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History of Early American Landscape Design

Moses Marshall

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Moses Marshall (November 30, 1758-October 1, 1813), a Quaker physician and botanist in Chester County, Pennsylvania, assisted his uncle, Humphry Marshall, with a variety of botanical pursuits, including collecting indigenous plants and seeds for exchange with European correspondents, preparing the publication Arbustum Americanum, and cultivating an important botanic garden.


Fig. 1, Joseph Swan after Walter Hood Fitch, “Marshallia Caespitosa. Tufted Marshallia,” plate from Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1839).

Although Moses Marshall never received a medical degree, his contemporaries invariably referred to him as "Dr. Marshall." He studied with Dr. Nicholas Way in Wilmington, Delaware from 1776 to 1779 and practiced medicine briefly, before joining the household of his father's elder brother, Humphry Marshall. Shifting his attention to botany, Marshall gained extensive knowledge of indigenous American plants and developed expertise as a practical botanist while assisting with the botanic garden that his uncle was developing at his rural estate thirty miles west of Philadelphia. Marshall aided his uncle in preparing the publication Arbustum Americanum: The American Grove (1785), a catalog of forest trees and shrubs indigenous to the thirteen States. He also corresponded with some of his uncle's clients in America and Europe and helped fill their requests for seeds and plants.[1] Like his uncle, Moses Marshall requested books from overseas that would contribute to his knowledge of botany. In May 1788, for example, he wrote to the Quaker physician John Coakley Lettsom (1744–1815) in London asking that he send the latest edition of [[Carl Linnaeus|LINNAEUS'S Genera and Supplementum Plantarum. In exchange, he acquainted Lettsom with an unusual American plant, which he described according to Linnaeus's taxonomy and illustrated with a drawing of a dissection, which he offered to name Lettsomi in Lettsom's honor, should it prove to be a new genus (). Eager to initiate a correspondence with Moses Marshall, the Lutheran clergyman and botanist Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815) sent him the latest edition of Linnaeus's Materia Medica in 1790 and offered to loan examples from the "great many botanical writings" in his private library in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (view text). Two years later, Muhlenberg informed Marshall that the new edition of Linnaeus's Genera included Marshallia, a previously undescribed plant that he had asked be named in Marshall's honor (view text).[2] [Fig 1]

Humphry Marshall solicited employment for Moses among London's learned societies, informing Sir Joseph Banks in 1786, "As my nephew is well versed in the knowledge of Botany, and would gladly be employed in researches in that line, or to explore our western regions in search of minerals, fossils, or inflammables, and objects of History, &c., ...if the Royal Society should have a mind to employ any person, on this side the water, for such purposes, he would be willing to serve them" (view text).As early as 1784 Moses Marshall had begun trekking to outlying wilderness areas on his uncle's business, searching for plants and seeds to propagate in Humphry Marshall's botanic garden and to sell or exchange with European correspondents (view text). In a letter of 1785 the elder Marshall sought Benjamin Franklin's support for a more ambitious expedition: a fifteen- to eighteen-month tour of the western parts of the United States that he proposed Moses undertake in company with his cousin William Bartram "in order to make observations...upon the Natural productions of those regions." Their particular focus would be botany, Humphry Marshall emphasized, as "our western territories...abound with varieties of strange trees, shrubs, and plants, no doubt applicable to many valuable purposes in arts or manufactures"(). The expedition was still pending in 1788, when Moses Marshall told Lettsom that he "had a design highly favourable to discoveries in view,— a journey to the Mississippi, westward; but have not yet been at leisure to prosecute it."[3] After returning from a 1,600-mile roundtrip excursion west to Pittsburgh and south to the Alatamaha River in Georgia, Marshall wrote to Sir Joseph Banks in London of his intention of making "a second, and yet more extensive route."(view text) Caspar Wistar immediately thought of Marshall when a group of gentlemen led by Thomas Jefferson were seeking an explorer in June 1792 to make a expedition up the Missouri river (view text). Marshall never seems to have made this long-deferred journey, however, which ultimately fell to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

On the 6th of April, 1796, Governor Mifflin appointed him a Justice of the Peace; in which office he did excellent service, as a peace-maker, in the community around him. In all his acts he was a remarkably cautious, upright, conscientious man. The editor had the happiness to know him well, and passed many pleasant, instructive hours with him, investigating the plants in the Marshallton Botanic Garden. Dr. Marshall discontinued the business of sending plants and seeds to Europe, soon after his uncle's death, and the garden, in consequence, has ever since been almost wholly neglected. Dr. M. died on the 1st of October, 1813, aged fifty-four years and ten months. Darlington 1849: 545-46

--Robyn Asleson


"These four days past, we have been amongst the Pine Mountains, where we have seen plenty of the Cucumber Trees, Rhododendrons, and Mountain Raspberry [Rubus odoratus, L.]: and yesterday, about Juniata, we found broad, willow-leaved Oak [[Quercus imbricaria, Mx.?], and red-berried Elder.

