Elgin Botanic Garden
The Elgin Botanic Garden, located in New York City, was the earliest botanic garden to be developed in a systematic fashion in America. Established in 1801 by David Hosack, it originally served as a teaching aid for courses in botany and materia medica at the medical school of Columbia College.
Alternate Names: Botanic Garden of the State of New York
Site Dates: 1801-1811
Site Owner: David Hosack; The State of New York
Site Designer(s): David Hosack
Location: New York, NY
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While serving as professor of botany at Columbia College, Samuel Latham Mitchill proposed the idea of developing a botanic garden in New York City to be administered either by the college or New York's Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures. As Mitchill explained in a letter to the Society in 1794, such a garden, comprised of indigenous and imported plants, would not only aid in the teaching of botany, but would also foster useful agricultural experiments [view text]. Mitchill's interest in establishing a botanic garden may reflect his experience in the mid-1780s as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, where garden plants served as essential adjuncts to courses in botany and materia medica. Nothing came of Mitchill's proposal, but the idea was taken up again by his successor, David Hosack— another Edinburgh-educated physician— who was appointed professor of botany at Columbia in May 1795. Two and a half years later, in November 1797, he wrote the trustees of Columbia College, requesting that "the professorship of botany and materia medica be endowed with a certain annual salary to defray the necessary expenses of a small garden, in which the professor may cultivate, under his immediate notice, such plants as furnish the most valuable medicines, and are most necessary for medical instruction" [view text]. Despite agreeing with Hosack in principle, the trustees provided no funds. He next directed his request to the state legislature, but his letter of February 1800 requesting an annual stipend of £300 met with equally disappointing results. Finally, in 1801, [[David Hosack|Hosack] resolved to take the matter into his own hands, using personal funds to purchase twenty acres of unsettled land on the northern outskirts of the city, between what is now 47th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues (the present-day site of Rockefeller Center). The college itself was at that time located four miles to the south in lower Manhattan, a distance that from the outset limited the garden's practicality.
Soon after purchasing the property, Hosack began "to collect and cultivate the native plants of this country, especially such as possess medicinal properties, or are otherwise useful." He later reported having "in cultivation at the commencement of 1805, nearly fifteen hundred American plants, besides a considerable number of rare and valuable exotics." More progress had been made by 1806: "the greater part of ...[the twenty acres] is now in cultivation," Hosack reported in that year, and "a Conservatory, for the more hardy green-house plants, has been built; in addition to which, two Hot-Houses are now erecting for the preservation of those plants which require a greater degree of heat."
- Mitchill, Samuel Latham, 1794, report to the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures in the State of New York (1792: xxxix-xlv)
- "The establishment of a Garden is nearly connected with the Professorship of Botany under the College, and the Lectures on that branch must be always very lame and defective without one…. A Botanic Garden is not only one of the genteelest and most beautiful [Hosack changed to: most useful and most important] of public improvements; but it also comprises within a small compass the History of the Vegetable Species of our own Country; and by the introduction of Exotics, makes us acquainted with the plants of the most distant parts of the earth. Likewise, by facilitating experiments upon plants at this time, when a true Theory of Nutrition and Manures is such an interesting desideratum, a Botanic Garden may be considered as one of the means of affording substantial help to the labours of the Agricultural Society, and be conducive to the improvement of modern husbandry. When these things are duly considered, it can scarcely be doubted, that a Botanic Garden, under the direction of the Society, or of the College, with a view to further the agricultural interest, will be set on foot and supported by legislative provision; to the end that young minds be early imbued with proper ideas on this important subject."
- Hosack, David, November 1797, memorial presented to the President and Members of the Board of Trustees of Columbia College (Statement, 1811: 7-8) 
- “It has been to me a source of great regret that the want of a Botanical Garden, and an extensive Botanical Library, have prevented that advancement in the interests of the institution which might reasonably have been expected….
- “To this end, I have purchased for the use of my pupils such of the most esteemed authors as are most essential in teaching the principles of Botany; and at a considerable expense I have been enabled to procure a large and very extensive collection of coloured engravings; but the difficulty of teaching any branch of natural philosophy, and of philosophy, and of rendering it interesting to the pupil, without a view and examination of the objects of which it treats, will readily be perceived: it will also occur to you that books, or engravings, however valuable and necessary, are of themselves insufficient for the purposes of regular instruction in medicine.
- “The obvious and only effectual remedy would be the establishment of a Botanical Garden: this would invite a spirit of inquiry. The indigenous plants of our country would be investigated, and ultimately would promise important benefits, both to agriculture and medicine…. I beg leave to suggest…that the professorship of botany and material medica be endowed with a certain annual salary, sufficient to defray the necessary expenses of a small garden, in which the professor may cultivate, under his immediate notice, such plants as furnish the most valuable medicines, and are most necessary for medical instruction.”
- Hosack, David, July 25, 1803, letter to Dr. Thomas Parke, regarding the greenhouse at the Woodlands, (Long 1991: 144)
- "I duly received the plans of Mr. Hamiltons green and hot houses. My greenhouse [exclusive of the hothouses] is now finishing— it will not differ very individually from Mr. Hamiltons. It is 62 feet long 23 deep—and 20 high in the clear."'
- Hosack, David, 1806, preface to A Catalogue of Plants Contained in the Botanic Garden at Elgin (1806: 3-7)
- "The establishment of a Botanic Garden in the United States, as a repository of native plants, and as subservient to medicine, agriculture, and the arts, is doubtless an object of great importance....
- "In the year 1801 I purchased, of the Corporation of the city of New-York, twenty acres of ground; the greater part of which is now in cultivation. Since that time, a Conservatory, for the more hardy green-house plants, has been built; in addition to which, two Hot-Houses are now erecting for the preservation of those plants which require a greater degree of heat.
