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History of Early American Landscape Design

Manasseh Cutler

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Manasseh Cutler (May 13, 1742–July 28, 1823) was a systematic botanist, horticulturist, and naturalist. He established an extensive network with other learned elite and developed an international reputation, producing notebooks, correspondence, and publications that reflected his pragmatic view of nature. Over the course of nearly six decades, Cutler maintained an almanac-type diary that provides vivid details of daily life and botanical observations. Descriptions of his garden visits—including those to Gray’s Garden, The Hills (later Lemon Hill), Mount Vernon, State House Yard, and The Woodlands—provide an unparalleled view of designed and natural landscape in early America.


Born in Killingly, Connecticut, to Hezekiah and Susanna Clark, Manasseh Cutler grew up on a prosperous farm whose boundaries extended into Rhode Island. The family’s ancestors were Puritans who had emigrated from Norfolkshire in 1634. From his father, Cutler developed a taste for learning, which led him to Yale University where he received—over time—undergraduate, master’s, and doctor of laws degrees.[1] After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1765, he taught school for one year in Dedham, Massachusetts, and married Mary (Polly) Balch, before going into the mercantile and whaling business on Martha’s Vineyard.[2] He was admitted to the bar in 1767.[3]

Cutler was called in 1771 to serve as minister to the Congregational Church of Ipswich Hamlet (later known as Hamilton), Massachusetts, and served in that role for nearly fifty-two years. In addition to his ministry, he also worked with General Rufus Putnam and others to form the Ohio Company of Associates and successfully lobbied to procure a contract from the Continental Congress for land in the West for Easterners who were impoverished by the Revolution.[4] The Company’s efforts resulted in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which stipulated the laws for that land—including the prohibition of slavery in Ohio—and ultimately in establishing the first permanent settlement in that state at Marietta.[5] In 1800, he was elected to Congress and, as a Federalist, was opposed to the Louisiana Purchase. Within the next decade, he became a leader in the revival of religious orthodoxy in Massachusetts.[6] During the Revolutionary War, Cutler began to study medicine, learning from and aiding the town doctor in Ipswich. When that doctor left town to become a privateer, Cutler took over the practice. This foray into medicine, coupled with Cutler’s experience with farming, led him to delve rigorously into the study of botany.[7]

In this discipline, he focused on the practical, utilitarian, and economic uses of plants. His ideas about agricultural improvement spread through his promotion of early state and county agricultural societies in New England. Cutler’s publications and correspondence eventually connected him nationally and internationally through networks of other learned elite in America and Europe.[8] When Cutler’s botanical research was published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—where he had been inducted as a Fellow at its inaugural meeting—his work became known to members of the American Philosophical Society as well as Benjamin Franklin, Alexandre Frédéric, duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Charles Willson Peale, and William Bartram, among other naturalists.[9]

From 1762 until the early 1820s, Cutler chronicled his daily life and horticultural observations in journal and diary form. This work reflects the scope and depth of his interests in vivid detail and was later published by his descendants. Cutler was influenced by both Hales, author of Vegetable Staticks (1780), and Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist whose work he read as a young college student.[10] In 1783, Cutler produced the first American account of indigenous vegetables arranged according to the Linnaean system and established the diversity of New England flora. This publication antedated by two years the Materia medica Americana potissimum regni vegetabilis by Johann David Schopf.[11] Over time, Cutler also urged his colleagues to develop botany courses at the college level and establish botanical gardens that would rival those found in Europe.[12] His own large collection of plants and herbaria sadly were destroyed by fire.[13]

In visiting gardens, Cutler’s descriptions provide extraordinary historic documentation of the spaces when they were initially designed. In the case of the State House Yard, Cutler relates many experiential aspects—how one enters the garden, the type and arrangement of plants, the locations and types of garden buildings, and many other aspects about the planned site. In so doing, it is clear that he took delight in spending time in gardens and observing them with such care. At the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, Cutler revels in social aspects of the experience, and the interactions made possible by those with whom he was visiting. Natural features, as well as those that were designed, draw his attention at Gray’s Tavern. These were sites where he could put his prowess as a botanist—and as a social diarist—into practice and also share his love of the natural and designed landscape.

