The University of North Carolina Herbarium
has catalogued but a single specimen collected by John Loomis Blodgett. This specimen, NCU 590103, Spermacoce prostrata
(“Borreria micrantha T
& Gray” on Blodgett’s original label) was collected at “Miami Cape
Florida” in 1845. It came to NCU in a
gift of specimens from BM in 2009; most of the specimens in that gift were collected
by Ferdinand Rugel.
blodgettii, named in
honor of John Loomis Blodgett
photograph by Bruce Sorrie of the
North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and University of North Carolina
Bruce (1953) John
Loomis Blodgett (1809-1853): A PIONEER
BOTANIST OF SOUTH FLORIDA1.
Tequesta [Journal of the Historical Society of Southern Florida]
1(13): 23-33 (1953). http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00101446/00013/23j
John Loomis Blodgett was
one of the first to collect plants on the Florida Keys, as well as on the
mainland of South Florida. He sent his dried specimens to John Torrey2
for identification. Blodgett's work in South Florida covered the years from
1838 to 1853 and his plant collection represented botanists' main knowledge
of South Florida prior to 1890. Not much is actually known about his life3
(14, 18). During his lifetime, and for almost 40 years after his death, no
one had undertaken to write his biography. He apparently never married and he
did not write of his work nor about plants.
Nothing is known of his
family or ancestors, but it is known that he was born in South Amherst,
Massachusetts, in 1809. From 1827 to 1831 he studied medicine at the
Berkshire Medical Institution in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a school which
was founded in 1821 and had its last commencement in 1867. He graduated from
this school in 1831, writing a thesis on "The Use of Friction to the
Skin". In 1834 he moved to Ohio and later to Mobile, presumably seeking
a warmer climate for his health. Later he went to Mississippi and here he was
hired as a physician and surgeon for the Mississippi State Colonization
Society. This Society (12), formed in 1827, was the fourth branch of the
American Colonization Society which was organized in 1817 and continued to
exist until 1912; its main function was to transport liberated slaves from
the United States to Liberia in Africa.
In April of 1837, Blodgett,
Rev. J. F. C. Finley, and Captain Richards set sail on the schooner
"Oriental" from New Orleans with a company of liberated slaves
(26). They landed in Liberia a few months later and proceeded to set up a
colony, naming it "Greenville" for James Green, one of the first
advocates of emancipation. Blodgett's stay in Liberia was less than two
years; he left in December of 1838. During his stay in Africa, he probably
became acquainted with Miss Mary Skinner, daughter of Dr. Ezekial
Skinner, the Colonial physician of Liberia. Miss Skinner "accompanied
her father to assist him in his benevolent labors, and especially to take and
preserve drawings of the plants and other interesting objects in the natural
history of Africa" (26). It is possible that she might have interested
Blodgett in natural history.
When Blodgett returned to
the United States late in 1838, he settled in Key West. This was a thriving
town only 16 years old and populated by about 600 people from New England and
the Southern States, as well as from the Bahamas and Cuba.
"Wrecking" was their main business (2). The year 1838 also marks
another important date; this was the year that Henry Perrine established his
tropical plant introduction garden on Indian Key.
Blodgett was a physician,
surgeon, and druggist. It is not known what drew him to Key West. He may have
been interested in living in the most tropical section of the United States
for his health or because of his introduction to tropical flora in Africa. He
most probably was active in servicing the Navy and Army stationed in Key
West, both of which were in great need of medical men (8). Several outbreaks
of yellow fever and small pox had previously occurred. There is no record, however, that Blodgett ever joined the Army or
Navy. In the spring of 1853 Blodgett returned to Amherst, Massachusetts, and
died in that city in July of the same year, when only 44 years old (1).
In the 15 years that he
lived in Key West, Blodgett explored the Keys and the mainland, collecting
plants and, as stated, sending them to Torrey for identification. He had a
clear field in this respect, a virgin territory, for with only one exception
no collecting had been done in this part of the United States. There were
some botanists and plant collectors (Doctor Bur- rows, Doctor Henderson,
Doctor G. W. Hulse, Lt. B. R. Alden, Lt. I. H.
Allen, and Doctor M. C. Leavenworth) who were stationed at Ft. Brooke (Tampa)
during the Seminole Wars, but they collected only in that area or in northern
Florida (15, 17, 25).
Others (Dr. S. B. Buckley,
Dr. J. Baltzell, D. Drummond, H.
B. Croom, Dr. Alexander, Dr. A. W. Chapman, Wm.
Baldwin, E. F. Leitner, and Count de Castlenau) also collected only in northern Florida (15,
17, 25). One, E. F. Leitner,
actually set out on a trip into the southern part of the State in 1832, but
unfortunately before he had gone far he was scalped by the Indians. Another,
Thomas Drummond, in 1835, planned to travel from Apalachicola to Key West but
he "could not conveniently penetrate into South Florida" (17). The
so-called "Carolina" botanists (Andre and Francois Michaux, Mark Catesby, Frederick Pursh,
John and William Bartram, John Ellis, Thomas Walter, Stephen Elliott,
Nathaniel Ware) also failed to reach South Florida (10, 11).
The one person who
collected plants in Key West prior to Blodgett was Rev. Alva Bennett of Troy,
New York, who was in Key West from October 1834 to April 1835 (2, 25). He
served as rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He was in ill health and
remained in Key West for only six months. His collection of plants of that
Island, which was also sent to Torrey, was, at most, a meager one.
The plants Blodgett
collected are still in existence and may be found in the New York Botanical
Garden, The National Herbarium in Washington, D. C., The Gray Herbarium of
Harvard University, and Kew Herbarium in London.
Apparently Blodgett was so
enthusiastic over the tropical vegetation that he started to collect plants
shortly after his arrival in Key West. In Torrey and Gray's "Flora of
North America", Volume I, 1838 to 1840 (25), Blodgett is given credit
thus: "We received a nearly complete and excellent set of plants of that
Island (Key West) from Mr. J. L. Blodgett, which, however, reached us too
late a period to receive notice in this volume". Some of these plants,
however, were published in Volume II of the Flora, 1841-1843. In this second
volume, then, the plants of South Florida were first made known to the world.
Only a little over two dozen species were recorded and most of these were in
the two families, Rubiaceae and Compositae.
In 1842 Thomas Nuttall included a number of trees and shrubs of South
Florida in "The North American Sylva" (16), stating: "While
the work was in progress, Prof. Torrey informed me of the arrival of a large
collection of dried plants from Key West, in East Florida, made by Doctor
Blodgett of the U. S. Army [sic]. All of the trees in this herbarium-at least
forty species--were in the most generous manner given up to me for
publication by the professor. Most of them form distinguishing features in
the tropical landscape of the West Indian Islands . . . are now for the first
time added to the flora of the United States . . ."
In 1843 it is known that
Dr. Alvin [sic] W. Chapman, of Marianna in North Florida, visited Key West
and met Blodgett and collected plants with him. The two made several boat
trips, one of which was up to Charlotte Harbour on
the West Coast of Florida. Later Chapman set up a correspondence with
Blodgett. Apparently Chapman relied on Blodgett for his knowledge of South
Florida plants. For in a letter to a Doctor Holden, U. S. A., Ft. Jefferson,
Florida, dated January 23, 1866, Apalachicola, Chapman states: "My chief
knowledge of Keys production was obtained from Dr. Blodgett who resided on
Key West some twenty years ago and died in Amherst, Mass., in the summer of
1853".4 In Chapman's "Flora of the Southern United
States" (3), published in 1860, nearly 250 species of plants are listed
from Key West and South Florida, most of them collected for the first time by
Blodgett. Species not published by Torrey and Gray, Nuttall,
and Chapman were eventually recorded by Charles S. Sargent
in his "Silva of North America" (1890-1896) (18), and by John K.
Small in his "Flora of the Southeastern United States" (1903,
second edition 1913) (19), and in his "Ferns of the Southeastern
States" (1938) (24). Both Sargent and Small
had access to Blodgett's herbarium specimens.
During Blodgett's remaining
years in Key West, he became interested in collecting marine algae. He was
undoubtedly influenced by a visit in 1849 to Key West by W. H. Harvey of
Dublin, Ireland, an authority on algae. Blodgett sent specimens to Harvey and
these are included in Harvey's "Neveis
We owe much to Doctor
Blodgett for opening the eyes of the northern botanists to the wealth of West
Indian material in South Florida. Many of the trees, shrubs, vines, ferns,
cacti, orchids, etc., that grow wild here were made known to the world
through his work, and Blodgett is given credit for collecting many of them
for the first time in the United States. It was not until the 1880's-nearly
thirty years after Blodgett's death-that any further extensive collecting was
done in South Florida.
Some of the plants that he
collected are considered as being rather rare today -- Strumpfia maritima, Catesbeana
parviflora, Cupania glabra, Hippomane mancinella, Guaiacum sanctum, to name only five. One
has never been collected since. Apparently it was found on only one island
just off Key West, and this island was reportedly destroyed a number of years
ago by a hurricane. Unfortunately, Blodgett gave very little information on
the places he collected his plants, or dates, etc., and, as a result, several
plants sent in by him have been declared by later botanists to belong to our
native vegetation when in reality they were cultivated by earlier settlers.
The plants are Clusia rosea, the
pitch apple; Duranta repens, the golden dew-drop; Terminalia cattapa, the tropical almond; Tecoma stans, the
yellow elder, and Xylophylla augustifolia,
the sword bush.