- "The grounds will be arranged in a manner the best adapted to the different kinds of plants, and the whole enclosed by a belt of forest trees and shrubs, native and exotic.
- "A primary object of attention in this establishment will be to collect and cultivate the native plants of this country, especially such as possess medicinal properties, or are otherwise useful....
- "The numerous articles of medicine which this country has already furnished; the variety of soils and climates which it comprehends, encourage the belief that more remain to be discovered, and that the Materia Medica may still be enriched by the addition of many indigenous plants, whose virtues are yet unnoticed or unknown.
- "It is also my intention to introduce, from different parts of the world, such plants as are most useful in agriculture, in medicine, and the arts, and to ascertain which of them are capable of being naturalized to our soil and climate. There is no doubt that our agriculture may be much improved by the introduction of many foreign grasses and other plants cultivated as food for cattle; and many valuable additions may be made to our tables, by the importation of the best fruits and vegetables of foreign countries.
- "Another object of importance is, to afford to students of medicine the means of acquiring a knowledge of the natural history of plants, and the principles of botanic arrangement.... For this purpose the grounds will be divided into different compartments, calculated to exhibit the various plants according to their several properties; and these again will be arranged so as to afford a practical illustration of the systems of botany at present most esteemed, the sexual system of Linnaeus, and the natural orders of Jussieu.
- "I must acknowledge the obligations I am under to many gentlemen who have already befriended this establishment, especially to my most esteemed instructor and friend Dr. James Edward Smith, the President of the Linnaean Society of London; to Professor [Martin] Vahl, and Mr. [Niels] Hoffman Bang, of Copenhagen; to Professor [René Louiche] Desfontaines and [André] Thouin, of the Botanic Garden of Paris; to Mr. Alderman [George] Hibbert, and Dr. [John Coakley] Lettsom of London; Mr. [Richard Anthony] Salisbury, proprietor of the Botanic Garden of Brompton; Dr. [Giovanni Valentino Mattia] Fabroni, Director of the Royal Museum at Florence; and Mr. Andrew Michaux, author of the Flora Boreali Americana, &c. &c. From these gentlemen I have received many valuable plants, seeds, and botanical works, accompanied with the most polite offers of their further contributions to this institution.
- "Nor must I be unmindful of the obligations I am under to several gentlemen in this country, distinguished for their taste and talents in this department of science.
- "From John Stevens, Esq. of Hoboken, I have received many of the most valuable exotics in my collection. To Baron [Alexis] de Carandeffez I am indebted for a large collection of seeds of tropical plants.
- "Our late Minister in France, the Hon. Robert R. Livingston, has also largely contributed to my collection during his residence in Europe....
- "Those plants to which the asterisk * is prefixed, are prefixed, are natives of the neighbourhood of the city of New-York, and have been collected by my nephew and pupil, Caspar Wistar Eddy.
- Lewis, Morgan, governor of New York, January 28, 1806, (Hosack 1811: 12)
- "Application was made to the legislature at their last session, by a gentleman of the city of New-York, for aid in the support of a Botanic Garden, which he had recently established. At the request of some of the members, I, in the course of last summer, paid it two visits, and am so satisfied with the plan and arrangement, that I cannot but believe, if not permitted to languish, it will be productive of great general utility. The objects of the proprietor are, a collection of the indigenous, and the introduction of exotic plants, shrubs &c. and by an intercourse with similar establishments, which are arising in the eastern and southern states, to insure the useful and ornamental products of southern to northern, and of northern to southern climes. In the article of grasses, I was pleased to see a collection of one hundred and fifty different kinds. A portion of ground is allotted to agricultural experiments, which cannot but be beneficial to an agricultural people. When it is considered that this branch of natural history embraces all the individuals of the vegetable which afford subsistence to the animal world, compose a large portion of the medicines used in the practice of physic, and mam of the ingredients essential to the useful arts, its utility and importance is not to be questioned. But in a country young as ours, the experimental sciences cannot be expected to arrive at any degree of excellence without the patronage and bounty of government; for individual fortune is not adequate to the task."
- "Knowing your attachment to science and the interest you feel on the progress of it in the united states, I take the liberty of enclosing to you a Catalogue of plants [in the Elgin Botanic Garden] which I have been enabled to collect as the beginning of a Botanic garden—
- "you will readily perceive that my intention in this little publication is merely to announce the nature of the Institution and to facilitate my correspondence with Botanists as they will hereby know what plants will be accepteble to me and what they may expect in return— in two or three years when my collection may be more extensive I propose to publish it in a different shape arranging the plants under different heads viz Medicinal—Poisonous— those useful in the arts— in agriculture &c with notes relative to their use and culture accompanied with engravings of such as may be either entirely new or are not well figured in books—
- "I feel much interested in the result of the enquiries instituted by you relative to the Missouri— Black River &c. In Natural History much is also to be expected from exploring the territory in the course of Red River— that latitude is always rich in vegetable productions— if it should be contemplated to explore that or any other part of our country, there is now a gentleman in this state who might be induced to undertake it and whose talents abundantly qualify him for an employment of this sort, the person I refer to is Mr [André] Michaux the editor of the Flora Boreali America— he being at present in New York I take the liberty of mentioning his name to you— under your auspices Sir establishments of this nature may be encouraged:— it has occurred to me that much also might be done in exploring the native productions of the united states if the Government were to appropriate to every Botanic garden a small sum— for the express purpose of employing a suitable person to investigate the vegetable productions growing in its neighbourhood— an annual appropriation of this sort allotted to the Botanic gardens of Boston— New York— Virginia and South Carolina would in a short time be productive of great good—
- "Another object which will claim much of my attention will be to naturalize as far as possible to our climates the productions of the southern states and of the tropics— I believe much may be done upon this subject— four years since I planted some cotton seed, late in the spring— it grows to the usual size to which it attains in the southern states and ripened its seed before October— Those seeds were planted and succeeded equally well the second year— John Stevens Esq of Hoboken New Jersey has also succeeded in the same experiment and at this time has a considerable quantity of cotton ripening its seed, the growth from seeds raised by him the last year, it is also to be remarked that this summer has been unusually cool— I conceive it therefore not improbable that Virginia and Maryland if not Pennsylvania and New york— might cultivate this plant to advantage—the short staple doubtless would succeed—
- "If...the gentlemen who are at present on their travels to the Missouri, discover any new or useful plants I should be very happy in obtaining a small quantity of the seeds they may procure."
