Correspondence of Elizabeth Atwater and G. W. Clinton
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
August 6, 2003
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The Correspondence of

Elizabeth Atwater (1812‑1878) and

George William Clinton (1807‑1885)


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




Vol.4 no. 81 [G 141]

Clifton House, Chicago, March 17th, 1867 Hon. Geo. W. Clinton


Dear Sir ‑ Through your favor of the 8th I am happy to be assured of the progress you are making in the arrangement of your Herbarium; and gratified to learn that some of the plants which I contributed have been deemed worthy a place in so valuable a collection.


Your valuable suggestions relative to procuring the entire plant ‑ or the arrangement thereof ‑ with other instructions of equal importance shall not in future be disregarded.


I propounded a query in one of my notes to you Sir, to which you have not responded. Are you surfeited with plants? or rather with the class of plants which I have sent you? Shall I ever send you more specimens of the same ‑ if not, what shall I cull for you in my next summer's wanderings? Do you recollect any plants which grow in the vicinity of Saint Paul which I can collect for you in June?


From a little book of plants culled by a friend in the locality of Nice, France ‑ I have selected an Anemone ‑ with two tiny ferns ‑ but can hardly hope they will be new to you. The ferns from Kilb[urn?] City, Wisconsin, I send simply as a foretaste of specimens more entire which I hope to obtain in person next autumn. The enclosed were brought me by quite a young Miss.

The Houstonia with its upright, wild violet blue astonished me by it presence in a fresh state last week (or rather the first week in March). A lady friend at present in Canton, Miss. sent me a box of wild flowers, and exotics.


I thank you most cordially for your polite offers of duplicates and if not trespassing on the claims of others would exceedingly like a climbing fern.


Believe me Sir,

Very respectfully yours,

Elisabeth E. Atwater Recd March 19 ands 20th


[There are numerous references in the Clinton correspondence to Lygodium palmatum, Swartz., the Climbing Fern, most making requests for specimens. Gray's botany of 1862 notes this fern is rare, growing in "Shaded or moist, grassy places, Massachusetts to Virginia, Kentucky, and sparingly southward." Fernald's 1950 update of Gray's Manual states the known distribution of this fern to be "Georgia and Tennessee, north both in mountains and out to Coastal Plain, locally to southern New Hampshire, Massachusetts, southeastern and central New York, Pennsylvania, West Vieginia, southeastern Ohio and Kentucky." The fern specialist Daniel C. Eaton at the time was promoting a law against picking this fern in Connecticutt.]


From A. Gray, First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology. 1862.




Vol.4 no. 99 [G 123]

[Stationary with a little red emblem, "A" for Atwater]

Clifton House, Chicago, March 36th, 1867 Hon. George W. Clinton,

Dear Sir,


I have the pleasure to acknowledge your letters of March 20th and 22nd. The latter enclosing your carte de visite. Most assuredly I shall accept it ‑ and esteem myself honored in the bestowal. It shall occupy a page in a gorgeous, photographic Album presented me on last New Years day by Mrs. Lincoln, wife of our martyrd President.


I owe Mr. Marshall an apology for having so long delayed a response to his note ‑ asking for my picture (?). While hesitating as to the expediency of sitting for this object, time has passed on ‑ leaving me in the character of a delinquent.


Should I sit for my carte and the result be satisfactory ‑ that is ‑ look as much like me as any one else ‑ I shall take pleasure in forwarding it to Mr. Marshall.


And now let me disabuse you of an impression which you have, I fear, imbibed, and which I may have encouraged ‑ yet not intentionally, relative to my knowledge of Botany. I fain would be, or would have been a scientific Botanist, and, no doubt, should have made some proficiency had not so many years of my residence in Buffalo been those of a confirmed invalid. On this point I am extremely sensitive ‑ that of receiving credit for merits, or acquirements to which I have no claim. You will therefore regard me as a child in the study and never hesitate to point out my defects, and give me counsel, which, should I continue to collect for the Society will eventuate in some benefit to you, as well as myself.


You speak of Mrs. Lincoln's Botany ‑ I was educated at Madame Emma Willard's Seminary at Troy, and commenced the Study of Botany under Mrs. Lincoln's immediate Supervision ‑ but have not a copy of her compilation ‑ I am using Grays.


Speaking of Madame Emma Willard brings to mind the fact that knowing me to be a collector of autographs, she not long since enclosed for my acceptance an autograph note of your father's, adding, that to no other person would she part with it.


27th I had proceeded thus far on yesterday, when friends were announced ‑ Mr. & Mrs. Kinne [Kinney?] of Buffalo, which prevented the conclusion of my letter. I have now the pleasure to acknowledge your exceeding kindness of which I was this morning made sensible, by the safe arrival of your promised parcel by express. You have taken advantage of my permission to send a climbing fern and overpowered me with your favors ‑ to the extent, that ‑ to reciprocate is utterly impossible. My only alternative will be, not to send you anything more. If the beautiful plants which you had sent me are the "ugliest things you could find" I fear your efforts in carrying out this threat have not been strenuous ‑ I consequently cannot reproach myself with having caused you undue perplexity on my account!


But seriously ‑ I thank you most gratefully for this precious collection. I have only had time to examine the ferns, which truly delight me. So soon as my letter is mailed & they shall receive my undivided attention. Of course my letters do not pass into the archives of the Society! If this be required I shall never write again. I have penned my letters, in my accustomed way, as I converse ‑ informally.


