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Thomas Potts James (1803-1882)



Thomas Potts James was born in Radnor, Penn. on Sept. 1, 1803; he spent his early childhood there and his later childhood in the Trenton area. His father intended that Thomas and his older brother should go to Princeton, but he was unable to afford to send them, so they studied pharmacy instead. Thomas was involved in the wholesale drug business in Philadelphia from 1831-1866, but he managed to develop scientific interests at the same time, studying the Pennsylvania flora, serving as an officer of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, chairing the publication committee of the American Philosophical Society, etc. After retiring from the drug business, James moved his family to Cambridge Mass., where they lived with his wife's father. [James had married Isabella Batchelder in 1851.] There James devoted himself to botanical studies, particularly the study of mosses. He prepared catalogs of mosses collected in Alaska (1867) and in the West, by the King Expedition (1871) and the Wheeler Expedition (1878). After the death of W.S. Sullivant in 1873, James was persuaded by Asa Gray to continue, with Leo Lesquereux, Sullivant's work on a manual of North American mosses. In order to clear up questions raised by work on the manual, James traveled to Europe inn 1878 to consult with Wilhelm Philipp Schimper, a leading European authority on mosses. Schimper's consultations led James and Lesquereux to publish Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (l4: 133-141) in 1879. James devoted most of his time in the last years of his life to work on the manual, carrying out all the microscopical studies since Lesquereux was no longer able to do so. James completed to bulk of the work before his death, on Feb. 22, 1882, and the manual was able to be published in 1884 with final editing and compilation work carried out by Sereno Watson.

"Thomas P. James." Botanical Gazette VII (1882): 37, 38.
Elliott, Clark. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
Gozzaldi, Mary Isabella James. "Thomas Potts James." The Bryologist 6 (1903): 71-74.
[Gray, Asa.] "Thomas Potts James." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 17 (1881-1882): 405-6.
Rothrock, J.T. "Biographical Sketch of Thomas Potts James." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 20: 293-297.
Death notice (in Historic Letters file under James) also contains biographical information.

Scope and Content:

The Thomas Potts James papers fall into three main categories: Papers pertaining to the article titled "Descriptions of Some New Species of North American Mosses" (1879); letters from James to Leo Lesquereux, 1874-1882; and miscellaneous notes.

The papers pertaining to the 1879 article include a manuscript probably by Leo Lesquereux, a rough draft by James, an notes about Schimper's evaluations of mosses. The letters from James to Lesquereux number about 145 and are found in the Historic Letters file, along with a few letters from James to other individuals, such as Asa Gray and S.W. Cassino, the eventual publisher of the manual of mosses. The miscellaneous materials do not seem to fall into any particular order and include a number of rough notes that were probably intended for Leo Lesquereux.

There are also a few letters from James to Sereno Watson and determinations of mosses collected by Watson on the King Expedition in Watson's papers.

The Farlow Library has a collection of correspondence received by James.


No record of the provenance of the James papers has surfaced. Most likely they were acquired by Sereno Watson to aid his work in completing the manual of mosses, and they probably simply remained at the Gray Herbarium.

Container Listing: (BOX A-I)

Folder 1:

Materials pertaining to 1879 American Academy article: Letter to James from Leo Lesquereux, Feb. 10, 1879 (originally stored in Historic Letters file under Lesquereux); appears to cover letter for following ms. "Some remarks upon American Bryology and descriptions of new species of mosses by Leo Lesquereux and Thos. P. James": a 15 P. ms that appears to have been written by Lesquereux, possibly copied by someone else; very different from published article.

Rough drafts of published article, in James' hand.

Notes on Schimper's evaluation of mosses submitted to him ; notes mostly in James' hand, some in Lesquereux's, and 2 pages in Watson's.

List of people to whom copies of article were mailed.

Folder 2:

Miscellaneous notes, including drafts of notes to Lesquereux, notes on publications, descriptions of mosses, plant lists, etc.

Historic Letters file, under James:

about 145 letters, 1874-1880, from James to Lesquereux; 2 were previously stored outside the Historic Letters file--1 dated March 8,1876, and a labeled "105 continued" (after letter dated June 7,1877)

also contains:

death notice
4 letters to Asa Gray, 1855-1869, the latter unsigned
1 letter to Prof. Trego, unsigned, 1869
1 letter to American Philosophical Society, 1869(previously stored outside Historic Letters file), on same topic as letter to Trego.
1 letter to Rev. Bishop Morris, 1874.
2 letters from S.E. Cassino and 1 letter to, 1877
1 letter to Charles Mohr, 1879.
2 letter to unnamed correspondent, 1879, 1880.

See Also:

Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection: #0231, #0232, #0817


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