Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium

CHARLES WRIGHT (1811-1885)



Charles Wright was born in Wethersfield, Conn. on Oct. 29, 1811, and he attended school there. After graduating from Yale in 1835, he taught privately in a family at Natchez, Mississippi, for a year and then went on to Texas after the position ended. He supported himself in surveying and in teaching, botanizing in his spare time. In 1844 he sent a collection of plants to Asa Gray, and correspondence was established between them. Wright continued making botanical collections in Texas for the next half-dozen years, and he held several appointments (to military expeditions and to boundary survey commission) that allowed him to carry out extensive explorations. From June 1853 to October 1855, Wright was botanist for the U.S. North Pacific Exploring Expedition, also known as the Ringgold and Roodgers Expedition for its captains. The expedition sailed from Virginia across the Atlantic, stopping at Madeira and Cape Verde, to the Cape of Good Hope, where it remained for six weeks. It headed for Sydney, made a prolonged stay at Hong Kong, and visited the Bonin and Loo Choo islands, Japan, and islands of the Bering Strait before arriving in San Francisco. Wright spent the winter in the San Francisco area and then asked to leave the expedition, which was due to continue south around Cape Horn and then to New York. After leaving the expedition, Wright took a steamer to Nicaragua, where he collected for a couple months, and then sailed to New York. From 1856 to 1867 he undertook a series of explorations in Cuba, and in 1871 he accompanied a U.S. Commission to Santo Domingo. In the intervals between collecting trips, Wright spent time at his Connecticut home and in Cambridge at the Gray Herbarium. From Oct. 1875 to April 1876, he served as librarian of the Bussey Institution. Wright spent the last years of his life in Wethersfield and died there on August 11, 1885.



Gray, Asa. "Botanical necrology of 1885." Am. Jour. Sci. III 31: 12-17
Urban, Ignatius. Symbolae Antillanae seu Fundamenta Florae Indiae Occidentalis 3: 141-144.
Biographical and Historical Record of the Class of 1835 in Yale College. New Haven, 1881.
Notes in the collection.


Scope and Content:

The Wright papers consist primarily of papers relating to collections he made while on the U.S. Commission in Santo Domingo.

The North Pacific papers include Wright's journal of the expedition and notes on plants collected in Madeira, St. Jago, Cape of Good Hope, Sydney, Hong Kong, Loo Choo and Bonin islands, Japan, Bering Straits and California. There are also notes on plants collected by Wright in Nicaragua immediately after leaving the expedition. None of these notes are field notes: they all appear to have been worked up later and they are interspersed with sections in Asa Gray's handwriting. There is a large (400 p.) unpublished manuscript on the plants of Japan in Asa Gray's handwriting which seems to have been intended as a detailed report of the expedition. There are also notes on Cape plants by William Henry Harvey and descriptions of grasses by William Munro.

The Santo Domingo papers consist of a draft of an unpublished "Flora Domingenses" with a letter from D.C. Eaton (1871) and notes from Daniel Oliver.

Other items pertaining to Wright in the archives include: Wright's letters to Gray (Historic Letters File), Gray's letters to Wright (Historic Letters File), Plant lists.



It seems likely that Wright's manuscripts were either left at the Gray Herbarium by Wright or given to the Herbarium after his death.


Container Listing: BOX AB, AT, AX, & AY

1. Journal of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition, June 11, 1853 - March 17, 1854

2. Journal of the North Pacific Exploring Expedition, March 18, 1854 - Oct. 13, 1855

3. Itinerary of U.S. North Pacific Exploring Expedition from March 26, [1855] to Sept. 9, [1855]. Includes detailed latitude and longitude readings.

4. Madeira and St. Jago -- plants collected on July 8 and 9, 1853, in the vicinity of Funchal, Madeira, and during a few hours in Porto Praya, St. Jago.

5. Cape of Good Hope -- list of plant names.; "Cape plants collected by C. Wright, named by WHH" [William Henry Harvey, 1811-1866], with 2 letters from Harvey to Gray, Aug. 17, 1858, and Oct. 28, 1858, and of "Mems. on Cape Plants of C.Wright"; list of plants collected in the immediate vicinity of Simons Town, Sept. 22 - Nov. 2.

6. Sydney -- list of names of plants collected in Sydney and vicinity, Dec. 25, 1853 - Jan. 4, 1854.

7. Hong Kong -- Introductory note explaining that expedition based in Hong Kong March 20, 1854 - Sept . 12, 1854; excursion to islands east of Hong Kong May 3-6, 1854; excursions to Whampoa June 12 - June 16 and June 24 - July 26; then to Macao; to Cum-sing-moon Aug. 2 - 8; returned to Hong Kong Jan. 29, 1855 - April 6, 1855. List of plant names. List of plant names with bibliographic cites and sometimes additional notes, arranged by families.

8. "Wright's Hongkong Gramineae" -- descriptions of species of Gramineae found by Wright, apparently written by William Munro (1818-1880)

9. Loo Choo, Bonin, etc. -- 4 pp. noted in Gray's hand; explanatory note stating that Bonin Islands were visited Oct. 19, 1854 - Nov. 3, 1854; and Loo Choo visited Nov. 17 - Dec. 13, 1854; Harbor Island on Jan. 19, 1855; Agenhu on April 20; Loo Choo April 22-25; Katonasima April 29 - May 3 and 4. Mr. Small collected on Amakarina islands and other locations. List of plants, names only. List of plants including cites and additional notes, arranged by family.

10. Loo Choo, bonin, etc. grasses -- description of grasses written by William Munro.

11. Japan -- list of plant names; ms in Gray's hand containing descriptions of Japanese plants, arranged systematically. The Gray manuscript is evidently the detailed report on plants which he alluded to in "Diagnostic characters of New Species of Phaenogamous Plants, collected in Japan by Charles Wright, Botanist of the U.S. North Pacific Exploring Expedition ..., " Mem. Amer. Acad. 6 : 377 - 452. The Mem. Amer. Acad. article was described as a brief report on novelties pending publication of the full reports of the expedition. The full reports were never published, in part due to the outbreak of the Civil War.

12. Arctic Asia -- explanatory note says mostly plants from Arakamtschetshene of Kiene Island, Aug. 14 - Sept. 13, [1855]; Mr. Small collecting on shore of Ckhotsk Sea. List of plant names; detailed descriptions of plants, arranged systematically.

13. California -- explanatory note says: "The following is the fruit of a few short winter excursions in the immediate neighborhood of San Francisco and Mare Island --- winter 1855 & 1856." List of plants, including some descriptive notes.

14. Nicaragua -- Explanatory note says he arrived at San Juan del sur Mid-February, 1856 and went to Virgin Bay, which was his base for two months. He made excursions to the Pacific coast and to an island in Lake Nicaragua. List of plant names. List of plant names with cites and additional notes.

15. Flora Domingensis -- ms. in Wright's hand, attributed to both Asa Gray and Wright, based on Wright's 1871 collections in Santo Domingo. Unpublished. For a thorough explanation of circumstances around this manuscript and its unpublished state, see Richard A. Howard, "The Botanical Results of the U.S. Commission of Inquiry to Santo Domingo in 1871," Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 42: 115-143.

16. Letter from D.C. Eaton to Wright, dated Oct. 22, 1871, and a sheet of "Notes on some plants, collected in S. Domingo by the U.S. Commission, Recd in Kew. 11/71, " 3 pp., attributed to [Daniel] Oliver by a pencil annotation in Miss Day's hand. Plants of Cuba. Lists of specimens, "much of this book is in Asa Gray's handwriting". Belongs with Plant List Box II.


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