Samuel Bard (April 1, 1742–May 24, 1821), was a professional physician and professor of botany who designed several gardens in New York, including those at his country estate, Hyde Park.
The descendant of Huguenot refugees who settled in Philadelphia, Samuel Bard spent his early years in New York City, where his father, Dr. John Bard (1716–1799), relocated his medical practice on the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin in 1746. Ten years later, while convalescing from a prolonged illness, fourteen-year-old Samuel spent the summer at Coldengham, the remote Hudson Highlands farm of his father’s friend, botanist and government official Cadwallader Colden. During his stay, Bard received instruction in botany from Colden and his daughter Jane, both of whom had mastered Carl Linnaeus’s system of plant classification while cataloging indigenous New York flora. An accomplished draftsman, Bard reportedly “repaid the lady for her instruction, by making figures and drawings of plants for her.”
After a period of study at King’s College, New York, Bard sailed for Britain in 1761 to complete his education. Waylaid by French privateers, he spent five months in captivity before Benjamin Franklin, a family friend, secured his release. When Bard finally reached London in April 1762, he followed a course of medical instruction suggested by the Quaker physician, philanthropist, and plant collector John Fothergill (1712–1780), and devoted the summer months to botanical investigations in the countryside. In 1764, having transferred to the University of Edinburgh, Bard received the annual award in botany from John Hope (1725–1786), Professor of Botany and Materia Medica and King’s Botanist, for producing “the best herbarium or collection of dried plants, growing spontaneously within ten miles of Edinburgh” (view text). Bard’s herbarium survived for several decades and was presented in 1817 to the New-York Historical Society, where it joined Cadwallader Colden's hortus siccus of plants indigenous to the Highlands of New York and a collection of duplicate specimens from Linnaeus’s herbarium.
In addition to his medical studies, Bard worked with a drawing master three hours a week. He reportedly had “a strong taste for delineation and perspective” and sketched with “exactness.” When John Hope published the description of a rhubarb plant successfully cultivated at the Edinburgh botanic garden, he employed Bard to add four minutely observed botanical details to a professional artist’s illustration (view text) [Fig. 1]. Hope was then forming a syndicate for importing American seeds and plants, and solicited Bard’s assistance in finding a supplier. Bard wrote his father, “I know of no one who would answer so well as Mr. [John] Bartram. In addition to combing the countryside for plants, Bard toured local estates, developing a taste for naturalism in landscape and garden design. Tasked with finding an English gardener to help lay out the grounds of his father’s Hudson river estate, Hyde Park, Bard composed a long letter of advice in April 1764, counseling careful attention to the natural conditions of climate and terrain, avoidance of straight lines (“except where they serve to lead the eye to some distant and beautiful object”), and artful concealment of ornamental features, so that the viewer “suddenly, and unexpectedly, comes upon them; so that by the surprise, the pleasure may be increased” (view text). Finding his opinions confirmed in a chapter on gardening and architecture in The Elements of Criticism (1762) by Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782), Bard wrote his father again three months later to recommend the book and warn against “the cutting of gardens into formal parterres, or forcing nature in any respect.”
After completing his medical degree in 1765, Bard returned to New York and entered into partnership with his father. Over the next two years, he established a medical school at King’s College, serving as dean and professor of the theory and practice of physic. In 1769 he began campaigning for the city’s first public hospital, leading his fellow physicians Peter Middleton and John Jones in petitioning Cadwallader Colden, then Lieutenant Governor of New York, for a charter of incorporation. Bard’s mentor, John Fothergill, spearheaded fundraising for the hospital in Britain, and King George III granted the charter in 1771. Construction was delayed by a fire and the Revolutionary War. When the hospital was finally completed in 1791, Bard reportedly laid out a botanic garden occupying two city blocks, in which he cultivated medicinal herbs [Fig. 2]. He may also have contributed to the design of the grounds, which in 1801 were “inclosed with a brick wall and converted into gardens for the accommodation and benefit of convalescent patients” and “planted with fruit and forest trees” (view text) [Fig. 3]. In spite of his loyalist sympathies, Bard served as George Washington's private physician, having saved the recently inaugurated president’s life in 1789 by removing a malignancy from his thigh. He also continued to play an active role in King's College (renamed Columbia College after the war), and in 1811, four years after the College of Physicians and Surgeons was founded in New York, Bard was appointed its president, serving in that capacity until his death in 1821. He was a founding member of the New-York Historical Society and re-established the collections of the New York Society Library, which had been scattered during the war.
