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Stephen Elliott (1771-1830)



Stephen Elliott was born on Nov. 11, 1771, in Beaufort, South Carolina, the third son of William Elliott, a merchant. His father died when Stephen was a boy, and his older brother is said to have taken charge of his education. He was sent to New Haven, Connecticut in December, 1787, to be tutored by Judge Simeon Baldwin and entered Yale in February, 1788. Elliot received his B.A. from Yale in 1791, with valedictorian honors. His English oration was on "The Supposed Degeneracy of Animated Nature in America" (Ewan xxvii). Elliott then returned to South Carolina and became a planter. He was elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1793 or 1796 (sources disagree) and served until about 1800. In 1796 he married Esther Habersham, with whom he had a large family. From 1800-1808 he seems to have devoted himself to his plantation and to tbe study of natural history. In 1808 he was re-elected to the legislature, where he was active in promoting the establishment of a state bank. When the bank was established in 1812, he ceased legislative work and was appointed President of the "Bank of the State" and moved to Charleston. He remained president of the bank until his death.

In Charleston, Elliott was involved in a number of scientific and cultural concerns. He was active in the founding of the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina and served as its president from 1814-1830; he was president of the Charleston Library Society; and he co-founded the Southern Review with Hugh Swinton Legaré in 1828. In 1820 he was elected president of South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina); most accounts say he declined the post, but one version says he declined after serving for a while. He was an early and active campaigner for the establishment of the Medical College of South Carolina, where he taught natural history and botany from 1824 until his death.

Elliott carried on an active correspondence with Henry Muhlenberg and other people interested in botany and natural history. He published A Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia from 1816 to 1824 and thereby established himself as a major figure in the history of American botany. He received Honorary Doctor of Law degrees from Yale University (1819), Harvard University (1822) and Columbia University (1825) (Ewan xxx). Elliott has been memorialized in a number of ways. The Elliott College building on the University of South Carolina campus was named for him, and 1853 the Elliott Society of Charleston was founded. In 1933 a monument was erected over Elliott's unmarked grave in St. Paul's churchyard, Charleston (Ewan xxxi). Elliott is remembered also "in a genus of plants of the Heath family...established by Dr. Muhlenberg" (Sargent 202). Sargent is probably referring Ericaceae Elliottia racemosa (IPNI).

Elliott died "of Apoplexy" (most likely a stroke) in Charleston on March 28, 1830.


Elliott, Clark. Biographical Dictionary of American Science: The Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries.
Elliott, Stephen. A Sketch of the Botany of South-Carolina and Georgia (Facsimile of the 1816-1824 edition). Introduction by Joseph Ewan. New York: Hafner Pub. Co., 1971.
Gee, Wilson. "South Carolina Botanists: Biography and Bibliography." Bulletin of the University of South Carolina. 72: 35-37, 1918.
Hooker, William Jackson. "On the Botany of America." American Journal of Science and Arts 9 (1825): 275-276.
The Plant Names Project (1999). International Plant Names Index. Published on the Internet; http://www.ipni.org [accessed 1 July 2002].
Ravenel, H. W. "Some North American Botanists. VII. Stephen Elliott." The Botanical Gazette 8(7): 249-253, 1883.
[unsigned, probably Sargent, C. S.] "Stephen Elliott." Garden and Forest 7 (1894): 201-202, portrait p. 204.

Manuscript biography of Stephen Elliott, written by Joseph Johnson, copied and emended by William Darlington on May 24, 1851. In the collection of Mrs. Gray's notes on botanists; xerox follows.

Scope and Content:

The Stephen Elliott papers consist of a variety of small manuscripts, some in Elliott's hand and some in other hands, not always identified; a large botanical manuscript; subscription forms for his Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia; and a number of letters, mostly to Elliott. The small manuscripts include lists of books for the Charleston Library Society, records of slaves, plant lists and notes, and notes on other areas of natural history. The large botanical manuscript is "apparently a 'day book' in which Stephen Elliott described the plants as he actually saw them, at times in English, at others in Latin.... There are 280 species described, the dates vary from July 5, 1810 to Oct. 5, 1814." -- L. Schwarten. The subscription forms consists of 21 "Proposals for Publication," each signed by a number of subscribers.