Believe me, Sir, gratefully yours,

Elisabeth E. Atwater

Recd May 30 ansd on Ap. 18 [sic]


["The Troy Female Seminary, situated [in the City of Troy] on Second Street, between Congress and Ferry Sts., was the first established at Middlebury, Vt., in 1813, removed to Waterford in 1819, and to Troy in 1821. It was incorp. May 6, 1837, and received under the regents Jan. 30, 1838. It was gained a national reputation under the charge of Mrs. Emma Willard." Footnote no. 7: "More than 7000 pupils have been educated here, a large number of whom have become teachers."  (French, 1860 p. 560). See illustration below and discussion in Introduction.] 


[Mr. Marshall was perhaps Charles D. Marshall, the first curator of entomology of the young Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences from 1861‑1862. He was also an early member of the Board of Managers and perhaps it is to him that the Buffalo Museum of Science's album of carte‑de‑visite photographs was formally assembled, outside of George Clinton's personal requests for these cards from his correspondents (Goodyear, George. 1994. p.175. Society and Museum. A History of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences 1861‑1993 and the Buffalo Museum of Science 1928‑1993. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences Vol. 34. John E. Marshall and Orsamus Holmes Marshall were also early participants in the Society's founding.]




Vol.4 no. 149 [G 71]

[on stationary with a small emblem "A" at the head] Clifton House, Chicago, April 26th, 1867


Until your letter came, Judge Clinton, I was not fully sensible that the Spring‑time was at hand, if I except a severe cold and cough. My customary Spring attendants. That little "Hepatica ‑ on the hillside" has haunted me ever since. I long to be liberated form the routine of City‑life, and roam at will in the country.


Three Philadelphia ladies, boarding at the Clifton, returned from a few day's visit in Michigan this evening ‑ kindly remembering my predilections with a variety of wood mosses ‑ a large root of the Saracenia, which I have planted in the earnest hope it may bloom ‑ and an exquisite boquet, formed of the Epigaea repens, and the graceful vine of the Mitchella, with its winter‑bound scarlet berries. They could not have tendered a more effectual panacea for my indisposition.


Relative to the carte, I beg you, Sir, give me the credit for an earnest endeavor to respond to your application. I did sit ‑ no less than four times. The result ‑ ask you? Anything but satisfactory. Had it looked no worse than the original it should have been forwarded forthwith. If there be any variation from the truth ‑ I claim that it be in my favor! My friends rebel at my photographs, invariably, for the reason, that what little expression my face affords is drawn out in conversation; in repose it is, if possible, more stupid. Have you ever known such persons? If so you can appreciate my position. If not, I ask you to believe that I speak truthfully. Should not the artist be disgusted with me, and I with him, a truthful picture may, at last ensue. Am I exonerated from the charge of "perverseness?"


I hoped to have had in my power to send to the Society, last season, specimens of the Nelumbium luteum, with its curious seed vessel. The lady friend on whom I confidently relied to supply me with the plants, writes a letter of apology, and regret, on account of her inability to fulfill her promise, and trusts that no obstacle will interpose to present its accomplishment ‑ the coming summer.

I cannot forbear enclosing these little harbingers of Spring. The Epigaea, being formed in a prim boquet, was divested of all appendages. They hail from Muskegon, Michigan.

Believe me, Sir,


Very respectfully yours,

Elisabeth E. Atwater


Recd. Ap. 27 & ansd 29th




Vol.4 no. 168 [G 52]


[A nearly invisible embossment of a cameo of a young woman's face, not noticeable, but the two inner pages of the letter the lines are staggered in such a way as to call attention to it. This stationary is different from her usual printed "A"]


Clifton House, Chicago, May 20th [18]67 Hon. George W. Clinton,

Dear Sir,


Your letter of April 30th came duly to hand. My thanks for the names of the mosses.


I think I mentioned to you, some weeks since, our contemplated trip, in June, to Minnesota. Why will you not form one of our party? A dear friend, the wife of Hon. Portus Baxter, will accompany us. In fact we (my husband and myself) go entirely on her account, having repeatedly visited that locality, yet we never weary of the scenery on the Upper Mississippi and about the picturesque Falls of Minnehaha. The White Larkspur grows in wonderful luxuriance on the borders of "White Bear Lake" eight miles distant from Saint Paul. Will not this tempt you to make one of our number? Mrs. B. and myself have been friends from childhood, and are equally extravagant in our admiration of the beauties of the natural world. You will find that our enthusiasm never fails. We will assist you in pressing all the plants obtainable in that locality. Is not this an inducement? saying nothing of such agreeable company.


My husband joins me in this expressed wish. He will not pledge himself to render any device in the way of procuring specimens, but will throw no obstacles in the way of making a collection. Experience has taught him, how, in traveling, to raise trunks and other heavy objects for the furtherance of this pursuit, and he does it with a good grace. Knowing well, it must be done!


We trust this arrangement will not interfere with your other duties. We would extend the invitation most cordially to Mrs. Clinton. We feel that there is much of interest in the prairie Country and the Mississippi Valley, and perhaps something novel in our Queen City. We will do all in our power to render the trip one of pleasure to her.


I write in extreme haste ‑ earnestly hoping we may have the pleasure of your Company. Please say to Mrs. Clinton that she can accomplish the entire trip without fatigue ‑ only one day by rail.

Believe me Sir,


Very respectfully Yours,

Elisabeth E. Atwater

Recd May 22 ansd 23d