At his Broad Street house, Bard maintained a garden and conservatory filled with exotic plants, which he later told his son-in-law, John McVickar (1787–1868) had served “as a specific [i.e., remedy] against the petty cares and anxieties of life,” for “nothing calmed and soothed his mind like a walk among his plants and flowers” (view text). The opportunity to lay out gardens on a more extensive scale figured among the attractions that led Bard to establish a residence outside of the city near his father’s estate of Hyde Park. In the 1770s Bard had begun cultivating a grove of locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) at Hyde Park with the expectation that they would provide valuable timber. He observed in a letter: “We have been planting a fortune for our children,—a great quantity of locust seed; our farm is to be one great forest of locust trees.” He often foraged in the woods with his son William (1776–1853), filling his pockets with plants that then became the focus of idiosyncratic botany lessons incorporating drawing, nature poetry, scripture, and Linnaean taxonomy (view text). With the expectation of entering semi-retirement, Bard formed a partnership in 1796 with David Hosack—a young, Edinburgh-educated physician recently appointed to a professorship at Columbia—who took over much of his case load. Bard settled at Hyde Park in the spring of 1798 and apart from occasional trips to the city, devoted his time to landscape improvements and botanical experiments. He reportedly drew the plans for his mansion and greenhouses, and also mapped out the garden paths and roads that wound through his property.
Bard corresponded with the Philadelphia agriculturalist Richard Peters on the use of clover grass as a crop and gypsum as a manure. In 1806 Bard founded and served as the first president of the Society of Dutchess County for the Promotion of Agriculture, and the following year delivered an address on the rotation of crops—“a short account of the reasoning and practice of the best English farmers . . . [adapted] to our soil and climate, and to such other circumstances, as necessarily control our practice.”
- “The great reputation which you have just acquired, by many faithful and accurate observations, and that most extraordinary thirst of knowledge which has distinguished you, makes me extremely desirous of your correspondence.
- “If you will be so kind as send me a few seeds of your new discovered plants, I shall on my part make a return of whatever is in my power, that I shall judge agreeable to you.
- “It will be agreeable to you to hear that Mr. Samuel Bard, son of your friend Mr. Bard, of New York, is making most wonderful progress in Botany, and has made a beautiful collection of near four hundred Scots plants; by which he undoubtedly will gain the annual premium.”
- “I have received your proposals by the hands of our dear friend Benjamin [Franklin]; and since, by a letter from the worthy, humane Dr. [John] Bard, or New York, in which he inserts a paragraph of a letter from his son [Samuel Bard] (whose person and activity I am not a stranger to), wherein he writes to the same effect as thee wrote to Benjamin Franklin, signifying that you had laid a new botanic garden to be stored with exotics; that you were forming a laudable and very necessary plan of storing your bare country with variety of forest trees; that many gentlemen of rank and fortune had countenanced this scheme with an annual subscription, to enable a botanist to make your desired collections; and that my answer was desired, whether I would undertake to supply your demands, which I consent to do.”
