Correspondence of Joseph Williston Grosvenor and G. W. Clinton
P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
March 17, 2014
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The Correspondence of

Joseph Williston Grosvenor (1837–1929) and

George William Clinton (1807–1885)


Introduction and Letters


P. M. Eckel, P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; email:

Fort Pulaski, Georgia, at which J. W. Grosvenor

served as an Assistant Surgeon during the Civil War.


Wikipedia: Robert K. Sneden map showing Union batteries on Tybee Island.


The Grosvenor (pronounced “Grove-nor”) family came from England to North America before 1673, and settled, for a few generations, in the areas of Massachusetts (Roxbury) and Connecticut (Pomfret) (White 1898). Joseph Williston Grosvenor (Jr.), was born in South Brookfield, Worcester County, Massachusetts, on July 26, 1837, a year after his brother, Francis Lee (March 17, 1836) (White 1898). The father of both boys was Joseph Williston Grosvenor (Sr.), born in 1805. Their mother was Mary Bacon Hancock, before she married Joseph Sr., and she was born in Barre, Massachusetts.


Unfortunately for the boys, and doubtless their mother, their father died on April 19, 1838, some two years after Francis came to be, and a little less than a year after Joseph (Jr.). Joseph’s education seems to have been variously interrupted, but he “attended the public schools and Leicester Academy, and was graduated from the Barre (Mass.) High School in 1855” (White 1898). Leicester Academy (Leister, Mass.) was a private, state chartered institution with a liberal arts curriculum, that had an excellent reputation at the time, but Joseph did not seem to finish his career there, but graduated from Barre High School, perhaps because his mother had returned to her home town (Barre) after her husband died, and took her sons with her.


During the next four years, Joseph attended and later graduated from Dartmouth College at Hanover, New Hampshire, he is listed as “Freshman (see 1855), Sophomore and Junior” from 1855 to 1858, and, in 1859, “receiv[ed] the degree of A. B.” (White 1898). According to Dartmouth College catalogues, Joseph’s home town was listed as Barre, Mass. while he was a student.


Western New York then abruptly enjoyed the arrival of the young Joseph in Lockport (Niagara County), New York, who “took charge of the scientific department of the Union school” for one year. “The ‘Lockport Union School’ was incorporated March 31, 1847. Connected with it was an academic department under the supervision of the Regents [of the State University of New York]. The number of pupils in attendance in 1856 was 742” (French 1860). George Clinton was a Regent of the State University and hence one of the Union School’s supervisors.


Barely one year later (1860), Joseph arrived in Buffalo (White, 1898). There, also for one year, “he had charge of the classical department of the Central High School” (White 1898), probably making use of his earlier English, Latin, Greek, and French instruction at the Leicester Academy, and scientific studies at Dartmouth.


French (1860) noted that the “Public Schools of the city [of Buffalo] have long enjoyed a deservedly high reputation. They are carefully nurtured through the operations of an enlightened public sentiment, and are so excellent in all their departments that scarcely any other elementary schools are supported or needed.”


White (1898) also indicated that “While engaged in teaching [Grosvenor] had taken up the study of medicine,” but did not yet hold the degree of M.D. According to French (1860), Buffalo was the site of the University of Buffalo Medical Department where Grosvenor probably pursued his medical studies. “The Buffalo Medical College, on the corner of Main and Virginia Sts., was organized in Aug. 1846, under the charter of the University of Buffalo. A course of lectures is given each winter; and the students are admitted to the hospital of the Sisters of Charity, on stated days, during the visits of the medical and surgical officers” (French p. 287).


During the year Joseph resided in Buffalo (1861), Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States, and South Carolina seceded from the Union in protest. The next year, during which Joseph was probably teaching at the High School, Lincoln was inaugurated. During 1861 the Confederate States of America was formed during the Congress of Montgomery, and the Confederates then attacked and had taken Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederates went on to victory at Bull Run and Lincoln called out the militias to suppress this Confederacy.


