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History of Early American Landscape Design

Humphry Marshall

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Humphry Marshall (October 10, 1722-1801), an American botanist and plant dealer, was the author of an early American botanical imprint, Arbustum Americanum, and established a botanic garden at his home in Chester County, Pennsylvania.


Despite a rudimentary education that ended at the age of twelve, Humphry Marshall developed considerable expertise in the science of botany. He was the eighth child of English Quaker immigrants who established a farm near the west branch of the Brandywine River in Pennsylvania. Having spent his early life in agricultural labor and as an apprentice to a stone mason, Marshal assumed responsibility for the family farm around 1848[1] It was then that he began to collect and study indigenous plants and to acquire books that would advance his knowledge of botany, such as John Gerard's Herball and John Quincy's Lexicon Physico-medicum.[2] He erected a greenhouse in 1764 (view text) and, made other improvements following his father's death in 1767 when he inherited a large section of the estate. He was actively engaged in shipping native plants and seeds to Europe.

He began to built his own house of stone house in 1773, with a small observatory on the second floor to accommodate his interest in astronomy.


  • Fothergill, John, March 2, 1767, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 495)[3]
"I received thy kind letter, as well as the box of seeds, and the duplicate it contained. I think myself much indebted to thee, and shall endeavour, as occasions may offer, to show that I am not insensible of thy kindness, nor ungrateful. I knew not whether anything would be more acceptable to a botanist, than [Philip] MILLER'S 'Gardeners Dictionary, which I hope thou will receive with this; and if thou art possessed of one before, dispose of it, and accept the produce as an acknowledgment for thy kindness.

"As it may suit thy other concerns, I should be glad if thou would proceed to collect the seeds of other American shrubs and plants, as they fall in thy way ; and if thou meets with any curious plant or shrub, transplant it at a proper time into thy garden, let it grow there a year or two; it may then be taken up in autumn, its roots wrapped in a little moss, and laid in a coarse box, just made close enough to keep out mice, but not to exclude the air.

"If thou knows of any plant possessed of particular virtues, and that is known by experience to be useful in the cure of diseases, this I should be glad to have in particular, both the parts used, and seeds of the same."

  • Fothergill, John, May 18, 1767, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington, 1849: 497)[3]
"Thou will see by the inclosed, that it was wrote a considerable time ago, to acknowledge the favour of thy collection of seeds. I was at that time prevented from sending it, and the more discouraged, as I could not get MILLER'S Gardener's Dictionary, which is still out of print. I have sent, however, an abridgment of this work, not long since published, which I hope will prove acceptable ; though this is not intended as a compensation for thy trouble, but merely as an acknowledgment.

"If thou will continue thy farther care in collecting American seeds, and inform me in what manner I can, with most advantage to thyself, compensate thy care and labour, it will be an additional satisfaction."
  • Fothergill, John, October 29, 1768, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 497-98)[3]
"I am greatly obliged to thee for several parcels of curious seeds, birds, and insects. I...have been searching, in vain, for...the list of books thou mentioned as being acceptable to thee.

"I have sent by our friend, John Hunt, who is returning to Pennsylvania, a small pocket-glass for viewing flowers, and ten guineas in consideration of thy time and trouble, in collecting these things for me.....

"As it may fall in thy way, I should be glad thou would continue thy care in collecting for me such seeds and plants as I have not hitherto received from thee; and I think it would be worth while to sow a part of all the seeds thou gathers, in thy own garden, or some little convenient spot provided for the purpose. There are many curious seeds that lose the property of vegetation by a sea-voyage. The plants thus raised by seed at home, might be removed from the bed they were sown on, the second autumn, or spring following, into boxes of earth, and sent to us in the spring, so as to arrive here in the third or fourth month, and would then succeed very well.

"I doubt not but many of our gardeners would be glad to purchase such boxes, containing assortments of new and curious plants, at a considerable price, and sufficient to pay for the care and pains in raising them.

"There is a curious water plant, the Colocasia, that grows in some deep waters in the Jerseys, perhaps in your province likewise.... I should be glad thou would endeavour to send some both ways [wrapped in moss and put in tub of mud]; and the ripe seeds likewise, put into a wide-mouthed bottle filled with mud, and covered over with leather.

"There is a kind of Dogwood, whose calyx is its greatest beauty; it chiefly grows in Virginia, whether with you I know not. I want a few plants of it."

