February 10, 2011

De natura

Jan Gronovius was born on this date in 1636 and what he’s best known for, apparently, is highjacking John Clayton’s work and taking credit for it.

[Wikipedia: ‘Without Clayton’s knowledge, Gronovius used the material in his Flora Virginica (1739-1743.’]

So here’s a gift for Jan – he didn’t do it.  He seems to have been a serious scholar, a friend of Carl Linnaeus and a correspondent of Clayton’s. When Clayton sent him a copy of his Flora Virginica, Gronovius thought he’d do Clayton a favor and  translate it into Latin, though he published it with his own name prominently displayed.

John Clayton, an Englishman transplanted to the colonies, first shows up as the clerk of Gloucester County VA, a job he held for almost fifty years.  Because the courthouse was burned by the British at the start of the Revolutionary War, there is very little information about him, aside from the date of his marriage to Elizabeth Whiting and the births of his five children. His personal plant collection was lost in the fire.

We do know he was a friend of John Bartram’s (cf. Context, Sept. 11);  they corresponded for more than 20 years and Bartram described him as a “worthy, ingenious man.”

Clayton was also a friend of Mark Catesby’s, a naturalist, some of whose drawings are shown here.  Catesby is known for his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published from 1731 to 1743. Catesby had come to Virginia to visit his sister in Williamsburg and was instantly taken with the flora and fauna of the New World.

These men, and others like them, were founding fathers in another sense – they were the scientists, botanists, naturalists, who recorded the unknown world around them for posterity and shared it with their counterparts in Europe.  The plants Clayton sent to Gronovius – the only part of his work that survives – have become the John Clayton Herbarium at the Natural History Museum in London.

Dogfish by Mark Catesby




  1. I love Catesby’s Dogfish! Your blog often sends me off onto new discoveries, Jean! Today, I linked into Maria Sybella Merion (1647 – 1717)a woman naturalist/illustrator. At a time when insect metamorphosis was generally unknown, she depicted caterpillar/butterfly metamorphosis, and did extensive work in the Dutch colony of Surinam! And she also had a very, very interesting personal life!


    Comment by Celia Carroll — February 10, 2011 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  2. very nice! =)


    Comment by nina c — February 10, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  3. You don’t dogfish around when you report natural history or do you? thank you Jean


    Comment by avery — February 11, 2011 @ 10:10 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: