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History of Early American Landscape Design

John Bartram

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John Bartram (March 23, 1699 – September 22, 1777) was an American-born farmer, botanist, horticulturalist, and explorer, who made significant contributions to the collection, dissemination, and study of North American flora and fauna.


The son of a Quaker farmer in rural Pennsylvania, John Bartram possessed from an early age a “great inclination to botany & natural history,” which he pursued through exploration and independent study.[1] In his late twenties, Bartram relocated from the Pennsylvania countryside to the outskirts of Philadelphia — the epicenter of colonial America's scientific community — where he established himself as a farmer on an extensive property abutting the lower Schuylkill River.[2] He reserved a half dozen acres for a botanic garden, which he filled with plants discovered while exploring the surrounding countryside. Bartram also collected leaves, ferns, and grasses for his friends Benjamin Franklin and the Philadelphia naturalist Joseph Breintnall (d. 1746), who were then experimenting with nature prints made by inking natural specimens and transferring the impressions to paper. [3] Bartram's contributions enabled Breintnall to make a very complete, two-volume collection of leaves indigenous to Philadelphia — a collection that greatly interested botanical enthusiasts in Europe, such as the Quaker cloth merchant Peter Collinson, an enterprising Fellow of the Royal Society in London.[4] Breintnall sent Collinson 130 of the prints in October 1733, [5] and also informed him that Bartram would be “a very proper person” to furnish him with actual seeds and plants from North America. “Being a native of Pensilvania with a numerous Family,” Breitnall observed, “The profits ariseing from Gathering Seeds would enable him to support it.” [6] With that, Bartram and Collinson embarked on a 35-year friendship and business partnership that forever altered the vegetation of Britain and America. [7]

Hungry for botanical knowledge, Bartram included a request for books along with his first shipment of plants in 1733. Collinson proposed instead that Bartram ship duplicate sets of specimens so that he could “gett them named by our most knowing Botanists and return them again — which will improve thee more than Books.”[8] In May 1737 Collinson returned 208 specimens to Bartram, with identifications made by Johann Jacob Dillenius (1684-1747), curator of the Oxford University Botanic Garden. [9] Through Collinson's agency, Bartram exchanged plants, seeds, roots, and tubers with several other eminent members of the European scientific community, including Philip Miller, director of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, Carolus Linnaeus, professor of medicine and botany at Uppsala, and Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), president of the Royal Society.[10] He also filled requests for members of the British nobility and gentry who were ornamenting their gardens with American trees and shrubs.[11] Bartram was financially compensated for his efforts, but also delighted in receiving seeds from his English contacts, as they contributed to the encyclopedic botanic range of his garden. In 1736 Collinson dispatched a collection of “60 sorts of Curious seeds” that he and Phillip Miller had assembled for Bartram, and from Lady Petre he received the seed of a rare pear tree that flourished in his garden for over 150 years. [12]Bartram’s British correspondents often rewarded his efforts with books, enabling him to further his education while assembling a natural history reference library. His service to Dillenius garnered the first volume of Phillip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary in 1737, with the supplement arriving two years later, sent by his aristocratic client, Lord Petre (1713-1742).[13] Beginning in 1740 the English botanist Mark Catesby initiated a still more mutually dependent arrangement, sending Bartram annual installments of his Natural History in exchange for American plants — several of which then appeared in future sections of Catesby's book.[14] By 1740 Bartram had established “a Settled Trade & Business” in the provision of seeds and plants to England.[15] Bartram assembled seed boxes containing 100 specimens, chiefly of trees and shrubs, distributing them to several dozen subscribers recruited by Collinson.[16] Bartram was simultaneously supplying a growing European market for live plants from North America, as well as increasing demand for exotic specimens among American gardeners in Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York.[17]