There are almost 90 letters to Elliott from about 20 correspondents, dating from 1808 to 1828. In this group, 31 letters are from Henry Muhlenberg and about 25 are from James Macbride. The only other correspondents represented by more than one letter are François André Michaux (4 letters with the lists of books), William Darlington (3 letters), and Samuel Boykin (2 letters). Eight of the correspondents are included in Joseph Ewan's list of collectors cited in the Sketch.

In addition to the manuscript materials described above, the collection includes:
- a separate of an article by Elliott on the genus Glycine, published in the Journal of the Philadelphia Academy. 1 (1818)
- a broadside about the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina
- a typed list, presumably by Lazella Schwarten, of plants appearing in the botanical manuscript
- photostats of 15 letters from Elliott to Mühlenberg, 1809-1814, from the Historical Society of Pennsyvlania
-a photostat of a letter from Palisot de Beauvois, 1810, also from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Other materials pertaining to Elliott in the Gray Herbarium archives include:

- letter from Stephen Elliott to Aug. Pyr. De Candolle, Aug. 14, 1824, in Mrs. Gray's autograph albums
- photo of portrait of Elliott done for a bank note, in Mrs. Gray's autograph albums, with a note indicating it was recieved from C.S. Sargent in 1894 [probably the model for portrait of Elliott published in Garden and Forest of that year]
- notes about Elliott's plants in C.A. Weatherby's papers.


According to the Garden and Forest article mentioned above (in the May 23, 1894, issue), "...the manuscript of his [Elliott's] book and of his unpublished works, including one on shells, are owned by his granddaughter, Miss S.B. Elliott, of Sewanee, Tennessee." This may be a description of the collection which is in the archives -- the botanical day-book could have been viewed as a manuscript of his book, and there are a few lists of shells. Whatever the case, our collection of Elliott manuscripts was apparently given to C.S. Sargent by Mrs. J.A. Huger (who might be the same person as Miss S.B. Elliott) before October 18, 1894: George A. Rogers has a copy of a letter from Sargent to Mrs. Huger dated Oct. 18, 1894, in which Sargent thanked her "for Mr. Elliott's manuscripts and letters" which he had deposited in the library of the Arnold Arboretum. (See letter from Mr. Rogers, 7/10/81, in archives correspondence files.) The manuscripts were then lost from view for some years, turning up again in 1933; they were listed as accessions in the Arnold Arboretum report for the fiscal year July 1932 - June 1933 and they were recorded as accessioned Feb. 20, 1933, no. 40844.

Container List:(Box BH)

All of the Stephen Elliott materials, except # 7, 34 & 35, have been microfilmed and should be consulted in that format. There are xerox copies of many of the mss. in the Torrey cabinet.


1. Separate of "Observations on the genus Glycine, and some of its kindred genera," by Stephen Elliott, read June 23, 1818, published in the Journal of the Philadelphia Academy I (1818): 320-326, 371-373, the last page copied by hand. Two fragments of manuscript, possibly not in Elliott's hand, pertaining to politics and education. Note to Elliott requesting more copy.