Blodgett's name will always
be well known to the botanists of South Florida, for several plants, some of
them quite common, have been named for him. These include the following: Aphora (now Ditaxis), Blodgetti (Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family), Cyperus Blodgetti (Cyperaceae
or Sedge family) named by John Torrey; Metastelma Blodgetti (Asclepiadaceae
or Milkweed family) named by Asa Gray; Solanum Blodgetti (Solanaceae or Nightshade family), Paspsalum Blodgetti (Gramineae
or grass family), Salvia Blodgettii (Labiatae or
Mint family) named by A. W. Chapman; Guettardia Blodgettii (now G.
or Madder family) named by R. J. Shuttleworth; Vernonia Blodgettii (Compositae or
Sunflower family), Chamesyce Blodgettii
(Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family) named by J. K.
Small; Rhus Blodgettii
(Anacardiaceae or Poison Ivy family) named by
Harvey in 1858 named for
Blodgett a genus of algae -- Blodgettia – of which the species, B. conferoides, is an interesting
marine green alga known only in association with a filamentous fungus which
is epiphytic in its cell walls. It probably represents more nearly a marine lichen, for the alga and fungus are always
A LETTER FROM J. L.
BLODGETT TO JOHN TORREY
The following, so far as
can be determined, is the only one of Blodgett's letters in existence. The
original is in the library of the New York Botanical Garden and I am indebted
to Dr. Harold Rickett, Bibliographer of the Garden,
for sending a copy of it to me. Doctor Rickett
states that in the upper left corner of the first page of the letter there is
a note, presumably written by Torrey, stating "Ans. Nov. 1845". The
letter is addressed to "John Torrey, M. D., No.
67 Crosby St., Medical College, New York".
Key West 15 Oct 1845
My Dear Sir
I received your letter
dated Princeton May 24th but not mailed until Aug. 5th. Yesterday -- having
been absent on a Botanical Tour to the Maine5 -- otherwise I might
have obtained it 5 or 6 weeks earlier. My change of business does not seem to
change my taste as you express a fear. On the contrary judging from the time
that I have spent to the total neglect of business-the expense incurred, the
hardship endured, & the health exposed, I think my taste for botany is
above fever heat. It is very easy for one to think of making a complete
Botanical exploration of Florida but it [is] not easy to put in practice. To
do this you must make up your mind to wade swim & crawl, exposed to a
heat of from 120 to 140 degrees excepting a few days in the winter, your hand
well gloved & your face covered with gauze to prevent being devoured by
Mosketoes.6 For if it is not generally known it is certainly a
well established fact in Natural History that these insects have undisputed
sway of a large portion of South Florida especially in the neighbourhood of Cape Sable & they are not to be
endured for a moment even without some kind of protection-Add to this the
drenching rains, want of shelter at seasons most favourable
to making collections, loss of your labour as is
sometimes unavoidable on account of the weather being unfavourable
to the curing of them and you have then some idea of the difficulties to be
encountered. I do not know how soon I shall be able to [do] all that you
desire but I intend occasionally to make an excursion as heretofore. On the
trip which I have just completed I started with a determination to penetrate
to the lake Okechobe but after spending 6 weeks
about the coast rivers borders of the everglades & the prairie which terminates
the peninsula I found myself completely exhausted being finally seized with Haemoptysis & was obliged to abandon the idea of
penetrating the interior at this time. You may think that my description of
South Florida is extravagant. But with the exception of Key West the whole
country to the southward of Tampa Bay containing 15000 square miles will not
for a century hence contain 10,000 inhabitants.7 But now to the
subject of your letter I have collected the ripe fruit of the Batis Maritima
which shall be sent to you by the first vessel which will be in a few days. I
will also furnish such information as regards its habit that may be of
service to. I have examined it often. It has perplexed me more than any other
plant-I doubt if it has any very close affinity for anything else but of this
you are more competent to judge. 8 Of my collections I suppose I
may have some 3 or 400 species that I may not have transmitted to you. But
many of these are in a bad condition especially those gathered in my last trip
which from ill health I was unable to secure properly. But I think that most
if not all of them can be made out. You shall if my
life is continued get sight of them sometime next June when I hope my
collection will be much augmented. I shall only give you now some notice of
species which have struck me with the most interest. Of Palmae,
Cocos nucifera is
certainly a native of Florida. I have found it in many places always near the
beach or upon low mangrove shores of Islands. 9 Another species of
probably a native as I have often observed its fruit which is much smaller
size floating about the shores but have not observed it growing.10
The Royal Palm of the West Indies I have found growing in all its majesty
both upon the eastern & western coasts. 11 Another species of
palm having something the appearance of the date Palm but with fronds much
longer & armed with the most horrid spines. I have not had leisure to
ascertain what it is. But am told that it is common in Mexico.12 I
think that I have now 7 species of Eugenia.
