Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium




Thaddeus William Harris was born in Dorchester, Mass. on Nov. 12, 1795, the son of a minister who had for a short time been Librarian of Harvard. Harris attended Harvard, receiving his A.B. degree in 1815 and his M.D. in 1820. He practiced medicine for a while but was not able to make a comfortable living at it. He married Catherine Holbrook, the daughter of his first medical partner, and from 1826-1849 they had twelve children, one of whom died in infancy. Having looked around for a better way to support himself and his family, Harris took the position of Librarian of Harvard in 1831, after the death of Benjamin Peirce. Over the years, Harris had devloped a private interest in natural history, particularly in entomology, an interest that was originally sparked by contact with William Dandridge Peck. In 1831 he prepared a catalogue of insects for Edward Hitchcock's Report on the Geology, Minerology, Botany and Zoology of Massachusetts. From 1837-1842 he gave lectures on natural history at Harvard, during the vacancy of the natural history professorship. During those years he also taught a private class on entomology and prepared "A Report on the Insects of Massachusetts, injurious to vegetation." He built up a carefully described and arranged insect collection, compiled painstaking indexes to major works on entomology, and over the course of his life published on the order of a hundred articles on insects and insect-related diseases. He had hoped to be appointed professor of natural history, but that position went to Asa Gray in 1842. Harris was interested in botany as well as entomology, but his botanical achievements never reached the level of his entomological ones. He published three articles on squashes and pumpkins in New England Farmer, 1851-1852, and left a manuscript of "an elaborate monograph of the natural order Cucurbitaceae" (according to Higginson). After Asa Gray's appointment, Harris had less and less time available for natural history study, a source of continual frustration to him. When he died on Jan. 16, 1856, he still held the post of Librarian of Harvard.


Barnhart, John Hendley. Biographical Notes upon Botanists.
Elliott, Clark A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Memoir of Thaddeus William Harris.
Boston: Boston Society of Natural History, 1869 (Biog 2 H24)


Scope and Content:

The Harris papers in the Gray Herbarium are primarily botanical and fall into three major groupings: correspondence, materials relating to botanical lectures, and general botanical notebooks.

The correspondence consists of about twenty letters which were found grouped by subject -- general botanical, hemp, Lycopsis Virginica and Myosotis avensis, soybeans, squashes and entomology -- and a half dozen letters that were found with the lecture notes. [The notes labeling the groups were not in Harris's handwriting.]

The materials that were found together in a folder labeled "Botanical Lectures" included notes on instructional details, charts and illustrations, notes for specific lectures, notes on characters of plants for lectures, and other loose botanical notes.

Of the botanical notebooks, four seem to be notes for an unfinished work by Harris entitled "An Artificial Method for determining the natural Orders or Tribes of the most common Flowering Plants; upon the plan of the School Botany of Professor Lindley; with Analytical Tables of the Genera." One notebook appears to be an index to some works of Linnaeus, and one consists of brief descriptions of various plant groups.



The botanical manuscripts and correspondence of Harris were received at the Gray Herbarium on May 23, 1924, through Mr. Samuel Henshaw as a gift from Miss Elizabeth Harris.


Container Listing: (BOX AI)

General botanical correspondence:

Asa Gray, n.d., shortly before a trip to Europe (w/envelope)
Malthus A. WArd, Oct. 16, 1847

Hemp correspondence:

Charles Greely Loring, Nov. 22, 1850 (about a court case involving hemp)
Jeffries Wyman, 22, 1850
4 pages of notes on hemp in Harris's hand

Lycopsis Virginica and Myosotis avensis correspondence:

James Englebert Teschemacher, June 8, 1842
"Botanical Notes, by Thaddeus William Harris.
Rougher drafts of notes on Lycopsis Virginica, dated June 4, 1842, 2 p. with draft
of a letter to Teschemayer, probably in response to June 8, 1842, above; ills. with
draft James Englebert Teschemacher, June 30, 1842

Soybean correspondence:

3 p. of notes on soybeans in Harris's handwriting
Josiah Tatum, Sept. 30, 1847
clipping with a reference to cow pea
Asa Gray, n.d.

Squashes correspondence:

Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, April 19, 1851
Thomas Nuttall, May 29, 1851 (w/envelope)
John W. Proctor, Oct. 2, 1851 - Jan. 15, 1852 (6 letters)
Wh____ L. Russell, Oct. 27, 1851, with a cross section of squash stem

Entomology correspondence:

Noyes Darling, Dec. 22, 1845, with sketches of a moth
Ebenezer Emmons, Aug. 26, 1845, with draft of Harris's response

The following miscellaneous letters were found with Harris's lecture notes:

Lewis Caleb Beck, April 13, 1840
Nich G. Boss, June 15, 1835, with a specimen of lacewood
Josiah Quincy, May 4?, 1818? and June 14, ____.
David Humprheys Storer, Oct. 24, 1838
John White Webster, n.d.


Folder 2: Notes pertaining to instructional details -- natural history department description, class list, etc. Charts and illustrations -- charts of taxonomic systems, diagrams of plant anatomy; Notes for dated lectures, 1834-1838 -- range from brief lists of topics to be covered to written lectures

Folder 3: Notes for dated lectures, 1839-1842 -- similar to above

Folder 4: Notes for undated lectures and other explanatory writings

Folder 5: Notes on readings -- notes on Linnaeus, Lindley, etc.; Miscellaneous botanical notes -- small, loose sheets, some dated; Notes on grammar -- appear to be notes on Latin and German

Folder 6: Notes on plants observed -- notes on when plants appeared in spring, detailed analysis of one plant, etc.

Folder 7: Bundle of notes labeled "Characters of Plants for Lectures"


9. "Botany. Natural System. 1" on cover; inside "An Artificial Method for determining the Natural Order or Tribes of the most common Flowering Plants"

10. "Botany. Natural System. 2" on cover; continuation of above,

11. "Botany. natural System. 3" on cover; continuation of above,

12. Hard cover notebook; t.p. says "An Artificial Method for determining the Natural Orders or Tribes of the most common Flowering Plants; upon the plant of the School Botany of Professor Lindley; with Analytical Tables of the Genera. By Thaddeus William Harris."

13. Unlabled notebook (blue); t.p. "Linnaei Plantarum Ordines Naturales. From the Philosophia Botanica, edit. 1751, and from the Genera Plantarum, editio VI ta, 1764, and from the Notes and lectures of Linnnaeus as republished by his pupils Giereke and Fabricius."

14. Unlabeled notebooks (green) -- inside says "Vegetable Kingdom"; lists various divisions, gives brief descriptions; note says "begun in the summer of 1839".


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