establishing a large garden, & the location remains well suited to the cultivation of plants today. The initial garden was probably laid out at six or seven acres, & expanded to as large as ten acres in succeeding generations. Additional space was set aside for an orchard, greenhouses & framing, & nursery beds, which totaled as much as twelve acres at the peak of the garden in the 1830s.

John Bartram’s garden began as a personal garden, but grew to a systematic collection of native & exotic plants as Bartram devoted more time to exploration & discovery. Exchanges of plants & seeds from gardens in North America & abroad also fueled the collection. Although not the first botanic collection in North America, by the middle of the eighteenth century, Bartram’s Garden contained the most varied collection of North American plants in the world.

 Around 1733, in an event important to the general history of horticulture & natural science, John Bartram introduced himself via letter to London merchant Peter Collinson (1694–1768), & the two began a lifelong correspondence. Collinson, a member of the Royal Society, & like Bartram a Quaker & an enthusiastic gardener, became the middleman to a scientific trade in seeds, plants, & natural history specimens. Plants from Bartram’s Philadelphia garden were exchanged with a range of botanists, gardeners, & nurserymen in London & throughout Europe. Collinson also arranged funding from patrons among the British elite, which allowed Bartram to leave his farm & go plant hunting.

During his career John Bartram traveled widely throughout the British colonies in North America—plant collecting began in the Mid-Atlantic colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, & Maryland. In time, Bartram traveled north to New York & New England, & south to Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia & Florida, exploring a region spanning from Lake Ontario in New York to the St. John’s River in Florida, & from the Atlantic coast to the Ohio valley.

 As John Bartram tended his garden, he established a family institution that survived him & grew under the care of three generations of his family.  Following the American Revolution, Bartram’s sons John Bartram, Jr. & William Bartram, continued the international plant trade their father had established, & expanded the family botanic garden & nursery business.

 William Bartram was an important naturalist, artist, & author in his own right, & traveled the American South from 1773−1776 under the patronage of Dr. John Fothergill. William Bartram’s Travels… published in Philadelphia in 1791, & reissued in a number of European editions, strengthened the connection between the name Bartram & the science of plants in North America.

Under William Bartram the garden became an educational center & helped to train a new generation of natural scientists & explorers. In the early Federal history of the United States the Bartram Botanic Garden served as the American botanic garden in lieu of any official institution in Philadelphia.