13 One which I discovered on my last trip the proudest of all
being a lofty tree of the hammocks with a straight trunk & furnishing a
beautiful timber.14 I cannot at this time give you an account of
all. I am in hopes of being able to enable you to add a new genus to our
conifera.15 I have some strange epidendrous
plants 16 & my collections of Graminea
and Cyperoideae to me as I have not paid much
attention to those orders are overwhelming. I found them in great variety on
prairies & the borders of the everglades. I have quite a variety of
aquatic plants. A Nymphea
with yellow nearly inoderous flowers not so large
as those of the Odorata.17 A submersed Parnassia,18 Utricularias, Pinguiculas
& some to which I am able to give no cognomen. To the Euphorbiace
I have made some additions -- Turnerace 3 or 4 species. Rubiacea
I have found but few. Convulvulacea several. One
with tuberous roots in shape size & taste almost precisely like the sweet
potatoes but the most splendid flowering vine I ever beheld –The flowers
almost precisely the colour of those of the Lobelia Cardinalis
a little deeper if anything. I found it growing in the rocky barrens near the
southern extreme of the peninsula. I brought home some of the tubers & am
trying to domesticate them.19 Of the Order Calycereae
I think I have 2 or 3 sp. 20 Do you remember a succulent leafless
jointed Vine 21 attached to a stick which I left with you on my
visit to Princeton.22 It belongs to the Asclepiadeae.
I have since obtained the fruit. But I cannot find it described in De Candolles Prodromus, 23 perhaps you can enlighten me. I
hope you will retain for me a labelled specimen of
all the plants that I have transmitted to you. In my next I will give you
something of the Geological features of South Florida & its antiquity.24
J L Blodgett
(1) Boston Medical and
Surgical Journal, 1853. XLIX 27. Contains a line to the effect that Blodgett
died in Amherst, Mass.
(2) Browne, Jefferson B.
1912. Key West, the old and the new. The Record Co., St. Augustine, Fla. 227
(3) Chapman, Alvin W. A
Flora of the Southern United States, containing an abridged description of
the flowering plants and ferns of Tennessee, North and South Carolina,
Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. First edition, 1860, 621 pp. Ivison, Phinney & Co., N.
Y. Second edition, 1884, 698 pp. Ivison, Blackman,
& Taylor, N. Y. Third edition, 1897, 655 pp. Cambridge Botanical Supply
Company, Cambridge, Mass.
(4) Cook, O. F. 1936.
"Royal Palm in Upper Florida". Science LXXXIV: 60-61.
(5) Cooper, J. G. 1860.
"On the Forest Trees of Florida and the Mexican Boundary".
Smithsonian Institution Annual Report No. 15, Washington, D. C.
D. S. 1950. Native Orchids of North America, North of Mexico. Chronica Botanica Co., Waltham,
Mass. 399 pp.
(7) Curtiss, A. W. 1902.
"The Yellow Water Lily in Florida". Plant World V: 106-109.
(8) Diddle, Albert W. 1946.
"The Medical Events in the History of Key West". Tequesta, VI:
(9) Gifford, John C. 1944.
"Five Plants Essential to the Indians and Early Settlers in
Florida". Tequesta I: 36-44.
(10) Hume H. Harold. 1937.
"Advancing Knowledge of Florida's Vast Plant Life". Proceed. Fla.
Acad. Sci. II: 5-12.
(11) Hume H. Harold. 1943.
"Botanical Explorers of the Southeastern United States". Fla. Hist.
Quart. XXI: 289-302.
(12) Johnston, Sir Harry.
1906. Liberia. Chapt. 9, The Founding of Liberia,
(13) Kelly, H. A. and W. L.
Burrage. 1928. Dictionary of American Medical
Biography, page 114.
Max. 1929. A Bibliography of American Natural History. "The Pioneer
Century, 1769-1865". Brooklyn Premier Pub. Co., Vol. I, page 166; Vol.
III, page 725.
W. A. 1945. Historic Foundations of Botany in Florida (and America), page 12.
Gainesville, Fla. Pub. by The Author.
Thomas. 1842. The North American Sylva, or a Description of
the Forest Trees of the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia. 121
plates, 3 vols. Second edition appeared in 1857 as Vol. 4 of F. Andrew Michaux, The North American Sylva (originally published
in 1819), D. Rice & A. N. Hart. Phila.
(17) Rodgers, Andrew B.,
III. 1942. John Torrey, A Story of North American Botany. 352 pp. Princeton
Press. Chapt. X, Florida
and the United States Exploring Expeditions.
Charles S. 1891-1902. The Silva of North America. A description of the trees
which grow naturally in North America exclusive of Mexico. 14 vols. 740
plates. Houghton, Mifflin, Co. Reprinted in 1947. Vol. 1, page 33, has a
biography of Blodgett.
