Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium

THOMAS NUTTALL (1786-1859)



Thomas Nuttall was born on Jan. 5, 1786, in Long Preston, Yorkshire, England. He was apprenticed to his uncle in 1800 to learn printing, but he started to become interested in botany in 1804. In 1808 he left England for Philadelphia, where he met Benjamin Smith Barton, under whose auspices he made two short collecting trips in 1809, and a longer trip to Detroit, the Michigan peninsula, and the upper Missouri River from 1810-1811. He saided to England from New Orleans in 1811 and returned to the U.S. in 1815 to continue his botanical explorations. In 1818 he published Genera of North American Plants, and a Catalogue of the Species to the Year 1817. He explored in Arkansas from 1818-1820, and in 1822 was appointed curator of the botanic garden and lecturer of natural history at Harvard. During his Harvard years he produced a textbook on botany, An Introduction to Systematic and Physiological Botany, 1827, and A Manual of the Ornithology of the U.S. and Canada: The Land Birds (1832), The Water Birds (1834). In 1834 he left Harvard to carry out more botanical explorations, traveling in Oregon, Hawaii and California from 1834-1836. He sailed back to Boston by way of Cape Horn in 1836 and spent the next few years in Philadelphia working on specimens. In 1842 he returned to England to take over inherited property. The terms of the inheritance required him to remain on the land at least nine months of the year and prevented him from continuing his American explorations, althoug he did manage to make a trip to the U.S. in 1847-1848. His three volume North American Sylva; or a description of the forest trees of the United States, Canada, and Nova Scotia, not described in the work of F. Andrew Michaux... was published in Philadelphia from 1842-1852. Nuttall died on his English property on Sept. 10, 1859.


Elliott, Clark. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.
Graustein, Jeannette E. "Nuttall's Travels into the Old Northwest: an unpublished 1810 Diary." Chronica Botanica 14: 3-88, plus several plates.


Scope and Content:

The Nuttall papers consist of photographs of a diary made during Nuttall's 1810-1811 explorations. The diary contains 124 pages and dates from April 12, 1810 to Sept. 1810. For detailed commentary and a transcription of the diary, see Jeannette E. Graustein's article, cited above.

Other Nuttall papers in the Gray Herbarium archives include 3 letters from Nuttall to Asa Gray and 2 copies of Gray's responses, in the Historic Letters file; 1 letter from Nuttall in the Thaddeus William Harris collection; and 1 letter from Nuttall to William Darlington and a sheet which is described as some of the manuscript of his Genera in Mrs. Gray's autograph collection. There is also a small set of original drawings (not drawn by Nuttall) for his North American Sylva, with notes prepared by Elizabeth Dean Bennett in 1928 comparing them to the published illustrations.



The diary photographs were apparently given to the Gray Herbarium by Jeannette Graustein around 1951. The diary itself was loaned to Ms. Graustein by Major Dixon-Nuttall.




Indexed in Main File under:
Nuttall, Thomas


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