Correspondence of Charles Mohr and G. W. Clinton
The Correspondence of
Charles (Carl) Theodore Mohr (1824‑1901) and
George William Clinton (1807‑1885)
Introduction by P. M. Eckel
The letters of Charles Mohr to George Clinton are presented on‑line in anticipation of the upcoming meetings of scientific societies in Mobile, Alabama (USA) in July, 2003, Mohr's long‑time place of residence. There has been a representation of interest in Mohr's biography recently with several treatments posted on the internet:
The following posting represents transcriptions of original letters written to George W. Clinton in the 1860's and 1870's, archived in the Research Library of the Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York. Transcriptions were made under less than ideal conditions and have not been reevaluated since this was done decades ago by myself, but are presented here nevertheless with the expectation that they may be of particular interest now. Problems with transcription include transliteration of local place names in Alabama, Christian names, bibliographic references, and generic and species names for plants unfamiliar to the transcriber. Note that some attempt has been made to preserve Mohr's idiosyncratic method of writing.
"Charles Mohr" by Larry J. Davenport (13 pages):
has a wealth of biographical information developing in a beautiful story‑line. The biographical context to which the following paragraphs refer follows Davenport's essay, which includes a section on plants named after Mohr, and a discussion of Mohr's major treatise, the "Plant Life of Alabama."
Mohr's 46 letters, reproduced here in transliteration, span his life from the date of the first letter of April 30, 1867 to February 21, 1879, a period of 12 years. Mohr was 40 years old in 1867. He moved, with his wife and children to Mobile, Alabama, in 1857 and resided there for the next forty years ‑ essentially the rest of his life. All of Mohr's letters to Clinton were posted from Mobile. Intellectually, this period represented the time when Mohr was passing from pursuits in pharmacy and medicine in which he was both successful in business and theory, especially during the Civil War when Mohr worked in these fields for the Confederate government, then to geology at the immediate end of the Civil War, and to botany, which occupied most of the 1870's.
Mohr was interested in botany all his life, and botany was the underpinning of his medical and pharmaceutical career. In the 1870's he was most vigorously pursuing the avocation of amateur botanist. He possessed a personal herbarium, comprised of what was left from various excursions to Surinam (Dutch, or Netherlands Guiana) east of Venezuela on the northern coast of South America, and from collections in southern Ohio and Kentucky, but especially from Mexico where he tried to establish himself and his family.
Mohr was to suffer all his adult life from severe bouts of rheumatic illnesses, often noted in his letters to Clinton. His foray into Mexican residency was to alleviate his distress: "I often revel in my imagination in the remembrance of the perpetual spring in the plateaus of the mexican [Andes?], where rheumatism is as unknown as frosts and snow" (November [17?], 1874). The labels on specimens in the Clinton Herbarium of the Buffalo Museum of Science (BUF) collected by Mohr frequently refer (with variant spellings) to Orizaba, a city in the Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. The name 'Orizaba' may also refer to the highest peak in Mexico, Citlaltepetl, a volcanic peak of 18,700 feet in central Veracruz where Mohr and his friends collected: "I had the attention of the author called to it by designating it as new species of Symblepharis, collected on the Eastern slope of the Pico del Orizaba 7000' altit. 1857" (October 28, 1872). "If my friend [Oru?] Carlos Sartorius was yet alive, I might be able to make up these defficiencies, as he took a great intrest in the bryologie of his surroundings; It is this a new cause of regret of the departure from this life of that veteran botanist and nestor of science in Mexico, whose hospitable hermitage in the ever glad mountains of the Orizava range was ever open to the travelling and ardent naturalist" (November 16, 1872).
Mohr departed Mexico in 1857 for the same reasons he had had for leaving Germany in 1848: fleeing a conservative uprising against a liberalized government and a new liberal Mexican constitution. He settled in Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico in the city of Mobile where he raised his children to love the country of their residence, and, of course, this included the government of a reunited United States. The fact that Mohr evaded the social upheavals of his time, first in Europe (there were no less than 50 rebellions in Europe in 1848) but also in Mexico, did not mean Mohr was himself liberal in his political views. When his friend Clinton endured an election in Buffalo in 1870 or 1871 for Superior Court Chief Judge after the former Judge Verplanck died (1870), Mohr wrote him: "I congratulate you in having passed safly the ordeal of an election, and that the vox populi proofed itself truly as vox Dei; I must say that by looking at matters as they are going down here, my confidence in the old adage is sadly shaken, and I should tremble for the fait [sic] of any friend of mine whose destiny should depend upon the decision of that tribunal wich finds its expression in a popular election" (December 10, 1871).].
