Correspondence of Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
May 10, 2006
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Correspondence of

Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton

1865 - 1867


Edited by P. M. P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; and Research Associate, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York, 14204. Email:


August 1865


Vol. 1. No. 123 [I 90]  


Schoharie  Aug. 16th, 1865


Judge Clinton


I actually wonder how you can find the time and patience to keep up this correspondence and yet I feel that I have lost much by allowing a whole week and more to pass without writing to you about my progress, and now I am going to give you a list of my mosses as Mr. Peck has named them and then if I have any that you may desire how happy I shall be, (now please don’t to gratify me send for those you have).


I was in Albany the [qst] inst. and attended the sessions of the University convocation and heard the question several times “do you know whether Judge Clinton is to be here?” Well I enjoyed the meetings but more the time I spent in examining Mr. P’s collection of mosses. I did not disarrange them at all, and Colonel Jewett said I did them up nicely, and how happy I was on my return home to find a package of the most beautiful specimens waiting for me from Mr. Peck.


We hope to visit the marsh again this week and Mr. P. says the Sphagnum that covers the whole surface is now in fruit, if no disaster prevents we shall spend sufficient time there to collect whatever may seem new and strange. Now for my list of mosses. Bryum roseum, Tetraphis pellucida, Bartramia Oederi, Hedwigia ciliata, Ceratodon purpureus, Weisia viridula, Physcomitrium pyriforme, Trichostomum pallidum, Timmia megapolitana, Barbula unguiculata, Barbula caespitosa, Atrichum angustatum, Hypnum imponens, Hypnum recurvans, Hypnum delicatulum, Hypnum orthocladon, Dicranum flagellare, D. undulatum, Mastigobryum trilobatum, Madotheca platyphylla, Fegetalla conica, Ptilidium ciliare and Mr. Peck sent me Madotheca porrella, Sphagnum cuspidatum, S. cymbifolium, S. squarrosum, S. acutifolium, S. compactum and I have just sent up to him a package of eleven different species to obtain the correct names before I report them, besides I am waiting to send the Mniums and Bryums in separate packages when I shall have found a few more of each, in all about fifty different species, and you cannot imagine how highly I prize my moss herbarium with only these few. I suppose you was never so foolish but I remember when a child going to my bandbox to look at the beautiful colors of the ribbon and flowers several times a day and I have the same delight in my mosses. There I don’t know how that can interest you but I have been foolish enough to write it, please to forget my expressions of delight - and believe if you can that I am only interested in the subject scientifically.


I have found a little plant growing on the shore of our creek almost in the sand. I ought to know its name. I took it for a Silene but it does not seem to agree with any of the species exactly, being so very small. I will send it to you, then, too, for the first time I discovered Melilotus officinalis a few days since. M. alba grows in great abundance whole acres of it along the creek, but I have found no one yet who has before seen M. officinalis here though it must have been all carelessness. I send you also two other plants I found specimens of each 18 inches in height and though these small specimens look nearly alike the larger plants showed very distinct species though the flowers were in no better condition to examine than these. I number them that I may not be confused when you send the name.


May I hope to hear from you soon and subscribe myself still


Your disciple


  Rhoda Waterbury


Oh I must tell you about that fern. It does look so different from the specimen of Aspidium cristatum you sent me in the spring that though I had spent a long time in comparing them, and in reality placed them together, I thought it must be a different variety. So please excuse this girlish P.S.


Hon. G. W. Clinton


In Gray’s 5th edition both species of Sweet Clover (Melilotus) are mentioned, both adventives from Europe and characteristic of waste or cultivated (disturbed) ground. These two species may be considered today to be noxious weeds, though at Rhoda’s time, perhaps they were not common. Melilotus alba has white flowers, M. officinalis has yellow. The invasive character of Melilotus alba can be seen from its description, “whole acres of it along the creek.” Creeksides are frequently overwhelmed by introductions and seem to be particularly vulnerable to invasive dynamics.


