Benjamin Smith Barton
(February 10, 1766 –
December 19, 1815)
was an American botanist and physician.
studied at the York
Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania from 1780 to 1782, then attended the College of Philadelphia, studying
medicine under Thomas Shippen from
1784, and accompanying David
Rittenhouse on an expedition to survey the western boundary of
Pennsylvania in 1785, which aroused his interest in Native
In 1786 he transferred to the University of Edinburgh
, where he
stayed for two years before leaving as a result of disagreements
with two professors. He then moved to the University of
Göttingen, from which he obtained an M.D. in 1789.
graduation, Barton returned to the College of Philadelphia as an
instructor, which would soon (in 1791) merge with the University of
In 1790 he was appointed professor of
, and in 1795 chair of materia
. In 1813 he became chair of the theory and practice of
medicine following the death of Benjamin
, but continued to retain his position in natural history
and botany. Concurrently with his academic position, he
served as a physician at Pennsylvania Hospital from 1798 through his death in 1815.
In 1803 Barton published Elements of botany, or Outlines of the
natural history of vegetables
, the first American handbook of
botany. From 1798-1804, he published a work on plants for medical
Barton was also interested in anatomy
, and published Memoir Concerning
the Fascinating Faculty Which Has been Ascribed to the
in 1796. In 1803 he published a comparative study
of linguistics, Etymology of Certain English Words and on Their
Affinity to Words in the Languages of Different European, Asiatic
and American (Indian) Nations
and a text on the origin of the
first American people, New Views of the Origin of the Tribes
and Nations of America
(1797). He was the editor of
Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal (1805-1808), one of the
oldest scientific publications of the United States.
Barton made one significant contribution to the field of archaeology
as well. Although his
Observations on Some Parts of Natural History in 1787
incorrectly attributed the prehistoric mounds
of Ohio to the Danish people,
his 1797 book (mentioned above) correctly identifies the Mound builders as Native
While he was not the first to make this claim, he
may have been the first to suggest a significant age to the mounds,
speculating that they may have been older than James Ussher
's famous Biblical chronology.
Barton also correctly guessed that Native Americans had an Asian
vice president of the American Philosophical Society from 1802 to his death, and president of the
Society from 1808 to his death.
In 1812, he was elected
a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of
.He died of tuberculosis in New York City.
, his author
His older brother, William
, was also a member of the American Philosophical
Society. His maternal uncle, David
, served as the Society's second president after the
death of founder Benjamin Franklin
- Joseph Ewan and Nesta Dunn Ewan (2007). Benjamin Smith
Barton, Naturalist and Physician in Jeffersonian America. St.
Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press. ISBN 978-1930723351