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.5 no. 134 [B 94]

[embossed cameo of a woman's head]

Clifton House Chicago

June 2nd 1868 Hon. George W. Clinton,

Dear Sir,


I owe you an apology for having forwarded to your address a package of plants unheralded.


I availed myself of Mrs. [Cossans' ?] courtesy in transmitting them.

She left us without premonition ‑ allowing me no opportunity for addressing you at that time.


I thought it simply possible that you might have no specimens of the Cucumber tree, or the South American air plant.


A few days since I plucked or I might say exhumed, the roots were so manifold, and so tenacious, ‑ the most stupendous plant of the Dodecatheon species I have ever seen. It is now in the press for which I was compelled to resort to my large engraving Portfolio! I also found the Water‑Ranunculus very abundant, with an exquisite white, aquatic plant which I have not before seen.


I wish I might have something new to send you; as that is impossible, I will send any duplicate specimens of plants which you may desire for exchange with other Societies.

Your favor of Feb'y 3d acknowledging receipt of the Foreign ferns which I forwarded to you was duly received. I am gratified to know they proved acceptable.


Believe me, Sir, very respectfully yours,

Elizabeth E. Atwater.

Recd June 3

wrote June 5


[Ranunculus aquatilis L. var. capillaceus (Thuill.) DC.,White Water Crowfoot. rare in western New York today.




Vol.5 no. 158 [B 70]

Clifton House, Chicago,

July 27th, 1868 Hon. George W. Clinton,

Dear Sir,


I take up my pen this morning for the purpose of extending to you an invitation to be present at the "Scientific Convention" in our City ‑ occurring in August. Mr. Atwater bids me express to you in his name a cordial wish that you may be pleased to come to Chicago at that time, August 5th, and make the Clifton House your home so long as you can make the time pass agreeably.


Our annual trip to the Seaside having been necessarily delayed on account of severe indisposition of my husband we are contemplating an immediate departure ‑ and may not be here to receive you. You will therefore regard yourself as in an ordinary Hotel, and express your wants without reserve ‑ inviting, with the perfect freedom, any friends whom you may chance to meet to dine with you.


We hope, Sir, you will gratify us and the Society by accepting our invitation. Dr. Stimpson, our Secretary, adds his personal request to our own, for your presence,


Believe me, with esteem

Respectfully Yours

Elisabeth E. Atwater Recd July 28




Vol.5 no. 189 [B 36]

[Large embossed "A"]

Clifton House, Chicago

Dec'r 4th, 1868 Hon. G. W. Clinton,

Dear Sir,


I have the pleasure of sharing with you a few plants from Switzerland. The wife of our British Consul, who is my particular friend, has spent the summer of '68, on the mountains and in the valleys of that beautiful country, and has been indefatigable in culling plants for me. Riding upon mules ‑ as is the custom for tourists through the "Passes" does not facilitate botanising. Mrs. Wilkins rode with her portfolio suspended from her neck ‑ consequently could not produce as satisfactory results with her specimens as she desired. I would be glad to share more fully with you, but in many instances she has not supplied me with duplicates. The rare little plant, Asplenium Septentrionale from "St. Gothards Pass," I feel assured will please you.


Another friend, Miss E. P. Stevens, has recently returned from South America bringing quite a variety of plants, pressed under equally disadvantageous circumstances. Her residence during the last year has been at Guasipati, in the State of Guiana, 180 miles across the Plains, on mules, from Angustura. She brought specimens for the Smithsonian Institute, The Chicago Academy of Science, and for myself, and desired me to present the remainder to you. There being no Botany of the Country she sends the plants without their names. If they will be of any service to you, she will not have prepared them in vain. Miss S. sailed last week again, with her brother, for the same locality, to remain another year, and, having supplied herself with the requisite materials of paper &c., hopes to be more successful with future specimens.


Will you do me the favor of acknowledging by a few lines, her courtesy? ‑ which I will enclose in my letter to her.


To the above mentioned I have added a few Greenport plants, which I picked up at the seaside, scarcely worthy your acceptance. I found the Osmunda regalis at G. but not in fruit. I enclose specimens of Menyanthes, from near Chicago, which I plucked with my own hands, notwithstanding Dr. Lapham says "the plant is said to grow only in bogs on which a man may venture with safety."


I regret to say to you that I plucked, I am almost certain, the only plants of the Heather which could be found on Nantucket Island, and I fear that, in my excitement, I so successfully dislodged the roots, no more will ever be found. I forwarded a specimen to your friend Mr. Peck, of Albany, and trust it reached him safely.

