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:


May 1865


Vol. 1. 20. I 208.


Schoharie May 27th, 1865


Mr. Clinton.


I can hardly tell you how happy I am with my plants, they reached here on the 25th all safe and I have not written before because I have spent every spare moment in looking them over and arranging them, not a single label was moved so as to cause the least trouble, I had not the slightest idea of putting your patience to so severe a test. I really think Mr. Clinton I do not deserve so much, over two hundred plants when I should have been rich with fifty! Some few of them are the same as grow in this part of the state, but most of them are new to me: then the grasses are just what I needed for really I have found the grasses a more difficult study than the mosses, perhaps it is because I have not so much patience with them; and these will be like having the living teacher to assist, and the ferns many of them are quite new, indeed I could not have directed you what to send half so well. In regard to the Musci and Hepaticae, Jungermanniaceae (a suborder of Hepaticae) I am making them a  special study and will be much more devoted in my study with the hope  that I may be able to send you a list of those in this vicinity, and if  you wish send you specimens that you may lack. I have been in the fields today and according to your suggestion I send you a list of the plants  now in blossom here


Erigeron bellidifolium, Medeola virginica,  Geranium maculatum, Aralia trifolia, Sambucus pubens, Trientalis americana, Uvularia  perfoliata, Polygonatum multiflorum, Polygala paucifolia, Azalea  nudiflora, Trillium grandiflorum, T. erectum, Gaylussacia resinosa,  Smilacina bifolia or Majanthemum bifolium and of the Musci Polytrichum  commune and P. formosum, Mnium affine,


these I determined the first by the hairy covering of the calyptra and the distinctly four angled capsule, the last by situation and general appearance. I discovered one of the Hepaticae but I have not yet determined its name. I suppose Mr. Peck would name it at sight, so shall I some day.   I do hope you will allow me in some way to repay the obligations I am under for your generous gift of specimens, and if I can possibly find one plant you do not already possess I shall consider it a treasure. I shall have during the summer the assistance of a friend - Mr. Gebhard whom you may have met at Albany as he was one time connected with the State Cabinet, besides him I know of no one in the county to whom I can refer.  After the first of July I shall be entirely free from care for two months at least, part of my time is at present occupied with private pupils, but the mid summer months are always one grand holiday for me in the open air, and love & do enjoy life.


Hoping I may contribute to your enjoyment as you have to mine.


I remain as ever


  Your disciple


   Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


Recd. June 1. Wrote her June 2.




Erigeron bellidifolius Muhl. ex Willd. = Erigeron pulchellus Michx. Polygonatum multiflorum Pursh = Polygonatum biflorum (Walt.) Ell.  Gaylussacia resinosa (Ait.) Torr. & A. Gray = Gaylussacia baccata (Wang.) K. Koch The United States Civil War ended the day before this letter was written, on May 26 when the last Confederate army surrendered at Shreveport, Louisiana.


The correspondence had begun earlier than the first letter of this series, but perhaps no earlier than January of 1865, although see discussion in the introduction above. The specimens noted appear to have been the first exchange of vascular plants from Clinton to Waterbury. In his Botanical Journal, on Jan. 12, 1865 he wrote, in Albany: ‘Wrote to my wife & Dewey, Miss Rhoda Waterbury & E. C. Howe de [regarding] matters touching the State Herbarium.’ He wrote to Howe on the State Herbarium, but he also appears to have written to Rhoda on this subject as well.


On Jan. 14, in Albany: ‘Up to this time have been working as Regent and on & de the Herbarium of the State.’ On Jan. 25. ‘My time, at Albany, since my return from Cambridge [where he visited Asa Gray], was taken up with matters concerning the Herbarium belonging to the State, & in collecting matter for and drafting the Annual Report on the State of the Cabinet. Charles F. Peck, the muscologist, spent some time with me in the Curator’s Room, & so did Henry B. Lord & his wife. I shall copy herein [i.e. in the journal], by & by, some notes made by me in looking over some parts of L. C. Beck’s herbarium.’


