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History of Early American Landscape Design

William Bull II

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]

William Bull II (1710-1791) was a prominent planter and politician in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as an amateur botanist. He laid out formal gardens at his family's plantation, Ashley Hall.


Although he was born in America, William Bull maintained a lifelong allegiance to England. He received his early education at Westminster school in London, and went on to continue his studies in the early 1730s at Leiden with the Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhave (1668-1738). In 1735 he became the first native-born American to graduate with a medical degree from the university. [1] While living abroad, Bull developed a keen interest in plants and gardens. On his return to South Carolina, he corresponded with the English botanist and plant and seed merchant Peter Collinson, and amassed a substantial personal library of books on botany and natural history. Bull introduced the works of Carolus Linnaeus to the Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Garden in 1752, lending him Classes plantarum and Fundamenta Botanica, as well as John Clayton’s Flora Virginica. Bull also helped familiarize Garden with the native plants of South Carolina. [2] For many years Bull served as president of the Charles Town Library Society, a group notable for its enthusiasm for natural history as well as its extravagant purchases of rare and luxurious botanical folios. [3] In 1773 Bull proposed the formation of a special Library committee "for collecting materials for promoting a Natural History of this Province," which resulted in the establishment of the Charleston Museum, one of the earliest public museums in America. [4]

Bull served as lieutenant-governor of South Carolina from 1759 to 1775, and filled in as acting governor on five separate occasions during that period. An ardent Loyalist, he fled to England in 1777 and was still there two years later when rampaging British troops "plundered and greatly damaged" his plantation at Ashley Hall, destroying a fish dam, tossing his private papers into the garden, and smashing china and glass. The greatest loss may have been Bull's library, which he reported "was scattered and mostly carried away."[5] Bull returned to America in February 1781, but when British troops evacuated Charleston a year later, he accompanied them back to England. Bull died in London in 1791. The following year his wife, Hannah Beale Bull, erected an obelisk honoring his memory on the grounds of Ashley Hall. The monument bears a portrait of the governor in relief and a commemorative plaque with a lengthy inscription reading in part: "This obelisk was erected, sacred to his virtues and her grief, with duty and affection by his disconsolate widow." [6]

--Robyn Asleson


"[William Bull], the first Governor, had entertained Catesby, the celebrated naturalist, at the family seat, at Ashley river, where there is now a majestic avenue of oaks, said to have been planted by his hand."



South Carolina Plantations

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Alfred O. Halsey Map Preservation Research Project, Preservation Society of Charleston



  1. James Raven, London Booksellers and American Customers: Transatlantic Literary Community and the Charleston Library Society, 1748-1811 (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 172, view on Zotero.
  2. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 35, view on Zotero; Raven, 2002, 73, 223, view on Zotero.
  3. Raven, 2002, 73, 169-70,view on Zotero.
  4. Albert E. Sanders and William Dewey Anderson, Jr., Natural History Investigations in South Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 18-19, view on Zotero.
  5. Bull, 1952: 63, view on Zotero; Stephen Conway, A Short History of the American Revolutionary War (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013), 126, view on Zotero.
  6. Bull, 1952: 66, view on Zotero.
  7. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, S.C.: J. Russell, 1854), view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "William Bull II," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=William_Bull_II&oldid=9266 (accessed December 6, 2023).

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

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