It was during 1861 also, that 113 people in Buffalo, On October 12, signed an agreement to “the formation of a ‘permanent organization for the study and promotion of the natural sciences’” in Buffalo, New York. By December of that year, the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences (B.S.N.S.) had been formed and rooms rented out for the development of such an institution (Goodyear 1994). In all of Goodyear’s history of both Society and Museum, Grosvenor’s name does not appear.


At some time during Grosvenor’s life, however, White listed, among his medical society memberships, membership in the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences.


In 1862, Joseph Williston Grosvenor “enlisted in the United States service as assistant surgeon, serving in the 11th R. L. H. A. until the close of the war, being mustered out in April, 1865” (White 1898).


After the Battle of Bull Run, in 1861, “the US government took possession of several private hospitals in Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia, and surrounding towns” (Wikipedia Feb. 28, 2015), but before then the Union leadership had no plans to treat the sick and wounded. General George B. McClellan “appointed the first medical director of the army, surgeon Charles S. Tripler, on August 12, 1861” (Wikipedia). Plans were created to “enlist regimental surgeons to travel with armies in the field” and “orders were issued on May 25, that each regiment must recruit one surgeon and one assistant surgeon to serve before [the regiment] could be deployed for duty.”


Grosvenor enlisted as assistant surgeon the next year (1862), when William Alexander Hammond became Surgeon General of the Army. Although the army medical service was new, the recruits for such a service appear to have been professionals, and Hammond demanded competence over rank or connections (Wikipedia, Medicine in the American Civil War, Feb. 28, 2014). For Grosvenor to serve as assistant surgeon, reliance must have been made on his education at Dartmouth, before he settled briefly in Lockport, New York, and whatever medical instruction he acquired in Buffalo. His earlier scientific studies qualified him to teach at the High School in Lockport, and he was probably trained in botany, a study that would assist at that time in the preparation of medicines for anyone intending to become a doctor of medicine.


In early 1862, when Grosvenor enlisted in the army, George W. Clinton, in Buffalo, the first and only president of the B.S.N.S. until he resigned and left Buffalo for Albany, in 1882, began to write in a Botanical Journal his field collecting activities and those regarding the development of the Society’s collection of botanical specimens - the evolution of what was to become the Clinton Herbarium.


It was also in the year of the end of the Civil War, in 1865, that George W. Clinton began to save and archive letters sent to him from various individuals, primarily botanists, eventually developing a collection of letters amounting to nearly one thousand items.


On April 3, 1865, the Union forces captured Richmond, Virginia. Only eleven days later, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (April 14, 1865). On May 10, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was captured in Georgia, on his way to Texas. Officially, the American Civil War ended on May 26, when the last Confederate army surrendered at Shreveport, Louisiana.


Only thirteen days after the surrender, Grosvenor sent the following letter to Clinton, the 28th preserved letter of the Clinton correspondence:


Vol. 1. 28. [I 200]

Barre Mass.

June 8th 1865

Hon. G. W. Clinton

My Dear Sir

    I have just finished preparing for you a bundle of plants wh. I collected while in the Dept. of the South. Shall I forward them to you by Express?

    I have the honor to be

      Very Respectfully

        Yr. obt. servt.

    J. W. Grosvenor

P.S. I hope to visit Buffalo in the ensuing Autumn.

                                   J. W. G.

Recd. June 12 and wrote


The United States Army’s Department of the South in the Civil War was focused on South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. “March 15, 1862...The States of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, with the expedition and forces now under Brig. Gen. T. W. Sherman, will constitute a military department, to be called the Department of the South, to be commanded by Major-General Hunter. By order of the Secretary of War: L. Thomas, Adjutant- General” (Wikipedia, Feb. 20, 2014).


“The main purpose of the Department was to enforce the U.S. naval blockade of the Confederacy.” “There were some high hopes for the Department. It was felt at various times that they could strike a serious blow against the Confederacy by capturing Savannah, Charleston, or cutting across the Confederacy's breadbasket of Florida. Yet until the arrival of General William T. Sherman on his "March to the Sea" none of those goals were met” (Dr. Bronson, Wikipedia Feb. 20, 2014).