"In coming along, I have seen many strange plants; but may be chiefly varieties of what we have already. However, I shall gather what seed I can, of any such, or bring the plants."

"I had it in contemplation to mention to thee for thy approbation, or sentiments thereon, a proposal that I had made, last winter, to my cousin, WM. BARTRAM, and nephew, Dr. MOSES MARSHALL, of taking a tour, mostly through the western parts of our United States, in order to make observations, &c, upon the Natural productions of those regions; with a variety of which, hitherto unnoticed, or but imperfectly described, we have reason to believe they abound; which, on consideration, they at that time seemed willing to undertake, and I conceive would be so still, provided they should meet with proper encouragement and support for such a journey; which they judge would be attended with considerable expense, for the transportation of their collections, &c, and for their subsistence during a period of fifteen or eighteen months, or more, which would at least be necessary for the completion of the numerous observations, and objects they would have to make remarks on, and collect. Should such proposals be properly encouraged, I apprehend they would engage to set out early in the spring, and throughout their journey make diligent search and strict observation upon everything within the province of a naturalist; but more especially upon Botany, for the exercise of which there appears, in such a journey, a most extensive field; for, from accounts of our western territories, they are said to abound with varieties of strange trees, shrubs, and plants, no doubt applicable to many valuable purposes in arts or manufactures, and to be replete with various species of earths, stones, salts, inflammable minerals, and metals (the many uses of obtaining a knowledge of which is sufficiently obvious); remarks, experiments, &c, upon every of which they propose making; as also to make collections, and preserve specimens, of everything that may enrich useful science, or amuse the curious naturalist; to the conducement of which, they would willingly receive and observe any reasonable instructions that might facilitate their discoveries, or direct their researches.

"I have taken the freedom to mention these proposals to thee knowing that thou was always ready and willing to promote any useful knowledge and science, for the use of mankind; and if, on consideration of the premises, thou should approve thereof, thou may communicate them to the members of the Philosophical Society, or any other set of gentlemen, that would be willing or likely to encourage such an undertaking. Perhaps Congress, or some of the members, might promote their going out with the surveyors, when they lay out the several new states.

"I have ordered my nephew, the Doctor, to present thee with one of my Catalogues of the Forest Trees of our Thirteen United States; which I hope thou'll accept of, for thy perusal."

"I received thy favour, dated April the 5th, 1786, in which thou seems desirous of trying an experiment upon the curing the root of Ginseng; for which purpose thou desires that I would procure thee one or two hundred weight of the fresh root... which requisition I have endeavoured to comply with, but have not been able to procure for thee more than about one hundred weight of the fresh root, and that at a considerable expense; having to employ a young man, a nephew of mine [Moses Marshall], that lives with me, to travel about two hundred miles to the westward, through a dismal mountainous part of our country, as the Ginseng is either dug up for sale, or rooted up by the hogs so much, that it begins to grow scarce in the inhabited parts, especially where the people are any ways thick settled; and seems likely to be entirely demolished, amongst the inhabitants in a few years.

"He was likewise obliged to hire a person, at a dollar a day, to assist him in digging said Ginseng, both of them being obliged to encamp in the mountains, strike up a fire and lie by it all night, in the morning take their hoes and knapsacks on their backs, and climb up the sides of the mountains, and dig till towards evening, and then bring what they had dug to their camp, and cook their morsel and eat it. It took him about twenty days, in going and coming home again, digging the roots, and packing up, &c., the expense of carriage being considerable. Therefore, it being procured and carefully put up according to thy direction, I hope that it may arrive safe ; and if so, I expect thou'll be willing to pay a reasonable compensation, which would be, at least, an English crown a pound, I should apprehend. But, if thou thinks that too much, be pleased to pay what thou thinks would be a compensation, adequate to the trouble and cost the young doctor hath been at; and I hope, if thou, or any of the members of the Royal Society, should see cause to employ him, or me, in future, that we would endeavour to serve you as reasonable as any other persons; and as my nephew is well versed in the knowledge of Botany, and would gladly be employed in researches in that line, or to explore our western regions in search of minerals, fossils, or inflammables, and objects of History, &c., provided he could meet with proper encouragement, I, therefore, make free to mention something of the kind to thee, that if the Royal Society should have a mind to employ any person, on this side the water, for such purposes, he would be willing to serve them.