- Bard, Samuel, November 14, 1809, address delivered to the Medical Society of Dutchess County (Hosack 1811: 30)
- "Convinced as I am of the great and general importance of correct medical instruction, and anxious that our schools should be fostered by necessary patronage, I cannot but regret the failure of thep roposal made last year in our legislature, for the purchase of Dr. Hosack's botanic garden. It would be too tedious at present to point out how much medicine may be benefitted, how greatly the arts may be enriched, and hor many of the comforts, the pleasures, and even the necessaries of life may be improved by such an institution....
- "By the purchase of the botanic garden, a national ornament and most useful establishment, already brought to a great degree of perfection, will be preserved: by which our medicine, our agriculture and our arts, the elegancies, and the conveniences of life will necessarily be improved."
- "On Governor Lewis’s departure from here, for the seat of his Government, he requested me to employ Mr Frederick Pursh, on his return from a collecting excurtion he was then about to undertake for Doctor Barton, to describe and make drawings of such of his collection as would appear to be new plants, and that himself would return to Philadelphia in the month of May following. About the first of the ensuing Novr Mr Pursh returned, took up his abode with me, began the work, progressed as far as he could without further explanation, in some cases, from Mr Lewis, and was detained by me, in expectation of Mr Lewis’s arriv[al] at my expence, without the least expectation of any future remuneration, from that time till April last; when n[ot] having received any reply to several letters I had wri[tten] from time to time,3 to Govr Lewis on the subject, nor being able to obtain any in[dication?] when he probably might be expected here; I thought it a folly to keep Pursh longer idle, and recommended him as Gardener to Doctor Hosack of New York, with whom he has since lived.
- "The original specimens are all in my hands, but Mr Pursh, had taken his drawings and descriptions with him, and will, no doubt, on the delivery of them expect a reasonable compensation for his trouble."
- Newton, Joseph, Arthur Smith, John F. West, Timothy B. Crane, January 16, 1810, Estimate of the Buildings at the Elgin Botanic Garden (Hosack 1811: 45)
- "We, the subscribers, buildings, and residents of the city of New-York, at the request of doctor David Hosack, have valued the improvements on his land, near the four mile stone, called the botanic garden, to wit: the hot bed frames, the conservatory or green house, and its appendages, the dwelling house, the hot houses and their back buildings, the lodges, the gates and the fences around the land, including the wells, at the sum of twenty-nine thousand three hundred dollars.”
- Hastings, John, Frederick Pursh, and John Brown, January 24, 1810, Valuation of the plants in the Elgin Botanic Garden (Hosack 1811: 53)
- “We, the subscribers, in committee assembled, for the valuation of the plants, trees, and shrubs, including garden tools and utensils, necessary for the cultivation of the same, as appertaining to the green house, hot houses, and grounds of the [botanic garden]], at Elgin, after a very particular inventory and examination of the improvements, are unanimously agreed, that, to the best of our knowledge and ability, we consider them to be worth the sum of twelve thousand six hundred and thirty-five dollars and seventy-four and half cents.
- John Hastings, Nursery-man, Brooklyn, L.I.
- Frederick Pursh, Botanist.
- John Brown, Nursery-man.
- Gentle, Andrew, January 22, 1810, Valuation of plants in the Elgin Botanic Garden (Hosack 1811: 53-54)
- “The sum of fourteen thousand three hundred and eighty dollars and fifty-nine cents, is, I believe, to the best of my judgment, the value of your indigenous and exotic plants, tools, & c. at Elgin."
- "The view from the most elevated part of Elgin-ground, is variegated and extensive. The East and North Rivers, with their vast amount of navigation, are plain in sight. Beyond these great thoroughfares of business, the fruitful fields of Long-Island, and the picturesque shores of New-Jersey, give beauty and interest to the prospect….
- “The conservatory and hot-houses present a front of one hundred and eighty feet. They are not only constructed with great architectural taste and elegance, but experience has also shown, they are well calculated for the preservation of the most tender exotics that require protection from the severity of our climate. The grounds are also arranged and planted agreeably to the most approved stile of ornamental gardening. The whole is surrounded by a belt of forest trees and shrubs judiciously chequered and mingled; and enclosed by a well constructed stone-wall.
- “The interior is divided into various compartments, not only calculated for the instruction of the student in Botany, but subservient to agriculture, the arts, and to manufactures. A nursery is also begun, for the purpose of introducing into this country the choicest fruits of the table. Nor is the kitchen garden neglected in this establishment. An apartment is also devoted to experiments in the culture of those plants which may be advantageously introduced and naturalized to our soil and climate, that are at present annually imported from abroad…
- “The forest trees and shrubs which surround the establishment, first claim [the visitor’s] attention. Here are beautifully distributed and combined the oak, the plane, the elm, the sugar maple, the locust, the horse chesnut, the mountain ash, the basket willow, and various species of poplar. In front of these, a similarly varied collection of shrubs, natives and foreign, compose an amphitheatre, which, winding with the walks, presents at every step something new and engaging. On the other side the eye reposes on the green lawn which is occasionally intercepted with groups of trees and shrubs happily adapted to its varied surface.
