Born in 1779 to John Bartram, Jr. and Eliza Howell, Ann Bartram—namesake of our new Ann Bartram Carr Garden—grew up immersed in a world of farming and botany, thanks to her grandfather John Bartram and uncle, William Bartram. Perhaps not surprisingly, she became quite knowledgeable about horticulture at a young age, something we know from research by our curator Joel T. Fry and excerpted here from a 2001 Bartram Bulletin article by scholar Merrill D. Smith.
Here’s a glimpse of a teenaged Nancy, as Ann Bartram was known to her family.
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After her sister Mary’s marriage to Nathan Jones in September 1794, fifteen-year old Nancy was put in charge of the household. As well as performing her household chores, Nancy found time to read and draw.
A man named Hipólito José da Costa, a journalist and important figure in Brazilian history, recorded finding her sewing by the stove when she was in her late teens in 1799. Da Costa found her to be quite knowledgeable about geography and botany. In describing his conversation with Nancy he wrote, “We then turned to talking about botany, a field to which she was no stranger, for she knew the names of many plants and could apply the system of Linnaeus.”
Later, during the evening of this January 1799 visit, [her father] John Bartram, Jr. displayed to his guest drawings of plants done by Nancy and her brother, James. Nancy studied drawing and botany with her uncle, William, who resided in his brother’s household.
A woman named Flora Murray, who came to live with the Bartram family as a young girl, offered more insights on young Nancy, via her 1822 testimony in a lawsuit over John Bartram Jr.’s estate:
“Mrs. Carr was a young woman when I went to live with her father (ca.1798). Mrs. Carr was the housekeeper when I went there & had the entire superintendence of household, and continued so till her father’s death. There was never any other housekeeper but Mrs. Carr. There was no person to work in the family but Mrs. Carr & myself.”
She also noted, “Mrs. C. did not keep a great deal of company—but ladies sometimes came to see her.”
Adds curator Joel Fry, “This suggests about four years after her older sister Mary married and left the Bartram House, Ann at least had help and female company from Flora. From what little we know, they seem to have remained close in later years.”
This is a consoling notion, as we have to again remember that “Nancy” ran the entire Bartram household from ages fifteen to nineteen. This would have been a large and difficult responsibility for a teenager and, in retrospect, something that makes Ann an even more impressive figure in Bartram family history.
Joel T. Fry is curator at Bartram’s Garden. Merrill D. Smith is an independent scholar, author, and editor.