Microscope Portrait

The opening date of the show is drawing near, especially for us since soon a lot of our effort will need to be focused on the actual physical installation of Martinez presents Marshall in CCHS’ gallery. To that end a whole painting has been completed! This painting will be one of the major works of the show as it is the full portrait of Humphry Marshall in his study. Though there are a number of things to talk about in the portrait, I’m first going to talk about the much anticipated microscope. This is the microscope that was actually used by Humphry Marshall and it’s in the CCHS collection. It was bought in London for him due to the efforts of two people that are very important in the story of Humphry, Dr. Fothergill and Benjamin Franklin. Before the revolution started Fothergill was Humphry’s main client and contact for European plant collectors. The doctor was wealthy and well respected both for his knowledge of medicine and botany. Initially theirs was a barter relationship exchanging plants and seeds for the latest books on botanical science and instruments like a telescope and microscope. Of course sending delicate equipment overseas was a hazardous undertaking at that time, so Fothergill contacted Benjamin Franklin, a mutual friend who was in London to pick out a good microscope and telescope to send to Humphry and a trusty ship’s captain to take care of it.

This is the microscope Franklin and Fothergill choose, beautifully crafted with a flamboyant baroque design so different from the microscopes of today. In particular this is a Culpeper-Style microscope, so named for the originator of the design, British instrument maker Edmund Culpeper. The notable aspects of the style are the vertical design, double tripod, and mirror. The microscope was focused by sliding the body up and down, and the mirror on the bottom helped to focus light underneath the specimen. Having used microscopes for botanical purposes myself I can attest that having a backlight is extremely important. Without a light a leaf will just look like a fuzzy black silhouette, with a light you can see the individual cells and structure of the plant. Though our microscopes look very different and have many more refinements, the basic principles are still all present. Humphry Marshall was looking at the same subtle elements of plant. There are many small but important parts of plants, like the insides of a flower, which are best viewed through a microscope. Small seeds, which look like black specks to the naked eye, reveal different geometrical shapes under a microscope and go from identical to quite distinct, which can help enormously for identification and classification. Imagine Humphry’s excitement at having his capacity for scientific research suddenly and profoundly expanded by this 18th century cutting edge technology.

scopereal scope

William Baldwin

I’ve talked a little bit about Baldwin (born March 29, 1779) before in the context of another botanist in this show William Darlingon. We know that Baldwin died young of tuberculosis (a disease that was thought to be genetic at the time – and both of his parents had it) and also that he had a love of botany, inspired by his relationship with Moses Marshall. Baldwin himself is an interesting case, as he followed a different kind of botanical mold than Darlington or the Marshalls. Though he was a medical doctor like Moses and Darlington, his main focus was on scientific botany, and he was more of a specialist focusing on the sedge family of plants (Cyperaceae). Baldwin’s relationship with Darlington started with them going to the University of Pennsylvania together and was important and very touching when Darlington got sick and started missing classes. Baldwin was the only one who took serious notice and he helped nurse his friend back to health. Sadly, it was Baldwin’s health that turned out to be a problem and he died while serving as the botanist on an ill-fated expedition to explore the Missouri River. Though he died at only 40 years old, his botanical papers, notes, collections, and letters would live on thanks to the efforts of Darlington and other major botanists of the time like John Torrey and Asa Gray. Baldwin’s picture below is not my work, but a drawing from the time period that gets across some of his gentle intelligence.




William Darlington was a botanist who represented the next set in the botanical sciences after Humphry Marshall. Above is a picture of him actually from the time, painted by John Neagle – not by Adrian Martinez.

William Darlington was born on April 28th, 1782 in Chester County. Born on a farm he would go on to excel in a variety of different fields, he was doctor, botanist, congressman, banker, and historian among other things. His most important connection in the context of the Martinez presents Marshall show was his long friendship with another botanist named William Baldwin. Another Chester County native (1779) Baldwin’s love of botany was inspired by none other than Moses Marshall, who would often take him on tours through Humphry’s botanic garden. Baldwin in turn inspired a deeper interest in botany in Darlington. A sufferer of tuberculosis all of his life Baldwin died young and it is partially in his memory that Darlington used his considerable resources as a historian to create The Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall, the first major record of Humphry’s life and letters. Without Darlington’s work and the lineage of great botanists that inspired its creation, this show wouldn’t even be possible!

Susanna Wright

Continuing our series of short biographical sketches about the major figures of the show, we look today at Susanna Wright. A remarkable Quaker leader her numerous talents and interests show a woman of much learning and ability.

