John Bartram

19th Century illustration by Howard Pyle. No known portrait of John Bartram exists.

John Bartram (1699-1777) was a third-generation Pennsylvania Quaker, born in nearby Darby imbued with a curiosity and reverence for nature, as well as a passion for scientific inquiry.  Bartram purchased 102 acres from Swedish settlers in 1728, and systematically began gathering the most varied collection of North American plants in the world.

A self-taught man, Bartram had the quintessential “can do” American spirit that continues to inspire us today.  His travels  – by boat, on horseback, and on foot – took him to New England, as far south as Florida, and west to Lake Ontario.  He collected seeds and plant specimens, establishing a trans-Atlantic hub of plant exploration through his exchanges with London merchant Peter Collinson.  Plants from Bartram’s Garden were exchanged with the leading minds and patrons in Britain.  In 1765, Bartram was appointed the “Royal Botanist” by King George III.

At home, Bartram founded the American Philosophical Society with his friend Benjamin Franklin.  His garden was a source of inquiry and pleasure for luminaries like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  His seed and plant business thrived, with lists appearing as early as the 1750’s in London publications.  His international plant trade and nursery business survived him and thrived under the care of three generations of Bartrams.