Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Botanists in America

In ‘A Species of Eternity’ by Joseph Kastner, in the chapter entitled “The Curious Quaker,” Kastner states that George Fox, founder of Quakerism, “had urged gardening on his followers as a way whereby, through knowledge of nature, they could better know God’s ways and purpose.”

The first American-born Quaker botanist, John Bartram (1699-1777), lived along the banks of the Schuylkill River at Kingsessing, near Darby in Pennsylvania. He was disowned from Darby Monthly Meeting for refusing to acknowledge the divinity of Christ but he continued to practice his Quaker ways all his life. He cultivated many native species on his 100-acre farm. and started the first botanical gardens in colonial America.  He did this so well that King George III appointed him as Royal Botanist.

His son William (1739-1823) soon followed in his father’s footsteps, taking long adventurous excursions along the eastern seaboard and into the mountains of Pennsylvania and New York, collecting specimens along the way. He made many botanical drawings, and also drew the birds he observed. As well as his drawings, he made topographical maps of the areas he visited.  William was known as the Flower Hunter or “Puc-puggy” by the Native Americans he befriended.

John and William Bartram corresponded with several prominent British plant collectors, including Quakers Peter Collinson, and John Fothergill. For over thirty years the Bartrams provided them with samples of native American plants and seeds, all classified according to the new Linnean system.   As John Bartram was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin, they were allowed to mail their specimens across the Atlantic postage-free. 

Bartram’s Gardens today is a visitor’s site and includes a tour of John Bartram's home and gardens, now surrounded by a blighted industrial area.  A lintel above one of the windows of his house is a reflection of his split with the Quakers of Darby Meeting:  “It is God alone Almighty Lord the Holy One by me Ador’d.  John Bartram 1770.”

Another set of Quaker botanists were the twins Joshua and Samuel Pierce, born in Kennett Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1766 on land purchased by the Pierce family from William Penn.  In 1798, the Pierce brothers began planting an arboretum and cultivated an unusual collection of trees and shrubs in an area known as Pierce’s Park, located 25 miles west of Philadelphia.  Pierce’s Park was later acquired by Pierre Samuel duPont and is known today as the world famous Longwood Gardens.

Humphrey Marshall (1722-1801), a cousin of John Bartram’s, was born in Northbrook, Chester County, and was a member of Bradford Monthly Meeting.  Marshall wrote Arbustrum Americanum:  The American Grove or Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs. This is recognized as the first botanical treatise written by an American about native American plants.  Marshall moved a short distance from the family farm and created a botanical garden showcasing many varieties of trees and plants.  Marshall also corresponded with British Friends and exchanged seeds and plants with them.

Quaker Graceanna Lewis (1821-1912) was born in 1821 in Kimberton, Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her parents were ardent abolitionists and their home was used as a station on the Underground Railroad where fugitive slaves were often employed on their farm.  Graceanna Lewis devoted herself to studying natural science, botany, drawing and painting with a mentor, John Cassin, of Philadelphia.  She studied at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and was a lifetime member of the Delaware County Institute of Science.  Graceanna Lewis was commissioned to paint 50 representations of leaves of forest trees of Pennsylvania for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and won a bronze medal for her work.  Graceanna published numerous articles on birds, fish, and animal and vegetable kingdoms.  Lewis lectured extensively about science and taught at schools in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  Lewis received a gold medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition for some of her original drawings of plants.  She later moved to Media, Pennsylvania, and lived with her married sister, Rebecca.  Graceanna Lewis never married.  She is buried at Providence Meeting cemetery in Media.

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Further Reading and Credits

Image of John Bartram by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) Public Domain