Cutler is also remembered for his pioneering efforts in other areas. He was the first to study earthworks in the Ohio Valley and was fascinated by archaeology.[14] In 1784, he also led the first scientific expedition up Mt. Washington, although he miscalculated its height because of malfunctioning equipment.[15] In the latter part of his life, he conducted experiments in astronomy and meteorology and published his findings, giving further evidence to his wide-ranging intellectual interests and abundant curiosity about the natural world. Further, Cutler is credited with the introduction of buckthorn from England, and varieties such as pawpaw, persimmon, tulip tree, trumpet vine, and others, from the South and West.[16] He died on July 18, 1823, in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Barbara S. Christen


  • Cutler, Manasseh, August 16, 1778, describing a garden in Rhode Island (1888: 1:68–69)

“. . . Went in the afternoon with a number of officers to view a garden near our quarters belonging to one Mr. Bowler—the finest by far I ever saw. It is laid out much in the form of my own, contains four acres, has a grand aisle in the middle, and is adorned in the front with beautiful carvings. Near the middle is an oval, surrounded with espaliers of fruit trees, in the center of which is a pedestal, on which is an armillary sphere, with an equatorial dial. . . . There are espaliers of fruit trees at each end of the garden, some curious flowering shrubs, and a pretty collection of fruit trees. . . .At the lower end of the aisle is a large summerhouse, a long square containing three rooms—the middle paved with marble and hung with landscapes and other pictures. On the right is a very large private library adorned with very curious carvings. The collection of French and English authors, maps, etc., is valuable. The room is furnished with a table, chairs, etc. . . . The room on the left in the summer-house, beautifully prepared and designed for music, contains a spinnet.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, June 30, 1787, describing the estate of Charles Wyllys Elliott, near Hartford, CT (1987: 1:211)

“I also called on my classmate, Colonel Hezekiah Wyllys. He lives with his father, Colonel Wyllys, the Secretary of the State, in an elegant seat just outside the city, situated on a high eminence which overlooks the city and commands a most enchanting prospect of the river, meandering through rich meadows and fertile fields, for ten or fifteen miles. The landscape from this seat far exceeds any I have ever seen in any part of the country.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 2, 1787, describing Middletown, CT (1987: 1:215–16)

“. . . At the northern end of the city is a walk of two rows of buttonwood trees, from the front gate of a gentleman’s house down to a summer-house on the bank of the river, by far the most beautiful I ever saw. He permits the people of the city to improve it as a mall.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 3, 1787, describing New Haven, CT, and his plans for the Ohio Company Associates (1987: 1:218, 330–31)

“. . . The city of New Haven covers a large piece of ground, a little descending toward the sea, with a southern aspect. It is laid out in regular squares, with a public square near the center. Its streets are tolerably wide, and some of them ornamented with rows of trees. There is a row of trees set round the public square, which were small while I was at college, but are now large, and add much to its beauty; a row across the center has been very lately set out, in a line with the State House, two large Meeting Houses and the Grammar School. Within the square, and on the borders of others adjoining, are six steeples and cupolas on public buildings, within a very small compass of ground.

“You will see, by the inclosed, that our ideas of streets, and the width of front lots, nearly correspond with yours. I am not, however, pleased with the size nor form of our squares. It is proposed that there should be nine lots on a side, and four at the end, which I think will have too much of the oblong. Were the ends increased, though, I should prefer an oblong to a square; the effect would be more pleasing to the eye, and not less convenient. The rear, which I think is now too scanty, might be increased, and the whole of the lots more uniform. The plan we have formed was, unavoidably, done in a hasty manner, without drawing it on paper, and will, I think, be somewhat altered. It is our intention to set rows of mulberry trees, immediately, on each side of the streets, at the distance of ten or fifteen feet from the line on which the houses are to be built. They will make an agreeable shade, increase the salubrity of the air, add to the beauty of the streets, and, what we have principally in view, afford food for an immense number of silk-worms.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 5, 1787, describing a house in Rye, NY (1987: 1: 225)

