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History of Early American Landscape Design

Samuel Vaughan

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Portrait of Samuel Vaughan

Samuel Vaughan (April 23, 1720–1802) was a London merchant and Jamaican sugar plantation owner. An ardent supporter of the cause of American independence, Vaughan contributed to the development of several important American sites and institutions, including Mount Vernon, the State House Yard in Philadelphia, and the American Philosophical Society.


Related Sites: Berkeley Springs, Fort Pitt, Gray's Garden, Hallowell, Mount Vernon, State House Yard, Williamsburg

Related People: John Bartram, William Bartram, Manasseh Cutler, Colen Campbell, Benjamin Franklin, Humphry Marshall, Josiah Quincy, Jr., Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Vaughan, George Washington

Related Terms: Alcove, Arboretum, Bath/Bathhouse, Chinese Manner, English Style, Green, Grotto, Hermitage, Kitchen Garden, Lake/Pond, Landscape Gardening, Mall, Modern Style/Natural Style, Park, Picturesque, Pleasure Garden, Public Garden/Public Ground, Square, Temple, Walk, Wilderness, Wood/Woods, Yard


During the 1740s Vaughan established extensive commercial enterprises in London, the West Indies, and the American colonies. He strengthened his ties to America through marriage in 1747 to Sarah Hallowell (1727-1809), daughter of the wealthy Boston merchant, shipbuilder, and landowner Benjamin Hallowell. [1] Unlike his loyalist father-in-law, Vaughan was a passionate advocate of American liberty and a great admirer of George Washington. In London he was a member of the “Club of Honest Whigs”--a liberal coterie of intellectuals and religious dissenters (several of them, like Vaughan, Unitarians) who met to discuss science, philosophy, and social and political reform. [2] At his home in the English village of Wanstead, Vaughan hosted visiting American patriots such as Benjamin Franklin, who became an intimate family friend, and Josiah Quincy, Jr., to whom Franklin introduced Vaughan in 1774.[3] It was possibly at Wanstead that Vaughan developed the knowledge of landscape gardening that he later brought to America. Nearby Wanstead House — a magnificent Palladian residence designed by Colen Campbell — was among the first in England to have its existing formal gardens renovated (c. 1725-1771) in the Romantic, naturalistic mode that became known as the English Style. Thousands of shrubs and trees were added to the park, along with architectural accents (such as a boathouse-grotto on the manmade lake and an ornamental temple that also functioned as a poultry house and keeper’s lodge). [4] Vaughan would include similar garden features in the landscape projects he later oversaw in Philadelphia.

Within months of the conclusion of the American revolutionary war, Vaughan re-located his family to Philadelphia where, in December 1783, he met and initiated an enduring friendship with his hero, George Washington, to whom he was introduced by Benjamin Rush. [5] Vaughan took particular interest in the architecture, grounds, and interior decoration of Mount Vernon, advising Washington on fashionable English trends, offering to supply skilled workmen, and sending gifts such as an English fireplace mantel carved with rustic subjects. [6] Vaughan also became a driving force within Philadelphia’s intellectual, civic, and scientific communities. By January 1784 he had engaged a workman to implement his ambitious plan to landscape the State House Yard (an open green at the center of State House Square) as a public garden. [7] He joined the American Philosophical Society in the same month, and took the initiative for planning Philosophical Hall, the Society’s new headquarters on the grounds of the State House Yard. In a letter of March 8, 1784 Vaughan assured the Society’s founder, Benjamin Franklin, that the building would “be sufficiently ornamental not to interfere materially with the views of making a publick walk.”[8] Vaughan initially envisioned the State House Yard as a national arboretum, with “a specimen of every sort of [tree and shrub] in America that will grow in this state.” [9] Vaughan purchased many of these specimens from John and William Bartram, and also consulted the Bartrams’ cousin Humphry Marshall. His high regard for [Humphry Marshall|Marshall’s]] efforts to document the “original botanical information of the New World,” led Vaughan in May 1785 to solicit support from the American Philosophical Society (of which he was now a vice president) and the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture (which he had co-founded a few months earlier). When that effort failed, he personally supervised and financed publication of Marshall’s manuscript, Arbustrum [sic] Americanum (1785), and even translated Latin terms for the English language index. [10]

