Headline: First Book on Flowers Published in the U.S. Was Written by Elizabeth Washington Gamble Wirt

27 Jul

I love history. Sometimes in my research I stumble upon things that just send the Dopamine levels in my blood sky high. This discovery is one of them.

In researching the family lineage of Robert Gamble, Jr. who built the Gamble Plantation in Manatee County in the 1840s, I have found many notable Americans. His grandfather, for whom he is and many other men in his family are named—which, by the way, makes it incredibly difficult for researchers—was Col. Robert Gamble, a Revolutionary War hero and a successful and respected merchant in Virginia after the war. Robert Gamble, Jr. had a cousin, also named Robert, whose mother was Letitia Breckinridge. Her father was General James Breckinridge, Brigadier General in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He later became a U.S. Representative from his home state of Virginia. His brother, Letitia’s uncle, was John Breckinridge who served as U.S. Attorney General under none other than President Thomas Jefferson.

This is only the tip of the gathered research iceberg.

But, last night (or was it early this morning?) I found out something that I truly was astonished to see. Robert Gamble’s aunt, who was named by her father, Col. Robert Gamble, after his esteemed colleague General George Washington (I found the letter to prove it!) was an author. Yes. Elizabeth Washington Gamble married U.S. Attorney General William Wirt (see what I mean?) and in 1829 a book she had lovingly compiled for personal use had become so beloved by her friends that she could not keep up with the requests for copies. (Remember this is before computers and copy machines.) She was surprised to find a publisher in Boston who was more than happy to publish her little book. He even found the perfect illustrator for it. The book was highly successful.

This “little book” became what is reported to be the very first book on flowers published in America. Elizabeth’s book is entitled Flora’s Dictionary and it is still highly regarded as a botanical resource nearly 190 years later. In fact, the book has had numerous reprints and is still in print today. I just bought a paperback copy of it on Amazon. (What would she think of that?) Original, illustrated copies are listed for sale online to the tune of $3,500!

Illustrated Cover Page for Flora’s Dictionary, 1837 Edition. Click image to see the digital book.

Anyway… There is so much more I can say about this and probably will one day soon. But for now, I feel compelled to tell the world that when we talk about Robert Gamble at the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida we rarely delve into his family’s remarkable lineage. Visitors hear that he came from Virginia to Tallahassee then to Florida where his sugar plantation failed so he moved back to Tallahassee where he died. People learn that his family was wealthy, his father a banker… But there is SO MUCH more to tell. So many more, delightful, engaging facets, as is true with most any family. However, this family, even at a glance, seems a veritable Who’s Who in American History.

I am excited to share this family’s stories with you.

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Posted by on July 27, 2018 in Just Because


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