References to collections made 'in the north' (April 30, 1867) probably refer to botanical forays around Cincinnati, Ohio where Mohr and his brother and sisters resided after first coming to the United States: the brothers in the fall of 1848, perhaps through New York, their port of entry, and briefly in Philadelphia. Mohr was anxious to exchange plants of a useful and medicinal nature in the northern states with George Clinton. By 1867 he had removed to the South and had focused his collecting efforts in lower and central Alabama, especially in the Mobile area and areas, and along the coastal islands, on the Gulf of Mexico associated with Mobile Bay. He was, as was the case with many people in the Confederate States isolated by the war cutting lines of communication (telegraph, railroads, highways, sea lanes) that were of primary strategic importance to the belligerants. "Particularly interesting and truly gratifying to me are these evidences of progress [in the natural sciences in New York State], as I have been during the long 4 years of the late war shut out from all communication with the world and lately ignorant of that, what was going on in the realms of science" (April 30, 1867).
Mohr's focus on the plants growing in Alabama was in contrast to his early aspiration to collect in relatively unknown areas of the world, such as the western United States. Young men in droves traveled to California in 1849 to make their fortunes and the twenty‑four year old Mohr was no exception. Out of the German community in Cincinnati where he was living after coming to the United States was formed the Cincinnati Gold Mining and Trading Company. This company elicited the participation of 50 young men, including Mohr, to set out for the West overland from stations in Missouri.
It must have been agony to collect plants over the great distances laboriously traversed, and to collect in California, only to lose everything during his attempt to return to Cincinnati via Panama. His letters show he retained an interest in the botany of the West, encouraging the investigations of those more fortunate than he.
The focus of Mohr's personal herbarium was Alabama because, as time went on and his family grew larger, his health prohibited exotic journeys. The success of his pharmaceutical business and the demands made on his time plus the restrictions of war rooted him in that State. His letter of July 10, 1868: "I was not able since 11 years to get up a correspondence or exchange with a botanist within the borders of the southern states. In consequence I can offer only that what I can collected within my limited neighbourhood, or on a occasional hurried business trip in the interior of Ala. Your last letter found my health greatly impaired; by the advise of my physician I made a short stay in the country to recruit my health and gain strength. I did spend a couple of weeks at and on a plantation 14 miles from Montgomery. I found several very interesting plants, it being the first time that I spent some time in that region in the vernal season."
In a recent Web site posting from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, two herbaria are given as curated by the University, the Mohr Herbarium (ALU), being incorporated into the herbarium of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and a second, that of the University of Alabama (UNA), associated with the Department of Biological Sciences there. The two herbaria have been merged under the University aegis (UNA), and the specimens from the Mohr Herbarium were integrated into the University collection.
Prior to this merger, the 4500 specimens in the Mohr Herbarium consisted of two large elements, collections by the State Geologist of Alabama in the latter 19th century, Dr. Eugene Allen Smith, and by his associate, Dr. Denny, president of Alabama University, in addition to those of Charles Mohr. The percent of this collection attributed to the efforts of Mr. Mohr is not specified, although all the specimens are computerized. The website indicates that the oldest collections (1870's) were not made by Mohr, but by these two gentlemen.
Sometime during the correspondence with George Clinton, Mohr was approached by Smith, and contracted to prepare a Flora of Alabama. Mohr did not mention this to Clinton, perhaps because it was too early for Mohr to make that kind of commitment and to communicate as much to a correspondent.
In the latter half of 1876, Mohr made a tour of the North, promising to visit Clinton and Miss Wilson, his assistant (see below) at the rooms of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences in Buffalo, New York, as well as Clinton himself and his family at Clinton's house (August 25 & 26, 1876). Mohr was anxious to venture north as long ago as March of 1869 (see letter). By early November he was back in Mobile after visiting Leo Lesquereux in Columbus, Ohio. In Cincinnati he visited his brother and sisters. He had with him on return "plants, books, pamphlets etc." gotten during this trip (November 10, 1876). The salubrious excitement derived from this trip may also have derived from having been approached to undertake a professional study of the flora of Alabama, for which he traveled north to acquire the academic tools necessary in its execution.
Two years after this trip north, "I have in the hours after business during the first 3 to 4 months of the year worked up our indigenous materia medica, after that I have given my time to a critical study of the Graminea of our state, so as to enable me to make correct list and one as full as possible of the same for a handbook of Alabama, with an article on its forage plants and an other one on its Forrests and their products" (August 26, 1878).
It was probably during the 1880's, after the correspondence with Clinton ended, that Mohr made his most vigorous and concentrated exploration of the vascular botany of the state of Alabama and it is then perhaps that he retained the Alabama specimens that would ultimately become part of the Mohr Herbarium.
Among the Mohr fraction of the 4500 specimens in the Mohr collection, a number must include those sent him on exchange from Buffalo, New York, western New York State and southern Ontario, Canada, along the northeastern shore of Lake Erie and adjacent upstream sections of the Niagara River. These are the specimens collected by Clinton himself, with duplicates in the Clinton Herbarium of the Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York. Clinton perhaps also sent duplicates of material received upon exchange with other botanists in Europe, receiving exotic material from Asa Gray and John Torrey, the latter with duplicates derived from material at the developing National Herbarium, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The letters also focus on a period of enthusiastic bryophyte interest in Clinton's and Mohr's lives, the latter anticipating with enthusiasm determination of his specimens by the two leading bryophyte experts for the North American flora: William Sterling Sullivant and Leo Lesquereux, both of Columbus, Ohio, of both American collections, and those made in Mexico. As can be seen in the letters, Mohr had to finally send some of his material back to Germany for identification, some as species new to science subsequently published in early volumes of the new Journal of the Torrey Botanical Club.
