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Audubon, John James (26 April 1785–27 January 1851), naturalist and artist, was born Jean Rabin Fougère in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo, the son of Captain Jean Audubon, a French sea captain, planter, and slave dealer, and Jeanne Rabin (or Rabine), a young Frenchwoman employed as a chambermaid on the island. The traditional view, that Mlle Rabin was a Creole woman native to Santo Domingo, has been disproved. Audubon’s mother died before he was seven months old, and the child was cared for by another mistress of the father’s with whom he had several children. In 1791, fearing worsening conditions in Santo Domingo, Captain Audubon arranged for his son and a younger daughter by his mistress Catherine “Sanitte” Bouffard to be taken to France. There both were well cared for by Captain Audubon’s legal spouse, Anne Moynet Audubon, who had no children of her own. Both children were formally adopted by the couple in 1794, as was required if they were legally to inherit Captain Audubon’s name and property, and were baptized in 1800. At this time the boy received the name Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon....

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Bendire, Charles Emil (27 April 1836–04 February 1897), naturalist and soldier, was born Karl Emil Bender at König im Odenwald in Hesse-Darmstadt (now in Germany). The identities of his parents are not known. At age twelve he began his studies at a theological seminary in Passy, France. Misconduct led to his departure five years later. In 1853 he immigrated to the United States and anglicized his name to Charles Bendire. The following year he joined the First Dragoons in the U.S. Army. During his second enlistment, which began in 1860, he became a sergeant and later hospital steward in the Fourth Cavalry....

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Burroughs, John (03 April 1837–29 March 1921), naturalist and author, was born in Roxbury, New York, the son of Chauncey A. Burroughs and Amy Kelly, farmers. He attended district schools in Roxbury and later studied briefly at two academies in Upstate New York. He became a teacher in 1854, at the age of seventeen, and for the next decade he taught in rural schools in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. He studied medicine for a few months with a physician in Tangore, New York, where he met Ursula North, a farmer’s daughter. The two married in 1857; they adopted one child, born in 1878 to a woman with whom Burroughs had an extramarital affair (his wife did not learn of the child’s paternity until several years later). During the 1850s Burroughs discovered the Transcendentalist writings of ...

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Colden, Cadwallader (07 February 1689–20 September 1776), physician, natural scientist, and lieutenant governor of New York, was born of Scottish parents in Ireland, where his mother (name unknown) was visiting. His father was the Reverend Alexander Colden of Duns, Scotland. Colden graduated in 1705 from the University of Edinburgh. He then studied medicine in London but, lacking the money to establish a medical practice in Great Britain, migrated to Philadelphia in 1710. Welcomed by his mother’s sister Elizabeth Hill, Colden established himself as a merchant and physician. He returned to Scotland briefly in 1715, where in November of that year he married Alice Chrystie of Kelso, Scotland. After their marriage they returned to Philadelphia; the couple had eleven children. During a 1717 visit to New York, Colden was persuaded by Governor ...

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Cooper, James Graham (19 June 1830–19 July 1902), naturalist and physician, was born in New York City, the son of William Cooper and Frances Graham. William Cooper (for whom the species commonly known as Cooper’s hawk is named) was a founding member of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York and was closely associated with ...

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Coues, Elliott (09 September 1842–25 December 1899), naturalist and historian, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Samuel Elliott Coues and Charlotte Haven Ladd. His father, a prominent peace advocate, received a position in the U.S. Patent Office and moved the family to Washington, D.C., in 1854. There, under the tutelage of ...

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Drake, Daniel (20 October 1785–05 November 1852), physician, naturalist, and educator, was born near Bound Brook, New Jersey, the son of Isaac Drake and Elizabeth Shotwell, farmers. The family moved west in 1788 to Mays Lick, Kentucky. At the age of fifteen Drake was apprenticed to Dr. ...

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Holbrook, John Edwards (30 December 1794–08 September 1871), physician and naturalist, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of Silas Holbrook, a teacher, and Mary Edwards. Although he lived in South Carolina for at least the first two years of his life, Holbrook grew up in North Wrentham (later incorporated into Norfolk), Massachusetts, the original home of his father, who died in 1800, and his uncle and, later, stepfather, Daniel Holbrook. After receiving his preparatory education locally at Day’s Academy and from a tutor in a neighboring town, he enrolled in Brown University, from which he received his baccalaureate in 1815. Holbrook then studied briefly with a physician in Boston and later entered the medical program of the University of Pennsylvania. Upon receiving his M.D. in 1818 he went abroad and traveled extensively in Ireland and Great Britain, collecting botanical and mineral specimens, visiting hospitals, and, at the University of Edinburgh, attending lectures in medicine and natural history. He ended his tour in London in December 1819 and then went to the Continent to travel about Italy, Germany, and France. Holbrook spent considerable time at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and became well-acquainted with a number of prominent naturalists, including Achille Valenciennes....

