The Natural World Observed

Buenaventura Suarez, S.J., Lunar eclipse observations made at San Cosme, Paraguay, 5 April 1708.  Acquired 1953 (MSS 4530-a)

A native of Argentina, Suarez arrived at the Jesuit mission at San Cosme, Paraguay, in 1703. There, with aid from Guaraní Indians, he constructed a refracting telescope out of cane, wood, iron, and rock crystal. Over the next four decades Suarez surveyed the heavens from his observatory in San Cosme’s bell tower. This unrecorded broadside was printed at the famous mission press established a few years earlier at Loreto by Father Juan Bautista Neumann, using a locally made press and crude types. Suarez enclosed copies in his extensive correspondence with European astronomers, who regarded his work highly.

Mark Catesby, Appendix for "The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands," ca. 1747-February 18, 1748.  Acquired 1953 (MSS 4530)

 The McGregor Library includes not only the second (1754) and third (1771) editions of Catesby’s Natural History, but also the original manuscript for the “Appendix” to the second edition. It (and the Suarez broadside shown elsewhere in this case) were acquired with a collection of scientific papers preserved by Cromwell Mortimer, secretary of the Royal Society of London from 1730-1752 and editor of its Philosophical Transactions. The Royal Society and Cromwell were instrumental in publishing Catesby’s work. The manuscript bears Cromwell’s edits and his concluding note: “This ends the most magnificent work I know of since the art of printing has been discover’d.” 

Jan Frederik Gronovius, Flora virginica exhibens plantas quas v.c. Johannes Clayton in Virginia observavit atque collegit. Leiden: Cornelius Haak, 1743.  Acquired 2002 (A 1743 .G76)

After Mark Catesby’s return to England in 1719, his pioneering research on Virginia plants was taken up by John Clayton, clerk of Gloucester County and an accomplished amateur botanist. The many skillfully described botanical specimens that Clayton collected and sent to Catesby in England during the 1730s were forwarded to Leiden, where they were intensively studied by Jan Frederik Gronovius and the great Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. When published in 1743, Clayton’s edited notes comprised the first comprehensive flora of Virginia; a second edition (1762) extended its range west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jonathan Carver, A Treatise on the Culture of the Tobacco Plant. London: Printed for the Author, 1779.  Acquired 1956 (A 1779 .C374)

A Massachusetts shoemaker, surveyor, and militia captain, Carver is best known for an expedition he led in search of the Northwest Passage. Departing in 1766 from Fort Michilimackinac in upper Michigan, Carver mapped large swaths of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and eastern Iowa before returning over a year later. Carver then settled in London, where he published a best-selling description of the upper Midwest and its Native American inhabitants in 1778. The following year, at the height of the American Revolution, Carver published this work on tobacco cultivation, arguing that tobacco-starved Britain could replace Virginia leaf with homegrown product.


Charles Cramer, Etwas über die Natur wunder in Nord America. St. Petersburg: Buchdruckery des Ministerium des Innern, 1837.  Acquired 1951 (A 1837 .C735)

A Russian merchant, diplomat, amateur geologist, and secretary of the Imperial Mineralogical Society of St. Petersburg, Cramer traveled extensively throughout the United States during the 1820s and 1830s. On his return to Russia he published this pioneering survey of North American “natural wonders” in two volumes. This first volume describes some sixty notable caves—a dozen in Virginia alone—in addition to Niagara Falls and Virginia’s Natural Tunnel and Natural Bridge. The lithographed illustrations are after sketches drawn by Cramer’s wife.