"I have sent thee one of my pamphlets, entitled the American Grove, and expect thou'll present it to the Royal Society, in my name, if thou thinks it worth their notice and acceptance; as also one for thyself, which I hope will be accepted....

"If any more should be wanted, perhaps it might be procured some small matter reasonabler than this sent, my nephew having found, in his route, where it grows pretty plenty."

  • Marshall, Moses, May 7, 1788, letter from Bradford, Chester county, to John Coakley Lettsom (Darlington 1849: 545-48)[4] back up to history
"In a corner of the box, are a few small plants, which I believe are yet undescribed, viz., a species of Sedum; a species of Portulaca, the root perennial, the stem short, thickly set with cylindrical succulent leaves standing somewhat erect; from the centre shoots forth a very slender, naked, reddish stem, four or five times the length of the leaves, branching at top, and supporting reddish flowers, which expand about noon, and continue open about three hours. Also a species of Veronica, and a small Evergreen from the mountains, the characters of which I have attempted drawing though from the dissection of but a single flower: ...[Linnaean description follows]

"To this plant, should it prove to be a new genus, I had some time since designed the appellation of Lettsomia, with this provision, that it might not be unpleasing to thee, and that, in the interim, I should not be able to discover a plant more exalted, conspicuous, and worthy.

"I have, indeed, had a design highly favourable to discoveries in view,— a journey to the Mississippi, westward; but have not yet been at leisure to prosecute it. I have, therefore, at present, but this humble offering to make.

"The autumn will be more favourable for sending of plants, &c, at which time we shall endeavour to find something to furnish thy garden, or cabinet. In the mean time, I should wish thee to send LINNAEUS'S Genera and Supplementum Plantarum, the latest and best edition. Also, a surgeon's pouch, or case of pocket instruments.....

"Residing with, and writing by direction of, my uncle, HUMPHRY MARSHALL."

"As I know that your nephew has studied physic, I make bold to send him the late edition of LINNAEI Materia Medica, and hope the present will be not unacceptable. I have a great many botanical writings, and shall be happy if I can serve you or him in botanical researches, through a loan of them. Pray remember my best respects to him; and tell him how gladly I would embrace an opportunity of a correspondence, which certainly would be an advantage to our botanical studies....

"I shall pass by your house, the latter end of May, on my way to Philadelphia; and then hope to see you, your nephew, and your garden."

  • Marshall, Moses, October 30, 1790, letter to Sir Joseph Banks (Darlington 1849: 563-64)[4] back up to history
"Your order of April last, addressed to my uncle, was duly received; and in compliance therewith I send a box of plants, — list of contents, &c., inclosed....

"In May last, I sat [sic] out upon a botanic tour, by way of Juniata to Pittsburg, thence southward, up the Monongahela, upon Green Briar River, over New River to Holston, Nolichucky, &c. Then crossing the high and great chain of mountains, came upon the head waters of Santee, in South Carolina; thence by Ninety-six to Augusta, and to Savannah town, and continuing southwest to the river Alatamaha, in Georgia. I here found the Franklinia or Gordonia sessilis, better called: i.e. floribus sessilibus.
"I then returned to Charleston— making a route of about 1600 miles; and thence by water to Philadelphia— In this route, by reason of the unfavourable season of the year, I was unable to procure scarce anything but specimens. Of these, a few perhaps are new; but several are spoiled with dampness, &c. I designed forwarding the most curious; but through hurry left them at home; that is, thirty miles west of Philadelphia, from whence I now write. However, they shall be forwarded by another opportunity.

"Notwithstanding the great fatigue, the danger, and expense in travelling, I have in contemplation a second, and yet more extensive route."

  • Muhlenberg, Rev. Henry, April 9, 1792, letter from Lancaster, Pa. to Moses Marshall (Darlington 1849: 576-77)[4] back up to history
"I beg leave to inform you, that the new edition of the Genera LINNAEI is safely arrived. The first volume arrived some time ago; the second very lately. The first is only bound in paper. I am happy to see that the editor, my friend D. SCHREBER, has done what I required from him. He has given your name to a hitherto undescribed plant, that belongs, to the Syngenesia, Polygamia oequalis, which he names Marshallia....

"If you still incline to have them, pray let me know where to send them.