In addition to gathering live plants, seeds, cuttings, and roots from his own garden, Bartram made expeditions up and down the East Coast in search of rare and useful plants. He reported his observations and discoveries to Collinson and Franklin in London and they, in turn, shared these reports with the Royal Society, which occasionally published them in the Society's Transactions. [18] With the exception of a four-year hiatus from 1746 to 1749, Bartram traveled virtually every year from 1735 until 1766, hunting for natural specimens and touring gardens from New England to Florida.[19] Armed with a detailed itinerary and letters of introduction from Collinson, Bartram trekked through Maryland and Virginia in the autumn of 1738, where he was disappointed to find the gardens "poorly furnished with Curiosities." Even those of the wealthy planter William Byrd and the botanist John Clayton) lacked the variety he valued in the gardens of Philadelphia, enriched by importations from England, France, Holland, and Germany.[20] Bartram frequently visited New Jersey and New York. While exploring the Catskill mountains in 1842, he made the first of several visits to the amateur botanists Dr.Cadwallader Colden and his daughter Jane, with whom he carried out a lengthy correspondence. In the spring of 1754, they introduced him to Dr. Alexander Garden of Charleston, who sought Bartram out in Philadelphia a few months later and spent several days exploring the surrounding countryside in his company. [21] Bartram returned the visit in 1760 on his first trip to North and South Carolina.[22] In Charleston he met Elizabeth and Thomas Lamboll, who became reliable correspondents and sent Bartram a barrel of pomegrantes, china oranges, and sour oranges in 1765 when they were unable to procure an umbrella tree.[23] A brief encounter with the Charleston horticulturalist Martha Daniell Logan, author of the Gardeners Kalender, initiated a mutually beneficial exchange of seeds, roots, and bulbs — several of which Logan obtained from the gardens of her Charleston neighbors. [24] “I was with her about five minutes, in much company,” Bartram acknowledged in a letter to Peter Collinson in 1762, “Yet we contracted such a mutual correspondence, that one silk bag of seed hath passed and repassed full of seeds three times since last fall.” [25]

As a further boost to this business, Collinson published Bartram’s seed catalogue in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1751, touting it as “the largest Collection that has ever before been imported into this Kingdom.”[26] Still it was not enough. In 1761, Bartram complained to Collinson of the seemingly insatiable desire for novel curiosities. “Do they think I can make new ones? I have sent them seeds of almost every tree and shrub from Nova Scotia to Carolina; very few are wanting: and from the sea across the continent to the lakes… and if I die a martyr to Botany, God’s will be done.” [27] Rising demand required expanded production. “I must inlarge my nursery garden,” Bartram informed a friend in August 1769. [28]


  • July 18, 1739, Bartram, John, describing Westover, seat of William Byrd II, on the James River, Va. (1992: 121) [29]
“Col Byrd is very prodigal in Gates roads walks hedges & seeders [cedars] trimed finely & A little green house with 2 or 3 [orange] trees . . .”

"Mr. John Bartram is an Englishman, who lives in the country about four miles from Philadelphia. He has acquired a great knowledge of natural philosophy and history, and seems to be born with a peculiar genius for these sciences.... He has in several successive years made frequent excursions into different distant parts of North America, with an intention of gathering all sorts of plants which are scarce and little known. Those which he found he has planted in his own botanical garden, and likewise sent over their seeds or fresh roots to England. We owe to him the knowledge of many scarce plants, which he first found, and which were never known before."

"I have met wt very Little new in the Botanic way unless Your acquaintance Bartram, who is what he is & whose acquaintance alone makes amends for other disappointments in that way.... One Day he Dragged me out of town & Entertain'd me so agreably with some Elevated Botanicall thoughts, on oaks, Firns, Rocks & c that I forgot I was hungry till we Landed in his house about four Miles from Town....

"His garden is a perfect portraiture of himself, here you meet wt a row of rare plants almost covered over wt weeds, here with a Beautiful Shrub, even Luxuriant Amongst Briars, and in another corner an Elegant & Lofty tree lost in common thicket — on our way from town to his house he carried me to severall rocks & Dens where he shewed me some of his rare plants, which he had brought from the Mountains &c. In a word he disdains to have a garden less than Pensylvania [sic] & Every den is an Arbour, Every run of water, a Canal, & every small level Spot a Parterre, where he nurses up some of his Idol Flowers & cultivates his darling productions. He had many plants whose names he did not know, most or all of which I had seen & knew them — On the other hand he had several I had not seen & some I never heard of."

  • June 24, 1760, Bartram, John, in a letter to Peter Collinson, describing his plans for the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. (quoted in Darlington 1849: 224) [32]
“Dear friend, I am going to build a greenhouse. Stone is got; and hope as soon as harvest is over to begin to build it, to put some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter’s diversion; not to be crowded with orange trees, or those natural to the Torrid Zone, but such as will do, being protected from frost.”