  • Fothergill, John, January 25, 1769, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 499-500)[3]
"Before this time I hope thou hast received a pretty long letter by our friend JOHN HUNT, to whose care I also committed ten guineas, and a small glass for viewing the flowers of plants.

"I have just received thy last collection of seeds, and the box of plants that accompanied it; both were very acceptable, and the plants came in as good condition as possible.

"By this opportunity I have sent two glasses of the value thou desires; and if these are not satisfactory, either in size or shape, please to dispose of them, and give me proper dimensions, and I will take care that they shall be sent. In respect to the seeds and plants to be sent in future, please to keep this general order in view, viz.: To send me any new plant that occurs to thee, that thou hast not sent to me before; and of the more curious flowering plants or shrubs, I shall always be glad to receive duplicates of the plants, when occasion offers. The Magnolias, Kalmias, Rhododendrons, &c, are always acceptable....

"Please to remember to raise a few of all the curious plants whose seeds occur to thee, and send here, and some of the seeds likewise, together with any account thou can collect of their real virtues and uses.

"I believe JOHN BARTRAM'S son had directions from me, through our late friend, P. COLLINSON, to make me a collection of drawings, together with an account of all your land Tortoises. If, therefore, anything upon this subject occurs to thee, or thou meets with any new kind, please to send them to him.

"It is very admirable that you abound with many plants, many animals, altogether unknown in other parts of the globe, not dissimilar in temperature. Golden rods, Asters, Lychnoideas, Sunflowers, you have more than all the world besides. Tortoises, I think, likewise, and some other animals, are peculiarly abundant with you."

  • Fothergill, John, March 15, 1770, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 501-02)[3]
"Dr. FRANKLIN will send all the instruments thou requests, for which I shall pay him, cheerfully. Some of the books thou desires are, at present, out of print; but I shall get and send the rest as soon as I can....

"I doubt not but you have many curious herbaceous plants yet unnoticed: struck with the greater objects of shrubs and trees, these humbler ones have been overlooked. Get a complete collection of these into some corner of thy garden, and send us a few roots, as thou art able to propagate them. There are few trees in your parts, and not many shrubs, which we have not in our gardens. We have many herbaceous plants, likewise; but I dare say, a very small number of those that are natives of your parts of America. Look carefully after some Ferns for me; as also bulbous plants, as they flower early, for the most part: and all sweet-scented or showy flowers, or such as are of known efficacy in the cure of some diseases.

"Thy account of the long-lived Tortoise is very agreeable; and I am much obliged to thy correspondent, BARTRAM, for some curious drawings. He has a very good hand; and I shall be glad to receive from him all his works, and satisfy him for his trouble, when he informs me how much I am indebted to him."

"Immediately on the Receipt of your Letter, I ordered a Reflecting Telescope for you which was made accordingly. Dr. Fothergill had since desired me to add a Microscope and Thermometer, and will pay for the whole....

"I thank you for the Seeds, with which I have oblig’d some curious Friends."

  • Fothergill, John, February 11, 1771, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 504)[3]
"As I have now got most of the common American plants in plenty, I would not give thee the trouble of sending more seeds or plants, of the kinds I have received from thee, except such as I may hereafter desire to make up for my defects. Any new kinds, either plants or seeds, will be very acceptable."

  • Fothergill, John, April 23, 1771, letter from London to Humphry Marshall (Darlington 1849: 505-06)[3]
"In the insect box I have put up a little tract, tending to show in what manner plants may be best conveyed to Europe, and insects collected. There is, likewise, a small Botanical Dictionary, and an introduction to a translation of some of [[[Carl Linneaus|LINNAEUS's]] works, which I thought would not be wholly useless to thee, or unacceptable.

"If thou wants any further helps, that I can give thee, let me know, and I shall supply them as far as I can.

"I am not yet in possession of a living root of your great Water Lily, or Colocasia. I could wish to have a large one taken up in autumn, well wrapped up in moss, and sent as early as may be convenient, or else soon in the spring...
"I am now in possession of the common North American plants; but there are new discoveries made every day. Early spring flowers of any kind, or plants or shrubs that are either useful or curious in their appearance, will be acceptable; and I shall not value the things I receive merely by their quantity, but their worth, when viewed in the light I have described. A curious Fern is as acceptable to me as the most showy plant....

"I am economist enough to save the covers of my letters, instead of throwing them into the fire. I give them to my gardener to wrap his seeds in ; some of them I have thrust into the empty box, for the like purpose.