- Bard, Samuel, April 1, 1764, letter from Edinburgh to John Bard (McVickar 1822: 57–58)
- “I heartily wish I could be with you at laying out your grounds, as I imagine I could be of some assistance, although I may find it impossible to convey my notions upon that subject in writing. From what I have as yet seen, I find those the most beautiful where nature is suffered to be our guide. The principal things to be observed in planning a pleasure ground, seem to me, to be the situation of the ground, and the storms and winds the country is most liable to. By the first, I mean, to distribute my plants according to the soil they most delight in; to place such as flourish most in a warm exposure and dry soil, upon the sunny side of a hill; while such as delight in the shade and moist ground, should be placed in the vallies. By this single precaution, one of the greatest beauties of a garden is obtained, which consists in the health and vigour of the plants which compose it. By considering well the predominant winds and storms of the country, we are directed where to plant our large trees, so that they shall be at once an ornament, and afford a useful shelter to the smaller and more delicate plants. Next I think straight lines should be particularly avoided except where they serve to lead the eye to some distant and beautiful object—serpentine walks are much more agreeable. Another object deserving of attention seems to be, to place the most beautiful and striking objects, such as water, if possible, a handsome green-house, a grove of flowering shrubs, or a remarkably fine tree, in such situations, that from the house they may almost all be seen; but to a person walking, they should be artfully concealed until he suddenly, and unexpectedly, comes upon them; so that by the surprise, the pleasure may be increased: and if possible, I would contrive them so that they should contrast each other, which again greatly increases their beauty. The last thing I should mention, which, indeed, is not the least worthy of notice, is, to throw the flower garden, kitchen, and fruit garden, and if possible, the whole farm, into one, so that they may appear as links of the same chain, and may mutually contribute to the beauties of the whole. If you could send me an accurate plan of the situation of your ground, describing particularly the hollows, risings, and the opportunities you have of bringing water into it, the spot where you intend your house, and the situation of your orchard, I would consult some of my friends here about a proper plan, and I believe I know some who would assist us, and as I cannot obtain your gardener before November, if you sent the plan immediately, I shall be able to return it by him.
- “In my last letter I sent you one from Dr. Hope, informing you of my having the prize; he has done me the honour to write also to Dr. Franklin upon the subject. He has also desired me to acquaint you, that a number of gentlemen here have formed themselves into an association for the importation of American seeds and plants, and would be much obliged to you to recommend a proper person as a correspondent.
- “I know of no one who would answer so well as Mr. Bartram.”
- Bard, Samuel, June 8, 1764, letter from London to John Bard (McVickar 1822: 61)
- “I have lately received great pleasure and improvement in reading Lord Kames’s late work, and recommend it to your perusal, especially that part of it relating to gardening and architecture, before you go on in improving your place on the north river. He most justly condemns the cutting of gardens into formal parterres, or forcing nature in any respect; at the same time, points out, in a beautiful and philosophical manner, where we are implicitly to follow this amiable mistress, and when and how we may improve, by modest dress, her native beauties.” back up to History
- Bard, John, February 16, 1765, letter from New York to Samuel Bard in London (McVickar 1822: 67)
- “With respect to your dedication to the governor [Cadwallader Colden], I wish you to remember, he is an old gentleman who likes respect, but is impatient of adulation. I think I would make it very short: mention your first instruction in botany, which is a branch of medicine, to have been received from him; and with an honest and plan expression of gratitude acknowledge his instances of kindness to you, and offer the dedication of your Thesis as a public testimony of that gratitude.”
- Hope, John, September 24, 1765, letter to John Pringle describing rhubarb plant (Philosophical Transactions: 290)
- “In autumn 1763, I received from Doctor Mounsey the seeds of the Rheum palmatum, which he assured me were the seeds of the true Rhubarb. I sowed them immediately in the open ground in the Botanic garden. In the beginning of May last, one of the plants from these seeds pushed up a flowering stem, and about the middle of the month, the flowers began to open, and continued in great beauty till the 8th of 9th of June. . .
- “I employed Mr. [William] De la Cour to made the drawings, who, though a good painter, is no botanist; this defect was fully supplied by Mr. Samuel Bard of New York, student in this university, who made the drawings of the fructification in plate XIII. Fig. 4. a, a, a, b, c, d. . .
- “aaa florem; b pistillum (sed non satis explicatum); c semen maturum; d sectionem transversam ejusdem exhibtent, magnitudine naturali.” [See Fig. 1] back up to History
- Bard, Samuel, March 16, 1766, letter from London to Mary Bard (McVickar 1822: 86–87)
- “Were I a man of fortune. . . I would have. . . in my gardens, alcoves and temples dedicated to the memory of my best friends, and adorned with their portraits. By these means, I could never experience the fatigue of being tired of myself; for thus I could always enjoy the choicest company, without the interruption of idle intruders.”
- Bard, Samuel, July 22, 1776, letter from New York to Mary Bard at Hyde Park (McVickar 1822: 106)
- “My little garden is in full luxuriance; it looks really beautiful, but alone, I cannot enjoy it. Oh! How I long for the time when we shall chase our little folks around the walks, and together cultivate and adorn it.”