"I intend... to be down your way this day a fortnight, on a journey to Philadelphia; and hope then to see you, and spend a few hours or more with you.

"If you could spare me a plant of what your uncle calls Sedum verticillatum, I would be very glad to have it in my garden. It is a fine little plant."

"By a conversation with thy uncle, I find that thee is already acquainted with the wishes of some gentlemen here, to have our continent explored in a western direction. My reason for writing, at present, is to inform thee of the present state of the business.

"Mr. JEFFERSON and several other gentlemen are much interested, and think they can procure a subscription sufficient to insure one thousand guineas, as a compensation to any one who undertakes the journey, and can bring satisfactory proofs of having passed across to the South Sea.

"They wish the journey to be prosecuted up the Missouri, as the easiest, and perhaps most interesting track. A Spanish gentleman who is now here, and lives near the mouth of the Missouri, says that a caravan of traders go off every year up the Missouri, and penetrate fifteen hundred miles up it, to the Mahaw indians, who are very friendly indeed. These traders go off from the mississippi about the first of August, so that any one who thinks of it this year, ought to lose no time.

"If thee has any inclination, I think it would be very proper to come to town immediately, and converse with Mr. JEFFERSON, who seems principally interested."

  • Marshall, Moses, December 11, 1793, letter to Grimwood, Hudson, and Barret (Darlington 1849: 580-82)[4]
"Yours of the 18th June, I duly received; and in compliance therewith, have herewith sent...one box plants, and one small box of seeds....

"We... [during Yellow Fever outbreak] became careless in procuring some things, especially those at a distance, till too late; as the Juniperus and Rhododendron seeds. The Sarracenia purpurea, Helonias asphodeloides, and Cypripedium acaule, natives of New Jersey, at sixty miles distance, the route through Philadelphia, were not procured from the above cause; though these I still designed to get: yet, the day on which I had purposed setting out on that errand, there fell a snow eighteen inches in depth. Thus, you see, though the intention to serve you was good, yet it has been in part diverted and defeated, by intervening casualties.

"The Magnolia auriculata cannot be had, I believe, without going to the place of its native growth; which is (at least, what I have seen,) in South Carolina, about two hundred miles from the sea-coast. I have but one plant; and BARTRAM two or three, which he does not incline to part with. There are some, that M. MICHAUX, a French botanist, procured, and sent from Charleston, a few years since. But he has since been in Canada, and I believe is now in Kentucky.

"Of the Magnolia grandiflora, I have two fine plants, too large to send abroad. I am in nearly the same situation with respect to Stuartia and Fothergilla. There is none to be had nearer than Carolina; where also grows the Sarracenia flava.

"With respect to new things, when I consider that a KALM and a CLAYTON have been here, I have little hopes of making discoveries: yet I find there are many little plants that escaped their view. In a circuitous route of about seven hundred miles, which I took this summer, I have observed several small herbaceous, and two shrubby plants, which I believe are new. One of the shrubs is, perhaps, a Spiraea: the other, the Oily Nut [Pyrularia, Mx., Hamiltonia oleifera, Muhl.], of which I formerly sent a specimen to Sir JOSEPH BANKS. It grows to the height of six or eight feet; the flowers are small, and make little appearance ; but the fruit is perfectly oily....

"As I have discovered this to grow at the distance of only two hundred and fifty miles, if those I now have should not shoot, in the spring, I intend setting out for a new supply. Thus you may see to what fatigue, expense, and misfortune, we are subjected, who undertake to supply Europeans with curiosities; and judge how small our recompense."

  • Parke, Thomas, October 19, 1796, letter from Philadelphia to Humphry and Moses Marshall
I have received a letter from ROBERT BARCLAY, which contains the following paragraph: —

"'Pray desire H. and M. Marshall to send me a box of plants for my friend T. KITT, of Norwich, who is well versed in plants, and will be pleased with a nice collection, mixed as usual with herbaceous; remembering to add several Kalmias, Azaleas, &c., and everything new or curious.'"

"When you were last here it was so late, and you were of course so much hurried, as to prevent your deriving any satisfaction in viewing my exotics. I hope when you come next to Philadelphia, that you will allot one whole day, at least, for the Woodlands....

"Your nephew [Moses Marshall] did me the favour of calling, the other day; but he, too, was in a hurry, and had little opportunity of satisfying his curiosity. I flatter myself, however, that during his short stay he saw enough to induce him to repeat his visit. The sooner this happens, the more agreeable it will be to me.