In a Roster of all Regimental Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons in the late war, with their service, and last-known post-office address compiled from Official Records by N. A. Strait, Washington, D. C., for use of United States Pension Office in 1882, Joseph W. Grosvenor, as assistant surgeon, from Lockport, N.Y., was enlisted in the Rhode Island 11th Infantry, mustered out on July 13, 1863; he also later was enlisted in the Rhode Island 3d Heavy Artillery, to April 1865.


From information posted on the internet derived from the National Park Service: “The [3rd] Regiment was lost during service; 2 Officers and 39 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 4 Officers and 90 Enlisted men by disease, for a total of 135.” The Regiment was involved in five major, or named battles and in every one the Union sustained significantly more casualties than the Confederacy.


The following quotations derive from an on-line version of:

Denison, Frederic. Shot and shell: the Third Rhode Island heavy artillery regiment in the rebellion, 1861-1865. Publisher: Providence. For the Third R. I H. art. vet. association, by J. A. & R. A. Reid: Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1879, by Charles H. Williams, Trustee for Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Veteran Association.


Frederic Denison also wrote an earlier book: “Sabres and Spurs: The First Regiment Rhode Island Cavalry in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Providence: First Rhode Island Cavalry Veteran Assoc., 1876, pp. 275.


  “The Surgeon of the post, Dr. J. W. Grosvenor, of our regiment, combines with his professional skill and happy accomplishments, the taste and research of a botanist. His herbarium, collected at odd hours, is a rare collection, representing the flora of the Sea Islands. He is at home with flowers and poetry as well as with medical treatise and surgical instruments. Thus, with the watchfulness of outpost and garrison duty, the Yankees here are not forgetful of the beauties and wealth of the material world, or the higher unfoldings of the world within. It is a part of our faith that

   The world’s a school-room fitted up for man,

   And life’s a school term on the grandest plan;

and we practice according to our faith. We read papers, study military treatises, draw diagrams of fortifications, analyze trees, shrubs, and plants, pore over conchology, ichthyology, and ornithology, exercise ourselves in singing and in the histrionic art, observe the holidays with liberal viands, decorations of evergreens, and hearty social cheer. By ingenuity our isolation is made to contribute to new modes of enjoyment and edification. One thing, however, we cannot do: we cannot create home scenes in a garrison. But we report ourselves, as do the sentinels pacing their beats on the ramparts at night, announcing the post, the hour, and the situation: ‘Post 1: 12 o’clock and all is well.’”

  Our excellent Assistant-Surgeon, G.[sic] W. Grosvenor, surgeon of the post at Pulaski for more than a year, being a scholar and a votary of the sciences as well as a military man, instituted various branches of natural research and made thorough meteorological observations at his quarters in the Pelican House. From his tables we may give the mean temperature of each month of the year as found by him during his stay: January, forty-nine degrees; February, fifty-two degrees ...”.

  By the way, the Doctor was a staunch temperance man, and agreed with many eminent physicians, that the old custom and law of liquor rations in armies was an unhappy relic of unscientific times, that these rations did more harm than good, that their place could be better supplied by capsicum, ginger, and other stimulants.”


From: Scenes on the Savannah. January  February, 1864:

“.... Our Assistant Surgeon, J. W. Grosvenor, now surgeon of the postal Fort Pulaski, was withal a botanist, and made a very creditable collection in this science, and opened a correspondence on the matter with Dr. Asa Gray, the botanist, of Cambridge, Mass. One of his fellow officers in the fort, in a private letter, thus wrote:

  ‘He has piles of his pet herbs, roots, leaves, blooms, branches, and fruits, sandwiched up with newspapers, in stacks on the floor of his quarters, with heavy chips of Massachusetts granite (no indigenous granite in Georgia), to press them down. He calls this cabinet an herbarium, or some other big word; anyway, it is a fine affair, and I like to mouse around the stacks and take a few mental nibbles at the treasures; albeit it nigh chokes one to pronounce some of the names and swallow all the tortuous technical terminology. Were I linguist or litnner [sic], or gifted in the descriptive art, I might sketch you some curiosities - a crane or a cactus, a pelican or a palmetto. And we have our palmetto on this island that is worthy, at least, of water colors; the average diameter of the trunk is nineteen inches...”.


