Benjamin Ropes Nichols papers  1800-1831
full text File Size: 9 K bytes | Add this to my bookbag

Biographical/Historical Note

Humphry Marshall

Humphry Marshall was born in West Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1722, the eighth child of Abraham and Mary Hunt Marshall. His parents, Quaker immigrants from Derbyshire, England, provided him with only a rudimentary English education, which ceased altogether at age 12, when he was apprenticed to a stonemason. However, from very early in life, Marshall was drawn to the study of natural history and continued his education on his own, reading widely. With the encouragement of his cousin, the botanist John Bartram, Marshall developed considerable practical skill in botany and natural history, and began to cultivate friendships with other scientists in America and abroad in the 1750s. Eventually, his correspondents included the British botanists John Fothergill, Peter Collinson, Sir Joseph Banks, and John Coakley Lettsom; the American scientists Thomas Parke, Benjamin Franklin, George Logan, Joseph Storrs, Timothy Pickering, John Dickinson, and Caspar Wistar; and French scientists and plant collectors including Michel-Guillaume St. Jean de Crèvecoeur, the Comtesse de Tesse, and Conrad-Alexandre Gérard; a number of German, Dutch, Swedish and Irish plant collectors and scientists.

In 1748, Marshall married Sarah Pennock (ca.1720-1766) and took up the management of his father's farm near the west branch of the Brandywine River. During the next few years, his time was largely consumed by farming; however, he continued to use free moments to pursue his botanical research. By the late 1750s, he began to exchange locally collected specimens with natural historians in other parts of the country and Great Britain, receiving scientific equipment, books, exotic specimens, money, or marketable goods such as linen in exchange. By 1764, when he began a major enlargement of his father's farmhouse, his botanical work had advanced to a stage that, necessitated his adding a conservatory for the culture of rare plants, probably the first such structure in Chester County.

Upon the death of his father in 1767, Marshall was left a substantial inheritance, enabling him to concentrate more time and resources on his botanical work. By this time, his correspondence with the British botanist, John Fothergill, had developed into an especially fruitful relationship, for Fothergill not only encouraged Marshall to collect plants beyond the confines of Chester County, but he paid well for Marshall's efforts. Equally important, Fothergill helped introduce Marshall to other botanists and plant collectors who had the resources to pay for American plants. Within a few years, Marshall found that he could depend almost entirely on horticulture and plant collecting for his income. His business expanded rapidly by means of a network of relationships established through family members, fellow Quakers, and fellow scientists.

In 1772, Marshall established a botanical garden on his estate, stocking it with herbaceous and arboreal representatives of the local flora and as many exotic plants as he could obtain from other parts of the nation and Europe. The following year, he began the construction of a new house adjacent to the garden, handling all phases of the construction by himself, and in that year, he was selected as a trustee of the General Loan Office. Despite pro-Independence sentiments, including long-standing support for the non-importation agreements, Marshall was in a precarious position as a pacifist and Quaker during the early days of the Revolution. He carefully monitored the events of the war as they unfolded, and was himself caught up when, in 1777, the Trustees of the Loan Office resigned as a body. Under the leadership of Samuel Preston Moore, the Trustees felt that to remain true to their affirmations that they would carry out the business of the crown, they should resign rather than follow the new laws.

Marshall's publishing career included contributions on tortoises, sunspots, and agriculture, but he is most remembered for Abrustrum Americanum (1785), the first botanical treatise written by a native American on American plants, produced in America. Despite slow sales in the United States, its use of Linnaean taxonomic nomenclature (though the plants are arranged alphabetically in the text) considerably enhanced Marshall's reputation among his European clientele. His scientific work and service to the scientific community earned Marshall honorary memberships in the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture and the American Philosophical Society.

Following the death of his first wife, Marshall married Margaret Minshall (1744-1823) in 1788. Neither marriage produced children. In the last two years of his life, his vision was greatly impaired by cataracts, for which he underwent an apparently unsuccessful surgery. He died in 1801 and was buried at Bradford Meeting House.

Moses Marshall

Moses Marshall was born in West Bradford, Pennsylvania, on November 30, 1758, to Humphry's younger brother, James Marshall and his wife, Sarah. Moses received an English and classical education, and from 1776 through 1779, he studied medicine in Wilmington, Delaware, under Dr. Nicholas Way. The Revolution, and particularly the nearby Battle of the Brandywine (1777), provided Moses a unique opportunity to sharpen his surgical skills. Moses soon abandoned his medical practice in favor of assisting his uncle in his expanding botanical and horticultural enterprise.

By late 1778, he was participating fully in his uncle's operations, assisting in locating, identifying, propagating, and shipping plant specimens, and he became quite a skilled "practical" botanist in his own right. His most significant contributions were in the preparation of Arbustrum Americanum, and the role he played on numerous exploring expeditions undertaken for the benefit of his uncle and their patrons. Moses appears to have taken great relish in these expeditions, and it was partly for his benefit that his uncle pressed scientific friends, including Franklin, Wistar, Jefferson (albeit indirectly), and members of the American Philosophical Society, to finance and organize a major expedition to the Missouri River region in 1785.

Moses' interest in botany appears to have waned by the mid-1790s. In 1796, Gov. Mifflin appointed him Justice of the Peace in Chester County, and his duties in this capacity occupied a great deal of his time. Moses' focus seems further to have shifted away from botany upon his marriage to Alice Pennock in 1797. The couple had six children. By the time of his uncle's death, Marshall had more or less washed his hands of the botanical and horticultural business, suggesting that he no longer had any time to fill orders for patrons and that his uncle's notes probably held little information of value to other botanists. Moses Marshall died in Philadelphia on October 13th, 1813.

Moses Marshall, Jr.

The life of Moses Marshall, Jr., is considerably less well known than that of his father or his great uncle. Moses, Jr., studied medicine in Philadelphia during the 1830s, and established a general practice in West Bradford shortly thereafter. Apparently he lectured publicly on scientific subjects, at least periodically, during the 1840s or 50s. Politically, Moses, Jr., aligned himself with the Democratic Party during the Civil War period, opposed actions to keep the South in the Union by force, and (unlike his mildly abolitionist great uncle), did not seem to consider slavery a major evil.