- “In extending his walks to the garden, on each side, he is equally gratified and instructed by the numerous plants which are here associated in scientific order, for the information of the student in Botany or Medicine. Here the Turkey rhubarb, Carolina pink-root, the poppy and the foxglove, with many other plants of the Materia Medica are seen in cultivation…
- “As he proceeds he arrives at a nursery of the finest fruits, which the proprietor has been enabled to procure from various parts of the world, and from which the establishment will hereafter derive one of the principal means of its support.
- “The visitor next comes in view of a pond of water devoted to the varieties of nymphoea, pontederia and other aquatics which adorn its surface, while the adjacent grounds which are moist afford the proper and natural soil for a great variety of our most valuable native plants. The rhododendrons, magnolias, the kalmias, the willows, the stuartia; the candleberry myrtle; the cupressus disticha, and the sweet-smelling clethra alnifolia, here grow in rich luxuriance, and compose a beautiful picture in whatever direction they fall under his eye…
- “As he leaves this groupe, and passes to the higher situations of this delightfully varied surface, he finds a corresponding distribution of the numerous plants which compose this collection.
- “Here a rocky and elevated spot attracts his attention, by the varied species of pine, juniper, yew, and hemlock, with which it is covered. There a solitary oak breaks the surface of the lawn; here a group of poplars; there the more splendid foliage of the different species of magnolia, intermixed with the fringe tree, the thorny aralia, and the snow drop halesia, call his willing notice.
- “Entering the green-house, his eye is saluted with a rich and varied collection: the silver protea, the lemon, the orange, the oleander, the citron, the shaddock, the myrtle, the jasmine and the numerous and infinitely varied family of geranium, press upon his view, while the perfumes emitted from the fragrant daphne, heliotropium, and the coronilla no less attract his notice than do the splendid petals of the camellia japonica, the amaryllis, the cistus, erica and purple magnolia.
- “In the hot-house he finds himself translated to the heat of the tropics. Here he observes the golden pine, the sugar cane, the cinnamon, the ginger, the splendid strelitzia, and ixora coccinea intermixed with the bread fruit, the coffee tree, the plantain, the arrow root, the sago, the avigato pear, the mimosa yielding the gum arabic, and the fragrant farnesiana.
- “Here are also to be seen the succulent tribes of aloe, sedum, mesembryanthemum, the night blowing cereus, arid the cactus which feeds the cochineal, covered with its insects.
- “In front of the buildings are several beautiful clumps composed of the more delicate and valuable shrubs intermingled with a great variety of roses, kalmias and azaleas. Their borders are also successively enamelled with the crocus, the snow drop, the asphodel, the hyacinth, and the more splendid species of the iris.
- “Here also is viola tricolor… saluting the senses with its beautiful assemblage of colours but yielding in fragrance to its rival viola odorata which…also adds zest to this delicious banquet.
- “Every tree, shrub, and herbaceous plant is labelled and designated by its botanic name for the instruction of the student.
- “Dr. Hosack has also connected with this establishment, an extensive Herbarium which contains not only a great variety of plants collected by himself in Great Britain, and in this country, but is also enriched by many valuable specimens furnished by the late celebrated Danish professor Vahl; by Curtis, and Dickson, and by duplicates from the Hortus Siccus of Linnaeus, presented by Dr. Smith, the learned president of the Linnaean Society, and the present possessor of the rich collections of the celebrated Swede.
- “To this establishment Dr. H. has also added a well chosen Botanical Library, consisting of the most celebrated works, both ancient and modern, which are necessary to illustrate that science, as well as its application to medicine, to agriculture and the arts to which it is subservient.”
- Anonymous, July 1810, description of the Elgin Botanic Garden (July 1810: 116-17)
- "Among the number of those distinguished friends of science in Europe, who have manifested an ardent desire for the extension of useful knowledge in these states, may be justly esteemed Monsieur [André] THOUIN, the celebrated professor of Botany and Agriculture, at the Jardin des Plantes of Paris…..Dr. Hosack, the proprietor of the Elgin Botanic Garden, has repeatedly been favoured by him with a great variety of seeds, from the rarest and most valuable plants of the continent; and he is happy to add, that they have always been received in such a state of preservation, as scarcely in a single instance to have frustrated the liberal intentions of the donor. Indeed, many of the most valuable platns in his collection are the products of the seeds presented him by Monsieur THOUIN.
- "To the Hon. SAMUEL L. MITCHELL [sic], M.D. Professor of Natural History…in the College of Physicians, the proprietor of the Botanic Garden is also indebted for many valuable additions made to his collection of living plants, as well as for many specimens added to his Herbarium, collected by the same gentleman, during his residence at Washington, (as Senator of the United States,) and in the Western parts of the state of New-York, when on his late tour to the falls of Niagara. The meritorious exertions of this gentleman on the floor of the legislature of this state, at their last session, in obtaining the act which was passed for the advancement of medical science, also merit the grateful acknowledgements of the profession.
- "Important additions of the native plants of Georgia have also very recently been made to this institution by JOHN LECONTE, Esq. whose acquaintance with the various departments of natural history, gives us reason to regret that he has not yet made an offering to his country of the fruits of his researches."
- "By pursuing the practice recommended by Lord Kames, of sowing from twenty to twenty-four pounds of clover seed to the acre, I have remarked that the grounds at the Elgin Botanic Garden are much more free from weeds than those of my neighbours, at the same time that the grass is much more delicate for feeding, less apt to be thrown down by the storm, and makes a less succulent hay, both more easily cured and better preserved than where it is more thinly spread, but of stronger growth."
- “The establishment of a Botanic Garden in the United States, as a repository of the native plants of this country, and as subservient to the purposes of medicine, agriculture, and the arts, is doubtless an object of great importance. Impressed with the advantages to be derived from an institution of this nature, I have anxiously endeavoured ever since my appointment to the professorship of Botany and Materia Medica in Columbia College, to accomplish its establishment. Disappointed, however, in my first applications to the legislature of this State, soliciting their assistance in so expensive and arduous an undertaking, I resolved to devote my own private funds to the prosecution of this object; trusting, that when the nature of the institution should be better, and more generally known, and its utility fully ascertained, it would receive the patronage and support of the public.
