A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
History of Early American Landscape Design

William Bull II

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]

William Bull II (1710–1791), a prominent planter and politician in Charleston, South Carolina, was also an amateur botanist and horticulturist who laid out gardens at his family’s plantation, Ashley Hall.

History

Fig. 1, Charles Fraser, Monument of Lieutenant Governor Bull (Ashley Hall), c. 1800.

More extensively educated than most Americans of his generation, William Bull briefly attended Westminster school in London (1723) before continuing his study of Greek, Latin, and science with a Leiden-educated tutor in South Carolina. Bull later enrolled at Leiden in 1731, studying with the Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhave (1668–1738) and becoming, in 1735, the first native-born American to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine degree from the university there.[1] Although Bull practiced medicine only briefly, he remained keenly interested in science, assembling a substantial personal library of books on botany and natural history at his home, Ashley Hall. He also corresponded with the English merchant and amateur botanist Peter Collinson, to whom he sent rare plant specimens, and with Thomas Penn, who was pursuing the study of natural history in Philadelphia.[2] When the Scottish physician and budding naturalist Dr. Alexander Garden arrived in Charleston in 1752, Bull lent him several foundational botanical texts, including Carl Linnaeus’s Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and Classes Plantarum (1738), and John Clayton’s Flora Virginica (1739). Bull also helped familiarize Garden with the native plants of South Carolina and provided him with a letter of introduction to Cadwallader Colden, the Irish-born physician and botanist whom Bull had met in New York the previous year.[3] Bull served as president of the Charles Town Library Society, a group notable for its enthusiasm for natural history as well as its extravagant purchases of rare and luxurious botanical folios.[4] In 1773 Bull proposed the formation of a special Library committee “for collecting materials for promoting a Natural History of this Province,” which resulted in the establishment of the Charleston Museum, one of the earliest public museums in America.[5] Bull indulged his interest in plants and gardens at Ashley Hall, where he laid out formal gardens in 1770.

Through his sisters’ marriages to John Drayton and Henry Middleton and his co-guardianship of his neighbor Eliza Lucas Pinckney's three children, Bull was firmly entrenched among Charleston’s intimately networked social elite.[6] In addition to serving as lieutenant-governor of South Carolina from 1759 to 1775, Bull was acting governor on five separate occasions during that period.[7] An ardent Loyalist, he fled to England in 1777 following the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, and was still there two years later when rampaging British troops “plundered and greatly damaged” his plantation at Ashley Hall, destroying a fish dam, tossing his private papers into the garden, and smashing china and glass. The greatest loss may have been Bull’s library, which he reported “was scattered and mostly carried away.”[8] Bull returned to America in February 1781, but when British troops evacuated Charleston in December of the following year, he accompanied them back to England, leaving John Julius Pringle to manage his affairs.[9] Bull died in London in 1791 and the following year his wife, Hannah Beale Bull, wrote to her late husband’s attorney and loyal friend, Nathaniel Russell, instructing him to erect a marble obelisk on the grounds of Ashley Hall to preserve Bull’s memory. The monument, which still stands, bears his portrait in relief and a commemorative plaque with a lengthy inscription reading in part: “This obelisk was erected, sacred to his virtues and her grief, with duty and affection by his disconsolate widow” [Fig. 1].[10]

Robyn Asleson


Texts

  • Wesley, John, April 15, 1737 (1909: 1:348)[11]
“I walked over to Ashley Ferry, twelve miles from Charlestown, and thence, . . . to Colonel Bull’s seat, two miles farther. This is the pleasantest place I have yet seen in America; the orchard and garden being full of most of those sorts of trees and plants and flowers which are esteemed in England, but which the laziness of the Americans seldom suffers them to raise.”


“[William Bull], the first Governor, had entertained [Mark] Catesby, the celebrated naturalist, at the family seat, at Ashley river, where there is now a majestic avenue of oaks, said to have been planted by his hand.”

Images


Other Resources

South Carolina Plantations

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Alfred O. Halsey Map Preservation Research Project, Preservation Society of Charleston

Library of Congress Name Authority File


Notes

  1. Geraldine M. Meroney, Inseparable Loyalty: A Biography of William Bull (Norcross, GA: The Harrison Company, 1991) 16–17, view on Zotero; James Raven, London Booksellers and American Customers: Transatlantic Literary Community and the Charleston Library Society, 1748–1811 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 172, view on Zotero.
  2. Walter B. Edgar and N. Louise Bailey, Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 5 vols. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1977), 2:122–23, view on Zotero; Meroney 1991, 122–23, view on Zotero.
  3. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 33, 35, 53, view on Zotero; Raven 2002, 223, view on Zotero; Meroney 1991, 52, 56, view on Zotero.
  4. Raven 2002, 73, 169–70, view on Zotero.
  5. Albert E. Sanders and William Dewey Anderson Jr., Natural History Investigations in South Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 18–19, view on Zotero.
  6. Meroney 1991, 41–43, view on Zotero.
  7. Edgar and Bailey 1977, 2:123–25, view on Zotero.
  8. Bull 1952, 63, view on Zotero; Stephen Conway, A Short History of the American Revolutionary War (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013), 126, view on Zotero.
  9. Meroney 1991, 166–67, view on Zotero.
  10. Meroney 1991, 184 for Bull’s relationship with Russell, view on Zotero; Bull 1952, 66, view on Zotero.
  11. John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, ed. Nehemiah Curnock, 8 vols. (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1909), view on Zotero.
  12. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, SC: J. Russell, 1854), view on Zotero.

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