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History of Early American Landscape Design

William Bull II

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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.


More extensively educated than most Americans of his generation, William Bull briefly attended Westminster school in London (1723) before continuing his study of Greek, Latin, and science with a Leiden-educated tutor in Carolina. In 1731 Bull enrolled at Leiden himself, studying with the Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhave (1668-1738) and becoming, in 1735, the first native-born American to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine degree from the university. [1] While living abroad, Bull developed a keen interest in the science of natural history. On his return to America, he assembled a substantial personal library of books on botany and natural history. He also corresponded with the English botanist and plant and seed merchant Peter Collinson, to whom he sent rare plant specimens, and with Thomamas Penn, who was pursuing the study of natural history in Philadelphia.[2] When the Scottish physician and budding naturalist Dr. Alexander Garden arrived in Charleston in 1752, Bull lent him several foundational botanical studies, including Carolus Linnaeus's Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and Classes plantarum (1738), and John Clayton’s Flora Virginica (1739). Bull also helped familiarize Garden with the native plants of South Carolina and provided him with a letter of introduction to Cadwallder Colden, a fellow botanical enthusiast in New York with whom Bull had carried out a long correspondence. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] Bull also indulged his interest in plants and gardens at Ashley Hall, where he laid out formal gardens in 1770.

Fig. 1, Charles Fraser, Monument of Lt. Gov. Bull, 1803.

In addition to serving as lieutenant-governor of South Carolina from 1759 to 1775, Bull was acting governor on five separate occasions during that period. An ardent Loyalist, he fled to England in 1777 following the outbreak of the Revolutionary War 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."[6] Bull returned to America in February 1781, but when British troops evacuated Charleston a year later, he accompanied them back to England. He died in London in 1791 and 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."[7] [Fig. 1]

--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

Library of Congress Name Authority File



  1. Meroney, 1991, 16-17, view on Zotero; 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. Meroney, 1991, 52, [[https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/ZDU4XXDA view on Zotero.
  3. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 33, 35, 53, view on Zotero; Raven, 2002, 73, 223, view on Zotero; Meroney, 1991, 52, [view on Zotero.
  4. Raven, 2002, 73, 169-70,view on Zotero.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Bull, 1952: 66, view on Zotero.
  8. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, S.C.: J. Russell, 1854), view on Zotero.

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