- “Accordingly, in the year 1801, I purchased of the Corporation of the city of New-York, twenty acres of ground… distant from the city about three miles and an half. The view from the most elevated part, is variegated and extensive, and the soil itself of that diversified nature, as to be particularly well adapted to the cultivation of a great variety of vegetable productions. The greater (vi) part of the ground is at present in a state of promising cultivation, arranged in a manner the best adapted to the different kinds of vegetables, and planted agreeably to the most approved style of ornamental gardening. Since that time, an extensive conservatory, for the more hardy green house plants, and two spacious hot houses, for the preservation of those which require a greater degree of heat, the whole exhibiting a front of one hundred and eighty feet, have been erected, and which, experience has shown, are well calculated for the purpose for which they were designed. The whole establishment is surrounded by a belt of forest trees and shrubs, both native and exotic, and these again are enclosed by a stone wall, two and an half feet in thickness, and seven feet in height.
- "As it has always been a primary object of attention to collect and cultivate in this establishment, the native plants of this country, especially such as are possessed of medicinal properties, or are otherwise useful, such gardeners as were practically acquainted with our indigenous productions, have been employed to procure them: how far this end has been attained, will be best seen by an examination of the Catalogue.
- "Although much has been done by the governments of Great-Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, and Germany, in the investigation of the vegetable productions of America: although much has been accomplished by the labours of [Mark] Catesby, [Pehr] Kalm, [Friedrich Adam Julius von] Wangenheim, [Johann David] Schoepf, [Thomas] Walter, and the Michaux [André and François André]; and by our countrymen [John] Clayton, the Bartrams [John and William], [Cadwallader] Colden, [Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst] Muhlenberg, [Humphry] Marshall, [Manassas] Cutler, and the learned Professor [Benjamin Smith] Barton of Pennsylvania, much yet remains to be done in this western part of the globe. The numerous articles of medicine which this country has already furnished; the variety of soils and climates which it comprehends, encourage the belief, that many more remain to be discovered, and that the Materia Medica may still be enriched by the addition of many indigenous plants, whose virtues yet remain undiscovered. (vii)
- "Another object of importance is, to afford to students of medicine, the means of acquiring a knowledge of the natural history of plants, and the principles of botanic arrangement; a science intimately connected with their profession, as it not only enables them to distinguish one plant from another, but frequently leads to an acquaintance with their medicinal virtues. For this purpose the grounds are divided into different compartments, calculated to exhibit the various plants according to their several properties: and these again are so arranged as to afford a practical illustration of the systems of botany at present most esteemed, viz. the sexual system of Linnaeus, and the natural orders of [Antoine Laurent de] Jussieu.
- "Hitherto the botanical gardens of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Leyden, Upsal, Goettengen, &c. have instructed the American youth in this department of medical education; and it is in some degree owing to those establishments that the universities and colleges of those places have become so celebrated, and have been resorted to by students of medicine from all parts of the world.
- "Since the publication of the first edition of this catalogue, in 1806, this institution has been greatly improved…. It will also be perceived by a comparison of the present with the former edition, that very considerable additions have been made to the collection both of the foreign and indigenous (viii) plants contained in that establishment. Gratitude demands of me, on this occasion, an acknowledgment of the obligations I am under to many distinguished botanists, both abroad and at home, who have contributed to this institution. In this number are to be enumerated my much esteemed and respected friend and instructor, Dr. James Edward Smith, the learned President of the Linnaean Society of London; the late Professor [Martin] Vahl, and Mr. [Niels] Hoffman Bang, of Copenhagen; Mons. [René Louiche] Desfontaines and [André] Thouin, the celebrated Professors of Botany and Agriculture at the Medical Schools of Paris; Mr. [Richard Anthony] Salisbury, Proprietor of the Botanic Garden at Brompton, near London; the late Dr. [Giovanni Valentino Mattia] Fabroni, Director of the Royal Museum of Florence; Dr. [John] Bostock, the learned President of the Botanic Institution of Liverpool; Dr. [John Coakley] Lettsom, of London; Dr. Andrew Michaux, Editor of the Flora Boreali Americana, and Author of the very valuable History of the Forest Trees of North-America, now publishing at Paris; my much esteemed friend Dr. Alire Raffineau Delile, of the Institute of Egypt; Dr. Alexander Anderson, Superintendant of the Botanic Garden at St. Vincents; and [Eduard Freiherr von Schack] Baron Be Schack, of Martinique, From these gentlemen I have received many rare botanical works, and some of the most valuable plants in this collection.
- "Nor must I be unmindful of the obligations I am under to several gentlemen in this country, distinguished for their taste and talents in this department of science. The Hon. Robert R. Livingston, our former Minister in France; Professor [Samuel Latham] Mitchill, of this city; John Stevens, Esq. of Hoboken; Mr. Bernard M'Mahon, of Philadelphia; Mr. Stephen Elliot, of Beaufort, South-Carolina; Dr. Darlington, and Mr. John Vaughan, of Pennsylvania; John Le Conte, Esq. of Georgia; Mr. William Prince, of Long-Island; and Mr. Andrew Gentle, seedsman, of this city; are also among the contributors to this institution. It is but justice to the merit of my nephew, Dr. Caspar Wistar Eddy, a young but accurate botanist, to add, that he has largely augmented (ix) the collection of American plants, especially of those of the island of New-York; some of which, viz. two new species of Gerardia, were first discovered by him in the vicinity of this city. From my other pupils now industriously prosecuting the study of botany and medicine, more especially Mr. John W. Francis, and Mr. Isaac Roosevelt, of this city, and Mr. Robert M. Barclay, of Orange county, I also anticipate many fruits of their labours in this department of science.
