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

Humphry Marshall

[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 ]
Revision as of 03:07, November 16, 2015 by R-asleson (talk | contribs)

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.


"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."

“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 [6]
"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[8]
"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)[9]
"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)[10]
"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)[11]
"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."



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. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973), view on Zotero.
  4. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 18, ed. William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974), view on Zotero.
  5. Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. by William B. Willcox (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976), view on Zotero.
  6. Gutowski, 33
  7. 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.
  8. "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," The Register of Pennsylvania, 1 (May 10, 1828), view on Zotero.
  9. 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.
  10. Darlington,
  11. Darlington

Retrieved from "https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Humphry_Marshall&oldid=15459"

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=15459 (accessed October 1, 2022).

A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts

National Gallery of Art, Washington