Bartram: A Revolutionary Before His Time


| December/January 2000



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Franklin tree, the Bartrams’ most famous discovery, in front of Bartram House. All Franklin trees today are believed to be descended from those grown by the Bartrams.

Historic Bartram’s Garden celebrates the legacy of an eighteenth-century botanist.

More than 250 years ago, a common daisy growing wild in a field beside Philadelphia’s Schuykill River stopped a young Quaker farmer in his tracks. He paused from plowing to observe the daisy’s perfection and simplicity, so inspired that he devoted the rest of his life to the study of nature.

Transformed from simple farmer to botanist, John Bartram would collect New World native plants during countless horseback journeys throughout the American colonies. His botanical garden would attract such esteemed visitors as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. He would propagate plants for the gardens of Mount Vernon and Monticello. King George II would appoint him “Royal Botanist” for North America.

It seems little short of a miracle that John Bartram’s farm survives to this day—virtually unchanged among the congested urban housing and decaying manufacturing sites that line the banks of the Schuykill today. Yet Historic Bartram’s Garden thrives as an historical museum and public garden. Thousands of history and gardening enthusiasts, scholars, and children alike find inspiration each year in the forty-four acres of culinary and medicinal herbs, native plants and trees, wetlands and meadows, all restored on the Bartram legacy.

After Bartram’s death in 1777, his son, William Bartram (1739-1823), continued his father’s legacy as a collector, author, and illustrator. John Bartram Jr., third in the line of Bartrams, ran a flourishing commercial nursery on the site until 1850. His collection swelled to more than 4,000 species, 200 of which he advertised when he printed America’s first horticultural catalog in 1783.

Philadelphia industrialist Andrew Eastwick’s fond childhood memories of Bartram’s farm saved it from falling victim to industrial sprawl. Eastwick purchased the farm in 1850, vowing, “I don’t want a solitary branch cut. Not a bush of this beloved old garden shall be disturbed. My dearest hope is that the garden shall be preserved forever.” Eastwick’s gardener, elected to Phila- delphia’s city council forty years later, convinced the city to purchase Bartrams farm for a park in 1891. Two years later, Bartram descendents formed the John Bartram Association, which preserves and develops Historic





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