“. . . Three miles from Byram River we made our first stage—Mrs. Haviland’s, in Rye, where we breakfasted. This house has more the air of a gentleman's country-seat than a tavern. It is a large, well-built house, with a piazza extending the whole length of the front, well finished and elegantly furnished; handsome barns, stables, and other out-houses; a spacious garden, laid out in a beautiful form.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 12, 1787, describing Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (1987: 1:245)

“The College (Nassau Hall) is spacious, built of stone, and stands on the highest ground in the town. It fronts to the north, and toward the street, and has before it a very large yard, walled in with stone and lime.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 12, 1787, describing Bristol and Philadelphia, PA (1987: 1: 251–52) [6]

“. . . The tavern where we dined [in Bristol] is a very large pile of buildings, with numerous apartments. It stands on the bank of the Delaware, and has a most delightful piazza on the side next the river, which extends the whole length of the house, and is entirely over the water, affording a most beautiful prospect up and down this majestic river. . . .

“From this place to Philadelphia the land is exceedingly rich and fertile, producing a great quantity of excellent fruit, Indian corn, and the finest wheat. . . . [The farmers'] gardens are well formed and abound with flowers, as well as fruit trees and esculents. . . . At almost every house the farmers and their wives were sitting in their cool entries, or under the piazzas and shady trees about their doors. . . . enjoying the ease and pleasures of domestic life, with few cares, less labor, and abounding in plenty.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 13, 1787, describing The Hills (later Lemon Hill), estate of Robert Morris, Philadelphia, PA (1987: 1:256–57)

“We continued our route, in view of the Schuylkill, and up the river several miles, and took a view of a number of Country-seats, one belonging to Mr. R. Morris, the American financier, and who is said to be possessed of the greatest fortune in America. His country-seat is not yet completed, but it will be superb. It is planned on a large scale, the gardens and walks are extensive, and the villa, situated on an eminence, has a commanding prospect down the Schuylkill to the Delaware.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 13, 1787, describing the State House Yard, Philadelphia, PA (1987: 1:257–58, 262–63)

“. . . He [Benjamin Rush] observed that they were endeavoring to raise a fund for establishing a Botanical Garden in that city, which he hoped they should be able to effect, and assured me that I was the only person who had been in nomination to take the superintendency, and give the Botanical lectures to the students in Physics of the University. . . .

“We passed through this broad aisle [of the State House] into the Mall. It is small, nearly square, and I believe does not contain more than one acre. As you enter the Mall through the State House, which is the only avenue to it, it appears to be nothing more than a large inner Court-yard to the State House, ornamented with trees and walks. But here is a fine display of rural fancy and elegance. It was so lately laid out in its present form that it has not assumed that air of grandeur which time will give it. The trees are yet small, but most judiciously arranged. The artificial mounds of earth, and depressions, and small groves in the square have a most delightful effect. The numerous walks are well graveled and rolled hard; they are all in a serpentine direction, which heightens the beauty, and affords constant variety. That painful sameness, commonly to be met with in garden-alleys, and other works of this kind, is happily avoided here, for there are no two parts of the Mall that are alike. Hogarth’s ‘Line of Beauty’ is here completely verified. The public are indebted to the fertile fancy and taste of Mr. Sam’l Vaughan, Esq., for the elegance of this plan. It was laid out and executed under his direction about three years ago. The Mall is at present nearly surrounded with buildings, which stand near to the board fence that incloses it, and the parts now vacant will, in a short time, be filled up. On one part the Philosophical Society are erecting a large building for holding their meetings and depositing their Library and Cabinet. This building is begun, and, on another part, a County Court-house is now going up. But, after all the beauty and elegance of this public walk, there is one circumstance that must forever be disgusting and must greatly diminish the pleasure and amusement which these walks would otherwise afford. At the foot of the Mall, and opposite to the Court-house, is the Prison, fronting directly to the Mall. It is very long and high, I believe, four stories, and built of stone. The building itself, which is elegant, would appear well, were it not for its unsavory contents. . . . Whatever part of the Mall you are in, this cage of unclean birds is constantly in your view, and their doleful cries attacking your ears.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 14, 1787, describing the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, PA, and also his encounter with members of the Bartram family—probably William and his brother John Bartram Jr. (1888: 1:272–74, 277)

