John Bartram


Born: 23 Mar 1698/99 in Darby Township, Chester County, Province of Pennsylvania

Died: 22 Sep 1777 in Kingsessing Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA

Father: William Bartram (? – 1711)

Mother: Elizah ? (? – 1701)

Family #1

Spouse/Partner: Mary Maris (? – 1727)

Married: 25 Apr 1723 in ?

Child: Richard Bartram (1724 – 1728/29)

Child: Issac Bartram (1725 – 1801)

Family #2

Spouse/Partner: Ann Mendenhall (1703 – ?)

Married: 1729 in ?

Child: Elizabeth Bartram (1734 – 1734)

Child: Mary Bartram ( – )

Child: William Bartram (1739 – 1823)

Child: Elizabeth Bartram (1739 – 1824)

Child: Ann Bartram (c. 1741 – 1777)

Child: Moses Bartram ( – )

Child: John Bartram Jr. ( – ?)


When his father left for his travels in 1708, John and his brother James were left in the care of their grandmother, his mother having died shortly after James' birth. It was on these travels that his father was killed in 1711, at the hands of natives in the Province of Carolina, and is likely a significant reason for his intense, life-long hatred of the Indians.

He also didn't have much of a formal education, and this shows in his writings. Some patrons seem to consider him something of a "country-cousin." Intelligent, but not really a good fit into society.

John inherited his Uncle Isaac's estate and a quarter of his father's as well. (Half went to his stepmother, and the remaining quarter to his brother James.) He thus started adulthood with £100 and a 200-acre farm, complete with a house and outbuildings, livestock, and equipment.

In 1728 he purchased land near Gray's Ferry on the Schuylkill River (in Kingsessing) and erected a home there by 1731. This home, in which he lived until his death in 1777, was listed on 15 Oct 1966 (building #66000676) in the National Register of Historic Places ( Photographs (from 1938) and architectural information can be found on the Library of Congress' American Memory "Built in America" web site ( Search for "John Bartram House, Fifty-fourth Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA"

Although he was a farmer in his early life, John became a botanist and horticulturist of international fame, and is regarded as the first native-born North American botanist. He also created what is known as "Bartram's Gardens" which still exists as a botanical garden and museum. It can be found on the web at

The bulk of his income came from plants and seeds he sold to collectors in Europe. Among those who were patrons are included Sir Hans Sloane (whose collections helped start the British Museum), Queen Ulrica of Sweden, and Carl Linnaeus (developer of the modern system of classification for living things).

John was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, and was a founding member of the American Philosophical Society, created by Franklin in 1743. The society was founded on the idea of promoting and developing the sciences, and John filled the role as botanist.

John's attitude toward slavery is somewhat open to interpretation. By Quaker teachings, he should have been against it. On the other hand, he did buy slaves for himself and his son William. Then again, he did free at least one slave despite the financial loss. Records penned by John and those by others have painted a conflicting picture.

He was also a good member of the Society of Friends in spite of the disownment of his father, and married both wives within the discipline. However, in 1758 he was disowned, but not for his attitudes toward slavery and the Indians, both of which were out of alignment with the Friends. Rather, he was disowned (after over a year's worth of attempts to dissuade him) on the issue of heresy -- he did not believe in the divinity of Christ. However, this was not a new condition and the others would have known about his beliefs for decades.

In 1765, a new accolade was given to him, when George III appointed him Royal Botanist for the North American colonies.

It is supposed that his death was hastened by his agitation over the approach of British troops leading to the Battle of Brandywine (11 Sep 1777), and his concern that his cherished half-century-old garden might not escape the ravages of the approaching army.

Change Date

This data was last changed on 3 Mar 2008, and is stored in datafile B.

Primary and Secondary Sources

(see About Sources)

Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania
by John W. Jordan, LL.D.; Lewis Publishing Company, 1911. [applies to name, notes]
Genealogy of the Sharpless family
by Gilbert Cope; Philadelphia, 1887. [applies to name, notes]
Guide to William Bartram's Travels
by Brad Sanders; Athens, Georgia: Fevertree Press, 2002 [applies to notes]
History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884
by J. Thomas Scharf, Thompson Westcott; Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co. 1884 [applies to birth, notes]
The Maris Family in the United States
by George L. & Annie M. Maris; 1885. [applies to birth, death, marriage, notes]
The Natures of John and William Bartram
by Thomas P. Slaughter; New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1996. [applies to name, birth, notes]
Web: Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey [applies to notes]