(19) Small, J. K. 1903.
Flora of the Southeastern United States, being descriptions of the seed
plants, ferns and fern allies growing naturally in North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas,
Louisiana, and the Indian Territory and in Oklahoma and Texas, east of the
one-hundredth meridian. 1370 pp. N. Y., pub. by The
Author. Second edition 1913, 1394 pp.
(20) Small, J. K. 1913.
"Report on Exploration in Tropical Florida." Journ.
of the N. Y. Bot Card.
(21) Small, J. K. 1921.
"Old Trails and New Discoveries." Journ.
N. Y. Bot. Card. XXII. 51.
(22) Small, J. K. 1928.
"The Royal Palm-Roystonea regia."
Journ. N. Y. Bot. Gard.
(23) Small, J. K. 1933.
Manual of the Southeastern Flora, being descriptions of the seed plants
growing naturally in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, east Louisiana,
Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. 1554 pp. Pub. By The
(24) Small, J. K. 1938.
Ferns of the Southeastern States. Descriptions of the fern
plants growing naturally in the states south of the
Virginia-Kentucky state line and East of the Mississippi River. Science
Press, Lancaster, Pa. 517 pp.
(25) Torrey, John, and Asa Gray. A Flora of North America, containing abridged
descriptions of all the known indigenous and naturalized plants growing north
of Mexico. Wiley Putnam Co., N. Y. Vol. I, 1838-1840, 552 pp. Vol. II,
1841-1843, 504 pp.
(26) 21st Annual Report of the American Colonization Society. Washington.
Pages 6 and 15. 1838. Also reprinted in the African Repository and Colonial
Journal XIV: 11. Jan. 1838.
(27) Urban, I. 1902. Symbolae Antillanae. Vol. 3,
Significantly re-numbered from the original text, as Ledin used a complicated & confusing set of asterisks
and numbers. McCormick 2011.]
The writer is very much indebted to Joseph
Ewan, Associate Professor of Botany, Tulane University, New Orleans,
for giving considerable aid in searching for documents which might give some new
information on Blodgett's life and work.
John Torrey (1796-1873) was the first
important botanist of the United States and the leading botanist in
his day. He was born in New York City, graduated as an M. D. in 1818 from the
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York, taught
chemistry at West Point for three years, and became Professor of Botany and
Chemistry at his Alma Mater. He also lectured at Princeton University. He was
the founder of the Lyceum of Natural History (now the New York Academy of
Sciences), was the first president of the Torrey Botanical Club, and helped
found and build the herbarium of the Smithsonian Institution (now U. S.
National Herbarium). During his active life, many survey expeditions were
sent throughout the United States (Rocky Mountains, California, Mexico
boundary, Pacific Northwest, 40th Parallel, Florida, etc.), and the botanists
on these expeditions sent plants to Torrey for identification. Many of these
plants were new to Science and, as a result, Torrey named hundreds of new
species. In 1872 he visited North Florida (St. Augustine to Tallahassee) in
search of rare plants.
The most complete biography was written by Sargent (18). Other references (13, 15, 20, 21, 27) to Blodgett's life are based on Sargent's
This quotation is from a letter belonging to
Mr. Joseph Ewan.
by 1845 Blodgett was quite engrossed in collecting plants. His main
profession in Kew West was, of course, doctoring, but he seems to have
preferred sailing up and down the Keys, exploring, searching, and collecting
plants in pinelands, hammocks, and swamps.
It is not known if this was his first trip to the mainland or not.
Blodgett chose the worst month to make this
trip-September-for then, as well as now, mosquitoes,
rain, humidity, and the treat of hurricanes are at their highest.
We really cannot blame Blodgett for his
shortsightedness in failing to see how South Florida would develop. By
1945 the population of South Florida (17 counties south of Tampa) was nearly
650,000! In 1845 the population was approximately 2,500.
Batis maritima. Torrey wrote Blodgett and asked him to send
some fruits of thisinteresting plant. Torrey published a
paper about it in 1853, entitled "On the Structure and Affinities of the
of Linnaeus" (Proceedings of the Smithsonian Institution, Volume 6, Article 3). He wrote: "Several years ago the Batis was detected at Tampa Bay, East Florida, by Dr.
Leavenworth, and shortly afterwards at Key West, by Mr. Blodgett. From this
latter gentleman, I have received the ripe and perfect fruit, preserved in
spirits" (17). Batis maritima is
the saltwort or beachwort, a shrub-like plant with
almost prostrate stems; the leaves are fleshy, thick and watery, one inch
long, half terete, pale green; the flowers, which
apparently were quite a puzzle to the early botanists, are in cones and are
not showy. This plant is a native of the beaches of Florida and west to
Texas, and is also found throughout the West Indies, Central and South
America. It grows along the sandy and rocky shores and near mangrove areas
and salt marshes.