Grosvenor sent his letter from Barre, Massachusetts, and probably returned to his mother and her family directly after the War. This letter suggests an intimacy with Clinton that predated the Civil War. In the year (1861) of his teaching in Buffalo, and when the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences was organized in that year, Grosvenor must have associated in some way with individuals organizing this institution, including Clinton. Grosvenor would associate himself with the study of botany, hence his botanical field collections in the southern States of the Department of the South.


A year before the War ended, on April 19, 1864, while Grosvenor was still serving, he, together with a number of other botanical correspondents, received a request by George Clinton to provide specimens to the New York State Herbarium. It was likely that the specimens sent in the next year (1865), were a response to this request.


From examination of the letters of other correspondents with Clinton, it becomes apparent that Grosvenor was close with the American Willow specialist (Salicologist) Michael Schuck Bebb (1833-1895). Mr. Bebb’s first wife, Katherine Hancock, married Bebb in Barre, Massachusetts in 1857 (Deane 1896) when Grosvenor was still a student at Dartmouth. Acquaintance with Mr. Bebb, who by then was an avid botanist, may have inspired the young Grosvenor, and they apparently developed a friendship. Both, apparently, had dealings with the great American botanist, Asa Gray. It was in Grosvenor’s last year at Dartmouth that Bebb got a chance to visit Gray, for “in 1859 [Bebb] made a trip east and derived fresh inspiration from meeting Dr. Asa Gray” (Deane 1896). Bebb had also attended a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Springfield, Massachusetts, where he met many of America’s most eminent scientists, and “he returned home with new and enlarged ideas as to what to do and how to do it” (Deane 1896).


M. S. Bebb lost his wife in the year of the War’s end (1865). On July 22, 1865, Asa Gray wrote from Cambridge, in a letter to George Clinton,


“Dr. Grosvenor, here to-day, tells me the sad news that poor Bebb has lost his wife. Poor fellow.”


Gray, who was sensitive to men posturing as professionals as were many others associated with Harvard University, nevertheless referred to Grosvenor as a “Dr.” in this letter. Grosvenor, then, had associated himself with botanists while formally studying as a young man. He was on speaking terms with Asa Gray and Michael S. Bebb, and George W. Clinton, of Buffalo. Without doubt respect was given to anyone who formally assisted in the medical relief of a regiment, especially under the horrific conditions in the battlefields for those who were wounded.


After being mustered out of the army in April, Grosvenor returned to Barre, Massachusetts, writing from there on June 8th. On July 11th, Clinton wrote in his Botanical Journal that he “Received package from Dr. G. W. Grosvenor.” Grosvenor visited Gray, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in July, and on the 22nd of that month, Gray wrote to Clinton that Grosvenor had visited and relayed the message regarding Bebb’s loss.


On July 26, six days after Gray wrote his letter to Clinton, Grosvenor had returned to Lockport, New York, again:


Vol. 1. No. 105A [I 111]

    Lockport, N.Y.

      July 26th, 1865

Hon. G. W. Clinton,

    My Dear Sir:

        Arriving in your city last night at 12 M. it was my intention to call upon you this morning but the early departure of the train for this place prevented me from realizing the anticipated pleasure.

    Your letter announcing the arrival of the plants has been received. I think I shall be able to explain & rectify any inaccurate labels.

    Will you be at home next week? Intending to visit Buffalo the coming wk. I would be happy to call upon you on some day when you will be at home; still do not omit any plans you may have for being absent for I can call at almost any time during the next month.

    Please inform me of your street & number.

    My address is

      Lockport, N.Y.

       Care of Dr. Fassett.