"When I was at your house, a year ago, I observed several matters in the gardening way, different from any in my possession. Being desirous to make my collection as general as possible, I beg to know if you have, by layers, or any other mode, sufficiently increased any of the following kinds so as to be able, with convenience, to spare a plant of each of them, viz.: — Ledum palustre, Carolina Rhamnus, Azalea coccinea, Mimosa Intsia, and Laurus Borbonia. Any of them would be agreeable to me; as also would be a plant, or seeds Hippophae Canadensis, Aralia hispida, Spiraea nova from the western country; Tussilago Petasites, Polymnia tetragonotheca, Hydrophyllum Canadense, H. Virginicum, Polygala Senega, P. biflora, Napoea scabra dioica, Talinum, a nondescript Sedum from the west, somewhat like the Telephium, two kinds of a genus supposed, by Dr. MARSHALL, to be between Uvularia and Convallaria [probably the Streptopus, of MICHAUX, which the MARSHALLS proposed to call Bartonia], and Rubia Tinctorum. I should also be obliged to you for a few seeds of your Calycanthus, Spigelia Marilandica, Tormentil from Italy, and two of your Oaks with ovate entire leaves."

"I have not heard of Dr. MARSHALL'S having been in this neighbourhood since I was last Bradford. From the pressing invitation I gave him, I am willing to hope that, in case of his coming to town, he will not forget to give me a call. I beg you will present him with my best respects, and request of him to give me a line of information, as to the Menziesia ferruginea, particularly of its vulgar name, if it has one, where it grows, if he knows the name of any person in its neighbourhood, who is acquainted with it, so, as to direct or show it to any one who may go to look after it.

"I intend, next month, to go to Lancaster; and if convenient to me, when there, to spare my George, I have thoughts of sending him to Redstone, for the Menziesia, and Podophyllum diphiyllum. If Dr. MARSHALL knows of any curious and uncommon plants, growing in the neighbourhood with those I have mentioned, I will be obliged to him to give me any intelligence by which he may suppose they can be found: or, if he knows any person or persons at Redstone, or Fort Pitt, who are curious in plants, of whom any questions on the subject may be asked, he cannot do me a greater service than by giving me their names and place of abode."

"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."

"[William] BALDWIN had become intimate with the late Dr. MOSES MARSHALL,— nephew and heir of HUMPHRY MARSHALL, the well-known author of the Arbustum Americanum, and founder of the Botanic Garden at Marshallton. This gentleman was a respectable Botanist, and had materially assisted his uncle, — both in the establishment of his Garden, and in the prepartion of his work on American Forest Trees and Shrubs. In the society of Dr. MARSHALL, BALDWIN had his taste for the studyo f the vegetable creation first awakened; and the means of gratifying it were amply afforded by the rich collection of indigenous plants, then growing in the Marshallton Botanic Garden. This circumstance undoubtedly gave a decided bias to his future pursuits; and illustrates well the happy ifluence of such institutions, and opportunities, in developing the latent powers and aptitudes of ingenuous Youth."

"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.

"After practising Medicine a short time, he [Moses Marshall] seems to have become an inmate in the family of his uncle HUMPHRY, devoting his time and services, exclusively, as an aid to his uncle, in the business of collecting and shipping plants and seeds to Europe. He made several long exploring journeys, in that pursuit, through the wilds of the West and Southwest. He was a good practical botanist, well acquainted with most of our indigenous plants, and rendered valuable assistance to his uncle, in preparing the Arbustum Americanum.... The editor had the happiness to know him well, and passed many pleasant, instructive hours with him, investigating the plants in the Marshallton Botanic Garden. Dr. MARSHALL discontinued the business of sending plants and seeds to Europe, soon after his uncle's death, and the garden, in consequence, has ever since been almost wholly neglected."


Other Resources

Buffington-Marshall Papers, Chester County Historical Society

Humphry Marshall Papers, United States Department of Agriculture, Special Collections


  1. In a letter of May 7, 1788 to John Coakley Lettsom, Marshall described himself as "Residing with, and writing by direction of, my uncle. Darlington (1849) 545-48.
  2. R. B. Channell, "A Revisional Study of the Genus Marshallia (Compositae)," Contributions from the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University: 181 (1957), 41–130, view on Zotero.
  3. Darlington, 1849, 547),
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Darlington, 1849 ,
  5. "Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science," The Register of Pennsylvania, 1 (May 10, 1828), view on Zotero.
  6. Darlington, 1843
  7. Darlington, 1849

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Moses Marshall," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Moses_Marshall&oldid=15802 (accessed November 30, 2023).

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