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:


July 1865


Vol. 1. 75. I 147

Schoharie July 6th, 1865


Mr. Clinton.


A few days since I received a communication from Mr. Peck of Albany, and immediately forwarded to him a set of my specimens and - dear me! just half of them were wrong. Now you see just what a fix I am in. I shall have to confess my errors and set you right in regard to those I have sent you. I am terribly ashamed and if I consulted my pride alone should keep very quiet in this remote corner of the state, but I shall not give it up so I shall have a microscope, my hand glass, though the best of its kind, is not sufficient, and I must know more of these little things. I have two smaller specimens than any I have yet sent to you. I have just sent them to Mr. P. to be positive on the name before I send them, as it is hardly worth while to give each specimen two journeys across the state and Mr. Peck has assured me of his entire willingness to name them for me. You see how I turn everything to my own advantage whereas you hoped I might be of some assistance to Mr. P. I am really only his pupil. So I will devote this epistle to correcting my errors and reserve the several new specimens for the next.


Tetraphis pelludica (correct), Atrichum undulatum (correct), Trichostomum pallidum (correct), Leucobryum minus is Ceratodon purpureus, Seligeria tristicha is Weisia viridula (small), Rhabdoweisia denticulata is Bartramia Oederi, the Mastigobryum he has sent to Mr. Austin of N.Y. though I presume he is correct. I begin to mistrust you can hardly tell what a moss may be by the locality in which it is found as most of mine were found among limestone rocks and in examining the descriptions as corrected by Mr. Peck the localities are given quite different.I am now completely at leisure for the next two months. On the 4th a small company of us ascended our highest mountain and I have several specimens of moss from those airy regions that I shall send you so soon as I know their names. I have also discovered Cichorium intybus, the real french coffee root, also Camelina Sativa, Spiranthes latifolia, the Tilia Americana is beautiful on our mountains now. Vicia Caroliniana I found on our river bank, and now that the ferns are blossoming I think with the aid of those you sent me I shall be able to make a correct study of them this year; in my next I will send you a list of those I have discovered. With many wishes for your happiness and comfort during the warm season, I am as ever


Your disciple


    Rhoda Waterbury


G. W. Clinton


Recd & Ansd July 11


Trichostomum pallidum Hedw. = Ditrichum palidum (Hedw.) Hampe; Weisia viridula Hedw. ex Bridel = Weisia controversa Hedw. The “locality” is probably meant to refer to the substrate, which, among bryophytes is usually quite specific as to acid or basic (limestone) rocks, bases of trees, cliff faces and ledges and so forth.


The introduced Cichorium intybus, the root of which can make a kind of ersatz coffee, is notable for its rarity at this time, whereas now this plant, notable for its bright blue flowers, chokes the highway verges when it blooms together with Daucus carota, the Queen Anne’s Lace, the ancestor of our horticultural carrot. The presence of Camelina sativa, or False Flax, may indicate fields of cultivated flax at this period, as Gray, in 1867(68) in his 5th edition indicated it is “A weed in flax fields, &c.”


Coe Finch Austin (1831-1880) of Closter, New Jersey, was a gifted botanist. In 1861-1863 he had been employed by John Torrey to organize the herbarium Torrey had given Columbia College and out of which Austin was to select the specimens from New York State, which were to become the nucleus of the New York State Herbarium (Sayre, Geneva. 1987. “Coe Finch Austin, Bryologist.” Bryostephane Steereana. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden  45: 19-27). All of his publications, starting with the first in 1863, were bryological. In 1871 he produced the Musci Appalachiani in which Rhoda’s specimen was included (see introduction).



Vol. 1. No. 96 [I 124]


Schoharie July 15th, 1865


  Judge Clinton,


    There I have accomplished it! I have just finished putting under pressure fifty specimens of Polemonium caeruleum. Your lament reached me on the eve of my departure for the marsh and I could not stop to tell you how it touched my heart. But (wisely as it proved) concluded to wait the result of the excursion. Had we been positive in regard to its habits we could not have chosen a more auspicious moment to seize it. My dear kind “venerable” friend, may I suggest that you never again trust the convictions of your “inmost soul” as reliable prophesies. Have I not been faithful? and have I not had my reward? That glorious 4th of July oration, and is that your penance! Surely you would be a dangerous confessor! you would tempt me from the path of rectitude by such a penance. I want to shake hands with you! Next to God I worship my country and I feel a kindred tie with all who love her. But do not say you are old. Is not the soul immortal? and of what account is fifty seven to immortality? Pardon me if all this seems inappropriate and I expose a strong emotional nature and ardent admiration of what I conceive to be the true and the holy, and then the confidence you repose in me in entrusting to my keeping a part of the original manuscript is very grateful. But I must tell you about the “beautiful swamp.” The gentleman who accompanied Dr. Howe when he discovered P. caeruleum is now Principle of Schoharie Academy and consented to be my guide. A ride of twenty miles over our tallest mountain brought us to Summit and the swamp a cranberry marsh of ten acres surrounded by a belt of spruce swamp several rods in width. I never saw the like of it. To the eye the marsh had the appearance of a small prairie dotted with flowers, but in attempting to walk we sank about eight inches in a bed of moss (I guess it is) and as my feet came in contact with the pitchers of Sarracenia purpurea, they invariably emptied their contents into the tops of my tall boots, while my companion following the example of Moses at Horeb trod the mountain top unsandaled. But do tell me how a marsh can remain at the top of the highest mountain in the county? I cannot begin to tell you all the beauties that grew there as we had not sufficient time to gather them all and I must go again. The low spruce trees near the marsh and those here and there left in the center of it were covered from top to bottom with a light lichen. I suppose it is (I shall ask Mr. Peck.) hanging over the outer boughs, I cannot tell you how beautiful it was, but perhaps you have seen the like of it and my enthusiasm is all lost. The P. caeruleum grows in great abundance and of quite a contrast in height. That in the open marsh is low, a foot high, while that growing among the spruce trees is from three to four feet in length. I have tried to preserve good specimens of both. The Sarracenia purpurea, Arethusa bulbosa, Ledum latifolium, Azalea viscosa, Calopogon pulchellus grow in great abundance but some of them have passed the time of bloom. I found also a species of fern which is new to me but have not had time to examine it. Mosses grew in abundance but - how shall I record it! I had not time to gather them. I must go again. I am quite wild with delight especially as you will be so happily disappointed. I shall write you again soon and continue to correct my errors on the Musci as I have received another package from Mr. Peck. Do let me hear from you soon that I may know that your sorrow is turned to joy and that my joy may be increased. As ever your disciple


    Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. S. W. Clinton


Received July 20. Wrote 22nd.


The seductive innuendo of this letter no doubt is a response to one of Clinton’s. It is probably Clinton who introduced intimate information (being 57 years old), not Rhoda, who enthusiastically responded to it. Clinton had a habit of including personal information in his letters to men as well - particularly about poor emotional states, as here in Rhoda’s reference to his “sorrow.”


Her temptation from the path of rectitude is followed up by the news of her scampering in nature alone in a bog with the head of Schoharie Academy in his bare feet, a friend of Howe’s who was with him when he discovered the station of Polemonium. If Rhoda taught at the Schoharie Academy, which she appears to have done, as she used their microscope during the summer (Oct. 28th, 1865), then he would have been her boss.


Howe's friend may have been Herman Camp Gordinier, a doctor, like Howe. Gordinier, as senior author, coauthored the Flora of Rensselaer County with Howe, (re?)published in 1894, where Howe described a new sedge species (Carex seorsa Howe in Gordinier and Howe.


Exodus 17:6 “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”


Clinton’s Fourth of July oration was sent round to many of his correspondents. It probably touched much on the recent and ongoing termination of Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. Clinton was, at this time, the figurehead of the Democratic party in New York State. It was the Republican party that had presided over the triumph of the Union. Then New York Governor Reuben E. Fenton, elected only the previous November, 1864, had been instrumental in creating this party.


Polemonium caeruleum, L. (Jacob’s Ladder) “Rare in our range, occurring in swamps and on mountains in N.H., N.Y., N.J., and Md., but common in the western mountains and far northward,” p. 357 Gray’s 6th.  Ledum latifolium, Ait. Labrador Tea, in cold bogs and mountain woods.” Schoharie Academy is in the postal village of Schoharie, the county seat (French, 1860 p. 606). French adds the interesting note that in Schoharie County “Within the last ten years, a mania for building large seminaries, far beyond the wants of the people, has spread through the Co. The speculation has proved a ruinous one, and the entire amount of capital invested in the enterprises has been sunk.” In a footnote (no. 5) “Of 9 academies built in this Co., 3 have been burned, 3 are “to let,” and 3 are still open.” In 1860 Schoharie Academy had three teachers, 112 students in 1859, 91 of whom studied “Classical Studies” (i.e. Greek and Latin); they had 331 volumes in their library (French, 1860 p. 129).



Vol. 1. No. 108 [I 107]



                    Schoharie, July [no date] 1865


Judge Clinton,


I send you the fern from the marsh. I have not named it but I think it is an Aspidium. It seems to me there is no end to the mosses as I never go out without finding a new one. I will give you the result of my correspondence with Mr. Peck in a few days. The Mastigobryum sent by him to Mr. Austin proved to be trilobatum except the smaller form which might be M. tridenticulatum (I do not know but I have told you this before) I have ever so many mosses I want to send to you, just for the fun of it they are so small, and I must send one with this fern it is so cunning, please don’t throw it away thinking it is not there for my hand glass shows the capsules and even the red teeth of the peristome. You will observe it is marked with a star which indicates in my moss herbarium that it has been examined by Mr. Peck and must be correct. I hope to revisit the mountain marsh in a few weeks and will not forget your directions. I had but one hour here before, and could not help it is on the mountain roads we broke our carriage dreadfully and the repair consumed the time, do I deserve reproach? I do not think my little moss is rare as I find it in abundance here, but you may not have seen it, and I am so glad that Mr. Peck delights in these tiny things for I should be able to do nothing with them, though my microscope has come, without his aid. I have gathered Sagittaria variabilis var. gracilis, I think it is, and Agrimonia Eupatoria since I last wrote. As ever your dutiful pupil


Rhoda Waterbury


G. W. Clinton


Recd July 30  Ansd 31st.



Both Mastigobryum trilobatum (L.) Nees and M. tridenticulatum (Michx.) Lindenb. = Bazzania trilobata (L.) Gray (Marchantiaceae; Hepaticae)


Ferns of the genus Aspidium in Gray’s 6th edition listed species now included in diverse genera such as Dryopteris, Thelypteris and Polystichum. Agrimonia eupatoria L., Common Agrimony, or Cocklebur is an adventive from Europe.


Sullivant’s Plate 3