I am, sir, most truly,

    yr. friend,

      J. W. Grosvenor


Recd. July 27

[12 M. (must be ‘midnight’)]


Two or three weeks later, Grosvenor made a visit to central New York on August 17 and 18, still visiting in Lockport, New York, for the month. Clinton wrote in his Botanical Journal: “Aug. 17. By 5 A. M. train went to Rochester, with Dr. Grosvenor. With Booth, Fish & Pickett, went to the Irondequoit Bay, On the way, took one specimen of Sonchus arvensis, & 2 of an Artemisia (= A. vulgaris). Rowed about 6 miles down the Bay. Collected some Myriophyllum verticillatum, also, largely, of a Naias, quite prickly, & appropriately, by Pickett, called the water thistle, it may be Naias minor (is N. major). Landed at 3 different points, & collected Desmodiums, Lespedeza, L. hirta, Spiranthes gracilis, Pycnanthemum incanum, a Prenanthes, &c, &c. Got home by 9 A.M. At the Bay, caught a small snapping turtle & brought him home.”


Rochester is a city near the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Monroe County, New York, and located on the Genesee River. Irondequoit Bay “is a narrow, deep body of water, extending inland about 6 miles from the lake shore. From its southern extremity a deep valley extends several miles further south, forming the deepest ravine along the northern border of (New York) State. Some geologists have supposed that Genesee River formerly flowed through this valley” (French 1860). The train was the New York Central Railroad, with several branches radiating from Rochester: “The Buffalo Branch extends southwest through Gates, Chili, and Riga” (French 1860).


On the next day “Aug. 18. By 5 A.M. train to Rochester, with Dr. Grosvernor, there joined by Fish & Pickett. Booth, who was to have joined us, failed to connect, and we left in the accommodation train for Bergen, & walked thence to Sackett's. Mr. S. gave us some breakfast, & then we went into the Swamp. Found there Solidago Houghtonii in good condition, also Solidago Ohioensis and S. neglecta? just beginning to flower. Also a small Scleria, perhaps verticillata (!), an Aster with small white flowers, makes me think of Aster dumosus, Lycopodium clavatum in young fruit, a Juncus, Rhamnus alnifolius in ripe fruit, Cirsium muticum, Monotropa lanuginosa (2 specimens). Pickett showed us one of the Hepaticaceae looking very much like one of the Hypnums, not in fruit, (= Trichocolea tomentella, Pickett says he never found it in fruit but once).

    When we emerged & got to Smith's, found that Booth had come on in a later train, & had gone in to the swamp. We all dined at Mr. Sackett's, and then Pickett & Fish started off for the station, as their train was to leave at 5 P.M. Grosvernor & I walked, with Mr. Sackett, through the fields, to "The Cave" [Cove?], which was full of Nasturtium lacustre, thence to the Bridge over Black Creek, where we bade adieu to Mr. S., thence to the Station, & returned to Buffalo by the 6*53'train.”


Bergen Swamp is located in the townships of Bergen and Byron in Genesee County, New York. The general habitat of Bergen Swamp is wet woods. The swamp is underlain with alkaline and acid soils, which promote a richness and diversity of plants which is quite unusual in the area of Western New York. It has evolved into one of numerous nature preserves in Genesee County. Bergen Swamp has been declared a National Natural Landmark by the US Department of the Interior. The population of Solidago houghtonii Torr. & Asa Gray, a Goldenrod, was the “only known station in New York State” (Zenkert 1934). Solidago ohioensis Riddell was also considered to be very rare, found in the “Marly areas of Bergen Swamp” (Zenkert 1934). Solidago neglecta Torr. & Asa Gray = S. uliginosa Nutt.; listed as S. humilis Pursh. by Zenkert (1934), was also “rather rare. Sphagnous or marly bogs, also in swamps...”. Grosvenor’s interest in Solidagos (Goldenrod) in a subsequent letter may have been inspired by his visit to this swamp and its famous Goldenrods.


Black Creek “flows north to near the center of {Byron township], receiving the waters of Bigelow and Spring Creeks, then turns northeast and flows into Bergen [township]” (French 1860). “Black Creek [in Genesee County] flows north through near the center of Bethany, Stafford, and Byron, thence easterly through Bergen into Monroe County. Its tributaries are Bigelow and Spring Creeks” (French 1860).


