Archives and Manuscript Collections
JOHN TORREY PAPERS
1788-1871 (bulk 1806-1871)
5.5 linear feet (11 boxes)
John Torrey was born in New York on August 15, 1796. As a youth, he collected
and observed the plants of the vicinity of New York. When he was 15 years
old, his father was appointed Fiscal Agent of the State Prison of New York.
It was there that he met Amos Eaton, a pioneer in natural science education,
who was said to be in prison for his debt. Eaton encouraged Torrey's interest
in mineralogy and chemistry. In 1815 Torrey began his study at the College
of Physicians and Surgeons. By 1817 he was appointed by the Lyceum of Natural
History to prepare A Catalogue of the Plants Growing Within Thirty Miles
of New York. He received his medical degree in 1818 and opened a medical
practice in New York, continuing to spend his leisure time with other scientific
pursuits, particularly botany.
In 1824, Torrey accepted a position as Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy,
and Geology at the Military Academy at West Point, where he was also Assistant-Surgeon.
Three years later, he accepted the position as Chair of Chemistry and Botany
at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.
Eventually growing dissatisfied with the Linnean system, Torrey wrote
a compendium using John Lindley's newer natural system in which plants
were arranged by families. He became one of the first botanists to apply
this concept to a large work: his A Compendium of the flora of the northern
and middle states. In 1831, Torrey supervised the publication of an
American reprint of the first edition of Lindley's Introduction to the
Natural System of Botany, and appended a catalogue of the North American
genera arranged according to it.
As his reputation grew, renowned botanists entrusted specimens to Torrey
for identification. His own investigations extended to the Great Plains
and the western Rocky Mountains, after he had been furnished with the collections
of Dr. Edwin James, botanist of Major Stephen Long's expedition in 1820.
As early as 1823, Torrey reported descriptions to the Lyceum of Natural
History of some new species from Long's expedition. He took an early interest
in the genus Carex and was asked by von Schweinitz to edit his monograph
of North American Carices.
Because of his reputation and his early interest in the flora of New
York State, in 1836, upon the organization of a geological survey of the
state of New York, Torrey was appointed State Botanist, requiring him to
prepare a flora of the state. A Flora of the State of New York was
published in 1843 and was the largest single work of its kind published
at the time.
In addition to his posts as State Botanist and Chair in the
Medical College, Dr. Torrey felt obliged to accept a similar position at
Despite his professional engagements, his contributions to the Flora
of North America held a prominent role in his life, including identifying
and preparing descriptions for the plants collected during the surveys
for the Pacific Railroad routes (Botany of the Pacific Railroad Survey)
and the Mexican boundary survey, as well as the expeditions of Stephen
Long, Joseph Nicollet, John Fremont, William Emory, L. Sitgreaves, Howard
Stansbury, and Randolph Marcy and Charles Wilkes.
When the Government Assay Office in New York was established, Torrey
was selected by the Secretary of the Treasury to become Superintendent,
a position he declined, accepting a less prominent post within the same
office. He held this position until his death on March 10, 1873.
Dr. John Torrey was a member of a number of scientific societies in
America and Europe. He was a corporate member of the National Academy at
Washington, presided over the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, and was twice elected president of the New York Lyceum of Natural
History. Long considered the chief of American botanists, he was a gifted
teacher, an indefatigable investigator, and a genial and unselfish individual
who won the affection of all who knew him.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The collection consists of correspondence, both incoming and outgoing,
from 1818 to 1873, and pertains to Torrey's work as a botanist and professor.
Much of the scientific correspondence is in regard to the identification
of plants from the vast interior of the continent through government sponsored
expeditions, primarily John Fremont's second and third expeditions to the
Rocky Mountains in 1842 and to Oregon and northern California in 1843.
The collection contains plant lists and collecting localities as well as
botanical notes and plant descriptions from Asa Gray and John Torrey.
A collection of letters to and from individuals other than John Torrey,
(some of which pre-date Torrey's birth) are also contained in the collection.
It is not clear how Torrey came to possess these letters.