“. . . We crossed the Schuylkill, at what is called the lower ferry, over the floating bridge, to Gray's tavern, and, in about two miles, came to Mr. Bartram's seat. We alighted from our carriages, and found our company were: Mr. [Caleb] Strong, Governor [Alexander] Martin, Mr. [George] Mason and son, Mr. [Hugh] Williamson, Mr. [James] Madison, Mr. [John] Rutledge, and Mr. [Alexander] Hamilton, all members of Convention, Mr. Vaughan, and Dr. [Gerardus] Clarkson and son. Mr. Bartram lives in an ancient Fabric, built with stone, and very large, which was the seat of his father. His house is on an eminence fronting to the Schuylkill, and his garden is on the declivity of the hill between his house and the river. We found him, with another man, hoeing in his garden, in a short jacket and trowsers, and without shoes or stockings. He at first stared at us, and seemed to be somewhat embarrassed at seeing so large and gay a company so early in the morning. Dr. Clarkson was the only person he knew, who introduced me to him, and informed him that I wished to converse with him on botanical subjects, and, as I lived in one of the Northern States, would probably inform him of trees and plants which he had not yet in his collection; that the other gentlemen wished for the pleasure of a walk in his garden. I instantly entered on the subject of botany with as much familiarity as possible, and inquired after some rare plants which I had heard that he had. He presently got rid of his embarrassment, and soon became very sociable, which was more than I expected, from the character I had heard of the man. I found him to be a practical botanist, though he seemed to understand little of the theory. We ranged the several alleys, and he gave me the generic and specific names, place of growth, properties, etc., so far as he knew them. This is a very ancient garden, and the collection is large indeed, but is made principally from the Middle and Southern States. It is finely situated, as it partakes of every kind of soil, has a fine stream of water, and an artificial pond, where he has a good collection of aquatic plants. There is no situation in which plants or trees are found but that they may be propagated here in one that is similar. But every thing is very badly arranged, for they are neither placed ornamentally nor botanically, but seem to be jumbled together in heaps. The other gentlemen were very free and sociable with him, particularly Governor Martin, who has a smattering of botany and a fine taste for natural history. There are in this garden some very large trees that are exotic, particularly an English oak, which he assured me was the only one in America. He had the Pawpaw tree, or Custard apple. It is small, though it bears fruit; but the fruit is very small. He has also a large number of aromatics, some of them trees, and some plants. One plant I thought equal to cinnamon. The Franklin tree is very curious. It has been found only on one particular spot in Georgia. . . . From the house is a walk to the river, between two rows of large, lofty trees, all of different kinds, at the bottom of which is a summer-house on the bank, which here is a ledge of rocks, and so situated as to be convenient for fishing in the river, where a plenty of several kinds of fish may be caught. Mr. Bartram showed us several natural curiosities in the place where he keeps his seeds; they were principally fossils. He appeared fond of exchanging a number of his trees and plants for those which are peculiar to the Northern States. We proposed a correspondence, by which we could more minutely describe the productions peculiar to the Southern and Northern States.

“About nine, we took our leave of Mr. Bartram, who appeared to be well pleased with his visitors, and returned to Gray's tavern, where we breakfasted.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 14, 1787, describing Gray’s Tavern, Philadelphia, PA (1987: 1:274–79)

