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Abbot, John (31 May 1751–1840), artist-naturalist, was born in London, England, the son of John Abbot, an attorney in the court of King’s Bench, Plea side, and Ann Clousinger. (Although baptismal records list his birth date as 31 May, Abbot, in his “Notes on My Life” [1834], claimed he was born on 1 June.) Little is known about Abbot’s early education. The family rented a country home near London where young John read books and studied insects in the field. His father had a collection of good paintings and encouraged his son’s interests with books and arranged for home art lessons under the engraver and drawing master Jacob Bonneau. Nevertheless, Abbot’s career was assumed to be in law, and in February 1769 he began to clerk in his father’s law office. In his free time he continued to study insects, purchase books that illustrated insects and birds, and paint pictures. In 1770 Abbot exhibited two lepidoptera watercolors at the Society of Artists of Great Britain in London. By early 1773 he had determined to go to North America to collect and paint insects. The Royal Society of London and two English naturalists, Thomas Martyn and Dru Drury, commissioned Abbot to collect natural history specimens....

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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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John James Audubon. Lithograph in Gallery of Illustrious Americans, 1850. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-28111).

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Bartram, William (09 April 1739–22 July 1823), naturalist, artist, and explorer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Bartram, a naturalist, and Ann Mendenhall. Unlike his father, who was essentially self-taught, William Bartram benefited from a rigorous formal education at the Philadelphia Academy, where he studied history, Latin, French, and the classics. From an early age, however, his overriding interest was in nature. He spent much of his time as a young man traveling with his father to collect and draw plants and other specimens for John Bartram’s overseas patrons and scientific correspondents....

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Beard, James Carter (06 June 1837–15 November 1913), artist, author, and naturalist, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of James Henry Beard, a portrait, genre, and animal painter, and Mary Caroline Carter. He spent his childhood there and in nearby Covington, Kentucky, then attended Miami University at Oxford, Ohio, during the mid-1850s. Later he read law in Cincinnati under ...

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Fuertes, Louis Agassiz (07 February 1874–22 August 1927), artist, naturalist, and scientific illustrator, was born in Ithaca, New York, the son of Estevan Antonio Fuertes of Puerto Rico, a professor of civil engineering at Cornell University, and Mary Perry of Troy, New York. Named after but unrelated to the great nineteenth-century naturalist Louis Agassiz of Harvard, Fuertes was the youngest in a family of six. He traveled widely throughout the world but always considered Ithaca his home....

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Lesueur, Charles Alexandre (01 January 1778–12 December 1846), artist and naturalist, was born in Le Havre, France, the son of Jean-Baptiste-Denis Lesueur, an officer in the admiralty, and Charlotte Geneviève Thieullent, the daughter of a naval captain. At the age of nine Lesueur entered the Royal Military School at Beaumont-en-Auge. In 1793 he enrolled in a military school in Le Havre called the “Batillon de l’Esperance,” and from 1797 to 1799 he was an under-officer in the National Guard of Le Havre. For a few months in 1798 he served aboard the dispatch boat ...

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Peale, Titian Ramsay (02 November 1799–13 March 1885), naturalist and artist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Willson Peale, an artist, and Elizabeth DePeyster. Like several of his siblings, Peale was named after a famous painter by his father, who served in the revolutionary war, painted the earliest portrait of ...

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Ernest Thompson Seton With Blackfoot Indians, starting a fire with bow and stick, 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115320).

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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....