William Bartram, The Search for Nature’s Design
Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings

Edited by Thomas Hallock and Nancy E. Hoffmann

Nature in the early United States


"This is a beautiful book, lovingly produced for readers who adore William Bartram (1739-1823) as an artist, Romantic, naturalist, and gardener and painstakingly assembled by scholars who approach him from a variety of perspectives."
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Because the volume’s inclusion of correspondence, botanical materials, philosophical tracts, draft documents, and illustrations provides a richly multidimensional representation of Bartram’s experiences and achievements, William Bartram: The Search for Nature’s Design comes closer than any previous work on Bartram to showing us not only the whole career but also the whole person: the failed businessman, insecure son, devout Quaker, wilderness traveler, assiduous gardener, loyal friend, advisor and mentor, and tireless student of a natural world that he felt offered a continuing revelation of divinity. It is an ambitious book, impressive in both execution and presentation."

"In this marvelous, indispensable edition, editors Hallock and Hoffmann, assisted by an interdisciplinary team of co-editors, successfully challenge the stereotype of William Bartram the solitary wanderer and one-book author of Travels who spent the last decades of his life pottering around in his father’s botanical garden. They replace it with a more complex and more provocative image: that of a sophisticated artist and scientist fully in touch with his time, a tireless mentor to an international circle of young naturalists and firm believer in the rights of humans as well as animals. Driven by a compassion for all manner of living things, Bartram’s pliable prose and supple drawings redefine what we know about early American culture."
—Christoph Irmscher, author of The Poetics of Natural History and editor of John James Audubon: Writings and Drawings

"Here is a highly valuable collection of previously unpublished manuscript materials from the hand of William Bartram, one of a very small group of internationally prominent naturalists in the United States at its time of inception. For anyone interested in the history of gardens, botany, early ecological thinking, nature illustration, ethnography (especially of southeastern Indians), anti-slavery treatises, Quaker figures, travel literature, climate studies, pharmacology, or, American history and culture more generally, this collection of Bartram’s writings and artwork is a treasure trove. For scholars who only know Bartram as the writer of Travels (1791), and as the American who influenced British Romanticism, here is copious new material (with lucid critical introductions) which shows Bartram’s involvement in all the key cultural and intellectual debates of his time."
—Susan Scott Parrish, author of American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World

"William Bartram, the Search for Nature's Design provides, for the first time, a primary text survey of the full career of one of the most important North American naturalists of the eighteenth century, and a man whose travels, collections, gardens, writing, and expertise placed him at the center of an emergent global network of natural history correspondents. This remarkably ambitious book comes closer than any previous work on Bartram to showing us not only the whole career but also the whole person: the failed businessman, insecure son, devout Quaker, wilderness traveler, assiduous gardener, loyal friend, advisor and mentor, and tireless student of the natural world. This book provides the richest, most engaging, and most detailed picture to date of one of the most remarkable of eighteenth-century Americans. It will be a wonderful addition to knowledge in a number of cognate fields."
—Michael P. Branch, editor of Reading the Roots: American Nature Writing before Walden

"This volume is important for anyone interested in Bartram’s Travels or in the cultures of natural history more generally. The materials collected here illustrate Bartram’s biography and the production of the Travels and present his participation in a range of contexts: literary natural history, visual arts, moral philosophy, anti-slavery, ethnography, commerce, medicine, gardening, field botany, Linnaean taxonomy, etc. Expert introductions provide excellent guides to these contexts. The documents are presented in a highly readable clear-text style that preserves the flavor of the original manuscripts. I’ve used some of these materials successfully to open the Travels for study in the undergraduate classroom."
—Timothy Sweet, author of American Georgics: Economy and Environment in Early American Literature

"Hallock and Hoffmann have set out to consider 'the full range and broader contexts of Bartram's work' and to provide a framework for future scholarship—in which they have succeeded admirably."
—Shepard Krech III, Journal of Southern History

"Buy and enjoy this book! . . . .The two coeditors and nine other contributors as well as the publishers, the designers, and the donors who must have provided subventions, all deserve our gratitude. If all you do is gaze at the pictures it is still a bargain as a coffee table book."
—Gordon Sayre, Early American Literature

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An important figure in early American science and letters, William Bartram (1739–1823) has been known almost exclusively for his classic book, Travels. William Bartram, The Search for Nature’s Design presents new material in the form of art, letters, and unpublished manuscripts. These documents expand our knowledge of Bartram as an explorer, naturalist, artist, writer, and citizen of the early Republic.

Part One, the correspondence, includes letters to and from Bartram’s family, friends, and peers, establishing his developing consciousness about the natural world as well as his passion for rendering it in drawing. The difficult business of undertaking scientific study and commercial botany in the eighteenth century comes alive through letters that detail travel arrangements, enduring hardship, and mentoring. Commonly regarded as a recluse or eccentric, Bartram instead emerges as deeply engaged with the major ideas, issues, and intellectual life of his time.

Part Two presents selections from Bartram’s diverse but little-known unpublished writings. Leading scholars in their field introduce manuscripts such as a draft for Travels, garden diaries faithfully kept, an antislavery treatise scrawled on the back of a plant catalog, a commonplace book, pharmacopia compiled for his brothers, and exacting accounts of Native American culture. Each selection reveals another dimension of Bartram’s unending interest in the world he encountered at home and traveling the southern colonies.

A Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book

Page count: 520 pp.
Trim size: 7 x 10


List price: $51.95

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Thomas Hallock, assistant professor of English at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, is the author of From the Fallen Tree: Frontier Narratives, Environmental Politics, and the Roots of a National Literature, 1749–1826. Nancy E. Hoffmann is an adjunct professor at Villanova University. She coedited the tercentennial reappraisal America’s Curious Botanist: John Bartram, 1699–1777.