By the 1840's the coconut was evidently well
established on the Florida coasts. But as to its being a native to
Florida, Torrey: wrote in the letter over the words Cocos nucifera, "certainly not; not
10. The palm seeds that Blodgett collected along
the seashore were Manicaria saccarifera,the
Timite palm, a native of Trinidad. The globular seeds
are carried by the Caribbean or Antilles currents into the Gulf Stream and
are sometimes washed up on our beaches.
11. This statement concerning the Royal Palm, Roystonea elata
(formerly called R. regia),
is quite interesting, especially since Blodgett states that he had
seen it growing on both the east and west coasts. Three reviews on the
history of the palm in Florida (4, 18, 22) state
that William Bartram in 1774 was the first to report the Royal Palm growing
in Florida; he found it below Lake George near De Land in Central Florida.
The next reference to the palm is by Nuttall in
1842 (16), when he states in the preface to his "Sylva", "In
the Islands of the Everglades, considerable inland in East Florida, we have
been informed that a palm about 90 feet high, forming a magnificant
tree, has been seen; but of this plant we have been unable to obtain, as yet,
any further account". Blodgett, undoubtedly, wrote to Torrey before 1842
and informed him of this palm. Here, then, in this 1845 letter, we have confirmation
of the Royal Palm being native to South Florida, and it is also one of the
earliest references to the palm in Florida, preceded only by Bartram's
reference. In 1860 Cooper (5), who explored and collected plants from March 6
to June 10, 1859, from Key West to Jacksonville, reported that he had found
the palm mentioned by Nuttall, on Cape Sable, Cape
Romano, and north of Ft. Dallas (near Little River). Chapman (3) included
this report in his second edition in the supplement (1884).
12. This palm must be Phoenix sylvestris which was planted
very early on the Keys, possibly introduced by Henry Perrine from
13. Eugenias are conspicuous plants in the hammocks and on
some of the Florida Keys, especially Big Pine Key, and Blodgett could
have very easily collected seven species; at least ten species are known
14. This could be Eugenia confusa.
15. Blodgett might have been referring to the
Gymnosperm, Zamia floridana,
a common plant in the pinelands of South Florida. It is called "Coontie" and was a source of starch for the early
Indians, Seminoles, and early white settlers (9).
16. Blodgett apparently collected very few of
our native epiphytic orchids. This is understandable for most of them occur
in dense hammocks and cypress swamps. Only three species are found
commonly on the Keys -- Epidendrum tampense, E. cockleatum,
and E. boothianum
17. This no doubt is Castalia flava (synonym, Nymphaea flava), the
"banana waterlily", (7, 23). John J. Audubon had shown in his painting of the
Whistling Swan (Plate No. 411 of "Birds of America") three yellow
flowers of this water lily. E. F. Leitner named the
plant Nymphaea flava on
the strength of Aububon's painting without ever
having seen the plant in its native state (7). Audubon and Leitner were severely criticized, since the scientists of
their day refused to believe that there was a species of yellow water lily
native to the southern states. Blodgett's statement in this 1845 letter that
he had found a yellow water lily should have furnished definite proof that
such a plant existed. It was not until 1884, however, that Chapman published
the species for Florida (3), basing it not on the reference in Blodgett's
letter but on collections by A. W. Curtiss in 1874 from the St. John's River,
30 miles south of Jacksonville, and by A. P. Garber in 1877 from what is now
the Miami area. It was also collected by F. Rugel
at Alachua in 1848, and by Mrs. Mary Treat in 1876
near Cove Springs, Florida. Apparently in the last century the yellow water
lily had a greater distribution, for Audubon and Blodgett must have seen it
in the Cape Sable area, Garber had seen it in the Miami area, and Curtiss and
Treat found it south of Jacksonville. Curtiss (7) stated that it was
disappearing from the St. John's River for it could not compete with the
recently introduced water hyacinth. Today Castalia
flava is a rare and restricted plant; in South
Florida it is confined to the area around Lake Okeechobee. The "odorata" is Castalia
odorata with pinkish or white flowers and is
found throughout the eastern United States.
18. There are no Parnassia species or any number
of the Saxifragaceae native to South Florida.
19. This Convolvulaceous
morning glory is Exogonium microdactylum,
the "wild potato", that grows in the rocky soils of the pinelands
of South Florida below Miami, but is not known on the Keys (23). It is indeed
an attractive vine and the flowers are a beautiful crimson color. The roots
that grow in the rocks resemble sweet potatoes. It is worth growing in the
garden as an ornamental vine for its attractive flowers. It is interesting to
know that Blodgett was so taken by this plant that he took the tubers back to
Key West to grow the plant as an ornamental. It is one of our neglected
native plants that does well under cultivation.
