A Letter from William Bartram, 1792

William Bartram to Benjamin Smith Barton

Responding to a missing letter from Barton, inquiring about medicines and remedies among Indian groups in the Carolinas down to Florida that Bartram had visited during his botanical explorations. With the letter Barton sent a book on Indian lore.

Spelling is as in the original.

Kingsessring [Pennsylvania]
December 29, 1792
My engenius, worthy Friend

I received thy Letter this Week dated, 1st Decembr, together with the Book, which are exceedingly pleasing to me, I shall peruse this fine Volume, and be carefull, untill I return it to Thee
. . .
St. Augustine in E[as]t Florida was call’d by the Spaniards the Montpelear of America [the French city of Montpellier was famed as a center of medical study and teaching] on account of Its healthiness. The Sick & Valitudonarean of Hispaniola & Cuba we(n)t there to recover their health & vigour, tho this city is situated very low; & close to the water; & on the land side surrounded by Marshes. Swamps, & wet Savanas. all their Wells yielded a brackish disagreeable Water.

But to remidy this distressing evel the proprietor of every Dwelling in the City who were able to go to the expence, constructed a Cistern of stone & Lime in the Center of his house, which open’d at top of the terrac’d Roof, which being there lowest, conducted the Rain waterthat fell on the roof, into the Cisterrn; having two or 3 large driping Stones plac’d one under the other in a cool Vault adjoining the Cistern, where this Water was constantly filtering for the Use of the Family. This Water was as transparent pleasant. & cool, in this hot Climate as that which springs from Rocks or a Fountaln in Cooler Regions. & undoubtedly as healthy. The Spaniards of St. Augustine were remarkebiy temperate in the use of Wines & Ardent Sperits, this purified Rain Water, being their favorite drink’

25th this day vast Flights of Plglons are teding on Acorns in the Woods. they were observed 2 or 3 days past in great Flocks, coming from [south], their course NE[ast]. Red head Woodpecker . . . We see, & flocks of Ampelis, (Cedar Bird) every day, they visit us now to partake of Thy  favourite Fruite diospyros [probably a kind of persimmon], as do Robins . . . .They & Rubicula americana [bluebirds], entertain us every morning with their greatful benevolent songs, as in the Spring Seasorn; regulus crestatus [goldcrested wren], & the Ruby crown, wren . . . & some other winged Guests from the North, appear in the Trees in the Garden every Day–

The wild Pigeon (Columba migratoria) returning from the So[uth]. at this season.  and Red head woodpecker staying so long with us, seem to indicate a mild winter,

But why should the movements of these Creatures afford us any Admonition, or instruction; do they understand any thing of Metaphysicks, Astronomy or Philosophy? Why not, I say they are ingenious little Philosophers, & my esteemed Associates

Can any man of sense & candour, who has the use of his eyes, Rational faculty, doubt that Animals are rational creatures? Man undoubtedly excells all the inhabitants or creatures of this World. Not only in the Organisation & Figure of his Body or Person, but also in his intellectual System, particularly in variety, expansion, and powers, but if we compare the Moral System of the two Orders & decide impartially, we must in many instances give preference to Animals which we hold beneath US. Animals seldom err in their choice of food (& consequently are healthy &c), what ever concerns, the Senses & Appetites, & seldomer transgress the rules of Moderation & decency, & they often set us examples worthy of our imitation with respect civil concerns &c.

For instance with regard to National Warr’s, social sports, and divertisements, Can —any action, affair or concern, strike our understanding with more decisive, & forceble Ideas of Madness, Brutality, Wretchedness, & depravity of Nature, than National Wars? surely we cannot possebly assume any degree of divinity, or dignity in our present Nature, while we approve of it, or the sheding of human blood under any pretence whatsoever. Is it not in every respect contrary to every ones notion if Right Reason, in the blissful moments of Peace, charity, & cool freflection? Contrary to the designs & of Creation, but yet more dreadfull to remember or recollect!    a most daring transgression of the command and Will of God, the Creator & Universal socereign, to whome all creatures are accountable for their designs & Actions.

Is it not, my Friend remarkeble,very remarkeble, how cautious, even Great men  and Philosophers are of allowing to Aninials the power& use of Reason. They seem to put invention to the Rack in endeavouring to establish Terms, to exclude from them the possession of that divine faculty, diffused impartially throughout all Animal Nature. What are they afraid of?  That the Sperits of Animals will rise up in judgmentagainst them for killing and eating of them?

However I must acknowledge a Trait in the Character of your Worthy engeneous  Correspondent Mr. Pennant, which you will not he surprised at, places him very high in my estimation Where he gives a Beautifull History of Matacilla Sutoria [the Tailor bird of South India-Sri Lanka, so called because it sews leaves together to make its nest] Tho he does not expressly allow that admirable bird the faculty of Reason, as a guide & director in its ingenious performances, Yet he says he’s ‘Heaven instructed,’ which in my judgment is equal to Reason if notthe same. Or perhaps inspiration.–

For how can any one recieve instruction from a preceptor, without consciousness, and an association of Ideas, which I suppose is entelligence & Reason.

I can assure Thee I am thy
Sincere Freind
Wm. Bartram


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