Not in Catesby—William Bartram and the Mentoring of American Ornithology

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In February 1802 Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) settled at the edge of the Bartram family farms on the west bank of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia County. Wilson arrived to teach at the newly founded “Union School”, and within a short time, he had made friends with his new neighbor William Bartram (1739-1823). Wilson made many a walk “To Bartram’s hospitable dome” and in a little over a year began collecting and drawing birds.

William Bartram had systematically observed birds at home and on travels, from the 1750s onward, and Bartram had also studied the books of Catesby and Edwards on North America birds. Bartram’s Travels, published in Philadelphia in 1791, included what was then the most complete list of North American bird species. Without the chance meeting of Bartram and Wilson American Ornithology might never have happened. The book became something of a family project at Bartram’s Garden, involving Bartram’s niece, Ann and her husband, Robert Carr.

About Our Presenter

Joel Fry is the curator at the John Bartram Association.