- Bard, Samuel, February 27, 1799, letter from Hyde Park to Sally Bard in New York (Langstaff 1942: 200)
- “Today for the first time I walk as far as my barnyard—looked at my pigs, my cattle and my workmen & proposed to Caesar to begin our hot beds. . .
- “I beg you or Dr. Hosack will write to Mr. Prince at Flushing for twelve good roots of the sweet scented monthly Honeysuckle to be sent immediately to you at Doctor Hosack’s so that you may send them by the first boat of which you shall have notice hence. Your letter is to be sent to the house formerly Gains book store Hanover Square [New York] where get for me one of Princes last catalogues & send to me with the plants— by no means neglect this immediately, we do not know how soon the river will open.”
- A Brief Account of the New-York Hospital, 1804 (1804: 3)
- “The grounds belonging to the [New York] Hospital were, in 1801, inclosed with a brick wall and converted into gardens for the accommodation and benefit of convalescent patients. . .
- “The site of the hospital is elevated, and is one of the most agreeable on New-York Island. . . The gardens are planted with fruit and forest trees, and afford agreeable refreshing walks to valetudinary and convalescent patients; the situation being high, open and airy, possesses extraordinary advantages for the enjoyment of fresh and salubrious breezes.” back up to History
- An Account of the New-York Hospital, 1811 (1811: 11)
- “The edifice is crowned with a handsome cupola, which affords a most extensive and picturesque view of the city, harbour and adjacent country. There is an excellent kitchen-garden, and the grounds are laid out in walks, planted with fruit and ornamental trees, for the benefit of convalescent patients. There is also a large and well constructed ice-house, a bathing house, and convenient stables.”
- “I walk, ride, and amuse myself, out of doors with my green-house, and in doors, with my little transparent orrery; to which I am contemplating some additions and familiar illustrations.
- “My green-house and flower-stands afford me considerable amusement. The plants flourish exceedingly: I spent two hours among them yesterday, and shall do so occasionally this winter. . . Every plant, from the royal orange and myrtle to the humble crocus, in fragrance, grace, and beauty, perform their part to admiration: and although they excite no passion of fear or mirth, of love or alarm, yet they do better,—they calm all my passions, sooth disappointment, and even mitigate the feelings of sorrow.”
- Bard, Samuel, n.d. [c. 1820], letter to an unknown correspondent (McVickar 1822: 237)
- “I . . . now begin to enjoy the spring by riding on horseback, and amusing myself in my garden; but I do both with caution. When it is fair over head, but damp under foot, I ride my poney into the garden to give directions, and to see my plants bursting in to life, in which I take great delight.
- “I have several beautiful and rare plants coming forward; and I watch their progress with an interest which, by many people, would be thought trifling in a man of four score: but I appease my conscience by the innocency of the pursuit, and my inability for such as are more active.”
- Mitchill, Samuel Latham, November 5, 1821, “A Discourse on the Life and Character of Samuel Bard” (Mitchill 1821: 12–13)
- “With the intention of encouraging the study of Scottish plants, and particularly of stimulating young gentlemen at the university to search for them and to know them, Dr. Hope offered a gold medal as a premium for the best herbarium or collection of dried plants, growing spontaneously within ten miles of Edinburgh. Bard obtained this testimonial of superior skill, in collecting, arranging, and preserving the vegetable species of that vicinity. It is reported that he had received the rudiments of the science from Miss Colden, daughter of Dr. Colden. . . ; and that he had repaid the young lady for her instruction, by making figures and drawings of plants for her. It hence appears that before he left home, he was a tolerable proficient in that useful and charming art. . . .