On May 22 Clinton wrote that he had ‘Expressed package to Miss Rhoda Waterbury, Schoharie, and to James L. Bennett, Providence, R.I.’ One practical reason for Rhoda’s interest in botany and in having well identified specimens is in her role as teacher or tutor. There may have been inadequate botanical specimens to use to study and teach in the institution where she taught and no doubt Clinton intended these specimens to be used for this purpose. However, as discussed above, the specimens may have been to encourage her to contribute to the State Herbarium by thoroughly and expertly exploring the flora of the Schoharie region.


Rhoda seems to take the exchange of specimens as personal gifts and a showing of a personal esteem, and as encouragement for her to adopt the role of student to him as teacher. Rhoda exaggerates this intimacy by referring to him as disciple and as mentor. That her relationship with Clinton preceded this letter, as well as the implication that their relationship had already evolved some, seems indicated in the “as ever” and “Your disciple” in the letter’s closure.


The botanical ability Rhoda exhibits was derived both from her earlier education at the Troy Academy, botany being taught at female academies (see below), and her vocation as tutor or instructor. For example, in western Massachusettes at South Hadley, botany was taught for female students at Mount Holyoke College for women.


Rhoda’s interest in the Hepaticae would lead her to correspondence with Coe Finch Austin who would include some of her plants in his exsiccatae (see introduction).


Prior to her receipt of these specimens, she appears to have been studying mosses, although in the next letter perhaps it is only the Polytrichaceae, the physically largest specimens of mosses outside of Sphagnum. The only manual to the North American species at this time (1865) is William Starling Sullivant’s 1856 contribution to the second edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany, “Mosses and Hepatics East of the Mississippi River.” Sullivant’s Icones Muscorum of 1864, which was a supplement to the Manual treatment, was probably unknown to Rhoda.


Her declared interest in mosses is curious as Clinton just initiated a similar interest with Peck that spring - too early yet to even write his collections systematically in his daily collecting journal. Indeed he may have only first met Peck that January. In 1865 Charles Peck had donated a systematic collection of New York mosses to the State Cabinet and was about to publish a list of these, constituting a preliminary checklist of the mosses of the State, in the Report of the Regents to the New York State Legislature. In other words, Peck had barely begun his published involvement in bryology, although he had been working as a volunteer with Hall at the Cabinet and was about to receive a paid position there. During the same period C. F. Austin was working with John Torrey at Columbia College. Rhoda’s work on mosses so early may indicate she knew of Peck and his specialty before Clinton had apprised her of it.


Rhoda is familiar with Charles Peck’s name and interest in Musci at this period, although she may not yet have corresponded with him and may only know him through letters from Clinton (see letter of June 22nd, 1865, below). Peck was teaching at the State St. High School in Albany (Cass’ Institute), but was also volunteering at the State Cabinet under James Hall. Peck’s first paper was to come out in 1865 (The catalogue of mosses presented to the State of New York. In: Eighteenth annual report of the Regents of the University of New York on the condition of the State Cabinet of Natural History, Albany, New York). Peck would continue his correspondence with Waterbury but her letters are absent from a collection of Peck's early letter archived at the Biological Survey in Albany (Lori Leonardi, pers. comm.).


Clinton wrote in his botanical journal, 1865: “Jan. 26. [sic, for 25. In Albany:]

‘Charles F. Peck, the muscologist, spent some time with me in the Curator’s Room ...’.

On March 31: “Walked to White’s Grove. ... Gathered 2 or 3 mosses, and mailed one of them (capsule sessile) to Charles H. Peck of Albany.’ May 1: ‘To date, this spring, have collected & had identified by Mr. Peck 15 mosses & one Liverwort.’ May 22: ‘I have enjoyed grabbing mosses & sending them to Mr. Charles H. Peck, for determination.’


Later in the year, on October 20: “I know so little about the mosses & hepaticaceae, that I have not kept my journal of my collections of them. I commenced collecting them this Spring, and have submitted them, as collected to Charles H. Peck, of Albany, &, when he has been in doubt, have applied to Mr. Lesquereux who has, most cheerfully, aided me.”


Mr. Gebhard is considered to be a friend of Rhoda's at this point, and here Rhoda indicates she shares a political as well as a botanical interest with Clinton.


