Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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

Gardening To Honor National & Classical Heros

In the new republic the garden had inspired & been a stage for displaying nationalism since its inception. The names Annapolis craftsman William Faris (1729-1804) chose for his tulips reflect the craftsman's enthusiasms, for the new nation & for classical republican ideals.
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (Dutch Baroque Era Painter, 1573-1621) Glass with Four Tulips 1615

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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