Lewis and Barton

Benjamin Smith Barton, professor of natural history

Photo credit: University Archives

Before Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their famous expedition to the Pacific, Lewis first traveled to Philadelphia to purchase clothing, weapons, cartographical equipment and goods to trade with the Native Americans.

He also came to learn a thing or two about botany, anatomy and navigation from some of Philadelphia’s—and Penn’s—brightest minds. Lewis met with several members of Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society, including Penn Vice Provost and math professor Robert Patterson, professor at Penn’s Institute of Medicine and Clinical Practice Benjamin Rush and, pictured at left, Benjamin Smith Barton, professor of natural history, botany and materia medica at the medical school. A friend of President Thomas Jefferson, Barton tutored Lewis on how to collect, describe and preserve plants—skills that would become crucial to Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Lewis even purchased a copy of Barton’s textbook, “Elements of Botany”—the first such text in the country—and carried it with him through the two-year expedition. Barton, who was the first in Philadelphia to erect a greenhouse, was also tapped to receive some of Lewis and Clark’s botanical specimens from the team’s travels.

For more on this and other notable moments in Penn history, go to the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu.

Originally published on June 12, 2008