Manuscripts of Torrey's Florula Princetoniana and Calendarium
florae for the vicinity of New York have been cataloged and reside
in the Rare Book Room. The collection also contains some artwork drawn
by John Torrey himself, and other drawings he used as a reference for his
identification work. The artwork from Torrey's Plants of New York
for the Cabinet at Albany and Genera of Fungi were drawn by John
Torrey. Other drawings include "'Figures of Hepaticae' copied from Hooker's
great work", Musci exotici. The artwork has been removed
to the New York Botanical Garden Art and Illustration collection - Collection
#60. John Torrey's vasculum is also contained within the collection.
Series 1: Correspondence - Incoming, 1819-1872
- Outgoing, 1818-1873
Series 2: Unrelated Letters(to and from others) 1768-1859
Series 3: Botanical Miscellany, notes and varia, 1784-1853
Series 4: Fremont Expeditions, 1843-1853
Series 5: Manuscripts and Artwork
Series 6: Artifacts, n.d.
Series 1: Correspondence
Incoming correspondence, 1819-1872
3.5 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
This section of the series contains correspondence of botanical interest
from over 350 correspondents, including students and colleagues. Notable
correspondents include: George Bentham, Jacob Bigelow, John Carey, Alvan
Wentworth Chapman, William Cooper, Moses Curtis Ashley, William Darlington,
Chester Dewey, Andrew Jackson Downing, Elie Durand, Amos Eaton, William
Emory, George Englemann, Asa Gray, Joseph Henry, William Hooker,
Peter Knieskern, Charles Parry, John Riddell, Lewis David von Schweinitz,
Benjamin Silliman, and Edward Tuckerman.
Outgoing correspondence, 1818-1873
2 lin. in. Arranged by recipient.
The second section consists of correspondence from John Torrey to friends
and colleagues on botanical topics, including publications and plant identifications,
particularly from botanical explorations of the southwestern and western
Series 2: Unrelated Letters, 1768-1859
This series contains letters to and from individuals other than John
Torrey, found within or deposited in the Torrey collection. There are 38
folders with letters to 18 recipients. These letters are neither
to nor from Torrey.
Series 3: Botanical Miscellany, 1784-1853.
Notes, resolutions, obituaries, and some subject files on botanical
subjects make up Series 3. Of particular interest is a note "on the origin
of Herbaria" by Ernest Meyer, and "Notes on the Darlingtonia californica."
Series 4: Fremont Expeditions, 1843-1853.
Plant lists, notes, and some letters between Asa Gray and John Torrey
relating to the second and third Fremont expeditionscan be found here.
Series 5: Manuscripts and Artwork, ca. 1818-1873
In this series are manuscripts of Torrey's Florula Princetoniana
florae for the vicinity of New York. The artwork includes the drawings
from Torrey's Plants of New York, drawn by Torrey for the Cabinet
at Albany. Other drawings include "'Figures of Hepaticae' copied from Hooker's
great work," and Genera of Fungi by John Torrey, and other small,
miscellaneous drawings. Of particular note is the original drawing of the
Darlingtonia californica (pitcher plant) by Isaac Sprague.
Series 6: Artifact, n. d.
The only item in this series is John Torrey's vasculum.
The bulk of the Torrey collection was transferred to The New York Botanical
Garden from Columbia University when the Torrey herbarium and library were
transferred. Additions were incorporated over the years by purchases of
N. L. Britton and J. H. Barnhart and donations from the collection of J.
J. Crooke. A few items were donated by Raymond Torrey, and some letters
were removed from New York Botanical Garden Herbarium specimens and incorporated
into the collection.
The New York Botanical Garden
PP Papers of William Baldwin
PP Papers of Lewis David von Schweinitz
PP Papers of William Leggett
RA Torrey Botanical Club Records
ART Drawings from the Pacific R.R. Reports
Missouri Botanical Garden
George Engelmann Papers
Asa Gray Papers
Joseph Henry Papers
Silliman Family Papers. 1819-1864
William Hemsley Emory Papers, 1811-1887
Daniel Cady Eaton Papers
American Philosophical Society
John Torrey Papers, 1819-1864
Charles Witkins Short, Correspondence, 1813-1867
C.S. Rafinesque, Correspondence and Writings, 1808-1840
Asa Gray Papers
University of Rochester. Rush Rhees Library
Chester Dewey Papers
Processed by Susan Fraser, November 2000, 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
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, New York 10458-5126
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