Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation
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For the Founding Fathers, gardening, agriculture, and botany were elemental passions: a conjoined interest as deeply ingrained in their characters as the battle for liberty and a belief in the greatness of their new nation.
Founding Gardeners is an exploration of that obsession, telling the story of the revolutionary generation from the unique perspective of their lives as gardeners, plant hobbyists, and farmers. Acclaimed historian Andrea Wulf describes how George Washington wrote letters to his estate manager even as British warships gathered off Staten Island; how a tour of English gardens renewed Thomas Jefferson’s and John Adams’s faith in their fledgling nation; and why James Madison is the forgotten father of environmentalism. Through these and other stories, Wulf reveals a fresh, nuanced portrait of the men who created our nation.
Country Seats & c., with Thomas Jefferson,” April 1786, 44:3–6, MHS online. 62 “load the memory”: TJ, “Jefferson’s Hints to Americans Travelling in Europe,” 19 June 1788, TJ Papers, vol. 13, p. 268. 63 “waste my time”: TJ to Philip Mazzei, 4 April 1787, TJ Papers, vol. 11, p. 266. 64 “remarkeable for their”: TJ “Notes of a Tour of English Gardens,” March and April 1786, TJ Papers, vol. 9, p. 369. 65 appearance of TJ and JA: Edmund Bacon’s Memoir, Bear 1967, p. 71; JA to Skelton Jones, 11
119 GW and English estate managers: GW, 21 April 1786, GW Diaries, vol. 4, p. 315; GW to George William Fairfax, 30 June 1785; Articles of Agreement with James Bloxham, 31 May 1786, GW Papers CS, vol. 4, pp. 86–87. 120 “His favourite subject”: Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, 1798, Lee 2006, p. 81. 121 “very minute account of the Hessian fly”: Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 16–17 July 1796, Lee 2006, p. 63. 122 GW’s observation during the Whiskey Rebellion: GW to William Pearce, 1 October 1794, GWW, vol. 33,
one that would see the United States of America led by a unanimously elected president. After the political abuse that he had endured during his second term there was nothing, not even his elevated and unerring sense of duty, that would make Washington stay on for another term. This decision made the summer of 1796 exceptional, for it was the calm before the political storm. “This has been the most quiet Summer I ever knew, in Politicks,” Adams wrote at the end of it, capturing the strange lull.
or pamphlet was published (which was still rare), they enthusiastically bought those too. In the previous summer, for example, they had all eagerly read John Bordley’s Sketches on Rotations of Crops, the first American treatise on the subject. They were also fascinated by new agricultural technology. Threshing machines in particular excited them because for millennia farmers had separated the grains from the chaff by hand or by letting their horses trample over the wheat (neither efficient nor
very same arguments that Jefferson had used in the 1780s to combat Buffon’s theory of degeneracy, so too did the nation’s painters. After the war the most worthy subjects for American art were deemed to have been George Washington and dramatic or historic moments of the revolution. But now painters began to focus on landscapes—Niagara Falls, the Hudson River valley and later the Great Plains. “In no quarter of the globe are the majesty and loveliness of nature more strikingly conspicuous than in