Sunday, July 11, 2004

Bicentennial of the Burr-Hamilton Duel. The Historica Botanica Connection

Today marks the bicentennial of the Aaron Burr - Alexander Hamilton duel. As a reader of Historica Botanica, you may ask, "So what?".

Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) served as physician in attendance at this duel, and treated Hamilton for his mortal wound. It is in this role that Hosack is probably best remembered today. However, the world of botany recalls Hosack not for his medical renown, but as the founder of the Elgin Botanical Garden in Manhattan, a 20 acre parcel on the site of today's Rockefeller Center.

He purchased the property on September 1, 1801. The garden was the first public botanical garden in the country. It was modelled after those of England, and was intended, in part, for the teaching of medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia College in New York. From 1809-1811 Frederick Pursh served as gardener at Elgin. The Garden eventually passed to the State of New York, thence to Columbia University, and is now on long term lease to the owners of the Rockefeller Center property. Its $4800 initial cost has been well repaid!

Dr. Hosack may be credited with having given Amos Eaton his early botanical instruction. And a linear descent follows from Eaton to the two major figures of 19th century American botany- John Torrey, the precocious pupil of Eaton during his (Eaton's) unfortunate incarceration, and Asa Gray, the young rising star under Torrey's tutelage and employ in the early and mid-1830's. Hosack's influence was even more directly applied to Torrey who began his medical studies in 1815 (completing his degree in 1818) at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Hosack was a professor there at the time.

Hosack was also the founder and first president of the first American horticultural society, the New York Horticultural Society.

See a David Hosack medical class ticket below [June 24, 2004 entry].

The following references are highly recommended:

Brown, Addison; The Elgin Botanical Garden; New Era Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1908 (originally published in the Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden; Vol. 319, p. 372)

Robbins, Christine Chapman; David Hosack, Citizen of New York; Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 62; American Philosphical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1964

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