Our proximity to Christmas must be my apology for the evident haste in which the parcel, which I forward by express, has been prepared. Your forbearance, also, for this prolix note. Believe me Sir, with Mr. Atwaters kind regards, respectfully yours,

Elisabeth E. Atwater Recd Dec. 6


[Angostura: officially called Ciudad Bolivar, is an inland river port on the narrows (Spanish word angosturas) of the Orinoco river above its delta, in the eastern portion of Venezuela. Guasipati must be in what is now British Guiana.  I believe there are specimens with the Guasipati label at BUF. In the Index Herbariorum Part II (6) 'Collectors' by I. H. Vegter, 1986 (Regnum Vegetabile vol. 114, Utrecht, there is only a reference to an "E. P. Stevens" whose specimens from Tropical America are at the New York Botanical Garden. The fact that only the initials are given, nor birth and death dates, suggests that the compiler did not know this was our Elizabeth P. Two Clinton letters from Miss Elizabeth P. derive from an address in San Francisco, California. Perhaps we might venture to suggest that Elizabeth's sister might be the Alice F. Stevens in the IH:C, who collected in North America "ferns & fern allies; Angiospermae from Calif. & Wyo." Her specimens are at HNH, that is, at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.]


[The first of two letters to Clinton by Stevens is as follows:


Vol. 6 no. 203 [L 5] 

Brooklyn Apr. 12th 1870 To G. W. Clinton, Pres.

of the Buf. S. of N. Sciences

Dear Sir,


Your favor of the 2d inst. arrive in due time, but owing to my absence I did not immediately receive it.

I hasten to answer, to express my thanks to the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, for its kind remembrance & acknowledgement, of the very slight donation from me, in so flattering a form, as the offered membership from this society. The knowledge, that the donation is duly appreciated, is sufficient reward. But since it was thought proper by the Society to place my name among the honored & the learned, although, I feel the honor is beyond my desert, I gratefully accept it, & will endeavor to fulfil its duties by any effort that I maybe able to make.


At present, not being possessed of a photograph, I postpone the sending of one, until such time as I shall be able to procure one.

Gratified that my name & face shall be among the Savans of my native state, although not claiming to be a sapient, but only a lover, I am very gratefully and respectfully  yours,

Elizabeth P. Stevens Recd Ap. 14



The second letter by Stevens is as follows:


Vol.7 no. 155 [E 76 ‑ two pieces of paper, one penciled inventory number] [Stationery with small floral emblem in upper left, all bordered in black]

San Francisco Feb. 2d, [18]71 Mr. Clinton

Dear Sir


Your very kind epistle was received in due time. I am afraid you will find me a very poor correspondent, indeed, I think that you have already sufficient knowledge of me, to see, that I am fearfully procrastinating ‑ even to impoliteness. In extenuation, I will say that I am not a ready writer & wait for the mood. I am however truly grateful for your kind offer of correspondence & for your desire to be useful to me in the pursuit of botany.


I should be delighted to sit at your feet & learn wisdom & to have my S.A. plants under your analysis. Very many of them I cannot tell where to place. Some I have been enabled to arrange according to their families (i.e., the Myrtaceae, mimosas, cassias, passifloras &c. My knowledge of botany is superficial, being chiefly, what I gained in my youth from the Linnean System & I do not hope, now, to become scientific. Still it is a pleasure to gather plants & analyze, & to this end, I am armed with the old North American Botany, Wood, & Greys [sic] last edition. I do not expect to make so many prizes as in the Tropics, as I am again shut up in a city, still, I shall gather all that I find on these barren hills, & hope, by & by, to make some visits to the country, where, I am told, I shall find much that is new. I have already gathered a few of the musci & of the sea plants of the bay. Some of the latter are dissimilar to those I have seen from the Atlantic coast, resembling some plates of English sea plants that I find in a book, entitled British Seaweeds drawn from Prof. Harveys Phycologia Brittanica.

I am glad that my poor plants gave


[second paper] so much pleasure & only regret that they were not finer specimens. You praise me too much, for indeed, I made no sacrifices either in gathering, preserving or giving. Would I not be an anomaly among the lovers of these "dried leaves" were I not willing that those who appreciate them should also enjoy what may be new to them?


As yet, I find no lichens, except those growing on the live oaks & laurels that are found on these hills.

I have mentioned the text books that I have. Any other works that you

will recommend for the study of the cryptogams, as well as, all advise will be gladly received by your obliged friend


Elizabeth P. Stevens Recd Feb. 11 about 14‑16th inclosed some lichens from Miss. W. and wrote her, but not fully.]