"If I should omit sending thee the future translations of LINNAEUS'S work, put me in mind of it."

“I have also Sent thee a small Box of Seeds that I had Left after packing a few for Dr. Fothergill but I was in So much hast that I omitted Drawing a list of them. They are Chiefly Lapt up in paper and the Name wrote on With my pencil. My Book of observation on the Sun is Like Wise in the Box. And as thou Signifies it Would be some Pleasure to thee to Serve me in Some Small matters I Should take it kind of thee and as a favour if itt Should lay in thy Way to promote a corrispon[dence] between me and Some of the Seeds men or Nursery men in and about London or any Country Gentlemen that is Curious in Making Collections of our American Vegetables or Simples as I am Pretty Well acquainted With the most Sorts that Grows in our Parts of the Country having been in the practice of Collecting a few Seeds for this many years for my Cousin John Bartram, and Within this four or five Years have Sent Some Boxes of plants and Seeds to Dr. Fothergill; I think I Could afford to Collect Boxes of Young plants of the most of our Common trees and Shrubs as Well as Seeds at a little Lower rate than they are Commonly Done for, if thou Should meet With any Such Gentlemen that Should have a mind to try me for a season or two, and they Would Please to Send their orders, I Should Endeavour to Comply With them.

"Be Pleased to favour me So much after thou hast opened and perused My book of observations to present them to the royall Society in My Name."

"As to procuring you a Correspondence with some ingenious Gentelman here, who is curious, which you desire, I find many who like to have a few Seeds given them, but do not desire large Quantities, most considerable Gardens being now supply’d like Dr. Fothergill’s, with what they chuse to have; and there being Nursery-men now here, who furnish what Particulars are wanted, without the Trouble of a foreign Correspondence and the Vexations at the Customhouse."

  • Baron de Beelen Bertholf, October 12, 1791, letter to Humphry Marshall [7]
"I am very much oblige to you for the maple and lombardy poplar trees, which you sent forward to me by the negro man."

"My first object, after my arrival in America, was to form an acquaintance with all those interested in the study of Botany….

"I next visited the old established gardens of Mr. Marshall, author of a small "Treatise on the Forest-Trees of North America." This gentleman, though then far advanced in age and deprived of his eye-sight, conducted me personally through his collection of interesting trees and shrubs, pointing out many which were then new to me, which strongly proved his attachment and application to the science in former years, when his vigour of mind and eye-sight were in full power. This establishment, since the death of Mr. Marshall, (which happened a few years ago,) has been, in some respects, kept up by the family but is now very much on the decline, only a few old established trees being left as a memento of what formerly deserved the name of a respectable botanic garden."

  • Anonymous, May 10, 1828, history of Humphry Marshall's botanic garden, ("Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science", 1828: 302-03[9]
"In the year 1774, the late Humphrey [sic] Marshall established his Botanic Garden, at Marshallton: he applied himself very diligently to the improvement of the place, and to the collection of plants, especially such as were indigenous to the United States. The Garden soon obtained a reputation; and for many years before the death of Mr. Marshall, it had become an object of curiosity to men of science: Mr. Frederick Pursh informs us, that it was the first place of a Botanical character visited by him, after his arrival in America. After the decease of Mr. Humphrey Marshall, in the year 1801, we believe that no improvements were made in the garden, and since the death of Doctor Moses Marshall, in 1813, the Botany of the place seems to have been entirely neglected. But it still exhibits many interesting relics, as pine and fir trees— the willow leaved and English oaks, the Kentucky nickar tree, the buckeye, and several species of magnolia. The trees we have mentioned, with various interesting shrubs and herbaceous plants, which survive the general ruin, are memorials of the interest which was formerly taken in the garden by its venerable founder....

"The science of plants was his favourite study, and before he established his botanic garden, at Marshallton, he had cultivated one on a smaller scale, on the plantation now occupied by Joshua Marshall. In 1785, he published the Arbustum Americanum, or catalogue of American Forest Trees and Shrubs, in which he was assisted by his nephew, the late Doctor Moses Marshall, who was a botanist of considerable merit, and, at the request of his uncle, had travelled through many of the States, in search of American plants."

  • Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel, 1836, description of visits to Marshallton in the summer of 1802 and 1804(1836: 15, 22)[10]
"On our return to Germantown I studied all the plants of that locality, describing them all minutely. I went also fishing and hunting, and described the birds, reptiles, fishes, &c. An excursion to Westchester was taken with Col. F. [Forrest] to see MARSHALL'S Botanic garden, and we returned by Norristown. We visited also BARTRAM'S Botanic garden and several other places....

