Explorer and Artist William Bartram

William Bartram

On February 9, 1739, William Bartram, America’s first native-born naturalist, was born near Philadelphia.

In 1761, Bartram moved to Bladen County, where his uncle owned a plantation called Ashwood on the Cape Fear River. He opened a store and spent his free time exploring the flora and fauna of the region.

Bartram, demonstrating his significant artistic talent, provided patrons in England with drawings of American plants and animals as early as 1753. In 1773, John Fothergill, a London physician and proprietor of the largest botanical garden in England, commissioned Bartram to travel through the southeast collecting objects of natural history. That March he set out on the trip outlined in his book, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida.

One of Bartram’s drawing. Image from the Natural History Museum, London.

While on his travels in May 1776, in what is now the Nantahala National Forest, Bartram encountered a Cherokee band led by chief Attakullakulla. In his writings, he described not only the flora and fauna but also the native Indians, cataloging forty-three towns and villages of the Cherokee nation. Bartram returned to Philadelphia after his expedition in 1777. His book,Travels, published in 1791, became the most important description of the southeastern United States during the eighteenth century.

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