“. . .This tavern is on the south side of the Schuylkill, at the foot of the floating bridge. . . . There we were entertained with scenes romantic and delightful beyond the power of description. I know not how nor where to begin or end, nor can I give the faintest idea of this prodigy of art and nature. . . . Nothing appears from the house, or in passing the street, that would attract the attention of the most inquisitive traveler, unless it be a flight of steps cut out of the solid rock at the east end of the house, by which you ascend to a beautiful grass plat, shaded with a number of large trees, in the rear of the house. . . . From this grass plat we went into a piazza one story high, next the street, very pleasant, as it is in full view of the river. Here we breakfasted. Mr. Vaughan invited us to take a view of the Gardens. We returned to the grass plat, from which we ascended several glaces [gentle slopes] by a serpentine gravel walk, and came to the Green-house. It is a very large stone building, three stories in the front and two in the rear. The one-half of the house is divided lengthwise, and the front part is appropriated to a green-house, and has no chamber floors. It is finished in the completest manner for the purpose of arranging trees and plants in the most beautiful order. The windows are enormous. I believe some of them to be twenty feet in length, and proportionably wide. There is a fine gallery next the other part of the house, where company may view the vegetables to the best advantage. At this time, the trees and plants were removed into the open air, and the room whitewashed and as neat as a parlor. The other part of the house, which communicates with the gallery, is divided into Halls and small apartments, for the accommodation of several large companies (who would not wish to have intercourse) at the same time. All these apartments are handsomely furnished. On the top of the house is a spacious walk, where we had a delightful view of the city of Philadelphia. We then took a view of the contents of the green-house, beautifully arranged in the open air on the south of the garden. Here were most of the trees and fruits that grow in the hottest climates. Oranges, lemons, etc., in every stage from blossoms to ripe fruit; pine-apples in bloom, and those that were fully ripe. The flowers were numerous and extremely fragrant. We then rambled over the Gardens, which are large—seemed to be in a number of detached areas, all different in size and form. The alleys were none of them straight, nor were there any two alike. At every end, side, and corner, there were summer-houses, arbors covered with vines or flowers, or shady bowers encircled with trees and flowering shrubs, each of which was formed in a different taste. In the borders were arranged every kind of flower, one would think, that nature had ever produced, and with the utmost display of fancy, as well as variety. As we were walking on the northern side of the Garden, upon a beautiful glacis, we found ourselves on the borders of a grove of wood and upon the brow of a steep hill. Below us was a deep, shady valley, in the midst of which was a purling stream of water, meandering among the rocks in its way down to the river. At a distance, we could just see three very high arched bridges, one beyond the other. They were built in the Chinese style; the rails on the sides open work of various figures, and beautifully painted. We saw them through the grove, the branches of the trees partly concealing them, which produced the more romantic and delightful effect. As we advanced on the brow of this hill, we observed a small foot-path, which led by several windings into the grove. We followed it; and though we saw that it was the work of art, yet it was a most happy imitation of nature. It conducted us along the declivity of the hill, which on every side was strewed with flowers in the most artless manner, and evidently seemed to be the bounty of nature without the aid of human care. At length we seemed to be lost in the woods, but saw in the distance an antique building, to which our path led us. It is built of large stones, very low and singular in its form, standing directly over the brook in the valley. It instantly struck me with the idea of a hermitage, and I found that so it was called. Every thing was neat and clean about it, but we saw no inhabitant. We ventured, however, to open the door, which was large and heavy and seemed to grate upon its rusty hinges, and echoed a hoarse groan through the grove. We found several apartments, and at one end a fine place for bathing, which seems to be the design of the building. At this hermitage we came into a spacious graveled walk, which directed its course further along the grove, which was tall wood interspersed with close thickets of different growth. As we advanced, we found our gravel walk dividing itself into numerous branches, leading into different parts of the grove. We directed our course nearly north, though some of our company turned into the other walks, but were soon out of sight, and thought proper to return and follow us. We at length came to a considerable eminence, which was adorned with an infinite variety of beds of flowers and artificial groves of flowering shrubs. On the further side of the eminence was a fence, beyond which we perceived an extensive but narrow opening. When we came to the fence, we were delightfully astonished with the view of one of the finest cascades in America, which presented itself directly before us at the further end of the opening. A broad sheet of water comes over a large horizontal rock, and falls about seventy feet perpendicular. It is in a large river, which empties into the Schuylkill just above us. The distance we judged to be about a quarter of a mile, which being seen through the narrow opening in the tall grove, and the fine mist that rose incessantly from the rocks below, had a most delightful effect. Here we gazed with admiration and pleasure for some time, and then took a different route in our return through the grove, and followed a walk that led down toward the Schuylkill. Here the scene was varied. Toward the river the lands were more broken. The walks were conducted in every direction, over little eminences, or along their sides, or through a deep bottom or along a valley, with numerous other walks coming in or going out from the one that we followed. Indeed, the walks were nearly alike, only leading in different directions. This piece of ground in some parts is extremely rude, but those parts are improved to the best advantage; for here we found Grottoes wrought out of the sides of ledges of rocks, the entrance almost obscured by the shrubs and thickets that were placed before them, and the passage into them by a kind of labyrinth. There were several other hermitages, constructed in different forms; but the Grottoes and Hermitages were not yet completed, and some space of time will be necessary to give them that highly romantic air which they are capable of attaining. We crossed the deep valley with the purling stream at the lower end, next the river, where we had a fine view of the lofty Chinese bridges above us. Here is a curious labyrinth with numerous windings begun, and extends along the declivity of the hill toward the gardens, but has hardly yet received its form. At the bottom of the vale, and on the bank of the river, is a huge rock, which I judged to be at least fifteen feet high, and surrounded with tall spruces and cedars. On the top of it I observed a spacious summer-house, as I supposed, for I could see it only through the boughs of the trees. The roof was in the Chinese form. It was surrounded with rails of open work, and a beautiful winding staircase led up to it.