Although Vaughan ultimately scaled back his encyclopedic plan for landscaping the State House Yard, he nevertheless assembled a great number and variety of specimens, which he laid out in accordance with the naturalistic landscape conventions he had absorbed in England. Contemporary accounts attest to Vaughan’s personal supervision of the work, and it was widely known that he was chiefly responsible for overseeing the project and financing the majority of the materials and labor. [11] Even travelers merely passing through Philadelphia were aware of his agency, peppering their descriptions of the State House Yard with praise for his good taste and generosity. Vaughan also received accolades for his signal contributions to the American Philosophical Society. In a letter of August 2, 1786 Benjamin Rush observed, "He [Vaughan] has been the principal cause of the resurrection of our Philosophical Society. He has even done more, he has laid the foundation of a philosophical hall which will preserve his name and the name of his family among us for many, many years to come." [12] Less well known was Vaughan’s responsibility for the fashionable pleasure garden recently opened at Gray’s Tavern on the Schuylkill River. With the aid of an English gardener and a team of laborers, Vaughan had transformed the steep, wooded grounds into a romantic park known as Gray's Garden. A maze of paths meandered through informal plantings of flowers and shrubs, and featured such picturesque elements as grottoes, Chinese bridges, and a rustic hermitage that functioned as a bathhouse. [13]

Despite his many occupations in Philadelphia, Vaughan traveled frequently to Boston and visited other regions of the United States. In July 1786 he and Manasseh Cutler began preparations for a trip to the White Mountains, where they intended to study native flora, fauna, and minerals (Vaughan’s pet subject), aided by scientific instruments Vaughan had imported from Europe. [14] In 1787 Vaughan hosted two dinners for George Washington while the president was in Philadelphia for the Federal Convention, and then set off on a 1400-mile journey to Mount Vernon. During his trip, Vaughan kept a journal in which he detailed the sites and natural phenomena he encountered while traveling through Pittsburgh (celebrating the 4th of July at Fort Pitt), Berkeley Springs, Williamsburg, and other towns. [15] At Mount Vernon Vaughan made notes on the mansion and grounds and completed a sketch, from which he later produced two more detailed versions, one of which he sent as a gift to Washington. [16]

In 1790 Vaughan took his final leave of America and returned to England. Just prior to his departure, he formally requested that William Bartram — rather than an English gardener — be entrusted with maintaining the shrubs and trees at the State House Yard, asserting: “He is fully competent to the business, which I conceive not to be the case of the English Gardiner proposed, who not being acquainted with the productions of this Country & who hath neither ability to judge or means to procure the variety necessary to supply those destroyed or dead.” [17] From the other side of the Atlantic, Vaughan continued to exchange scientific information and specimens with Cutler, Washington, and other American friends. He also supervised the development of property inherited from his father-in-law, Benjamin Hallowell, in the town of Hallowell, Maine. As early as 1784, he had sought to establish a Unitarian community in Hallowell and he continued to promote the spiritual, agricultural, and mercantile growth of the town through family members who ultimately settled there, most notably his son Benjamin, who developed a noted garden while advancing the pioneering horticultural work that had become a family tradition. [18]

--Robyn Asleson

RESOURCES Samuel Vaughan Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. http://scdb.swem.wm.edu/?p=collections/findingaid&id=6972&q=&rootcontentid=4627

Vaughan family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0040


  • October, 1785, Robert Hunter describing the State House Yard in Philadelphia (quoted in 1943: 169) [19]
“The state-house is infinitely beyond anything I have either seen in New York or Boston, and the walk before it does infinite honor to Mr. Vaughan’s taste and ingenuity in laying it out.”

"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 squares 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 others 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.

“Before the front of the house . . . there are lawns, surrounded with gravel walks 19 feet wide. with trees on each side the larger, for shade. outside the walks trees & shrubberies. Parralel [sic] to each exterior side a Kitchen Gardens. with a stately hot house on one side.”

"The state-house yard has been highly improved by the exertions of Mr. Samuel Vaughan, and affords two gravel walks, shaded with trees, a pleasant lawn, and several beds of shrubs and flowers."

"The State-house square... is inclosed [sic], on three sides, by a brick wall.... This area has, of late, been judiciously improved, under the direction of Samuel Vaughan, Esq. It consists of a beautiful lawn, interspersed with little knobs or tufts of flowering shrubs, and clumps of trees, well disposed. Through the middle of the gardens, runs a spacious gravel-walk lined with double rows of thriving elms, and communicating with serpentine walks which encompass the whole area. These surrounding walks are not uniformly on a level with the lawn; the margin of which, being in some parts a little higher, forms a bank, which, in fine weather, affords pleasant seats. When the trees attain to a larger size, it will be proper to place a few benches under them, in different situations, for the accommodation of persons frequenting the walks.
"These gardens will soon, if properly attended to, be in a condition to admit of our citizens indulging themselves, agreeably, in the salutary exercise of walking. The grounds, though not so extensive as might be wished, are sufficiently large to accommodate very considerable numbers: the objects within view are pleasing; and the situation is open and healthy. If the ladies, in particular, would occasionally recreate themselves with a few turns in these walks, they would find the practice attended with real advantages."

"As it is my wish to plant in the State house square specimens of every tree & shrub that grow in the several states on this Continent that will thrive here, I have enclosed a sketch of such others as I have been able to procure since the 7th of last month, with a list of such others have occurred to me hitherto, but as I am unacquainted with the vast variety remaining & that you have turned your thoughts in that line, I have to request, & shall be much obliged to you for a list of such as occur to you, with directions in what state or place they are to be had; that I may lay out to procure them to plant in the fall."




