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Benjamin Smith Barton

Born February 10, 1766(1766-02-10)
Died December 19, 1815 (aged 49)
New York City
Nationality American
Fields Botany
Institutions University of Philadelphia

Benjamin Smith Barton (February 10, 1766 – December 19, 1815) was an American botanist and physician.

Barton studied at the York Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from 1780 to 1782, then attended the College of Philadelphia, studying medicine under Thomas Shippen from 1784, and accompanying David Rittenhouse on an expedition to survey the western boundary of Pennsylvania in 1785, which aroused his interest in Native Americans. In 1786 he transferred to the University of Edinburgh, where he stayed for two years before leaving as a result of disagreements with two professors. He then moved to the University of Göttingen, from which he obtained an M.D. in 1789.

Upon graduation, Barton returned to the College of Philadelphia as an instructor, which would soon (in 1791) merge with the University of Pennsylvania. In 1790 he was appointed professor of botany and natural history, and in 1795 chair of materia medica. In 1813 he became chair of the theory and practice of medicine following the death of Benjamin Rush, but continued to retain his position in natural history and botany. Concurrently with his academic position, he served as a physician at Pennsylvania Hospital from 1798 through his death in 1815.

In 1803 Barton published Elements of botany, or Outlines of the natural history of vegetables, the first American handbook of botany. From 1798-1804, he published a work on plants for medical use.

Barton was also interested in anatomy and zoology, and published Memoir Concerning the Fascinating Faculty Which Has been Ascribed to the Rattle-Snake in 1796. In 1803 he published a comparative study of linguistics, Etymology of Certain English Words and on Their Affinity to Words in the Languages of Different European, Asiatic and American (Indian) Nations and a text on the origin of the first American people, New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (1797). He was the editor of Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal (1805-1808), one of the oldest scientific publications of the United States.

Barton made one significant contribution to the field of archaeology as well. Although his Observations on Some Parts of Natural History in 1787 incorrectly attributed the prehistoric mounds of Ohio to the Danish people, his 1797 book (mentioned above) correctly identifies the Mound builders as Native Americans. While he was not the first to make this claim, he may have been the first to suggest a significant age to the mounds, speculating that they may have been older than James Ussher's famous Biblical chronology. Barton also correctly guessed that Native Americans had an Asian origin.

He was vice president of the American Philosophical Society from 1802 to his death, and president of the Philadelphia Medical Society from 1808 to his death. In 1812, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He died of tuberculosis in New York City.


In botany, his author abbreviation is Barton.

His older brother, William Barton, was also a member of the American Philosophical Society. His maternal uncle, David Rittenhouse, served as the Society's second president after the death of founder Benjamin Franklin in 1790.


  • Joseph Ewan and Nesta Dunn Ewan (2007). Benjamin Smith Barton, Naturalist and Physician in Jeffersonian America. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press. ISBN 978-1930723351
  • Rolf Swensen (1997). "Barton, Benjamin Smith". in Keir B. Sterling et al.. Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists. Greenwood Press. pp. 59–61. ISBN 0313230471.  

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BENJAMIN SMITH BARTON (1766-1815), American naturalist, was born at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1766, studied for two years at Edinburgh, and afterwards graduated at Göttingen. He settled at Philadelphia, and soon obtained a considerable practice. In 1789 he was appointed professor of botany and natural history in the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania; he was made professor of materia medica in 1795, and on the death of Dr Benjamin Rush in 1813 he obtained the chair of practical medicine. In 1802 he was chosen president of the American Philosophical Society, of which he was a strong supporter. Barton was the author of various works on natural history, botany and materia medica, his Elements of Botany (1803) being the best known. He died at Philadelphia on the 19th of December 1815.

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

(10.II.1766 - 19.XII.1815)


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