- “A book of the plants then exhibited, is yet extant. It was presented to me some years ago, by Charles Buxton, M.D. It is a large folio, in strong binding, and lettered E plantis circa Edinam natis. C. By the letter C, it would seem that it was only one of several; or, that at least there were two more; of this, however, I am uninformed. The present volume contains about one hundred plants, glued to sheets of white paper, and these laid between larger sheets of purple paper. Their scientific names, their places of growth, and the season of gathering, are distinctly written on the opposite page. They are mostly in good preservation, after a lapse of fifty-seven years. In particular, the Conium maculatum, Parnassia palustris, Alisma plantago, AEsculus hippocastanum, Fragaria vesca, Geum rivale, Agrimonia eupatoria, Spiraea filipendula, Rubus idaeus, Papaver rhaeas, Stachys sylvatica, and Urtica diocia, look exceedingly natural.” back up to History
- McVickar, John, 1822, describing the value Samuel Bard placed in his garden and conservatory (1822: 155)
- “As a relaxation from business, Dr. Bard peculiarly prized the enjoyment of his garden and conservatory, which were stored with the choicest native and exotic plants. The pleasure he took in them was almost a peculiar sense: nor was it to him, as he asserted, without its moral uses. He has often told the writer, that nothing calmed and soothed his mind like a walk among his plants and flowers; and that he used it as a specific against the petty cares and anxieties of life.” back up to History
- “Increasing years rendering the care of his large establishment too great a burthen, he transferred the management of it to his son. . . disburthening him of many cares, and leaving him free to his favourite employments in the green house and garden.
- “To the favourite occupations just mentioned Dr. Bard now devoted himself with an ardour which made them seem rather a change of labour, than a respite from it. In the flowers and fruits of the garden he became a learned and skilful horticulturist,—conversed, read, and wrote, upon the subject,—laid exactions on all his friends who could aid him in obtaining what was rare, beautiful, or excellent, in its kind, —drew from England its smaller fruits,—the larger ones from France, melons from Italy, and vines from Madeira,—managing them all with a varied yet experimental skill, which baffled the comprehension of minds of slower perception. These plans, though novel, were, in general, judicious; being the result of much reading, and long experience, and above all, of an imagination trained to what Bacon terms ‘tentative experiments.’
- “In the construction of a conservatory he displayed much of this talent, it being the first, in that northern climate, which substituted, with success, the heat of fermentation for the more expensive and dangerous one of combustion. In this, during the severity of the winter, he would often pass the greater part of the day, engaged in his usual occupations of reading and writing, or his favourite amusement of chess; and welcoming his friends who called upon him, to use his own sportive language, to the ‘little tropical region of his own creation.‘”
- Bard, William [or Eliza?], ca. 1822, on botanical instruction by Samuel Bard (McVickar 1822: 181–82)
- “The principal part of my instruction he took upon himself. . . Our studies [of drawing and botany] generally ended with a walk in the woods, or a scramble among the rocks, in which I delighted to follow him. His pockets, on such excursions, were generally filled with such new plants as we could collect; affording a botanical lesson for the day, and specimens for future illustration. I had a little of his own fondness for drawing and plants, and look back with delight on the pleasure and employment I thus afforded him. An illustration of the system of Linnaeus, and subsequently, of Miss [Frances Arabella] Rowden’s botany [A Poetical Introduction to the Study of Botany (1801)], was the manner in which he made me unite these studies; ornamenting every page or two with a group or basket of flowers, with some appropriate sentence, either from Scripture, or our best poets.” back up to History
- J. A. Leo Lemay, The Life of Benjamin Franklin, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 2:316, view on Zotero.
- John Brett Langstaff, Doctor Bard of Hyde Park: The Famous Physician of Revolutionary Times, the Man Who Saved Washington’s Life (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1942), 32–35, 47, view on Zotero.
- Samuel Latham Mitchill, A Discourse on the Life and Character of Samuel Bard, M.D. & LL.D.: Late President of the New-York College of Physicians and Surgeons; Pronounced in the Public Hall, at the Request of the Trustees, on the 5th Day of Nov. 1821 (New York: Daniel Fanshaw, 1821), 12, view on Zotero; John McVickar, A Domestic Narrative of the Life of Samuel Bard, M.D., LL.D. (New York: A. Paul, 1822), 9–10, view on Zotero.
- McVickar 1822, 15–20, 23, 24–29, 37, 44, view on Zotero; Langstaff 1942, 56–57, view on Zotero.
