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William Baldwin (1779-1819)



William Baldwin was born on March 29, 1779, to a Quaker family in Newlin, Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was educated in rural schools and taught for a while before deciding to study medicine. While attending his first year of medical lectures at the University of Pennsylvania, 1802-1803, he developed a friendship with William Darlington, then also a first-year medical student. Unable to afford to attend the second year of lectures, Baldwin continued to work as an assistant of Dr. William A. Todd. During this time he met Dr. Moses Marshall, who aroused an interest in botany. After serving as a surgeon on a merchant ship to Canton, China (1805-1806), Baldwin was able to a attend the 1806-1807 lectures at the University of Pennsylvania, and he received his M.D. in 1807. He moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where he met and married Hannah M. Webster (ca. 1808). Baldwin continued to practice medicine, and in 1811 joined the Delaware State Medical Society (Redfield 234).

Baldwin suffered hereditary tuberculosis, and in 1811 moved to Georgia in the hopes that the milder climate would aid his health (Kelly 107). He began collecting plants around Savannah and St. Mary's. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Baldwin accepted a commission as a naval surgeon, based at St. Mary's, Georgia, for 2 1/2 years and at Savannah, Georgia, for 2 years. During his years in Savannah, Baldwin began a correspondence with Stephen Elliott. With his naval service ended, Baldwin sent his family back to Wilmington while he went south and botanized, especially in East Florida (winter-spring 1816-1817). During this time he renewed his correspondence with William Darlington. From late 1817 to July 1818 he served as surgeon on the frigate Congress on its voyage to Buenos Aires and other South American ports, and he carried out some botanical exploration on the trip. After this trip, Baldwin returned to his family in Wilmington. With the encouragement of Darlington, Baldwin began work on a botanical study which was to be titled: "Miscellaneous Sketches of Georgia and East Florida, to which will be added a descriptive catalogue of new plants, with notices of the works of Pursh, Elliott and Nuttall, to which will be added an appendix containing some account of the vegetable productions on the Rio de la Plata, etc." Work on this was halted by his acceptance of an appointment as botanist on the expedition of Major Stephen H. Long to the Rocky Mountains. He left with the expedition in March 1819; his health deteriorated along the way and he was forced to leave the group. He died in Franklin, Missouri, on September 1, 1819. Though Baldwin published only two scientific papers, his unpublished manuscripts were used as contributions to works by Torrey and Gray (Redfield 237). His herbarium passed through the hands of Zachary Collins and L. D. de Schweinitz before being sent to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science.


Darlington, William, compiler. Reliquiae Baldwinianae: selections from the correspondence of the late William Baldwin, M.D. ... with occasional notes, and a short biographical memoir. Philadelphia: Kimber & Sharpless, 1843.
Elliott, Clark. Biographical Dictionary of American Science. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1979.
Harshberger, John W. The Botanists of Philadelphia and Their Work. Philadelphia, 1899, pp. 119-125. [Reprint of an article by J.H. Redfield, Botanical Gazette 8 (1883): 233-237.]
Humphrey, Harry Baker. Makers of North American Botany. New York : Ronald Press, Co., 1961. p. 15-16.
Kelly, Howard A. Some American Medical Botanists. Troy, New York : Southworth Company Publishers, 1914. p. 104-112.
Redfield, J. H. "Some American Botanists. IV. Dr. William Baldwin." Botanical Gazette. 8(6): 233-237.

Note: Isabella Batchelder James prepared a short biography of Baldwin, which is in the archives (see Biographical & Autobiographical section of Archives Guide). It appears to be based on Darlington's account.

Scope and Content:

The Baldwin papers consist of letters to William Darlington from or about William Baldwin.

1) There are 48 letters from Baldwin to Darlington, 1803-1819; 45 of these are form 1817-1819 and have been reproduced in Darlington's Reliquiae Baldwinianae. A note by Gray indicates that the published versions left out "sentences reflecting severely on Nuttall." The published volume, however, includes 6 letters which are not in this collection: letters dated June 19, 1817; July 3, 1817; Dec. 3, 1817; July 17, 1818; Feb. 4, 1819; April 5, 1819. One of these (July 3, 1817) can be found in Mrs. Gray's autograph collection.

2) There are 3 letters from John J. Lowry, in whose home Baldwin died, to Darlington, 1819 and 1844. One of these, dated Sept. 15, 1819, was reproduced in Reliquiae Baldwinianae.

3) There are 10 letters from Hannah M. Baldwin, William Baldwin's widow, to Darlington, 1819-1820, 1836 and 1843. Included with these letters is a petition for a pension for Hannah, in Darlington's handwriting, dated Jan. 13, 1820, and signed by Hannah Baldwin. There is also a draft of a letter from Darlington to Hannah Baldwin, dated Dec. 13, 1836, on the back of one of Hannah's letters. An extract of a letter from Hannah dated Dec. 30, 1819, was reproduced in the biographical memoir included in Reliquiae Baldwinianae, and Darlington's Dec. 13, 1836, letter was also reproduced in Reliquiae Baldwinianae.


Baldwin's letters were given to Asa Gray by William Darlington, probably between 1843 (when Reliquiae Baldwinianae was published) and 1863 (when Darlington died).

Note: Baldwin's botanical notes and herbarium came into the possession of John Torrey, ca. 1834-1836, and were used by Asa Gray in the preparation of his Rynchospora monograph (Annals of New York Lyceum of Natural History 3: 191-220), but Gray does not appear to have owned them.

Container Listing: BOX AK

Folder 1: Cover note in Asa Gray's handwriting

Letters from William Baldwin to William Darlington dated: April 29, 1803; May 21, 1803; March 26, 1809; Jan 15 1817; Feb. 8, 1817; Feb. 1817 [postmarked Feb. 16]; Feb. 19, 1817; March 30, 1817; April 19, 1817; May 3, 1817; May 15, 1817; May 27, 1817; Aug. 7, 1817; Aug. 20, 1817; Aug. 29, 1817; Sept. 18, 1817; Sept. 27, 1817; Oct. 30, 1817; Nov. 10, 1817; Nov. 20, 1817

Folder 2: Letters from William Baldwin to William Darlington dated: Jan. 30, 1818; Feb. 11, 1818; March 11, 1818; July 7, 1818; July 23, 1818; Aug. 6, 1818; Aug. 14, 1818; Aug. 16, 1818; Sept. 3, 1818; Sept. 17, 1818; Sept. 24, 1818; Oct. 1, 1818; Oct. 9, 1818; Oct. 23, 1818; Nov. 19, 1818; Dec. 7, 1818; Dec. 25, 1818; Jan. 7, 1819; Jan. 21, 1819; Feb. 25, 1819; March 6, 1819; March 14, 1819; March 21, 1819; May 1, 1819; May 27, 1819; June 11, 1819; June 25, 1819; July 22, 1819

Folder 3: Letters from John J. Lowry to William Darlington dated: Sept. 15, 1819; Dec. 15, 1819; Jan. 19, 1844

Letters from Hannah M. Baldwin to William Darlington dated: Nov. 18, 1819; Dec. 28, 1819; Dec. 30, 1819; petition written by Darlington, Jan. 13, 1820, signed by Hannah; Jan. 13, 1820; Jan. 20, 1820; Feb. 6, 1820; Feb. 9, 1820; Nov. 17, 1836; Dec. 8, 1836, with draft of letter by Darlington to Hannah on back, Dec. 13, 1836; Sept. 4, 1843

See Also:

Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection: #0649, #1154
Jane Gray Autograph Collection


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