Professor E. J. Pickett had arrived from the People’s College, from the postal village of Havana in Schuyler County, a little south and east of Monroe County in New York State and perhaps rode the Chemung Rail Road up to the Bergen area as Havana was a station on it. George T. Fish was a botanist associated with the Rochester Academy of Sciences in Rochester, New York. Dr. C. M. Booth, of Rochester, contributed to a Flora of Monroe County, published in 1919 by the Rochester Academy of Sciences.


In Clinton’s botanical journal, Mr. Alonzo Sackett was mentioned earlier in 1865, on July 19, and who accommodated Clinton in the field. Smith was apparently an Englishman. Sackett’s house “(with a noble barn) on the road to the [Bergen] swamp, the last except the Englishman, Mr. Smith's, where the road ends. Mr. & Mrs. Sackett plain, good people, glad to see me.”


A few days later, on August 21, “Dr. Grosvernor was with me, in my garret [in Clinton’s family home], all the morning, and, after dinner, till 3 P.M., and made up a bundle from my duplicates.” Clinton’s ‘garret’ was at the top of his home where he was accustomed to sort his botanical field collections.


After this Buffalo visit, Grosvenor returned to Barre, Massachusetts. On October 13th, Grosvenor wrote again to Clinton:


Vol. 2. No. 1 [D 206]

        Barre, Mass.

                October 13st, 1865

Hon. G. W. Clinton

    My Dear Sir:

        While arranging the package of plants wh. you kindly gave me, in my herbarium a few days since I was forcibly reminded of the fact that I had not written you since my return to this place. I have been as busy as mortal well could be. While the autumnal plants lasted I was intensely interested in the study of the genus Aster. I had not previously given it much attention. It puzzled me considerably. As the species are classified in Gray they do not seem to be very distinctly defined. Specimens of a single species differ oftentimes much more than do specimens of different species. This is especially true I think of the division in wh. occurs A. aestivus, longifolius &c. Specimens differ not only in their leaves but in the scales of the involucre when they must be referred to the same species or else have no classification whatever. I think some distinguished botanist ought to work up this genus more thoroughly. 

    I wanted very much to go into an examination of the Solidagos of this region, but had not time. One can't do everything in a single season. The plants wh. you gave me made quite a large addition to my collection, especially the grasses. I have never done much towards the investigation of the grasses. I hold them in reserve for some future time of leisure. My botanical researches are of course of only secondary importance, my profession being my prime call. I often think with pleasure of my intercourse with you while at Buffalo - especially the two tramps I had with you & your Rochester botanical friends. Thanks for your many attentions & kindnesses. I have just heard from Mr. Bebb. He had not written me for a number of months. He is doing nothing in a botanical way but is devoting himself wholly to his business & his children. In a few days I shall send him a package of plants in order to interest him in his old pursuits once more.

    The autumnal foliage is in its glory with us. No frost having to come to blight it, it is peculiarly fine this season.

    Present my regards to those pleasant botanical acquaintances when you see them.

    Remember me also to your wife, daughter & sons.

    With great esteem & kind regard for yourself I have the honor to be yr. obt. servt. & friend.

    J. W. Grosvenor

Recd. Oct. 15 & wrote him 23d


It was after he returned from the War that Grosvenor appears to have resumed his studies for the M.D. for “after the war [Grosvenor] entered the New York University Medical College, from which he received the degree of M. D. in 1866” (White, 1898).


George W. Clinton was a Regent of the State University of New York. Among the duties of the Regents was “to visit and inspect all colleges and academies, and report their condition, annually” to the Board of Regents (French 1860). “Under a special act of 1791, the Regents appoint the faculty of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York.” They also “confer degrees upon its graduates” (French 1860). “They confer the honorary degree of M.D. upon four persons annually, upon recommendation of the State Medical Society, and may grant any honorary degree” (French 1860 p. 125).