2. Broadside pertaining to the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina, n.d. List of names of scientists, authors, political figures. List of books and costs. "List of Books belonging to the Literary and Philosophical of Charleston, S.C." Bill for books for Charleston Library Society, London, April 20, 1818. Bill for books addressed to Stephen Elliott. "2th List of Books for the Charleston S.C. Library Society Demanded by St. Elliott, Esq. President of the Said Socty," signed by F. André Michaux, March 17, 1822. "Catalogue of books demanded by the 2th note, inclosed in your letter of 29th of December," signed by F. André Michaux. Letters of Stephen Elliott from F. André Michaux, Jan. 25, 1828; Feb. 13, 1828; July 10, 1828; Dec. 30, 1828; all pertain to purchase of books. Receipt to Anthony Girard for expenses for books received, March 25, 1828. Bill of lading to Elliott for a box of books from France, Oct. 12, 1829. Letter from shipping firm (MM Eyriès Frères) about same, Oct. 14, 1829

3. Sewn notebook, 4 3/4" x 7", 80 pp., containing records of slaves, 1791-1810; notes on gardening; records of tools given out, pay; notes on a subscription; records of slaves obtained at settlement of father's estate and of slaves purchased; record of contracting for carpentry work; note on experiment on rotation of crops; list of flowers to be procured from London.

4. List of plants and trees which would thrive in Charleston, 4 pp. List of Syngenesia, nos. 1-280, 6 pp. List of Dodecandria Monogynia, nos. 1-185, followed by other notes, 8 pp. List of Monadelphia, 1-19; Diadelphia 20-115, followed by other notes; list o fnames beginning Asarum Virginicum, 1-260; numbered list not in numerical order, 10 pp. Numbered list covering many Linnaean plant groups; numbered from front 1-305, 500-1525, 1-45; numbered from back 250-495, 310-815, 52 pp. Loose page starting Digitaria 105-245. List of "Sarracenia rubra". Fragmentary list of plant names followed by numbers. List of Tetrandria monogynia (not in Elliott's hand). Description of Lyonia (not in Elliott's hand). Small sketch of a flower (not in Elliott's hand)

5. Folded sheet labeled "6th Class No. 1" on front, "Hexandria, Monogynia" inside; contains notes on plants and pressed plants. Sheet headed "Tetradynamia ..."; back says "15th class No. 1". Sheet with heading missing; back says "15th class No. 2". Sheet with plant names numbered 1 - 90. Manuscript which describes locations in which various plants are found, such as swamps, high pine lands, etc., 8 pp. [possibly J. Macbride's hand]. List of fishes classed by a Linnaean-based system on sheet addressed to Elliott. List of snakes by "Linn. genera". Two lists of shells. List of minerals, classified, in French, with descriptions, names of places and names of donators, 5 pp. [not Elliott's hand]. Note on a bed of limestone. List of elevations of mountains by A. Partridge.

6. Botanical manuscript, 271 pp. "Amongst the treasures of the library of the Arnold Arboretum is a notebook in the handwriting of Stephen Elliott. This is, apparently, a "day-book" in which Stephen Elliott described the plants as he actually say them, at times in English, at others in Latin. Elliott based his descriptions on living material, not accepting those as set forth in previously published works, nor from preserved herbarium specimens. This must be but a small fraction of the manuscript from which the "Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia" was written. There are 280 species described, the dates vary from July 5, 1810 to October 5, 1814. The ink is faded and of different colors, it was written, no doubt with a quill rather than a steel pen. Scattered throughout the book which is of the blank book variety about 12 3/4 by 7 3/4 inches, are bits of leaves, twigs, etc., perhaps gathered by Elliott." - L. Schwarten

7. Bundle of plant material removed from botanical manuscript 6, in envelopes labeled with page numbers where found. Two envelopes contain paper fragments from the manuscript.

8. Typed list of plants named in botanical manuscript 6; probably by Lazella Schwarten, ca. 1947.

9 & 10. "Proposals for publishing by subscription, a work on the botany of South-Carolina and Georgia, by Stephen Elliott. Charleston, S.C. December, 1815." Printed sheets inscribed with subscribers' names, places of residence, no. of copies. Ten forms in folder 9; eleven forms in folder 10.