John Gebhard Sr., born in 1800, and Jr. (his son) were both from Schoharie. “In the years of the 1820s and probably earlier, John Gebhard [Sr.], a farmer at Schoharie Court House, was studying the limestone caverns of this retired and beautiful valley and collecting therefrom their quite extraordinary minerals ...” (Clarke, 1921). The elder Gebhard communicated with “James Hadley of Fairfield Academy; the Rubens Peale of Philadelphia; William Horton of Gowshen, afterwards an assistant to Mather on the Geological Survey [of New York State]; Ebenezer Emmons and Professor Eaton.” Clarke calls him the “Schoharie  pioneer” of New York State mineralogy. John Gebhard, “with the help of his much beloved but illegal son [i.e. John Gebhard Jr.], was doing in New York in 1820-30 what the founder of historical geology, “Strata” Smith had done in the counties of England ...”, establishing stratigraphic sequences based on the fossil content of the bedrock “throughout the extent of the Schoharie hills.” Charles Lyell visited him in 1841 “to see his fossils.” This recognized prominence may have aroused the envy of James Hall, who would later become the recognized authority of North American stratigraphy.


John Gebhard Jr.  was appointed assistant to the chief geologist for the Schoharie region when the Natural History Survey was initiated. James Hall purchased the collections of the two Gebhards to use in the Paleontology of New York, a series of 13 quarto volumes. Gebhard Jr. “did not long remain in Albany, but went back among the Schoharie hills to fulfill his duties as Justice of the Peace in his valley and to follow the desire of his heart, the peaceful pursuit of fossil hunting.” John Gebhard Jr. died late in 1886 (pp. 40-41, footnote 16 in Clarke, 1921).


In French’s 1860 Gazetteer of New York State, of the caves that occur in the limestone region about Schoharie township “Ball’s Cave, otherwise called Gebhard’s Cave” had a stream of water running through it, over cascades, and a boat was available for visitors. “Nehtaway’s Cave ... was explored in 1836, by John Gebhard, Jr., and John Bouny. A few fine specimens of colored rhombohedral spar were found in it,” (French p. 606 footnote no. 12).


There is some State political influence derived from the Schoharie region. Governor Bouck, holding that position in 1843 “was from ‘Old Schoharie,’ a stronghold of the Whig-Democrats ever since its emergence from the sea". John Gebhard, Junior, was of the Schoharie fold and he not only wanted the curatorship but he had earned the right to go to his neighbor, the Governor, and ask for it. He did so and got the promise of it.” The curatorship was of the newly initiated (1843) Paleontology of New York project, with designated collection and collection rooms in Albany, the nucleus of the State Cabinet of Natural History or the State Museum (Clarke, 1921, p. 134-135). In the 1850’s Gebhard was second custodian of the State collections. Gebhard “was an indefatigable collector and the collections soon outgrew their little rooms in the Capitol.” Clarke indicates that when Gebhard retired from his duties “to whom very great credit belongs for the growth and development of the “Cabinet” during this period, presently retired ... amid thunderstorms of denunciation in [James] Hall’s letters ...” to various colleagues. It was due to Gebhard’s collecting that the Cabinet had to be expanded in 1855.


Hall appears to have been an extraordinarily contentious man and it is probable that Hall did denounce Gebhard, but for what reason, Clarke does not say. In 1857 Gebhard was replaced by a close colleague, “Hall’s collector and devoted admirer” Colonel Ezekiel Jewett toward whom Hall also later “grew impatient.” It is possible that Gebhard still bore a resentment toward Hall who, in 1865 experienced a resurgence of importance in the State with respect to a reorganization of the Natural History Survey. Hall appears to have been sensitive with regard to his own prominence in the field of paleontology and may have been mindful of Mr. Gebhard’s father’s prominence in being an originator of the stratigraphic sequences in the State.


Gebhard’s personally and successfully asking the governor for the curatorial position, after that of John Washington Taylor’s, the first curator of the State Cabinet, is curiously reminiscent of Rhoda’s private visit to Governor Fulton in her letter of Aug. 10th, 1866. One of Hall’s correspondences denounced Gebhard to John Seymour, brother of governor Horatio Seymour (Clarke p. 383).


Sullivant’s Plate 1