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Job Bicknell Ellis
by NYBG Herbarium Intern Jamie Ahn

In the Beginning…

Job Bicknell Ellis, son of Freeman Ellis and Sarah Bicknell and tenth child of 14 was born on January 21, 1829 in Potsdam, New York (Kaye, 29). He attended local schools and worked on the farm with his father until he the age of 16, becoming a teacher at the winter school of a nearby village in Stockholm. He grew up as a spiritualist as seen in his later work as a mycologist and collector. His education started in 1849 at Union College in Schenectady, New York; dropping out to teach at a school until the funds ran out and then going back to graduate in 1951 (Kaye, 29). Ellis then spent several years as a classics tutor and farmer throughout the Northeast.

The Makings of a Mycologist

Having no formal training as a botanist or mycologist, Ellis's work and knowledge grew progressively. Studying under Edward Tuckerman, a lichenologist, and Charles H. Peck, a mycologist, at Union College Ellis became interested in mycology attending collection trips with his professors (Kaye, 30). He then started corresponding with Henry William Ravenel, an established mycologist in North Carolina and author of the first set of dried specimen, Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati, in North America (Kaye 30). Ravenel changed the direction of Ellis's life, assisting and educating Ellis in mycology over the years. Ellis would send sets of specimen for Ravenel to identify and in return would be given determinations and advice on collecting techniques. Ellis's mycological library grew as well, being introduced to several literatures such as Fries' Elenchus Fungorum, Epicrisis mycologici, and R. K. Greville's 5-volume Scottish Cryptogamic Flora (1823-1827) (Kaye, 30). Ravenel also introduced to Ellis the necessity of sending undescribed specimen to recognized European mycologists being that the Americas were too new and too limited in the field of mycology and needed help from the more established Europeans.

1856-1865: Marriage and the Civil War

April 19, 1856 Ellis married Arvilla J. Bacon who became his life partner, not only as a wife but also in his becoming a pioneer mycologist in the North America by assisting him in the basic needs of assembling duplicate sets of exsiccate (Kaye, 32). July 12, 1857 daughter Cora was born and in spring of 1858 the Ellis family moved to Ogdensburg, N.Y. with plans to move to Minnesota but was not carried out because of traveling complications (Kaye, 32). Moving back to Potsdam, the Ellis family purchased land to build a house and establish a farm. Ellis resumed teaching school until September 1864 when Ellis entered the Union Navy and served on the steam frigate Susquehanna of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron when the Civil War broke out (Kaye 32). This period of his life was considered the most thoroughly documented because of his letters to his wife and the diary he kept that was published later on. His accounts on the sea were well described, though he was sick most of the time due to sea sickness or bad colds. December 29, 1865 after the fort was taken he taught school again, wrote poetry, studied German, and sent instructions to Mrs. Ellis on managing the farm. Even during the time of war Ellis managed to do a little mycology and was later discharged on May 18, 1865 (Kaye 34).

Next: Job Bicknell Ellis, 1865-1878: Back to Mycology
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