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April 7, 2015: Joel T. Fry

The Bartram Family: Plant Collectors in the 18th Century
Joel T. Fry talk Photos courtesy of Stan Sarnocinski

On Tuesday, 7 April 2015, at Washington Memorial Chapel, Joel T. Fry presented a fascinating program about four generations of the Bartram family who lived and worked at the family garden from 1728-1850, making their living by the exchange of plants throughout the world.

Among the points made by Mr. Fry (and the Bartram website):

  • Bartram’s Garden is now a 45-acre National Historic Landmark in Philadelphia, open to the public. There is no charge for admission.
  • John Bartram (1699–1777), who grew up in Darby, was a Pennsylvania Quaker
  • Bartram bought 102 acres along the river from Swedish settlers in 1728
  • He built his own home on the property
  • By 1740 Bartram owned 300 acres
  • Bartram traveled extensively in North America to collect seeds and plants
  • He exchanged plants and information with London merchant, Peter Collinson
  • John Bartram shipped more than 220 species to England between 1754–1769
  • He shipped live plants as well as dormant seeds
  • King George III appointed John Bartram “Royal Botanist” in 1765
  • John Bartram co-founded the American Philosophical Society with B. Franklin
  • Was William Bartram a Patriot? Hard to know, but Bartram was friends with Henry Laurens (President of Congress) and Lachlan McIntosh (American General)
  • William Bartram (1739–1823) continued to explore and discover native plants.
  • Unlike his father, William received a formal education
  • He was an outstanding naturalist, meticulous artist, and author
  • William traveled in the American South from 1773–1776
  • Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and many others visited the gardens
  • British physicians visited Bartram during the Revolutionary War
  • The Poinsettia was introduced to the plant world by Bartram in 1828
  • Ann Bartram Carr (1779–1858) and her husband, Colonel Robert Carr (1778–1866), continued the international trade in seeds and plants
  • At its peak, the garden featured ten greenhouses and a collection of over 1,400 native plant species and as many as 1,000 exotics
  • Financial difficulties led to the sale of the family garden by the Carrs in 1850
  • Bartram’s Gingko biloba is believed to be the oldest gingko in North America. It was one of three original gingko trees sent to the U.S. from London in 1785 by William Hamilton of The Woodlands