Mohr also may have received duplicates of a valuable bryophyte herbarium acquired by the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences through the efforts of Clinton and Leo Lesquereux: 'I need scarly [sic] tell you, how thankfully I will receive some of the duplicates of Schimpers europaean mosses. Having lately established an exchange with a young bryologist in Germany I will have shortly [=north?] middle and southwestern Germany fully represented; truly alpine, high northern and particularly South europaean species will be most welcome (Schimper has collected much in Spain and other countrys around the Mediterranean)" (November 16, 1872). In Mohr's letter of the first of January, 1873, he announced that the Schimper duplicates have arrived, including many fungi: "In connection with my warmest thanks for the valuable contributions to my collection by the receipt of your list package containing the rare and most perfect specimens of Shimperian mosses and extensive collection of fungi,I tender to you my best wishes and congratulations at the begin of a new year."
Mohr, like Clinton, came to rely briefly on Charles Horton Peck (1833‑1917), at the State Herbarium in Albany. Peck was a protege of Clinton's during the final years of Peck's specialisation in bryophytes. Peck soon turned to the study of fungi, where he distinguished himself as one of the foremost American mycologists. Doubtless some of the mosses, liverworts and fungi in the Mohr Herbarium derive from these exchanges.
Mohr also came to enjoy an interaction with Miss Mary Wilson, an associate of George Clinton and Collections Manager of the herbarium Clinton was preparing for the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. Clinton initiated the organization of this collection in 1866‑1867. Wilson was an avid student of lichens, and a correspondent of Edward Tuckerman, of Amherst College, Massachusetts, the formost lichenologist in the United States. Toward the end of her career in Buffalo, Miss Wilson also turned to the study of fungi, maintaining a corresondence with Peck.
Mohr's specimens have been disseminated world‑wide: according to the Index Herbariorum Part II (4) "Collectors 'M'" (Vegter, I. H., 1976, Regnum Vegetabile vol. 93, Utrecht, Netherlands) his specimens have the following distribution:
Original Herbarium: [update: presently the Mohr Herbarium (ALU) is incorporated into the Herbarium of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Alabama (UNA).] His specimens span the period roughly 1873‑99. There are 15,000 Mohr specimens at the Smithsonian Institution, including material from Florida, South Carolina, Mexico and Iowa. The herbarium of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University possesses specimens from the southern United States.
Alabama collections, made roughly between 1868‑98, exist at UNA, 96 are reported from Berlin in Germany (B), others were deposited at the Clinton Herbarium of the Buffalo Museum of Science (BUF), Cordova (C) in Argentina, bryophytes in Edinburgh (E), Scotland, 316 specimens at the Field Museum (F) in Chicago (these, from Texas collected 1880‑1887, perhaps derive from exchanges with Elizabeth Atwater ‑ see letters below). Some Mohr specimens reside in Saint Petersburg, Russia (LE). Cryptogams mainly from Mobile exist in Munich, Germany (M); 200 vascular plants are at the University of Michigan Herbarium at Ann Arbor (MICH). Other specimens are at the Missouri Botanical Garden (MO) in St. Louis, probably from a contemporary correspondence with Dr. George Engelman (also a Clinton correspondent). More reside at the New York Botanical Garden (NY) and Wellesley College (WELC) in Massachusetts (vascular plants).
Mohr's Central American specimens are said to be at NY. North American specimens in general, including Mexico, are in Kew Gardens (K), England, Russia (LE) and at the Smithsonian Institution (US). The grass collections mentioned in letter August 26, 1878 may be among Mohr's grasses at the Mississippi State University in the town of Mississippi State (MISSA).
In an effort to present these letters to the public at this time, no further attempt to discuss or analyze them will be made here. The letters, among other things, show an insight into the career of Judge Clinton and the evolution of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. The letters could be examined to locate specimens of significance at both Buffalo, New York, and Mobile, Alabama, as well as other institutions.
I thank Marshall Crosby and Bob Magill for research support and use of the Web facilities of the Missouri Botanical Garden. I thank John Grehan and David Hemmingway for permitting access to the Clinton Herbarium and the Research Library at the Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York. Richard Zander, architect of the Res Botanica Website, was instrumental in the posting of these letters and images.
Note: Editor's comments are in square brackets. At the beginning of every letter there is a volume number and another number (e.g. Vol. 5 No. 116). This is George Clinton's own system for organizing his letters in sequence, the volumes roughly corresponding to a given year and a number given each letter as he received it. Actually only the letter number occurs on each individual letter); Clinton later had his letters bound together into volumes. The letter and number in square brackets is part of the numbering and cataloguing or inventory system developed during the 1990's at the Research Library of the Buffalo Museum of Science. On each letter, the black ink is Clinton's handwriting, the pencil marks are the library's. At the bottom of each letter Clinton wrote the date when he received it and whether he took action.
P. M. Eckel
Editor, Clinton Papers