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Here you will find more garden history tales that surfaced
as I wrote This Wild Life

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Hannah English Williams

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“It is with noe small pleasure {that} I received ye collection of butterflies which you were pleased to send my by our worthy friend Major Halstead.”

Thus wrote the British apothecary James Petiver to
Hannah English Williams in 1701.

Mrs. Williams was one of the very first collectors of natural history objects in the American British colonies, and certainly the first known female naturalist. She would collect and send a number of plans, insects and birds from her land in South Carolina for study, recording and English naming. In fact three butterflies would be named after her: Williams’ Orange Girdle Carolina butterfly is known as the Viceroy as it closely mimics the Monarch. Williams’ Yellow Tip’t Carolina butterfly is popularly known as Dog’s Head, and Williams’ Selvedge-eyed Carolina butterfly is now known as Creole Pearly Eye.

Matthew English, Hannah’s first husband, came to the colonies in 1670 aboard the Carolina. It is believed she followed him shortly thereafter, and the couple settled near Charleston, South Carolina. Matthew died, and as a widow Hannah was granted 500 acres. She remarried William Williams and gained an additional 500 acres. She made great use of that land, studying and collecting for many years and sending specimens to James Petiver in London.

Petiver makes a wonderful cameo appearance in “This Wild Life.” A truly passionate collector and a big personality, he worked diligently in establishing relationships with travelers around the globe to supply him with natural history objects of all manner. Here, a letter from Petiver to one of his collectors: “Kind Friend: With noe less ardent desire am I possest to see the Shells you promist, then passionate Lover waits for Night or ye sooner appointed hour of his charming Mistress.“

Hannah and Petiver corresponded for years but sadly the most detailed mention of plants is the large collection that Hannah assembled for Petiver but could not send as she lacked the appropriate packing material (vellum) for the specimens to successfully make the sea voyage.

Knowing Petiver was an apothecary, she requested tonics to help with her spleen. He obliged by sending packets of Hysterick Pills. We do not hear from Hannah as to the success of his prescribed remedy but we do know he received from her a terribly intriguing object, a “Queen’s Petticoat made of Moss”. Intriguing and utterly mysterious, as any further revelations about this object has eluded me completely.

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