- "It would be injustice to my late gardener, Mr. Frederick Pursh, who with a knowledge of the science of botany unites a very extensive and accurate acquaintance with the plants of this country, not to notice the very numerous contributions he has made to the collection, of the native plants of the United States, during the period he had charge of this establishment. The institution is also at present, and has been for some months past, in a very flourishing condition, under the direction of Mr. [Michael] Dennison, who has been very particularly recommended to me by Messrs. [James] Lee and [[Lewis] Kennedy, of Hammersmith. The present state of the collection is an evidence of his attention and skill, and from which I expect great improvements in every part of the establishment.
- "I avail myself of this occasion to observe, that as soon as measures may be taken by the Regents of the University for the permanent preservation of the Botanic Garden, it is my intention immediately to commence the publication of AMERICAN BOTANY, or a Flora of the United States. In this work it is my design to give a description of the plant, noticing its essential characters, synonyms, and place of growth, with observations on the uses to which it is applied in medicine, agriculture, or the arts; to be illustrated by a coloured engraving, in the same manner in which the plants of Great-Britain have been published by Dr. J[ohn]. E[dward]. Smith, in his English Botany. Considerable progress has already been made in obtaining materials for this publication: many of the drawings will be executed by Mr. James Inderwick, (x) a young gentleman of great genius and taste, and others by John Le Conte, Esq. whose acquaintance with botany and natural history in general will enable him to execute this part of the work with great fidelity. In Mr. [Frederick] Pursh, whose name has already been mentioned, I shall have a very industrious and skilful botanist to collect from different parts of the union such plants as have not yet been assembled at the Botanic Garden....
- "Since the foregoing Catalogue has been printed, I have received from that distinguished Botanist, M. [André] Thouin, Professor of Agriculture and Botany at Paris, a third collection of seeds [from the Jardin des Plantes], amounting to 30 species, of such plants as are not contained in this collection. The unceasing exertions of that gentleman, for the promotion of science in this country, as well as his own, deserve a greater tribute of praise than I am able to bestow.”
- "Persuaded of the advantages to be derived from the institution of a botanic garden, which could be made the repository of the native vegetable production of the country, and be calculated to naturalize such foreign plants are distinguished by their utility either in medicine, agriculture, or the arts, as well as for the purpose of affording the medical student an opportunity of practical instruction in this science, I, immediately after my appointment as professor [of botany and materia medica] in the college, endeavoured to accomplish its establishment....
- "I still, however, did not abandon the hope of ultimately obtaining legislative aid, and therefore continued, as before, my exertions to increase the collection of plants which I had begun, and to extend the improvements for their preservation. Accordingly, in 1806, I obtained from various parts of Europe, as well as from the East and West-Indies, very important additions to my collection of plants, especially of those which are most valuable as articles of medicine. I also erected a second building for their preservation, and laid the foundation of a third, which was completed the following year. In the autumn of the same year, 1806, I published a Catalogue of the plants, both native and exotics, which had been already collected, amounting to nearly 2000 species….
- "I had now erected, on the most improved plan, for the preservation of such plants as require protection from the severity of our climate three large and well constructed houses, exhibiting a front of one hundred and eighty feet… The greater part of the ground was brought to a state of the highest cultivation, and divided into various compartments....
- "The whole establishment was enclosed by a stone wall, two and an half feet in breadth, and seven and an half feet high… Add to all this… the additional costs for the continual increase in the number of plants, particularly of those imported from abroad, though in this respect I was liberally aided by the contributions of my friends, both in Europe and in the East and West-Indies…."
- Anonymous, July 1811, “Sketch of the Elgin Botanic Garden in the Vicinity of New York,” (1811: 1-4)
- “This institution, the first of the kind established in the United States, is situated about three and a half miles from this city, on the middle road between Bloomingdale and Kingsbridge. The ground, consisting of about twenty acres, was originally purchased of the corporation of this city, in 1801, by Dr. David Hosack, the founder of the establishment. The view from the most elevated part is variegated and extensive, and the soil itself of that diversified nature, as to be particularly adapted to the cultivation of a great variety of vegetable productions. (2)
- "Immediately after the purchase, the proprietor, at a very considerable expense, had the grounds cleared and put in a state of cultivation, arranged in a manner the best adapted to the different kinds of vegetables, and planted agreeably to the most approved stile of ornamental gardening. A conservatory for the preservation of the more hardy green house plants was also built.
- “As a primary object of attention in this establishment was to collect and cultivate the native plants of this country, especially such as possess medicinal properties, or are otherwise useful; among others, such gardeners as were practically acquainted with our indigenous productions were employed to procure them, and by the distinguished liberality of several scientific gentlemen in this country, there were in cultivation at the commencement of 1805 nearly fifteen hundred species of American plants, besides a considerable number of rare and valuable exotics.
- “In the year 1806, very important additions were made to the collection of plants, from various parts of Europe, as well as from the East and West Indies. A second building for their preservation was also erected, and the foundation of a third laid, which was completed in the following year. In the autumn of the same year, 1806, a catalogue of the plants, both native and exotic, which had been already collected, and which amounted to nearly two thousand, was published. Since that time the Botanic Garden has greatly approved. The buildings, which are erected on the most recent plan adopted in institutions of this kind, consist of three large and well (3) constructed houses, exhibiting a front of one hundred and eighty feet. The greater part of the ground is brought in a state of the highest cultivation, and divided into various compartments, calculated for the instruction of the student of botany and medicine, and made subservient to agriculture and the arts. The whole establishment is surrounded by a belt of forest trees and shrubs, and these again are enclosed by a stone wall two and a half feet in thickness and seven feet in height.….
- “Recently the institution has been committed to the superintendence of the trustees of the college of physicians and surgeons of this city, to be by them kept in a state of preservation, and in a condition fit for all medical students as may resort thereto for the purpose of acquiring botanical science. It is confidently hoped, that as the improvements of this establishment for nearly ten years, while in the hands of a private individual, have far exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine, that its future progress will be proportionably great under its present governance.”
