Benjamin Smith Barton

Courtesy of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Texts and Images at the University of Pennsylvania.

Benjamin Smith Barton was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on 10 February 1766. He began his education in Philadelphia, but left in 1786 to pursue the study of medicine in Edinburgh and London. He returned to the U.S. in 1789 to become a physicist and a professor of natural history and Botany at the University of Pennsylvania. He gained recognition for his contributions to natural science and medicine. He is most noted for writing the first textbook on Botany written in the United States, Elements of Botany, which was published in 1804. His other publications include "On the Fascinating Quality Ascribed to the Rattlesnake" (1796), "New Views of the Origins of Tribes in the United States" (1797), "Collections Toward a Materia Medica of the United States" (1798), and a partially-completed Medical Physical journal in 1804 which he worked on for several subsequent years.(Bailie, 1872.)

He knew Meriwether Lewis, and originally planned to join him on the expedition. However, instead of joining the Corps of Discovery, he taught Lewis how to correctly collect and label specimens, and taught him how to name the specimens with Latin names. Lewis had a basic understanding of plants from his mother, Lucy Meriwether Lewis, and Barton complemented that knowledge with his extensive studies.("Benjamin Smith Barton", 2002.) Upon the return of the Corps of Discovery, Lewis and Clark delivered most of the specimens to Barton for inspection, classification, and further analysis that could be included in the journals. Unfortunately, Barton died unexpectedly at the age of 49 on 19 December 1815. While William Clark and Thomas Jefferson made an attempt to recover all of the specimens with which Dr. Barton had been working, Mrs. Barton only returned three of the volumes, of which there were known to be ten or twelve. Jefferson surmised that the other volumes had been scattered among the other gentlemen analyzing the observations from the expedition.

Information from:

Baillie, Laureen, ed. "Barton, Benjamin Smith." Ameircan Biographical and Historical Dictionary. London: K.G. Saur, 1832.

"Benjamin Smith Barton." A joint project of NASA, The University of Idaho, and the University of Montana, 2002.