"I went to see again Mr. Marshall at Westchester, and visited with him the singular magnesian rocks, where alone grow the Phemeranthus or Talinum teretifolium."

  • Resolution of the Town Council of the Borough of West Chester, Pennsylvania, March 13, 1848 (Darlington, 1849: 492-93)[11]
"Whereas it has been deemed expedient and proper to improve the public Square, on which the upper reservoir connected with the Water-works of the borough is situated, by laying out the same in suitable walks, and introducing various ornamental trees and shrubbery: And whereas it will be convenient and necessary to designate the said Square by some appropriate name; And whereas the late Humphry Marshall of Chester County was one of the earliest and most distinguished horticulturists and botanists of our country, having established the second botanic garden in this republic; and also prepared and published the first treatise on the forest trees and shrubs of the United States, and diffused a taste for botanical science which entitles his memory to the lasting respect of his countrymen:

"Therefore resolved, by the Burgesses and Assistant Burgesses of the Borough of West Chester, in Council assembled, That the public Square, aforesaid, shall for ever hereafter be designated and known by the name of 'The Marshall Square,' in commemoration of the exemplary character, and scientific labours, of our distinguished fellow-citizen, the late Humphry Marshall, of West Bradford Township, Chester County."

  • Darlington, William, 1849, describing Marshallton, estate of Humphry Marshall, West Chester, Pa. (1849: 22, 487-88, 490-91)[12]
"In 1773, the second botanical garden within the British provinces of North America, was established by Humphry Marshall, in the township of West Bradford, Chester County, Pennsylvania, at the site of the present village of Marshallton. Humphry, however, had been previously indulging his taste, and employing his leisure time in collecting and cultivating useful and ornamental plants at his paternal residence, near the Brandywine....

"In 1764, it became expedient to enlarge the dwelling in which he resided with his parents. This addition was built of brick; and the entire work of digging and tempering the clay, making and burning the bricks, and building the walls, was performed by Humphry himself. He also erected a green-house, adjoining the dwelling; which was, doubtless, the first conservatory of the kind ever seen, or thought of, in the county of Chester.

"The Botanic Garden, at Marshallton, was planned and commenced in the year 1773, and soon became the recipient of the most interesting trees and shrubs of our country, together with many curious exotics; and also of a numerous collection of our native herbaceous plants. A large portion of these yet survive, although the garden, from neglect, has become a mere wilderness; while a number of our noble forest trees, such as Oaks, Pines, and Magnolias(especially the Magnolia acuminata), all planted by the hands of the venerable founder, have now attained to a majestic altitude."

"For several years prior to the establishment of the Marshallton Garden, Humphry had been much engaged in collecting native plants and seeds, and shipping them to Europe; but after that event, being aided by his nephew, Dr. Moses Marshall, he greatly extended his operations, and directed his attention with enhanced zeal and energy to the business of exploring, and making known abroad, the vegetable treasures of these United States. The present generation of botanists have but an imperfect idea of the services rendered to the science, by the skill and laborious industry of those faithful pioneers ; but the letters here given, will show that they contributed largely to the knowledge of American plants.

"His sight...was never so entirely lost, but that he could discern the walks in his garden, examine his trees, and recognise the localities of his favourite plants. In tracing those walks with his friends, pointing out the botanical curiosities, and reciting their history, he took the greatest delight to the last."



American Philosophical Society web exhibit on Arbustrum Americanum

Humphry and Moses Marshall Papers, 1721-1863, University of Michigan


  1. Darlington, 485-87
  2. Darlington, 488
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Darlington
  4. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973), view on Zotero.
  5. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 18, ed. William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974), view on Zotero.
  6. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. by William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976), view on Zotero.
  7. Gutowski, 33
  8. Frederick Pursh, Flora Americae Septentrionalis; Or, a Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, 2 vols (London: White, Cochrane, & Co., 1814), view on Zotero.
  9. "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," The Register of Pennsylvania, 1 (May 10, 1828), view on Zotero.
  10. Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, A Life of Travels in North America and South Europe, or Outlines of the Life, Travels and Researches of C.S. Rafinesque (Philadelphia: F. Turner, 1836), view on Zotero.
  11. Darlington,
  12. Darlington

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Humphry Marshall," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Humphry_Marshall&oldid=15543 (accessed December 10, 2023).

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