John Fraser, lithograph of an 18C portrait
Fraser made his 1st trip to the American south, specifically to Charleston, South Carolina in 1783 or 1784, sending home consignments of plants to a Frank Thorburn of Old Brompton. Returning to England in 1785, with the expectation of recompense for his labor and risk, he was astonished to learn that all the valuable plants he had forwarded were dead. Vexed, Fraser sailed again for South Carolina in the autumn nonetheless.
On his return trip that autumn he made his way north through Berkeley County to the Santee River, befriending Thomas Walter along the way. He continued on to the Piedmont region of the Appalachians, discovering Phlox stolonifera (Creeping Phlox) in Georgia along the southeastern edge of the southern Blue Ridge, and in 1787 arrived in Pickens County near Chickamaua Cherokee land during the Cherokee–American wars. There he collected what became known later as Magnolia fraseri. Fraser gave his contemporary William Bartram his original specimen of Magnolia fraseri; the specimen is housed in the Walter Herbarium in the British Museum of Natural History collection. The Hortus Kewensis recorded 16 new plants as having been introduced by Fraser in 1786, and 5 more in 1787.
Fraser trekked the Allegheny Mountains in 1789, when trans-Allegheny travel was limited to indigenous peoples' trails and one military trail, Braddock Road, built in 1751 and too far north of his journeys to be of help. He traveled with François André Michaux, and on the summit of the Great Roan was the first European to discover rhododendrons now cultivated in many varieties. Of the rhododendrons he wrote, "We supplied ourselves with living plants, which were transmitted to England, all of which grew, and were sold for five guineas each."
In the December 6, 1808, Charleston Times, the following notice appeared, “FRASER & SON HAVE received by the schooner Blazing-Star from New-York, several hundred handsome PEACH, NECTARINE and APRICOT TREES a few handsome FLOWERS, SHRUBS, AND PLANTS.”
In 1810, they advertised, "A variety of English Garden & Flower Seeds; Flowers; Flower Pots; and a few rare Plants, the proper of Mr. John Fraser, botanist, having finished his collection of American plants. The seeds will be put up in convenient lots, for the accommodation of the purchaser. Any Ladies or Gentlemen who wish to be supplied annually with warranted Garden, Agricultural or Flower Seeds, and Roots, or choice Fruit Trees, will please send their orders to the said office, or address them to Messrs. MASERS & SONS Sloan Square, Chelsea, London."