c. 1808, by Charles Wilson Peale

William Bartram


Born: 9 Apr 1739 in Kingsessing Township, Philadelphia County, Province of Pennsylvania

Died: 22 Jul 1823 in Kingsessing Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA

Father: John Bartram (1698/99 – 1777)

Mother: Ann Mendenhall (1703 – ?)


William ("little Billy") and his sister Elizabeth were twins.

William seemed to have no idea of his direction in early life. He turned down an apprenticeship to Benjamin Franklin to learn the printing trade, along with numerous other suggestions. He eventually moved to his Uncle William's plantation in the Province of North Carolina in 1761. He remained there until 1765, when he was invited by his father (who had just been appointed Royal Botanist by George III) to join him on an expedition into Florida. It was this trip which defined the direction for the remainder of his life.

Unlike his father John who was both a botanist and a farmer, William devoted most of his adult life to the study of nature, and was known internationally for his nature artwork.

William also doesn't appear to have shared his father's hatred of Indians. He befriended many during his travels, and was welcomed into their homes. He recognized in them a generous and hospitable nature, though his European heritage suggested to him that they should be offered the "civilization" represented by Europe.

From 1773 to 1777 William undertook a second journey through the southern colonies, and arrived back in Philadelphia in January, several months before his father's death.

During this second journey, he fell from a Cyprus and broke his leg. Although it healed, he never really regained full use of his leg and walked with a limp, and a cane. Although he had thoughts of making another trip, he never undertook such a journey again. In fact, he never again left the Philadelphia area.

He eventually wrote a book about his journey. However, although he had a manuscript by about 1783, he doubted its value, and didn't publish it until 1791. The delay allowed other botanists to receive credit for discovering plants that William had actually first identified.

When finally published, the work was titled, "Travels through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws; Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians."

This is generally just known as "Travels," and was widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.

Many have retraced William Bartram's journey, including John James Audubon, but this task has become easier. In 1976, the Bartram Trail Conference was created for the American Bicentennial, to locate and mark the route that William traveled. The group can be found on the web at http://www.bartramtrail.org.

William never married, and died in his gardens in Kingsessing.

Change Date

This data was last changed on 28 Apr 2007, and is stored in datafile B.

Primary and Secondary Sources

(see About Sources)

Guide to William Bartram's Travels
by Brad Sanders; Athens, Georgia: Fevertree Press, 2002 [applies to notes]
The Natures of John and William Bartram
by Thomas P. Slaughter; New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1996. [applies to name, birth, death, notes]