The Regents of the University, of which Clinton was one, were “required to visit and inspect all colleges and academies, and report their condition, annually.” “Vacancies are filled by the Legislature in the same manner that U. S. Senators are appointed; and the Regents hold their office during life, unless they resign or forfeit their place .... the members may be removed by concurrent resolution of the Senate and Assembly. They receive no pay.” “In 1845 they were made trustees of the State Cabinet of Natural History ...”. “Their secretary and the Secretary of State are commissioners to superintend the completion of the publication of the natural history of the State.” (French p. 125). They are to “conduct exchanges of books and documents with other States and countries.... and make full reports annually to the Legislature upon the condition of the colleges and academies of the State, the State Library, and the Cabinet of Natural History.” The officers of the Regents are, a chancellor, vice-chancellor, and secretary. They appoint a librarian and assistants to the State Library, and a curator to the State Cabinet. Six members form a quorum for the transaction of business. Their annual meeting is held on the first Thursday of January, in the Senate chamber, and is adjourned for short periods during the session of the Legislature.” (French p. 126).


Rhoda here is letting Clinton know that she is aware of his political responsibilities and habits, and who his colleagues were. Peck would not be officially appointed New York State Botanist until 1868. In 1862 he taught at the Albany Classical Institute, teaching Greek and Latin.


Issued from the Senate (Document no. 90), in the 18th Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York, March 22, 1865, was a “Catalogue of Mosses presented to the State of New-York” by Charles H. Peck. This is an unannotated list of 144 different species collected in Sandlake, Rensselaer County, with some 40 species from Albany and the Helderberg and Catskill mountains. This must be the collection that Rhoda examined and which she did not “disarrange.” It would be interesting to consider whether she and others were anticipating Clinton’s move to have Peck appointed as Botanist to the State. Such appointments were highly sought after.


John Paine Jr.’s eminent contribution to the flora of New York, his flora of Oneida County, published in the same 18th Annual Report as that of Peck, was also that young man’s effort to attain the same appointment. Paine would not succeed. Rhoda, in the company of men intimately associated with the State Cabinet, including John Gebhard, Jr., once its custodian, is at this time carefully cultivating at least acquaintance relationships with principals involved in the coming political changes in the State Cabinet. John Torrey published his two volume Flora of the State, with revisions in 1849 and 1866. Although Charles Peck would go on to expand the vascular flora of the State, during his tenure as State Botanist, little acknowledgement is made of Paine's extraordinary contribution to the State flora. His Oneida County flora of the 18th report was "virtually a flora of the entire State north of the Hudson Highlands," (House, H. 1924 p. 6, Annotated List of the Ferns and Flowering Plants of New York State,  NY State Museum Bulletin No. 254, Albany, New York).


As noted above (May 17, 1865), Colonel Ezekiel Jewett was a close associate and protégé of James Hall and studied the fossils of central and western New York State. He had received a curatorship of the State Cabinet of Natural History (Clarke, p. 242), apparently serving in that capacity after John Gebhard Jr. retired. Jewett was described as “Hall’s collector and devoted admirer.” Although “Colonel Jewett was suffused with zeal for the welfare of the “Cabinet” ... he lacked something of the sense of order necessary to a good curator. Colonel Jewett came in 1857 and in a few years Hall, with large ideas of what a scientific Museum should be, had become impatient with him, until at last in 1865 the Colonel gave it up.” Jewett, by the time of this letter, was still involved at the Cabinet although a reorganization of the State Museum had taken place and James Hall had become its sole Curator by January of 1866. More appropriations from the State Legislature were on the way, and new salaried positions opening.


By law, the Cabinet was open to the public during the week (French p. 27, ftnt. 4).