- Christine Chapman Robbins, “David Hosack’s Herbarium and Its Linnaean Specimens,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 104 (June 1960): 301, 302, 307, 310, view on Zotero; “Transactions of Learned Societies,” American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review 1 (August 1817): 287; see also 47, view on Zotero; Mitchill 1821, 6–7, view on Zotero.
- McVikar 1822, 59, view on Zotero.
- McVikar 1822, 67, view on Zotero.
- Samuel Bard to John Bard, April 1, 1764, quoted in McVickar 1822, 58, view on Zotero.
- “The Early History of Medicine in New York. Part II,” Americana 9 (1914): 1011, 1014–15, 1020, 1021, 1024, 1025, view on Zotero.
- An Account of the New-York Hospital (New York: Collins & Co., 1811), 3–4, view on Zotero; Marynita Anderson Nolosco, Physician Heal Thyself: Medical Practitioners of Eighteenth-Century New York (New York: Peter Lang, 2004), 14, 87–88, 119–20, 125, view on Zotero.
- Mitchill 1821, 19, view on Zotero.
- Langstaff 1942, 179, 181, 189, 277, view on Zotero.
- George Washington, The Papers of George Washington, ed. Dorothy Twohig, Mark A. Mastromarino, and Jack D. Warren, Presidential Series, 16 vols. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 393–400, view on Zotero; McVickar 1822, 114, 136–37, view on Zotero.
- In addition to serving as a trustee (1787–1804) and dean (1791–1804), he taught chemistry (1784–87) and natural philosophy and astronomy (1785–86); see Catalogue of Columbia College, in the City of New-York; Embracing the Names of Its Trustees, Officers, and Graduates (New York: Columbia College, 1844), 8, 13, 17, view on Zotero.
- Bard served as trustee (1769–76, 1788–93, 1796) and secretary (1769–76, 1788–89) of the Society; see Austin Baxter Keep, History of the New York Society Library (New York: De Vinne Press, 1908), 130, view on Zotero; Mitchill 1821, 20, view on Zotero.
- McVickar 1822, 158–59, view on Zotero.
- McVickar 1822, 184, view on Zotero. Bard’s method of germinating locusts seeds in a northern climate was published in several agricultural journals, beginning with Dr. S. Ackerly, “Remarks on the Cultivation of the Locust Tree,” The American Farmer, Containing Original Essays and Selections on Agriculture, Horticulture, Rural and Domestic Economy, and Internal Improvements 5 (1824): 396.
- McVickar 1822, 164, 167, view on Zotero; Langstaff 1942, 206, view on Zotero.
- Langstaff 1942, 205, view on Zotero.
- Langstaff 1942, 206–7; McVickar 1822, 182–83, view on Zotero; see also William Bard’s letter to the Secretary of the Society, “Transactions of the Society of Dutchess County for the Promotion of Agriculture,” 2 vols. (Poughkeepsie: Paraclete Potter, 1809): 39–48, view on Zotero.
- Transactions of the Society of Dutchess County for the Promotion of Agriculture (Poughkeepsie: Bowman, Parsons and Potter, 1807), 1:5, 8–18, view on Zotero and Samuel Bard, “On the Rotation of Crops,” Transactions of the Society of Dutchess County for the Promotion of Agriculture (1809), 40–48, view on Zotero.
- William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), view on Zotero.
- McVickar 1822, view on Zotero.
- “Extract of a Letter from Dr. John Hope, Professor of Medicine and Botany in the University of Edinburgh, to Dr. Pringle; dated Edinburgh, 24 September 1765. Read Nov. 7, 1765,” Philosophical Transactions, Giving Some Account of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours of the Ingenious, in Many Considerable Parts of the World . . . for the Year 1765 (London: L. Davis and C. Reymers, Printers to the Royal Society, 1766), 290, 293, view on Zotero.
- Langstaff, 1942, view on Zotero.
- A Brief Account of the New-York Hospital (New York: Isaac Collins & Son, 1804), view on Zotero.
- An Account of the New-York Hospital (New York: Collins & Co., 1811), view on Zotero.
- Mitchill 1821, view on Zotero.
- McVickar 1822, view on Zotero. For attribution of letter to Eliza Bard, see Langstaff 1942, 209–10, view on Zotero.