“From this valley we ascended a steep precipice on to the grass plat in the rear of the house from which we set out. During the whole of this romantic, rural scene, I fancied myself on enchanted ground, and could hardly help looking out for flying dragons, magic castles, little Fairies, Knight-errants, distressed Ladies, and all the apparatus of eastern fable. I found my mind really fatigued with so long a scene of pleasure. This tract of ground, in some parts, consists of gentle risings and depressions; in others, hills and vales; and in others, rocky, rude, and broken. There is every variety that imagination can conceive, but the whole improved and embellished by art, and yet the art so blended with nature as hardly to be distinguished, and seems to be only an handmaid to her operations. On the side of the road opposite to the house is a high hill, which ends abruptly next the river, in a large extended rock, twenty feet high. In this rock a flight of steps is cut, in a winding or kind of lunette form, from the road to the top of the hill, wide enough for two or three persons to walk abreast, with little gutters on each side to conduct the water that runs down. At the summit of the hill you enter a grove of walnuts, oaks, and pines, under which are arranged benches for one hundred people to sit, several long tables, etc. This is the only work of art on this hill. But, under the trees and on the sides of the hill, are many blueberry, whortleberry, and bilberry bushes, raspberries, blackberries, and some other kinds of wild fruit. It affords a fine prospect down the Schuylkill and its opposite shore.

“This tavern used to be no more than a common Inn, but Mr. Samuel Vaughan Sr., when he came from England a few years ago, was charmed with the situation, advised the present owner, who had just purchased it, and was an ambitious young fellow, to undertake these works, assuring him he would soon reimburse his expenses and accumulate a large estate from the company he would draw from Philadelphia. Mr. Vaughan promised to plan the works and furnish him with a gardener from England who would answer his purpose. This gardener is now with him, and he constantly employs about ten laborers under the gardener’s direction. The company from Philadelphia, we are told, far exceeded the Inn-keeper’s expectations, and he finds himself in a fair way to make a fortune.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 17, 1787, describing gardens of François Andrè Michaux, Bergen, NJ (1987: 1:291)

“. . . They, however, showed me the Gardens, and were very complaisant. There were a considerable collection of exotic shrubs and plants, set in a kind of beds for transplanting.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, July 28, 1787, describing New York, NY (1987: 1:307–08)

“. . . Broadway leads from the fort, or White Hall Square, to the common, and so out of the city through the Bowery. The common is considerably large, in a triangular form, and surrounded with buildings. On the northern side side of the Square are three very elegant large public buildings, which make a fine appearance at a distance, all built of free-stone, with a handsome fence inclosing a court-yard in front. . . . Near by it [the prison] is what I at first took to be a beautiful summer-house, raised from the ground. It is in a square form, the sides ornamented with checker-worked banisters, and the roof in the Chinese taste; the whole very handsomely painted. I was surprised to see so elegant a summer-house so near this building, which I found, by the iron-grates to be a prison, but, on inspection, found it was a Gallows, accommodated or turning off six criminals at a time.