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Hornaday, William Temple (01 December 1854–06 March 1937), conservationist and naturalist, was born near Plainfield, Indiana, the son of William Hornaday and Martha Varner Miller, farmers. When he was three, his family moved to Knoxville, Iowa. Although lacking a high school education, he enrolled at Oskaloosa College in 1870 for a program of preparatory studies. In the spring of 1872 he became a freshman at Iowa State Agricultural College. After working in the museum at Iowa State, Hornaday became committed to becoming a taxidermist, a program of study that was not offered by this college. In November 1873 he obtained a position at the nation’s center for the practice of taxidermy at ...

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Jordan, David Starr (19 January 1851–19 September 1931), naturalist and educator, was born in Gainesville, New York, the son of Hiram Jordan and Huldah Hawley, farmers. Jordan obtained his secondary education in the Gainesville Female Seminary (1865) and then briefly became a primary teacher (1868). A county scholarship permitted his belated entry to the initial class at Cornell University. To support himself, he became an instructor in biology in his junior year and completed sufficient work to be granted a master of science degree after less than four years of study (1872)....

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Kirtland, Jared Potter (10 November 1793–10 December 1877), naturalist and physician, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of Turhand Kirtland, a land agent, and Mary Potter. Kirtland’s father moved from Connecticut to Poland, Ohio, in 1803, leaving Kirtland behind in the care of his maternal grandfather, Jared Potter, who was a physician and naturalist. Kirtland attended the Wallingford and Cheshire Academies and, under the tutelage of his grandfather, had an extensive education in natural history and particularly in horticulture. When his father became ill in 1810, Kirtland traveled to Poland, Ohio, frequently stopping along the way to study natural history and to visit gardens and orchards. Upon arriving in Poland, he began teaching in the village school and may have intended to stay for a prolonged period, but the death of his grandfather in 1811 caused Kirtland to return to Wallingford. He inherited Potter’s library and enough money to enable him to study medicine, first with preceptors in Wallingford and Hartford, and then, beginning in 1813, at the new medical school at Yale. In 1814 he attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania but returned to Yale, from which he received a medical degree in March 1815. Continuing his studies in natural history, he studied geology and mineralogy at Yale with ...

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Muir, John (21 April 1838–24 December 1914), naturalist, conservationist, and writer, was born in Dunbar, Scotland, the son of Daniel Muir and Anne Gilrye, farmers. He was educated in Dunbar’s common school and by his father’s insistence that he memorize a Bible chapter every day. With his father and two siblings, John migrated to Wisconsin in 1849; the rest of the family soon followed. On the family’s homestead near Portage, Daniel worked John, just entering his teens, as if he were an adult field hand, inflicting corporal punishment; John Muir later believed that this hard farm labor stunted his growth. The boy’s escape was to devour every book that he came across, and when his father forbade his reading at night, he devised a sort of wooden alarm clock attached to his bed. This “early-rising machine” awakened him very early in the morning, and he would read until it was time for his exhausting chores....

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Seton, Ernest Thompson (14 August 1860–23 October 1946), naturalist, artist, writer, and lecturer, was born Ernest Evan Thompson in South Shields, England, the son of Joseph Logan Thompson, a businessman, and Alice Snowden. Joseph Thompson claimed famous Scottish ancestry, including a title, never legally established, deriving from the fifth earl of Winton, Lord Seton. Ernest legally adopted the surname Seton in 1901....

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Thoreau, Henry David (12 July 1817–06 May 1862), author and naturalist, whose surname is pronounced “thorough,” was born in Concord, Massachusetts, the son of John Thoreau, a merchant and pencil manufacturer of French ancestry, and Cynthia Dunbar, of Scottish background. He was the only one of the famed Concord authors to be a native of the town. Although he was raised in genteel poverty, Thoreau attended Concord Academy, a private school where his parents hoped he would receive a better education than the public schools could offer. His parents also did much to encourage his youthful interest in natural history. A shy child, he often preferred to keep to himself rather than play with others....

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Wright, Mabel Osgood (26 January 1859–16 July 1934), naturalist and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Osgood, a Unitarian minister, and Ellen Haswell Murdock. Her father, a member of William Cullen Bryant’s literary circle, was the pastor of the Church of the Messiah in New York City from 1849 to 1869, after which he entered the Episcopal ministry. ...