An English native Susanna Wright was born in Lancashire in 1697 and moved to America in 1718 when she was still quite young. Her parents settled in an area now called Wright’s Ferry, for self-explanatory reasons, and set up a homestead there. When her parents passed away Susanna was left as the person in charge of her household, a challenge she rose to exceedingly well. On top of maintaining the farm and ferry she was also a pioneer of raising silkworms in America and wrote a book about their care. She maintained connections with many influential people, like Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush who had great respect for her abilities as a mind and a poet. During a visit to Wright’s Ferry Humphry Marshall remarked that view was “the most wonderful prospect all around that I ever beheld”. Susanna is another remarkable example of what early pioneers on the edge of America could accomplish.

Her home in Columbia, PA still stands today and lives on as the wonderful Wrights Ferry Mansion museum, you can learn about it here.

Susanna Wright Detail

Moses Marshall

A short biography of the other important Marshall in the show!

Moses Marshall was born in West Bradford Township in 1758. Moses was Humphry Marshall’s nephew and apprentice, as Humphry had no children of his own. At a young age Moses left West Bradford to study under his first mentor, a doctor named Nicholas Way. To say that his first bout of medical training was intense is an understatement, as he returned to his home county in 1777 to tend to the wounded after the Battle of the Brandywine, before he had even completed his apprenticeship. Years later in 1784 Moses would return again to become Humphry’s assistant in the plant nursery business. Moses went on a number of long and arduous plant collecting journeys for his beloved uncle and if his expedition diaries are to be believed he could be a bit of a wild man, participating in a number of what he called ‘frolics’.  As a major part of the world around Humphry Marshall, Moses appears in a number of the works that will be featured in the show. A skillful botanist in his own right, Moses was also the main link between his uncle and the future young botanists of America.



Brandywine Battlefield Experience

As part of our research into the time period of Humphry Marshall we were recommended Michael C. Harris’ excellent book Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America. We also found out that the author gives personal tours of the battlefield and signed up for one last Saturday! We had a great time and learned a lot about what the battle actually entailed a surprising amount of the major geographical features from the Battle of the Brandywine are still represented by their modern day equivalents. Michael is an excellent author, speaker, and tour guide and you can follow him on his blog www.revwarramblings.wordpress.com!


Hannah Freeman

Hannah Freeman, known more usually by her name ‘Indian Hannah – the last of the Lenape’ was born in Kennett Township sometime in 1730 or 31. Her title is something of a misnomer; she was certainly not the last of the Lenape Indians, or even the last of the Lenape Indians in Chester County.  Hannah knew a great deal about the uses of local plant life due to her role as a healer and possessor of her tribe’s knowledge and it is very likely that she communicated some of this to Marshall. Other than John Bartram and his son William “Indian Hanna” was likely Humphry Marshall’s major source of information on Native American botanical pharmacology. She was committed to the new Chester County poorhouse when she was no longer able to support herself due to her advanced age and Moses Marshall recorded her life story as part of the process. Though she was an object of pity at the time, with the benefit of hindsight we can recognize her strength and adaptability.

Here Indian Hanna is depicted under a full moon in a lonely farm in Chester County carrying out what would have been for her a heart rending ritual. The Lenni Lenape Indians had left her behind many years before to faithfully carry out their seasonal cycle of rituals one of which was to care for the tribal graveyard, a task she was no longer able to perform after being sent to the poorhouse.



Humphry, Bridges and Roads

Though Humphry Marshall is probably most well-known for his contributions to the science of botany, and rightly so, there are a lot of interesting aspects of his more everyday life. One that is particularly notable and relatively well documented was his continuing quest to get better roads and bridges built in Chester County. These kinds of public works were both extremely vital and not well established in his day. As a farmer in a community of farmers he and his neighbors were very reliant on being able to ship their goods to and from larger cities that needed the food and could provide specialty items, like Philadelphia. His quest for straighter roads, particularly what was then called Strasburg road was an ordeal that he worked towards for almost 30 years, culminating in drawing a detailed map and writing a large argument for why the straight road would be better for the Pennsylvania house of representatives. This finally did the job, and he finally got his road based on his plans. Though a straighter Strasburg road could not legitimately be called part of Humphry Marshall’s ‘legacy’ the episode does encapsulate the kind of determined public-conscious mindset that Humphry had that made him so appealing to us, and is part of the reason he is a focal point of this show!


bridge to milltown



Rivers could also be major obstacles since bridges were rare and fording or rafts could often be awkward. As such Humphry led the construction of several bridges himself and even bought some shares in the Susquehanna Bridge company later in his life.