John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization

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An invitation card to John Bartram’s 200th Anniversary, 1899

For those interested in the John Bartram Association, the organization responsible for the preservation of John Bartam’s former home and garden known today as Bartram’s Garden, the national historic landmark house and garden and treasure to the Philadelphia community and botanical enthusiasts across the globe, the John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization is now available for use!

This collection, dating from 1779 to 1937 (bulk 1893 to 1911), documents the association’s foundation and early administrative activities predominately through correspondence with individuals and organizations including John M. Macfarlane, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, the Bartram Memorial Library Committee, Philadelphia Allied Organizations, and the Fairmount Park Commissioners. The collection is accented by newspaper clippings, advertising fliers, and invitation cards that relate to Bartram’s legacy, his former home and garden, his library, and the study of botany.

John Bartram (1699-1777) was born a third-generation Quaker in Darby, Pennsylvania, who followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a farmer. However, his inquiry into the natural world went well beyond farming, into botany and horticulture. These curiosities earned him an important place in the scientific world for his discoveries and generosity in sharing knowledge of the fledgling scientific discipline of botany. Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist and originator of the system of taxonomic classification, regarded Bartram as the “greatest natural botanist in this world,” an achievement yet unheard of from his European counterparts at the time considering his American colonial roots. In 1928, Bartram purchased a 102-acre plot of land from Swedish settlers with the intention of examining its ecology. This plot of land, now known as Bartram’s Garden, was the source of much inquiry for Bartram, in addition to his explorations of the east-coast, from New England to Florida, until the end of his life in 1777.

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Correspondence from the Philadelphia Allied Organizations requesting that the John Bartram Association join the park systems alliance, 1906

The site of Bartram’s Garden was maintained by Bartram’s descendants and other enthusiasts of the natural world, beginning with his daughter, Ann Bartram Carr and her husband Colonel Robert Carr in 1777 to the formation of the John Bartram Association in 1893. By the time the John Bartram Association was formed, it was evident that the grounds were in need of care that reached beyond the ability and resources of those in charge. The John Bartram Association and the allied park system of Philadelphia negotiated the terms to transfer the care and maintenance of Bartram’s former home and garden to the city of Philadelphia. Thanks to those negotiations, the home and garden are now under the care of the Fairmount Garden System.

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A history of the “John Bartram Memorial Library” written by John M. Macfarlane, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, 1926

In addition to the records pertaining to Bartram’s Garden, this collection documents the development of the John Bartram Memorial Library, a collaborative effort between organizations including the John Bartram Association, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Botanical Society of Philadelphia to accumulate and house the definitive collection of American botanical literature from Bartram’s time to the early 1900s. The library found a home in the University of Pennsylvania in June 1900, only four short years after the formation of the John Bartram Memorial Library Committee.

Needless to say, this collection is a fine compliment to the John Bartram Memorial Library and should also be a welcome reminder to go visit the glorious Bartram’s Garden!

The John Bartram Association records relating to its foundation and early organization finding aid can be found here.

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