While Grosvenor was teaching in Buffalo before the Civil War, he may have received some accommodation from Clinton as Regent, hence his title as “Dr.” before he received his degree from New York. Perhaps with Clinton’s help, Grosvenor was able to quality as assistant surgeon when enlisted in the United States service at the onset of the Civil War. Hence Clinton’s entitlement to request Grosvenor to contribute to the New York State Cabinet before the end of the War, and their acquaintance immediately after Grosvenor was released from military medical service.


Early in the following year (1866), Grosvenor wrote to Clinton the following:


Vol. 2. No. 184 [D 39]

                                158 Second Avenue N.Y. City

                                  Feby 12th, 1866

Hon. G. W. Clinton,

    My Dear Sir:

    Your second letter reached me a few days since. You have good reason to be provoked at me for not writing you at an earlier date: but I feel sure your good nature will pardon my negligence when you learn how very busy I have been this winter. I have found hardly time to write my nearest relative. My work has been to attend a course of Medical lectures visit hospitals, infirmaries &c. Very soon I shall be more at leisure. The Juncus wh. has puzzled you so much was named by Gray. Mr. Bebb on examining it declared that Gray was at fault. I did not give it a critical examination. What Mr. Bebb called it I have forgotten & cannot ascertain till I return to Barre. I ought to have changed the name on the label accompanying your specimen.

    At present I am so deeply absorbed in what I am doing & seeing that I have not a single thought for Botany. I remain here in the city till May, then go to Providence R. I. to hang out my shingle. Do you know any botanists in this city? I would like to make the acquaintance of some before I leave.

    Present my kind regards to your wife & family. I remember them with great pleasure.

    I have not heard from Mr. Bebb for several months. A letter is due him from me.

    My address is the heading of my letter.

    With kind regards & grateful remembrances I remain most truly your friend.

                                J. W. Grosvenor

Recd Feb. 13. Wrote 15th to him inclosing intn [=introduction] to Dr. Allen, & wrote also to Dr. Torrey for him.


“Dr. Allen’ was Timothy Field Allen (1837-1902), M.D. with whom Clinton had a correspondence. He worked on Botany with John Torrey. Letters from Allen reveal his addresses as No. 96, then No. 1051, 4th Avenue, New York; and 3 E. 33d St., New York.


White (1898) wrote that Grosvenor had begun his “practice in Providence, R. I., but removed some two years later, in 1868, to Lockport, N.Y., where he followed his profession until 1884.” During his residency in Lockport, he was “superintendent of the First Presbyterian church Sunday school for ten successive years” (White 1898). Grosvenor was probably associated in Lockport, New York, with the Dr. Fassett of his earlier letter (July 26th, 1865), and in fact practiced medicine with him in Lockport ([from


His residency, a period of sixteen years, seems quite a relatively long period of stability in Grosvenor’s life. After 1884, however, Grosvenor again moved to Buffalo, probably due to his marriage to Maria Ely, a Buffalo woman, after his first wife died in 1870. In Buffalo, “he has since been in active practice” (White 1898) beyond the year of White’s publication and on into the twentieth century.


Grosvenor was earlier close with the Fassett family in Lockport, marrying his first wife, Mary Fassett, “born in Lockport, N.Y., October 11, 1842, a daughter of David Safford and Sarah (Van Dake) Fassett” (White 1898). Mary died in 1870 “leaving one daughter, Mary Fassett Grosvenor, born April 20, 1870” (White 1898). Grosvenor then married Mrs. Maria Louise Ely of Buffalo in 1883.


As an M.D., Grosvenor distinguished himself by publishing papers “on various medical subjects” and “numerous articles on the cause of temperance from a scientific standpoint” (White 1898).


The year 1871-72, Grosvenor spent in Europe “where he improved himself in medical observation” (White 1989). He embarked from the port of Liverpool on the ship City Of London, arriving in the United States on September 10, 1872, a male of 39 years [, March 3, 2014].