“At the southern end of the city on the point of the Island, where North and East Rivers meet, is an old fort, now much out of repair. . . . This fort is built on a prodigious mound of earth raised for that purpose, which makes the walls next the harbor near forty feet high, and seems to be well situated for commanding the entrance into both rivers. . . . Around this fort is the Mall, where a vast concourse of gentlemen and ladies are constantly walking a little before sunset and in the evening. On the part of the Mall next the water, which is of considerable extent, is a broad and most beautiful glacis (built up with free-stone from the water), on which they walk. This is a cool and most delightful walk in an evening, having the sea open as far as Staten Island and Redhook, but in the day-time it greatly wants the shade of trees.”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, January 2, 1802, journal entry describing a visit to Mount Vernon, plantation of George Washington, Fairfax County, VA (1888: 2:55–58)

“. . . After leaving Alexandria about three miles, we entered a woodland, which continued, with the exception of a few openings of cultivated fields, until we cam within about a quarter of a mile of the mansion-house on Mt. Vernon. As the road goes out of the woods, which consist of tall and beautiful forests, variegated with all the different kinds of trees, native in this part of the country, it passes by a gate, where we leave the road and pass through the gate nearly at right-angles, and enter an open pasture. On passing through the gate, which stands on an eminence, we at once, and very abruptly, come in full view of the house, on the side back from the river. It appears on an eminence, not like a hill, but a level ground, with a pretty deep valley between, covered with woods and bushes of different kinds, which conceal the winding passage from the gate to the house. . . . In this situation the house, with two ranges of small buildings extending in a curved form, from near the corners of the house, till interrupted by the trees, has quite a picturesque appearance, and the effect is much heightened by coming out of a thick wood, and the sudden and unexpected manner in which it is seen. . . .

“After breakfast we rambled about the house and gardens, which were not in so high a style as I expected to have found them. The house stands on an elevated level, is two stories, high, with a piazza in front, supported by a row of pillars on the side toward the river, and is about five or six rods from a steep bank descending to the edge of the water. The river is wide, and affords a most delightful prospect far distant up and down the stream. as well as beyond the opposite shore. But the whole country appears to be an extended woods, with very few houses or cultivated fields in any direction. In front of the house is a grass plot, with trees on each side, and inclosed with a circular ditch. On the right is an orchard, consisting principally of large cherry and peach trees. At the bottom of this orchard, and nearly opposite the eastern end of the house, is a venerable tomb, which contains the remains of the great Washington. This precious monument was the first object of our attention. . . . Situated at the extremity of the grass plot, and on the edge of the bank, it is not seen until you approach near to it. The mound of earth is not much elevated, and is covered over with a growth of cypress trees, a few junipers, and near it the ever-green holly tree, which conceals it from the view until you come almost to it. The side of the steep bank to the river is covered with a thicket of forest trees in its whole extent within view of the house. The tomb opens nearly toward the river, at an upright door, which was locked, and all the stone work is covered with earth, overgrown with tall grass and these trees, which appear to have been planted, except at the sides and over the cap of the door. Between the tomb and the bank, a narrow foot-path, much trodden, and shaded with trees, passes round it. . . . After we had taken a melancholy leave of the tomb, we rambled over the gardens and shrubbery, which discovered much taste and neatness of design in its former owner. . . . I collected a quantity of seeds. . .”

  • Cutler, Manasseh, November 22, 1803, in a letter to his daughter Mrs. Torrey, describing The Woodlands (1888: 2:144–46)

“. . . Since you are quite a gardener, I will mention a visit I made, on my journey, near Philadelphia, to a garden, which in many respects exceeds any in America. It is at the country-seat of Mr. Hamilton, a gentleman of excellent taste and great property. . . . As soon as we had dined, he [Mr. Pickering] called me aside, and told me he had been acquainted with Mr. Hamilton, who was noted for his hospitality, and who lived but half a mile up the river, where he did not doubt we should be kindly entertained. We immediately set out, and arrived about an hour before sunset. His seat is on an eminence, which forms on its summit an extended plain, at the junction of two large rivers.