  • December 3, 1762, Bartram, John, describing Charleston, S.C. (quoted in Darlington 1849: 242–43) [32]
“I can’t find, in our country, that south walls are much protection against our cold, for if we cover so close as to keep out the frost, they are suffocated.”

"Let us... pay a visit to Mr. John Bertram [sic], the first botanist, in this new hemisphere.... It is to this simple man that America is indebted for several useful discoveries, and the knowledge of many new plants....

"His house is small, but decent: there was something peculiar in its first appearance, which seemed to distinguish it from those of his neighbours: a small tower in the middle of it, not only helped to strengthen it but afforded convenient room for a staircase. Every disposition of the fields, fences, and trees, seemed to bear the marks of perfect order and regularity, which in rural affairs, always indicate a prosperous industry...

"From his study we went into the garden, which contained a great variety of curious plants and shrubs; some grew in a green-house, over the door of which were written these lines,

" Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
" But looks through nature, up to nature's God!"

“He [John Bartram] was, perhaps, the first Anglo-American who conceived the idea of establishing a BOTANIC GARDEN for the reception and cultivation of the various vegetables, natives of the country, as well as exotics, and of travelling for the discovery and acquisition of them.
“* The BARTRAM BOTANIC GARDEN, (established in or about the year 1730,) is most eligibly and beautifully situated, on the right bank of the river Schuylkill, a short distance below the city of Philadelphia. Being the oldest establishment of the kind in this western world, and exceedingly interesting, from its history and associations, — one might almost hope, even in this utilitarian age, that, if no motive more commendable could avail, a feeling of state or city pride, would be sufficient to ensure its preservation, in its original character, and for the sake of its original objects. But, alas! there seems to be too much reason to apprehend that it will scarcely survive the immediate family of its noble-hearted founder, — and that even the present generation may live to see the accumulated treasures of a century laid waste—with all the once gay parterres and lovely borders converted into lumberyards and coal-landings.”