- Anonymous, 1811, commenting on Hosack's publications on the Elgin Botanic Garden (1811: 162-66)
- "Though the collection in the Elgin Garden is not so large as in some older establishments in Europe, it is respectable both for number and quality. Of the indigenous plants of America we notice 1215 species: among these upwards of 200 are employed in medicine. Of plants possessing medicinal properties this seems a great number, but many of them possibly derive their title from popular opinion only; but even this title, as founded on a species of experience, is not to be slighted. Some of them have an established reputation: cinchona, ipecacuanha, jalapium, & c. are instances. It is curious fact in the history of Medical Botany, that when Europe remained in utter darkness on this subject, the Mexicans had appropriated a considerable space of ground, near the capital, to the sole purpose of rearing the indigenous medicinal plants….
- "No region of the earth seems more appropriate to the improvement of Botany, by the collecting and cultivating of plants, than that where the Elgin Garden is seated. Nearly midway between the northern and southern extremities of the vast American continent, and not more than 40 degrees to the north of the equator, it commands resources of incalculable extent; and the European Botanist will look to it for additions to his catalogue of the highest interest. The indigenous Botany of America possesses most important qualities, and to that, we trust, Prof. Hosack, the projector, and indeed, the creator of this Garden, will particularly turn his attention. It can hardly be considered as an act of the imagination, so far does what has already been discovered countenance the most sanguine expectations, to conjecture, that in the unexplored wilderness of mountain, forest, and marsh, which composes so much of the western world, lie hidden plants of extraordinary forms and potent qualities.
- “From the scientific spirit and persevering industry of Dr. Hosack, every thing may be augured. Already has he projected an AMERICAN BOTANY, or a Flora of the United States, to be illustrated with coloured Plates, similar to those in the English Botany of our ingenious countryman, Dr. [James Edward] Smith. Considerable progress, we are informed, has already been made in obtaining materials for this work; but we regret that its completion depends on a contingency— the permanent preservation of the Elgin Botanic Garden. In the madness of political contention, in the apathy with which governments contemplate the advance of science, in the illiberal finesse and the low juggling of party, we may look for the occasional destruction or suspension of every rational project; but we hope these accidents will not frustrate the enlarged and enlightened intention of Dr. Hosack, but rather induce him to extend his Flora, and make the whole of the American continent his GARDEN."
- Spafford, Horatio Gates, 1813, A Gazetteer of the State of New-York (1813: 45-46)
- "BOTANIC GARDEN. The Elgin Botanic Garden, in the city of New-York, the first institution of the kind in the United States, is now the property of the state…. Among the distinguished friends and patrons of science in this state, a common sentiment had long prevailed, friendly to the establishment of a Botanic Garden. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made to engage public aid for this purpose; and their having failed, while it detracts nothing from the reputation of the state, has ensured a better success to the institution, growing up under the zealous efforts of individual enterprize, which will ensure lasting fame to its principal founder.… In 1801, having failed in all attempts for public aid, the zeal and enterprize of Dr. Hosack, determined him to attempt the establishment on his own account. Accordingly he purchased 20 acres of ground of the corporation of New-York…. The soil is diversified, and peculiarly well adapted to the cultivation of a great variety of plants. The whole was immediately enclosed by a stone wall, and put in the best state for ornamental gardening; and a conservatory was erected for the preservation of the more hardy green-house plants. A primary object was to cultivate the native plants, possessing any valuable properties, found in this country; and in 1805, this establishment contained about 1500 valuable native plants, beside a considerable number of rare and valuable exotics. In 1806, it contained in successful cultivation, 150 different kinds of grasses, and important article to an agricultural people.… A portion of ground was set apart for agricultural experiments; and all the friends to experimental science and a diffusion of knowledge saw that the institution promised all that had been expected from it; and that the professor’s knowledge and genius were occupied on a congenial field….
- "The view from the most elevated part of Elgin ground, is extensive and variegated. The aspect of the ground, is a gentle slope to the E. and S. The whole is enclosed by a well constructed stone wall, lined all round by a belt of forest trees and shrubs. The conservatory and hot-houses present a front of 180 feet. The various allotments of ground, are chosen with as much taste as good judgment for the varied culture; — and the rocky summit, the subsiding plain, and the little pool, have each their appropriate products. The herbarium, the kitchen garden, the nursery of choice fruits from all quarters and climes, and the immense collection of botanical subjects elegantly arranged and labelled, display the industry, taste and skill of a master. A very extensive Botanical library belongs to the late proprietor, who is now a professor in the University, and delivers a summer course of lectures on Botany. .. The garden is now committed to the superintendence of the college of Physicians and Surgeons, without any charge to the state."
- Jefferson, Thomas, February 18, 1818, letter to David Hosack concerning seeds from the Jardin des Plantes (Paris) (1944: 578)
- "I received some time ago from M. Thouin, Director of the Botanical or King's garden at Paris, a box containing an assortment of seeds, Non-American.... I have therefore this day sent the box to Richmond...to be forwarded to you for the use of the Botanical Garden of N. York.... I am happy in this disposition of it to fulfill the good intentions of the donor, and to make it useful to your institution."
- Eyrien Frères & Cie., April 2, 1821, letter from Havre to Thomas Jefferson concerning seeds from the Jardin des Plantes (Paris)
- "We have the honor of informing you that we have put on The American ship Cad[mus]...Capn. Wethlet [sic; Whitlock], a small Box of seeds, which is sent to you by the Managing Directors of the King’s Garden in Paris....
- "We have sent this letter as well as some other ones for several people in the United States, to the address of Mister Hosack, Director of the Botanical Garden of the State of New york.
- "Corresponding in this day for the Administrators of the King’s Museum and Garden, we are taking the liberty of offering you our Services, for your relationship with this administration, or for anything else that could be of interest to you in France."
