John Bartram (1699-1777)
John Bartram, the American botanist and horticulutralist, was described by Carl Linnaeus as being "greatest natural botanist in the world." He was among the first botanists in North America to apply the Linnean system classification to his plants. In his travels around America he found and identified many plants not previously known to Europeans.
North American ginseng - discovered by John Bartram
Bartram was born on a farm in colonial Pennsylvania. His father was among the Quaker settlers from Derbyshire, England, who arrived in the new colony of Pennsylvania in 1681. They colonised an area west of Philadephia and named it “Darby” after their home county. His mother’s family, the Hunts, were Quakers from Kent originally; it was through them that Bartram’s father came to own one hundred acres of farmland on the west bank of the river Schuylkill. Although his only formal education was in the little school attached to the Quaker meeting house and he always described himself as a simple farmer, he had a lifelong interest in the botany. His botanical career started with a small area of his farm devoted to growing plants he found interesting; later he was to voyage throughout Anmerica discovering plants. He made contact through Peter Collinson with European botanists and gardeners interested in North American plants, and developed his hobby into a thriving business, sending seeds, bulbs and cuttings overseas. Among his notable discoveries was the North American ginseng. He also corresponded with English Quaker doctor, John Fothergill, who was a keen collector of plants, in particular those which could be used medicinally. They had other interests in common too - their correspondence began through a love of geology and in the medicinal use of mineral springs.
The eight acre garden Bartram created about five kilometres from the centre of Philadelphia is still preserved as Bartram's Garden, and is the oldest surviving botanic collection in North America. He was one of the co-founders, with Benjamin Franklin, of the American Philosophical Society, which like the Royal Society in London, sought to encourage scientific research.