20. The only member of the Calycereae
(Brunoniaceae) native to South Florida is Scaevola plumieri which
grows in sandy soil along the coast (23).
21. The climbing milkweed with small leaves that fall early and leave long green naked stems, is
22. Torrey, in a letter to Asa
Gray, mentions a visit from Blodgett in 1843: "He brought with
him about 150 plants not in his former collections. He has visited a number of
the Keys since we last heard from him" (17).
23. It is interesting to know that Blodgett had
a copy of A. P. DeCandolle's Prodromus
a work that was started in 1824 and was to include descriptions of all the
plants of the world.
24. If there were any additional letters from
Blodgett [to Torrey], they have not been discovered.
J. L. Blodgett was the surgeon aboard the Oriental,
which was used by The Society for the Colonization
of Free People of Color of America, to transport immigrants to
Liberia. The following is a letter
that Blodgett wrote concerning the colony established at Greenville, about
150 miles southeast of Monrovia. The town
was built ca. 1838 by colonists of the Mississippi Colonization Society and
was named after Judge James Green, one of the first Mississippi Delta
planters to send former enslaved people to Liberia.
page 340-342; accessed on 26 September 2011.
Blodgett, J.L. (1837) Letter. The African Repository and Colonial
Journal, Volume 14(11): 340-342. Published by order of the managers of the
American Colonization Society.
WASHINGTON: Published by James
C. Dunn, 1838.
LETTER FROM DR.
BLODGETT. The following letter from
the surgeon of the Mississippi Colonial Settlement in Africa, has been
received by the Editor of the New Orleans Observer, and appeared in that
paper, on the 14th of July last:
GREENVILLE, (W. AFRICA,)
Dec. 1st, 1837.
Rev. A.B. Lawrence:
It is not often that we
have an opportunity of sending letters to America, an apology which I offer
for sending so few. Nothing of
importance has transpired since I wrote by the Oriental 1. As yet, I know little of the country,
except in the immediate vicinity of this place, and therefore, until I become
better acquainted, cannot write a full description. Passing back from the beach, the distance
of a mile, the soil is almost entirely composed of silicious
sand, that has the appearance of having been gradually
rescued from the ocean, and offers no inducements to cultivation. Leaving this, the country becomes hilly,
and the soil is principally made up of clay and vegetable mould, which is
extremely productive[.] The Sinoe2 comes down to us
through intervals of rich alluvion, much resembling
those of the Ohio, and other western rivers of the States. On the banks of this river, about three
miles from the ocean, is situated the principal Sinoe
town, beyond which, relying on the accounts of the natives, the country, for
the space of four days journey in the interior, is an entire wilderness,
without inhabitants. I intend making a
tour up the river, through this tract to ascertain its resources, and its
capability of being occupied for the purposes of colonization as soon as I
can make it compatible with other duties.
The forests of this country
are more impenetrable than those of the States, owing to the immense variety
of climbing shrubs and trees. Some
species enlarge their trunks to more than a foot in diameter; but still too
weak to stand erect, they throw off their branches, twisting and fastening
upon every object capable of yielding support, until they seem to tie the
whole forest together. These, with
climbing ferns of dense foliage weaving and interlocking, form tangles and
thickets quite impervious to man or beast.
Obstacles of this kind are unfavorable to an expeditious survey or
clearing of lands for cultivation. The
timber of this country is generally harder and more dense
than that of temperate climates; much of it will sink in water after it has
been seasoned. We have all the
varieties necessary in the construction of houses, utensils, furniture and
for ship building. Indeed, for the two
latter purposes much timber is exported from this coast to Europe. Camwood comes
from the interior in billets of fifteen or eighteen inches in length; it is
transported on the backs of the natives.
At present it forms a lawful currency of the colony of Monrovia and
its dependencies, its value being fixed at sixty dollars per ton [.]
Of cattle, we have both
wild and domesticated. Neat cattle are
plenty but small, they do not ordinarily exceed half the size of American
breeds; the natives take little pains in rearing them. There is a wild breed much larger; they
live in the woods, and are fond of bathing in the water: Their horns are short, and their skin
nearly destitute of hair. One of our
laborers shot a cow a few days ago, which weighed after being dressed,
exclusive of hide or tallow, more than five hundred pounds. The meat was tender, and had nothing in its
taste or flavor to distinguish it from that of the domesticated animal. We have an abundance of deer; leopards are
rarely seen; their skins are occasionally offered for sale by the natives;
lions have never shown themselves in this vicinity. The elephant range is more inferior; the
forest is too close for this animal near the sea coast: their tusks are offered almost every day;
most of them are of second quality, showing that more of these animals die of
disease or old age, than are destroyed by the natives. The largest of these tusks weigh fifty and
sometimes exceed eighty pounds.
