Michigan Research Adventures

The blog hasn’t updated in a while (sorry about that) but it was for a good reason. The whole Martinez clan was on a trip to University of Michigan Ann Arbor’s Clements Library! Why Michigan you may ask? Well, the answer is pretty straight forward; the Clements Library has one of the largest collections of original Marshall family papers. The letters are particularly focused around Humphry, Moses, and to a lesser extent Moses’ son who is also named Moses Marshall (to avoid confusion we refer to him as Moses Jr. even though it seems no one called him that). We had a great time spending days in the library and nerding out over two hundred year old documents. The material was spread out over 4 boxes, so we each took a box and wrote down notes and took pictures, occasionally swapping them around between ourselves. Though it was hard and exhausting work, it was a great bit of family bonding time to do it together. Next time I’ll share some of the actual results and process of our reasearch, but for now here are some pictures of the Martinez family having some photo ops in and around the Clements Library!


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.



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.

Franklin’s Tree

Last week I alluded to a discussion some of us had about the plant Franklinia alatamaha, and the importance it has to the Bartrams and Marshalls. It was first found by John Bartram on a trip to Georgia on the banks of the Alatamaha River (hence the species name), however because of the season he was unable to bring back any seeds or plantings, and it took William Bartram using his father’s directions to collect seeds in the wild that were able to propagate successfully in their garden. William also named the plant after Benjamin Franklin, when William’s studies of the plant suggested it was a new genus. Humphry Marshall was the first to publish information about the plant in his groundbreaking book Arbustrum Americanum.


The Franklinia growing in Jamie Paxon’s garden.



The particularly interesting thing about the Franklinia is that it is extinct in the wild, and has been so for a long time. In fact, William Bartram was apparently the one person to have successfully grown the plant, so any modern day specimens are descended from his collection trip. Though it looks rather like a Camellia or a Gordonia (it was thought to be a Gordonia for quite some time) it is the single member of the Franklinia genus, making it unique. Why Franklinia became extinct in the wild by the early 19th century is unclear but we can make some good guesses. It is likely this beautiful, small tree was already on the cusp of extinction considering it was only known to grow along the Alatamaha and is famously delicate. Compounding that factor is the possibility of pressures on the environment due to settlers and over collecting by interested gardeners.



The Franklinia in Botanists in Bartram’s Garden.

Back in the Books

Sebastian: It’s good to be back in the Chester County Historical Society library! It was closed for improvements during the month of January, and I’ve been missing it. After an excellent coordination meeting with museum director David Reinfeld and marketing manager Lauren Hoyer I hit the books.

I’ve collected a stack of the four most important single documents for the show. William Darlington’s memorial of the Marshalls and the Bartrams containing a massive amount of letters and some biographical information, the Arbustrum Americanum a survey of American trees and shrubs by the man himself, and two excellent theses. One by Robert Gutowski is focused on botany and the other by Louise Belden is focused on history and biography.


4 Books









Here I’m taking notes flanked by the theses (thesises? Thesii? There really is no way to pluralize thesis without sounding silly). Though I’ve read through both of these before, my new expanded perspective on the show has led me to pick up on things I brushed over before. Research really does have its own unique pleasures. It can be a little monotonous at times but finding that nugget of information you need is thrilling.


Note taking











This convenient bookmark seems to have something written on it…perhaps an important event we should bookmark as well?