“Near the point of land a superb but ancient house built of stone is situated. In the front, which commends an extensive and most enchanting prospect, is a piazza, supported on large pillars, and furnished with chairs and sofas, like an elegant room. Here we found Mr. H., at his ease, smoking his cigar. . . . We then walked over the pleasure grounds in front and a little back of the house. It is formed into walks, in every direction, with borders and flowering shrubs and trees. Between are lawns of green grass, frequently mowed to make them convenient for walking, and at different distances numerous copse of native trees, interspersed with artificial groves, which are set with trees collected from all parts of the world. I soon found the fatigue of walking too great for me, though the enjoyments, in a measure, drove away the pain. . . . We then took a turn in the gardens and the green-houses. In the gardens, though ornamented with almost all the flowers and vegetables the earth affords, I was not able to walk long. The green-houses, which occupy a prodigious space of ground, I can not pretend to describe. Every part was crowded with trees and plants from the hot climates, and such as I had never seen, all the spices, the tea-plant in full perfection; in short, he assured us there was not a rare plant in Europe, Asia, or Africa, many from China and the islands in the South Seas, none, of which he had obtained any account, which he had not procured.

“By this time it was so dark that no object could be distinctly examined. We retired to the house. The table was spread with decanters of different wines, and tea was served.

“Immediately after, another table was loaded with large botanical books, containing the most excellent drawings of plants, such as I never could have conceived. He is himself an excellent botanist. . . . When we turned to rare plants, one of the gardeners would be called, and sent with lanterns to the green-house to fetch me a specimen to compare with it. This was done perhaps twenty times.

“Between 10 and 11 an elegant table was spread, with, I believe, not less than twenty covers. After supper, we turned again to the drawings, and at one we retired to bed. Our lodging was in the same style, and I had an excellent night’s sleep . . .”


Other Resources


  1. Peter S. Onuf, “Manasseh Cutler,” American National Biography (online); Robert Elliot Brown, Manasseh Cutler and the Settlement of Ohio, 1788 (Marietta, OH: Marietta College Press, 1938), 8; and William Darrach and Ernest G. Vietor, “Reverend Manasseh Cutler, LL.D., 1742–1825,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 90, no. 2 (April 1954): 111–22.
  2. Newcomer 1962, 30, and C. Burr Dawes, “Manasseh Cutler (1742–1823), Forefather of American Botany and American Botanical Gardens” (paper, Ohio Academy of Science and the Ohio Academy of Medical History, Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, April 8, 1972), 4.
  3. Lee Nathaniel Newcomer, “The Big World of Manasseh Cutler,” New England Galaxy 4, no. 1 (Summer 1962): 29–37.
  4. Darrach and Vietor 1954, 120.
  5. James Ellis Humphrey, “Manasseh Cutler,” American Naturalist 32, no. 374 (February 1898): 78.
  6. Newcomer 1962, 30–32. Cutler became the first president of the Bible Society of Salem and a leader in the local missionary society and the Female Cent Society.
  7. Newcomer 1962, 35, and George E. Gifford Jr., “Botanic Remedies in Colonial Massachusetts, 1620–1820,” Colonial Society of Massachusetts (website), 280.
  8. Anya Zilberstein, “Making and Unmaking Local Knowledge in Greater New England,” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 36, no. 4 (2013): 559–69.
  9. Newcomer 1962, 34; Zilberstein 2013, 559; and Humphrey 1898, 120.
  10. Humphrey 1898, 76, and Dawes 1972, 3. According to his son Ephraim, Cutler came across a volume by Linnaeus in the Yale library when he was an undergraduate.
  11. Darrach and Vietor 1954, 113. See also “An Account of Some of the Vegetable Productions Growing in This Part of America, Botanically Arranged,” Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1785): 396–493.
  12. Dawes 1972, 1–3.
  13. Mary A. Day, “Manasseh Cutler,” entry in “The Herbaria of New England,” Rhodora 3, no. 32 (August 1901): 219.
  14. Humphrey 1898, 79.
  15. Newcomer 1962, 36.
  16. Humphrey 1898, 79–80.

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