Sunday, June 4, 2017

An American Herbal by botanist Jacob Bigelow - American Medical Botany - Boston, 1817

Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879)

Harvard tells us that Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879). was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts. He has been variously described as the son of a Congregational minister and the son of a farmer. After obtaining his A.B. from Harvard in 1806, he attended medical lectures under Dr. John Gorham while teaching at the Boston Latin School. 
Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Magnolia glauca - small magnolia
Sometime after 1808, Bigelow left Harvard for the University of Pennsylvania, earning his M.D. in 1810. During this time he also studied under Benjamin Smith Barton, "and so had his botanical knowledge considerably augmented." 

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Sanguinaria canadensis (blood root)
He practiced medicine by himself for a year without much financial success and then began a practice in Boston with Dr. James Jackson in 1811. This practice was quite successful, and for the next 60 or so years Dr. Bigelow "ranked next to his venerable senior, the most popular practicioner of the city"  

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Rubus villosus (tall blackberry)
Beginning in 1812, Bigelow lectured on botany at Harvard with W. D. Peck; the interest shown in his lectures led him to compile his Florula Bostoniensisthe first systematic plant survey of the flora indigenous to Boston, published in 1814. Second and third editions followed, the second becoming the leading manual of the plants of New England for some three decades following its publication.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Rhododendron maximum (american rose bay)
The following year (1815) he was appointed professor of materia medica at the Harvard Medical School, a post he retained until 1855. With Dr. Francis Boott he began work on a flora of New England. 

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Nymphea odorata - sweet scented water lily
From 1817-1820, he published American Medical Botany, for which he drew many of the plates and devised the means of reproducing them through a color aqua-tint process.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Nicotina tabacum (tobacco)
The American Medical Botany, along with William Barton's Vegetable Materia Medica, publication of which was almost simultaneous, Bigelow's book was one of the first two American botanical books with colored illustrations. American Medical Botany: being a collection of the native medicinal plants of the United States, containing their botanical history and chemical analysis, and properties and uses in medicine, diet and the arts was published in 6 parts, later bound into 3 volumes, appearing in 1817-1820.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Menyanthes trifoliata (buck bean)
As his work in developing a process for printing the plates of his American Medical Botany shows, Bigelow was also interested in mechanics. This interest led to his appointment as Rumford Professor at Harvard College, a position endowed for the purpose of teaching the application of science to useful arts. Bigelow held this position from 1816-1827. Bigelow's interest in mechanics and non-biological sciences also led to the publication of his Elements of Technology in 1829. 

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817-20. Iris versicolor, Blue flag, or flower de luce
Bigelow taught botany at Harvard University while maintaining his medical practice. He also was the botanist & landscape architect for Mount Auburn Cemetery. The cemetery was founded in 1831, as "America's first garden cemetery," or the first "rural cemetery," with classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain. The use of this gentle of landscape coincides with the rising popularity of the term cemetery, as opposed to graveyard. Cemetery evolves from the Greek term for "a sleeping place." The 174 acre Massachusetts cemetery is important both for its historical precedents & for its role as an arboretum.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
Bigelow also was active in the preparation of the first U.S. Pharmacopoeia, wrote on medical topics and on education, and played a major role in the establishment and design of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. He was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1847-1863, and was a member of that organization for 67 years. 


Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
In addition to being a doctor, professor and botanist, Bigelow was also a poet. His Eolopoesis, American Rejected Addresses was published anonymously In 1855. Bigelow married Mary Scollay in 1817, and died in Boston on January 10, 1879. He was laid to rest in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. He is remembered in the genus Bigelowia in the family Compositae, named by De Candolle.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Apocynum androsaemifolium (dog's bane)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Datura stramonium (thorn apple)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Euphorbia ipecacuanha

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Geranium maculatum (common cranesbill)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Ictodes foetidus (skunk cabbage)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Illicium foridanum (starry anise)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Laurus sassafras (sassafras tree)
See:
Bailey, L.H., Jr. "Some North American Botanists: V. Jacob Bigelow." Botanical Gazette 8(5): 217-222.

Gray, Asa. "Dr. Jacob Bigelow." The American Journal of Science and Arts Third Series. 17(100): 263-266.

Elliott, Clark A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science: The Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries. 1979.


Kelly, Howard A. "Jacob Bigelow." Some American Medical Botanists. Troy, New York : The Southworth Company Publishers, 1914.
Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. , Datura stramonium, Thorn apple.

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