- Eyrien Frères & Cie., April 2, 1821, letter from Havre to James Madison concerning seeds from the Jardin des Plantes (Paris) (Madison, 2013: 2: 292-93)
- "The administrators of the King’s Garden at Paris have forwarded to us a package of seeds for you. We added it with some other packages for the same shipment and sent it all on board the American ship Cadmus, Capt. Whitlock, addressed to Mr. Hosack, director of the Botanical Garden of the State of New York, from whom you will please request it."
- Jefferson, Thomas, June 25, 1821, letter to Jonathan Thompson concerning seeds from the Jardin des Plantes (Paris) 
- "I am thankful to you for your notice of the 14th respecting a box of seeds— this comes from the king’s garden at Paris. they send me a box annually, depending on my applying it for the public benefit. I have generally had them delivered for a public garden at Philadelphia or to Dr Hosack for the Botanical garden of N. York. I am inclined to believe that he now recieves such an one from the same place. if he does not, be so good as to deliver it to him. but if of no use to him let it come to Richmond to the care of Capt Bernard Peyton, my correspondent there, and your note of any expence attending it will be immediately replaced either by him or myself."
- Jefferson, Thomas, July 12, 1821, letter to David Hosack concerning seeds from the Jardin des Plantes (Paris)
- "I recieved a letter lately from mr Thompson, Collector of New York, informing me of a box of seeds from the king’s gardens at Paris addressed to me. I rather suppose you recieve one annually from the same place for your botanical garden, but was not certain. I desired him therefore to present it to you if acceptable for your garden.
- Spafford, Horatio Gates, 1824 Gazetteer of the State of New York (1824: 605)
- "Botanic Garden.— This is a very respectable establishment, situated on New-York Island, in the 9th Ward of the City, 4 miles N. of the City Hall. It was purchased by the State, in 1810, and is an appendage of the Colleges in New-York. It comprises 20 acres of ground, and embraces a great variety of indigenous, naturalized, and exotic vegetables. The situation is commanding, on the rising ground, which embraces a good variety of soil, aspect, and position, and Elgin Grove has as many visitants as the Botanic Gardens, chasing pleasure, or catching knowledge."
William Satchwell Leney after Louis Simond, View of the botanic garden at Elgin in the vicinity of the City of New York, ca. 1810.
John Trumbull, Dr. Hosack's Green houses, June 1806.
Hugh Reinagle, "Elgin Garden on Fifth Avenue," ca. 1811.
- Robbins, 1964, 51,
- David Hosack, Hortus Elginensis, or, A Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous and Exotic, Cultivated in the Elgin Botanic Garden, in the Vicinity of the City of New-York : Established in 1801(New-York : Printed by T. & J. Swords, 1811, 2nd edition enlarged), 10, view on Zotero.
- David Hosack, A Catalogue of Plants Contained in the Botanic Garden at Elgin: In the Vicinity of New York, Established in 1801 (New York: T. & J. Swords, 1806), 4, view on Zotero.
- "Introduction," Transactions of the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures, Instituted in the State of New York 1 (1794), view on Zotero.
- David Hosack, A Statement of Facts Relative to the Establishment and Progress of the Elgin Botanic Garden: And the Subsequent Disposal of the Same to the State of New-York (New York: C.S. Van Winkle, 1811), view on Zotero
- Ms. letter in Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, Boston Public Library, quoted in Timothy Preston Long, "The Woodlands: A 'Matchless Place’" (unpublished Master of Science thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1991), view on Zotero.
- David Hosack, A Catalogue of Plants Contained in the Botanic Garden at Elgin: In the Vicinity of New York, Established in 1801 (New York: T. & J. Swords, 1806), view on Zotero.
- Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4259 [last update: 2015-09-29]); http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4259.
- Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. J. Jefferson Looney, Retirement Series, 4 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 2: 89–91, view on Zotero.
- David Hosack, Description of the Elgin Garden, The Property of David Hosack, M.D. (New York: The author, 1810), view on Zotero.
- Anonymous, “Elgin Botanic Garden, New York,” The American Medical and Philosophical Register 1 (July 1810), view on Zotero
- David Hosack, "Botanical description of the Canada Thistle or Cnicus Arvensis, with Observations on the Means of destroying it, or preventing its Increase. Communicated in a letter to the Hon. S. L. Mitchill, M.D.," The American Medical and Philosophical Register 1 (October 1810), view on Zotero
- David Hosack, Hortus Elginensis, or, A Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous and Exotic, Cultivated in the Elgin Botanic Garden, in the Vicinity of the City of New-York : Established in 1801(New-York : Printed by T. & J. Swords, 1811), 2nd edition enlarged, view on Zotero.
- Anonymous, “Sketch of the Elgin Botanic Garden in the Vicinity of New York,” ‘’The American Medical and Philosophical Register’’ 2 (July 1811), view on Zotero.
- Anonymous, "Review of Hortus Elginensis and A Statement of Facts relative to the…Elgin Botanic Garden,” The Medical and Physical Journal, 26 (July, 1811): 162-66, view on Zotero.
- Horatio Gates Spafford, A Gazetteer of the State of New-York: Carefully Written from Original and Authentic Materials, Arranged on a New Plan, in Three Parts (Albany: H.C. Southwick, 1813), view on Zotero.
- Thomas Jefferson, The Garden Book, ed. Edwin M. Betts (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1944), view on Zotero.
- Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1955 [last update: 2015-09-29]); http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1955.
- James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, ed. David B. Mattern et al., Retirement Series (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), 2: 292–293, view on Zotero
- Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-2138 [last update: 2015-09-29]); http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-2138.
- Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-2173 [last update: 2015-09-29]); http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-2173.
- Horatio Gates Spafford, Gazetteer of the State of New York" (Albany: B.D. Packard, 1824), view on Zotero.