CORRESPONDENCE: (Letters to Elliott unless otherwise specified)

11. Abbot, John: 1,, Aug. 3, 1817, with typescript

12. Arnott, George Arnott Walker: 1, aug. 18, 1828, with list of localities for numbers of Pyreneean plants, May 15 - Aug. 15, 1825

13. Boie, F.: 1, Sept. 28, 1818, with translation

14. Boykin, Samuel: 2, [Feb. 12, 1828], March 2, 1828

15. Brace, John Pierce: 1, June 4, 1827

16. Collins, Zaccheus: 1, May 28, 1815, with typescript; also letter to Collins from B.R. Morgan, Nov. 9, 1816

17. Darlington, William: 3, Aug. 31, 1827; Dec. 14, 1827; n.d.

18. Elliott, Stephen: 2, to [Muhlenberg], [Feb. 15, 1809]; to ?, n.d. (both seem to be draft copies)

19. Herbemont, Nicholas: 1, May 20, 1817

20. Jackson, James: 1, June 2, 1814

21. Macbride, James: about 25, Dec. 24, 1811; Feb. 10, 1812; March 7, 1812; May 27, 1812; June 14, 1812; Aug. 1812; Sept. 3, 1812; Oct. 7, 1812; Nov. 7, 1812; Dec. 18, 1812; May 8, 1813; May 16, 1813; June 13, 1813; Oct. 9, 1813; Oct. 14, 1813; Nov. 3, 1813; April 4, 1814; April 23, 1814; Oct. 25, 1814; June 7, 1815; July 31, 1815; Jan. 11, 1816; n.d.; n.d., signature torn off; unsigned note about Sampson's snake oil, probably Macbride's hand; unsigned note about calcareous region in St. John's parish, probably Macbride's hand; also letter to Macbridge from A. W. Garden, May 8, 1816; letter to Macbridge from J. W. Gilmer, April 11, 1816; letter to Macbridge from Wm. W. Anderson, n.d.

[Michaux, François André -- see folder 2]

22. Muhlenberg, Henry: 7, Nov. 9, 1808; Jan. 5, 1809; June 16, 1809; List of Plants sent to Muhlenberg 12 Sept. 1809 (in Elliott's hand); Nov. 8, 1809; Nov. 24, 1809; Jan. 31, 1810; March 30, 1810

23. Muhlenberg, Henry: 12, July 2, 1810; Aug. 27, 1810; Dec. 17, 1810; Jan. 2, 1811; Feb. 1, 1811; July 29, 1811; Jan. 5, 1812; March 13, 1812; April 5, 1812; June 22, 1812; Oct. 5, 1812; Nov. 11, 1812

24. Muhlenberg, Henry: 12, Dec. 1, 1812; Jan. 14, 1813; May 17, 1813; July 20, 1813; Aug. 25, 1813; Nov. 7, 1813; Dec. 6, 1813; May 9, 1814; July 13, 1814; Oct. 10, 1814; Nov. 15, 1814; April 10, 1815

25. Prince, William: 1, Sept. 28, 1828

26. Say, Thomas: 1, Aug. 18, 1822 (contains identifications for a box of shells)

27. Schweinitz, Lewis David von: 1, Sept. 9, 1822

28. Stueve, W. C.: 1, Oct. 20, 1817, with a list of European plants

29. Swainson, William: 1, Feb. 10, 1825 (contains list of American birds wanted from Nelson's American Ornithology)

30. Tesse, Madame de: 1, n.d.; seems to be addressed to a Mr. Short

31. Thouin, André: 1, July 5, 1818

32. Vaughan, John: 1, July 1, 1817

33. Wray, Thomas Jefferson: 1, Feb. 17, 1819

CORRESPONDENCE: Photostats from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

34. Elliott, Stephen: 15 letters to Henry Muhlenberg, 1809-1814

35. Palisot de Beauvois, Ambroise Marie François: 1 letter to ?, 1810

See Also:

Historic Letter Collection
Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection #0684
Jane Gray Autograph Collection


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