He visited California, one of two visits, returning to Lockport, New York. The Lockport Daily Journal reported on June 23, 1887:


“Dr. & Mrs. Grosvenor of Buffalo, have returned from their California trip of six months. The doctor paid the Journal a call to-day and related some pleasant experiences of the trip. Most of their time was passed in Southern California in and about Los Angeles. Both the doctor and his wife are in excellent health and are glad to be back with their old friends.”


He belonged to various professional societies:

American Medical Association

American Academy of Medicine

Erie County Medical Society

Buffalo Academy of Medicine

Lodge of Ancient Landmarks, No. 441, F. & A. M.

William Richardson Post No. 254

G. A. R.

National Fraternal Congress

and also the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences (White 1898).


“Dr. Grosvenor has been supreme medical examiner of the Royal Templars of Temperance since 1887,” taking a particular and professional interest in alcoholism and was, in 1898, a vice-president of the Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety. As was noted above by a soldier


  “By the way, the Doctor [i.e. Grosvenor] was a staunch temperance man, and agreed with many eminent physicians, that the old custom and law of liquor rations in armies was an unhappy relic of unscientific times, that these rations did more harm than good, that their place could be better supplied by capsicum, ginger, and other stimulants.”


The Royal Templars of Temperance was “organized in 1870 at Buffalo, New York, as the result of an effort to close the saloons on Sunday. Its founder, Gyrus K. Porter, had for many years been actively identified with the Freemasons, Odd-Fellows, and Sons of Temperance, and so acquired the experience necessary to frame a ritual for an organization which should be educational and uplifting in its character. An active interest was taken in the movement, which subsequently became a secret fraternal benefit society [note that both men and women could join], with a benefit fund, from which ... a sum not exceeding $5,000 should be paid to the family, orphans, dependents, or persons having an inusrable interest in his life [i.e., a beneficiary member]” (Stevens 1907). Over some twenty years after the fund was established, some $5,000,000 [in nineteenth century dollars] had been disbursed in the United States and Canada.

The deaths were not due to intemperance (Stevens 1907).


Earlier, in 1882, two years before Grosvenor moved to Buffalo from Lockport, to practice medicine, and one year before he married his second wife, Maria, George W. Clinton, “after having served as president of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences for twenty successive years” left Buffalo to live in Albany, New York, the State Capitol. Clinton died there on September 7, 1885 (Zenkert, 1934).


Joseph Williston Grosvenor  is included in the Index of Botanists, Harvard University.


Dr. Grosvenor died in Buffalo, New York, on the 19th of December, 1929 (, and is buried in Cold Springs Cemetery in Lockport, New York.




I would like to thank Richard Zander for his invaluable help in locating critical information on the Internet pertaining to this article. I would also like to thank him for, as always, preparing text documents and digital illustrations that accompany this article.


LITERATURE CITED (viewed March 17, 2014).


Anonymous. 1855. A catalogue of the officers and students of Dartmouth College, for the academical year 1855-6 (page XXI). Hanover [N.H.]: Printed at the Dartmouth Press.


Deane, Walter. 1896. "Michael Schuck Bebb", Botanical Gazette. 21:53-65.


French, J. H. 1860. Gazetteer of the State of New York: embracing a comprehensive view of the geography, geology, and general history of the state. R. Pearsall Smith, Publisher. Syracuse, New York. [reprint 1986, Heart of the Lakes Publishing, Interlaken, New York 14847].


Goodyear, George F. 194. Society and Museum. A History of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences 1861-1993 and the Buffalo Museum of Science 1929-1993. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Vol. 34.


Stevens, Albert C., ed. 1907. Cyclopedia of Fraternities.


White, Truman C., ed. 1898. Our County and its People, a descriptive work on Erie County, New York. The Boston History Company.


Zenkert, Charles A. 1934. Flora of the Niagara Frontier Region. Bull. Buff. Soc. of Nat. Sci. 16. Buffalo, New York.



Illustration of J. W. Grosvenor gravestone from P. Meyer.



The proper citation of this electronic publication is:


Eckel, P. M. 2014. Correspondence of Joseph Williston Grosvenor (1837–1929)) and George William Clinton (1807–1885). Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web site.