Vol. 1. No. 135 [I 78]


Schoharie  Aug. 28th, 1865


My dear friend Judge Clinton,


I have delayed the answer to your kind letter almost a week that I might have another list of mosses to send you, but first let me tell you about that little Silene (?) I sent you, the only specimen I found and though I have been looking ever since I have not discovered another, and after the arrival of yours I took another long search for it, in vain. Of the two similar plants I take the liberty to send larger specimens (Alisma Plantago) as it seems to me they are not quite the same. And now just listed what a strange thing I have to tell you. Mr. Peck says I have found a moss of which he is not aware that any one before has found in this state (excuse that crooked English. I have a class of Germans) and of course I must send you a specimen. I am sorry it is not a prettier thing if indeed I have the honor of first discovery in these regions, though I think the teeth of the peristome are beautifully twisted, it is Barbula mucronifolia. I have also as named by his last [letter] Bartramia pomiformis, Neckera pennata, Bryum argenteum, Dicranum scoparium var. pallidum, Schistidium apocarpum, Orthotrichum strangulatum, Funaria hygrometrica, Leskea polycarpa, Pylaisaea intricata. And now I must tell you of my great disappointment. I was sick and could not go to the marsh, and there will be no other opportunity this season but I have just the nicest arrangement for next summer, and that is that you be my guest for a week at any time you may choose between the first of July and the first of Sept. another year, you will observe that I do not see the least objection to it, for you must have vacation some time as well as we miserable teachers and did you not say “you envied the gentleman who would accompany me?” please think seriously of my arrangement and put a note in your memorandum at some point in July or Aug. 1865 for I am very much in fear of losing track of you during the winter. We have been out for a day’s ramble up another mountain and discovered Collinsonia Canadensis, Desmodium nudiflorum, Hydrocotyle interrupta, Eupatorium ageratoides. I am just on the start for a few days ramble in Rensselaerville, Albany Co. just back of the Catskill Mountains but the season is so far advanced I fear my discoveries will be few, will report on my return. I am really glad you do not dislike my rambling way of correspondence for I have a gross fault, that it is difficult to correct, and that is of letting the thing that enters the brain first come out, when a second thought sometimes proves now unwise and childish for one so old, and I know I am foolishly fond of my studies in Botany, but who cares if one finds delight in it, when so much of life is made up of what is not the delightful. I am very glad that I am so constituted as to find enjoyment of the purest kind in it, most of my rambles are entirely alone with nature and I sometimes find myself actually talking to the little mosses hid away among our rocks. I sit down to rest anywhere and invariably discover something new just at hand. If I were not sometimes cross when people will not be what I call true and just and patriotic; and sundry other defects I mourn in my disposition, I should be a happy old maid living as a child with my parents. There! do you know I think you Judge know how to make me say these things because you are a lawyer. I did not intend to let you know that at all. But I must close this and write to my pet brother in the army, who has just lost his horse which was indeed a veteran, having served ever since the first call for volunteers.


As ever your disciple


Rhoda Waterbury


Judge Clinton


Recd Sept. 1 ansd 2d.


Hydrocotyle interrupta Muhl. ex Elliott = H. verticillata Thunb. is a rare plant in New York State (Mitchell and Tucker 1997); Eupatorium ageratoides L. f. = Eupatorium rugosum Houtt.


“... and did you not say “you envied the gentleman who would accompany me?”: this is some indication of the sort of “postal flirting” to which Clinton was prone. It certainly turned Rhoda’s head.


Schoharie County was first settled by a colony of German Palatinates in 1711. They vied with the Dutch for settlement in the territory, intermarried with them, but seemed to maintain their ethnic dominance in the county through to the 1860’s. Rhoda’s eldest brother managed a mill in Rensselaerville (see letter November 1865 below).


Rensselaerville in 1860 is a township in Albany County: “Its surface is mostly upland, broken by parallel ridges extending N. and S. and rising 400 to 600 feet above the valleys. The principal streams are Catskill Creek and its tributaries, Scrub, Fox, Ten Mile, and Eight Mile Creeks, and Willow Brook. The valleys of these streams are narrow, and are bordered by steep hill sides, and the streams are rapid, and subject to sudden and destructive freshets. Upon Ten Mile Creek, near Rensselaerville, is a fall of 100 feet; and upon Willow Brook is another of 40 feet.” (French, 1860, p. 165).


Sullivant’s Plate 4