The Cultural Landscape Foundation: http://tclf.org/pioneer/samuel-vaughan/biography-samuel-vaughan

The Massachusetts Historical Society: http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0040


  1. Emma Huntington Nason, Old Hallowell on the Kennebec (Augusta, Me.: Press of Burleigh & Flynt, 1909), 74-75, view on Zotero; Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens of the State of Maine, American Series of Popular Biographies—Maine Edition (Boston: New England Historical Publishing Company, 1903), 167, view on Zotero.
  2. Verner W. Crane, "The Club of Honest Whigs: Friends of Science and Liberty," The William and Mary Quarterly, 23, Third Series (April 1966), 220-221, 228, view on Zotero; Samuel Vaughan, "Samuel Vaughan’s Journal, or 'Minutes Made by S.V., from Stage to Stage, on a Tour to Fort Pitt'. [Part I]," ed. Edward G. Williams, The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 44 (March 1961), 52-53, view on Zotero.
  3. Quincy, 1875, 204, 214, 242.
  4. Jeffery, March 2003, 24-36.
  5. Toogood, 2004, 74; Murray, 1989, 200; Stetson, 1949, 461.
  6. George Washington to Samuel Vaughan, June 20, 1784; Abbot and Twohig, 1992, 1: 466; see also 1: 45-46, 273-274; 2: 326; 4: 384; Dalzell and Dalzell, 2000, 112-115, Manca, 2012, 9, 22, 25, 171, 173-174, 194, 198; “Samuel Vaughan and George Washington,” Mount Vernon website, http://mountvernonnewroom.tumblr.com/post/52386984117/samuel-vaughan-and-george-washington.
  7. Toogood, 2004, 72, 82-83; Greene, 1969, 290; Stetson, 1949, 464-465, 469.
  8. Vaughan quoted in Toogood, 2004, 73; see also 82-83; Greene, 1969, 290; Stetson, 1949, 464-465, 469.
  9. Quotation from Samuel Vaughan to Humphry Marshall, May 14, 1785, USDA History Collection, http://specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/vaughan-marshall-april-30-1785-usda-history-collection; cf. Darlington, 1849, 557. See also Toogood, 2004, 86.
  10. Quotation from Samuel Vaughan to Humphry Marshall, April 30, 1785, USDA History Collection, http://specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/vaughan-marshall-april-30-1785-usda-history-collection; Darlington, 1849, 555. See also Toogood, 2004, 82; Baatz, 1985, __; Stetson, 1949, 469; Ewan, 1978, 28; Stetson, 1949, 469-470.
  11. See, for example, Jacob Hiltzheimer’s diary entries for April 23 and November 16, 1785 in Hilzheimer and Parsons, 1893, 72, 76. See also Toogood, 2004, 88.
  12. Lingelbach, 1953, 49.
  13. Toogood, 2004, 83, Stetson, 1949, 467-468; Cutler, 1888, 1: 275-277.
  14. Cutler, 1888, 2: 247, 271, 281.
  15. Williams, March 1961, 53, 56-65, view on Zotero; Samuel Vaughan, "Samuel Vaughan’s Journal, or 'Minutes Made by S.V., from Stage to Stage, on a Tour to Fort Pitt'. Part II, From Carlisle to Pittsburgh," ed. Edward G. Williams, The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 44 (June 1961), 160-73, view on Zotero; Samuel Vaughan, ‘"Samuel Vaughan’s Journal, or 'Minutes Made by S.V., from Stage to Stage, on a Tour to Fort Pitt.' Part III. From Pittsburgh to Fort Cumerland Thence to Mount Vernon." ed. Edward G. Williams, The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 44 (September 1961), 261-285, view on Zotero.
  16. Williams, June 1961, 273-274, view on Zotero.
  17. Stetson, 1949, 80.
  18. Taylor, 1990, 34-37; Murray, 1989, 204; Nason, 1909, 50-51, view on Zotero; Cooke, 1949, 49; Sheppard, 1865, 5-6, 12-15.
  19. Robert Hunter, Quebec to Carolina in 1785-1786: Being the Travel Diary and Observations of Robert Hunter, Jr., a Young Merchant of London, ed. Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1943), 169, view on Zotero.
  20. John D. Norton and Susanne A. Schrage-Norton, The Upper Garden at Mount Vernon Estate—Its Past, Present, and Future: A Reflection on 18th Century Gardening. Phase II: The Complete Report, Bound typescript (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Library, 1985) View on Zotero
  21. Samuel Vaughan, Letter to Humphry Marshall (Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, 1785), Series X, Manuscripts, Box 10/4, file "Humphry Marshall Papers," USDA History Collection, view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Samuel Vaughan," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Samuel_Vaughan&oldid=6626 (accessed December 6, 2023).

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