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Lewis David von Schweinitz (1780-1834)

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1.0 linear foot (2 boxes)


Lewis David von Schweinitz (1780-1834) is commonly recognized as a founder of American mycology. Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on February 13, 1780, his heritage was Silesian, and he was educated by the Moravian Brethren. In his eighteenth year he traveled to Germany with his family where he entered a theological seminary. Upon graduation he became a teacher in the Moravian academy of Niesky, Silesia and was ordained deacon in 1808. In 1812 he returned to the United States and assumed a position as a church administrator in Salem, North Carolina. His authority as a mycologist is based in part on the extensive herbarium of fungi and plants collected in North Carolina and in Pennsylvania where he finally settled.

Though his clerical vocation was his life's work, von Schweinitz developed a parallel career in botany and mycology. He published seminal papers in these subjects and collaborated with John Torrey, Johannes Baptista von Albertini, and Prince Maximillian II of Weid among many others. He collected fungi in the eastern states and exchanged specimens with American and European botanists. His Synopsis Fungorum Carolinae Superioris (1822) and Synopsis Fungorum in America Borealis (1832) are landmark studies in the history of mycology through which he was recognized as the foremost authority on cryptogamia of his time. Both William Farlow and William Trelease characterized von Schweinitz as 'the first American mycologist.'

Von Schweinitz's work consisted of extensive catalogues and systematic descriptions of fungi, mosses, ferns, lichens, and flowering plants, published in The American Journal of Science, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, and other notable scientific journals of the time. In his 1832 Synopsis alone, he described over 3,000 species of fungi, more than half of which were species new to science. He was also an accomplished illustrator and created watercolor prints and drawings of botanical subjects that supplemented his descriptive work. Lewis David von Schweinitz died in 1834 with an unfinished work in progress. His personal herbarium of nearly 23,000 specimens was bequeathed to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.


The Lewis David von Schweinitz collection consists of manuscripts of synoptic lists, catalogues, and indices of flora, notably the fungi, covering the years he spent in Pennsylvania during the latter part of his career. There is only one item of correspondence. There is also a microfilm record of part of the contents of Folder 1 separate from the collection. Note that the name "von Schweinitz" is used here, though it is sometimes recorded as "de Schweinitz."


Series 1: Manuscripts
Series 2: Correspondence

Series 1    Manuscripts, 1800-1882
                  1.0 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

There are 19 numbered file folders containing manuscripts written in Latin, except for certain remarks in English. One of the manuscripts is a bound journal organized chronologically from 1882. The manuscripts fall into two general categories. First, there are numbered specimen lists, titled and untitled, some with short descriptive remarks. The lists record additions to his personal herbarium, collection lists of field trips, and flora lists of other collectors. Some include an index. There are comparative lists of flora from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Salem, North Carolina, and lists of plants relating to his collaboration and correspondence with John Torrey.

Second are synoptic studies and systematic classifications by family, genus, and species, some of which record species discovered and identified by von Schweinitz. See, for example, Flora Synoptica Mundi (folder 3) and Tentamen Synopseos Plantarum Cryptogamarum in America Boreali (folder 4). Collection lists of other botanists include William Baldwin, William Bartram, William Cooper, Elias Fries, Andre Michaux, Kurt Sprengel, and Nathaniel Wallich.

Series 2    Correspondence, 1833
                  One item

There is one letter, dated June 22, 1833, to Jacob Luchenbach, regarding the lease of a lot of property in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA

Papers of Lewis David von Schweinitz

Gray Herbarium & Arnold Arboretum Combined Libraries, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Index of Plants, Lewis David von Schweinitz Herbarium

Processed April 1999 by David Rose under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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