Reptiles, in general, are not so numerous as
in America. Chamelions
[sic] and lizards are common. Serpents
are rarely found; none of the venomous kinds are known to exist on this part
of the coast.
Our agricultural concerns,
you will be delighted to hear, are in a prosperous condition. We have an opening of sixty or seventy
acres on the banks of the river, about two miles from town, part of which is
already, and the remainder in course of being planted. Sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, plantains,
corn and sugar cane flourish exceedingly.
Of most of these articles we have the prospect of a speedy and
My health continues good. No sickness
of consequence has appeared in the colony.
Fevers are light, they commonly yield in
three or four days.
A description of the Native
Africans who inhabit this vicinity, although they
are considered the most peaceable and industrious of any on the coast, would
be disgusting. They are of an
agricultural disposition, producing large quantities of rice for
exportation. It is no
uncommon thing to see three or four slaving vessels taking this article, at
the same time within sight of our establishment. They even land and carry their goods by our
door. With a good assortment of trade
articles, they are able at times to purchase five hundred bushels of rice per
day. The slavers are a great annoyance
to us in this respect, and we wait impatiently for strength to forbid their
intrusion. The natives are much
addicted to theft, fond of muskets and warlike instruments, and great smokers
of tobacco. The climate being warm,
light clothing is all that is requisite; unfortunately, however, fashion is
quite in the extreme in this respect; and still worse, there are some here as
in civilized countries, who are mere devotees of fashion. They are fond of ornaments, such as beads,
rings and chains – to be in taste the rings must be a full half-inch in
thickness, and the chains such as would be used to chain a bear or leopard,
of brass or iron, it does not seem particular which. I have seen persons so loaded with these
articles that they could not walk without much exertion. To the rings are sometimes attached a
multitude of little bells, so that you have to notice the approach of persons
Though these natives are
degraded and vicious beyond the conception of persons who have never stepped
from the circle of civilization, yet they possess some qualities which will
facilitate their advancement in the scale of existence, and which will serve
as an encouragement to efforts for their improvement. A strong feeling of curiosity may be
observed in their actions when any thing novel is
presented to their view. Our
buildings, our implements, our carpenter and smith work and our mode of
agriculture, all engage their attention, and excite their admiration. Country man be fool – white man know every thing – with other expressions, of similar import,
show that they are not insensible to the superior advantages which we enjoy;
nor are their minds so stupefied our moulded by
prejudice or habit, as not to be desirous of obtaining the blessings of
civilization for themselves. A spirit
for improvement is evidently at work among them. They are very anxious to obtain a knowledge of the English language – to learn to write,
or to learn to make book, as their expression runs. It is not unusual for persons to offer
themselves as laborers if they can be in a situation favorable to learning
our language, with the prospect of little or no other remuneration. Our mode of transacting business they are
anxious to imitate. If you hire one of
them to labor by the week or month, or if you purchase any
thing of them on credit, or if they make any agreement with you, or
leave any thing in your charge, although neither
they nor their friends can read, yet you must give them a book or an
agreement in writing, (a piece of paper with writing upon it, as they do not
know the difference, is just as good) with which they are always satisfied.
A school was lately
commenced in a village near us, which only failed for want of common ability
in the teacher. The natives had hired
him without our knowledge, and at their own expense. For a few of the first days the school was
attended by about 40 boys. This
circumstance alone is sufficient to show that schools might be commenced under
the most favorable circumstances.
There is room for at least half a dozen teachers within five miles of
our settlement, at places where it may be said the people are waiting for
schools. I believe that that part of
the coast is a rich field for missionary effort. The people are neither Mahomedans or idolaters. Indeed I cannot ascertain that they have
religion of any kind. There are
therefore, no structures of superstition and error to demolish, but the field
is entirely un-occupied – a waste – a blank, waiting to be sketched by the
hand of Christian benevolence. In
fact, in a literal sense, Ethiopia is stretching out her hands to God. After a long period of debasement, after
the most powerful nations of the world have unsuccessfully attempted to
rescue her from the degradation in which she has been sinking deeper and
deeper, she is now extending her arms to lay hold on the benefits which
civilization and Christian philanthropy are offering as her last hope.
The slave trade is carried,
this season, to an almost unparalleled degrees. Scarce a day passes but one or more slaving
vessels are in sight. One
establishment at the mouth of the Gallenas 3,
it is supposed, will ship this season alone from five to six thousand slaves.
J. L. BLODGETT
Blodgett served as surgeon aboard the vessel
The Sinoe River empties
into the Atlantic Ocean east of Greenville at 4d59’37”N, 9d02’12”W and forms
the western boundary of Sapo National Park in
accessed on 26 September 2011.
The Gallinas River is situated near the
present Sierra Leone – Liberia border, was a principal departure point for
vessels carrying enslaved people. http://www.pdavis.nl/Gallinas.htm
accessed on 26 September 2011