  1. John Bartram to Alexander Catcott, May 26, 1742, quoted in The Correspondence of John Bartram 1734-1777, ed. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1992), 193-94, view on Zotero; see also Joel T. Fry, John Bartram’s House and Garden (Bartram's Garden), Historic American Landscape Survey, HALS No. PA-1, 2004, 20-22,view on Zotero; Alan W. Armstrong, “John Bartram and Peter Collinson: A Correspondence of Science and Friendship” in Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, eds., America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 249 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004): 23-42, view on Zotero.
  2. Fry, 2004, 27-28, view on Zotero.
  3. Armstrong, 2004, 28, view on Zotero.
  4. J. A. Leo Lemay, The Life of Benjamin Franklin, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 2 (Printer and Publisher, 1730-1747), 463, view on Zotero.
  5. “Extracts from the Gazette, 1733,” The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 1 (January 6, 1706 through December 31, 1734), ed. Leonard W. Labaree (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1959, p. 349 n.6, view on Zotero; Edwin Wolf II, and Marie Elena Korey, eds., Quarter of a Millennium: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1731-1981: A Selection of Books, Manuscripts, Maps, Prints, Drawings, and Paintings (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1981), 17, view on Zotero.
  6. Peter [Pehr] Collinson, ‘Forget Not Mee & My Garden’: Selected Letters 1725-1768 of Peter Collinson, F.R.S., ed. Alan W. Armstrong (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002), xxvi, view on Zotero.
  7. Fry, 2004, 23, view on Zotero; Stephanie Volmer, Planting a New World: Letters and Languages of Transatlantic Botanical Exchange, 1733--1777, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, 2008), 64- 112, view on Zotero.
  8. Peter Collinson to John Bartram, January 24, 1735, quoted in William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 64, view on Zotero.
  9. Armstrong, 2004, 30, [https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/T5AMSHET view on Zotero.
  10. Darlington, 1849, 92, 123, 165, 302, 324, 371-72, 380-90, view on Zotero; Armstrong, 2004, 23, 27, view on Zotero; Alfred E. Schuyler, "On the Discovery of Helonias Bullata L. (Swamp-Pink) and the Source of the Specimens in the Linnaean Herbarium," Pennsylvania Legacies, 4 (November 2004), 10-13, view on Zotero; Hazel Le Rougetel, "Philip Miller/John Bartram Botanical Exchange," Garden History, 14 (spring 1986), 32-39, https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/V27SVXWI view on Zotero]; Sarah P. Stetson, "The Traffic in Seeds and Plants from England’s Colonies in North America," Agricultural History, 23 (January 1949): 50-55, view on Zotero.
  11. Douglas Chambers, The Planters of the English Landscape Garden: Botany, Trees, and the Georgics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 110-19, view on Zotero; Mark Laird, The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720-1800 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 63-78, view on Zotero; Armstrong, 2004, 24, 27, 29, 30, 38, view on Zotero; Alfred E. Schuyler and Ann Newbold, "Vascular Plants in Lord Petre’s Herbarium Collected by John Bartram," Bartonia, 53 (1987), 41-43, view on Zotero.
  12. Quoted in Fry, 2004, 35, view on Zotero; James Boyd, A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1827-1927 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1929), 1151-52, view on Zotero.
  13. William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 95-96, 135; see also 103, 303-05, 323, view on Zotero.
  14. David R. Brigham, "Mark Catesby and the Patronage of Natural History in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century," in Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby's New World Vision, ed. Amy R. W. Meyers and Margaret Beck Pritchard (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press (published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1998), 121-22, view on Zotero; George Frederick Frick and Raymond Phineas Stearns, Mark Catesby: The Colonial Audubon (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1970), 90-91, view on Zotero; Darlington, 1849, 319-20, view on Zotero.
  15. Volmer, 2008, 41, view on Zotero; Fry, 2004, 26l; Correspondence of John Bartram 1992, 117
  16. For various estimates of the number of subscribers, see Fry, 2004, 24-25; Patriot-Improvers, 50; Volmer, 2008, 39; Armstrong, 2004, 30, 38; Laird, Flowering of the Landscape Garden, 80.
  17. Fry, 2004, 37; Meyer, Paul W., ‘A Proposal for the Interpretation of John Bartram’s Garden’ (unpublished Masters of Science Thesis, University of Delaware, 1977), 92.
  18. Fry, 1996, 51.
  19. For timelines and annotated maps documenting Bartram’s travels, see Nancy Everill Hoffmann and John C. Van Horne, eds., America’s Curious Botanist: A Tercentennial Reappraisal of John Bartram, 1699-1777, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004), xviii- xxvi view on Zotero.
  20. John Bartram to Peter Collinson, June 11, 1743, quoted in Correspondence of John Bartram, 1992, 215-16. See also Darlington, 88-89, 113, Fry, 2004, 25, 34-35view on Zotero.
  21. Hoffmann and Van Horne, 2004, xx,view on Zotero; Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 42-46, view on Zotero.
  22. Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 151-54, view on Zotero.
  23. Darlington, 1849, 436, see also 235, 285, view on Zotero
  24. Martha Daniell Logan, “Letters of Martha Logan to John Bartram, 1760-1763,” ed. Mary Barbot Prior, The South Carolina Historical Magazine 59 (1958): 38-46 view on Zotero.
  25. John Bartram to Peter Collinson, May 22, 1761, quoted in William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), 230-31, view on Zotero.
  26. Armstrong, 2004, 25.
  27. Darlington, 232.
  28. John Bartram to John Fothergill, August 12, 1769, quoted in Fry, 2004, 37.
  29. John Bartram, The Correspondence of John Bartram, 1734-1777, ed. by Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992), view on Zotero.
  30. Peter [Pehr] Kalm, Travels into North America: Containing Its Natural History, and a Circumstantial Account of Its Plantations and Agriculture in General, with the Civil, Ecclesiastical and Commercial State of the Country, the Manners of the Inhabitants, and Several Curious and Important Remarks on Various Subjects, trans. John Reinhold Forster, 3 vols. (London: John Reinhold Forster, 1770), 1, view on Zotero.
  31. Cadwallader Colden, "The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden", vol. 4 (1748-1754), Collections of the New-York Historical Society (1920): 471-72, view on Zotero.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), view on Zotero.
  33. "A Russian Gentleman, Describing the Visit He Paid at My Request To Mr. John Bertram, The Celebrated Pennsylvanian Botanist," quoted in J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer: Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs Not Generally Known (London: Thomas Davies and Lockyer Davis, 1783), view on Zotero

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