BARTRAM (JOHN), an eminent botanist, was born near the village of Darby in Chester county, Pennsylvania, in the year 1701. His grandfather of the same name accompanied William Penn to this country in 1682.
This self-taught genius early discovered an ardent desire for the acquisition of knowledge, especially of botanical knowledge; but the infant state of the colony placed great obstacles in his way. He, however, surmounted them by intense application and the resources of his own mind. By the assistance of respectable characters he obtained the rudiments of the learned languages, which he studied with extraordinary success. So earnest was he in the pursuit of learning, that he could hardly spare time to eat; and he might often have been found with his victuals in one hand and his book in the other. He acquired so much knowledge of medicine and surgery, as to administer great assistance to the indigent and distressed in his neighborhood. He cultivated the ground as the means of supporting a large family; but while ploughing or sowing his fields, or mowing meadows, he was still pushing his inquiries into the operations of nature.
He was the first American who conceived and carried into effect the design of a botanic garden, for the cultivation of American plants, as well as of exotics. He purchased a fine situation on the banks of the Schuylkill about five miles from Philadelphia, where he laid out with his own hands a large garden. He furnished it with a variety of the most curious and beautiful vegetables, collected in his excursions from Canada to Florida. These excursions were made principally in autumn, when his presence at home was least demanded by his agricultural avocations. His ardor in these pursuits was such, that at the age of seventy he made a journey into East Florida to explore its natural productions. His travels among the Indians were frequently attended with danger and difficulty. By his means the gardens of Europe were enriched with elegant flowering shrubs, with plants and trees, collected in different parts of our country from the shore of Lake Ontario to the source of the river St. Juan.
He made such proficiency in his favorite pursuit, that Linnaeus pronounced him "the greatest natural botanist in the world."
His eminence in natural history attracted the esteem of the most distinguished men in America and Europe, and he corresponded with many of them. By means of the friendship of Sir Hans Sloane, Mr. Catesby, Dr. Hill, Linnaeus, and others he was furnished with books and apparatus, which he much needed, and which greatly lessened the difficulties of his situation. He, in return, sent them what was new and curious in the productions of America.
He was elected a member of several of the most eminent societies and academies abroad, and was at length appointed American botanist to His Britannic Majesty, George III, in which appointment he continued till his death in September 1777, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.
Mr. Bartram was an ingenious mechanic. The stone house, in which he lived, he built himself, and several monuments of his skill remain in it. He was often his own mason, carpenter, blacksmith, and etc., and generally made his own farming utensils.
His stature was rather above the middle size; his body was erect and slender; his complexion was sandy; his countenance was cheerful, though there was a solemnity in his air. His gentle manners corresponded with his amiable disposition. He was modest, liberal, charitable; a friend to social order; and an advocate for the abolition of slavery. [....] Though temperate, he kept a plentiful table; and annually on new year's day he made an entertainment, consecrated to friendship and philosophy.
He was born and educated in the Society of Friends. The following distich was engraved by himself on a stone in the wall over the front window of his own apartment.
'Tis God alone, the almighty Lord,
The holy One by me adored.
John Bartram. 1770.
He left several children. John, his youngest son, succeeded him as proprietor of his botanic garden; but it is now chiefly under the superintendence of another son, Mr. William Bartram, who accompanied his father in many of his botanical tours, and who is well known by his book, entitled, travels through N. and S. Carolina, E. and W. Florida, and etc., published in 1791.
Several of Mr. Bartram's communications in zoology were published in the philosophical transactions between the years 1743 and 1749. He published observations on the inhabitants, climate, soil, and etc., made in his travels from Pennsylvania to Onondago, London, 1751; description of East Florida, 4to, 1774. --- Rees' cyclopaedia, American edition; Monthly anthology, v. 231; Miller's retrospect, i. 515; ii. 367.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The above biography of John Bartram (slightly edited) is from: William Allen, An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary, Containing an Account of the Lives, Characters, and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in North America from Its First Discovery to the Present Time, and a Summary of the History of the Several Colonies and of the United States (Cambridge: William Hilliard, 1809), pp. 48-49.]
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