The Chester Botanist

#OTD On this day, April 23rd in 1863, botanist, physician and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, William Darlington died.

Like eminent botanists John Bartram, Humphry Marshall, and William Baldwin, Darlington was born in Pennsylvania as a Quaker. A native of West Chester, he received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As a student, Benjamin Barton, the author of the first American botany textbook, encouraged his interest in the subject.

After an appointment as a surgeon for an East India merchant, Darlington traveled to Calcutta. A year later, when he returned from India, he married Catharine Lacey, the daughter of a distinguished Revolutionary War General.

An abiding counselor and partner to William, they would be together for forty years; having four sons and four daughters. Their oldest son Benjamin Smith Barton Darlington and their youngest son William Baldwin Darlington were both named in honor of fellow botanists.

1826 was a big year for Darlington. He organized and presided over the Chester County Cabinet of Natural Sciences and he published his first edition of "Florula Cestrica," his catalog of plants in West Chester.

An archivist, Darlington worked to preserve correspondence and documents of Humphry Marshall and John Bartram; he compiled them into a book called, Memorials of Bartram and Marshall.

In 1853, the botanist John Torrey named a new and remarkable variety of pitcher-plant found in California for Darlington, calling it Darlingtonia californica. He had been similarly honored but Augustin de Candolle who named a genus after him.

Darlington's large herbarium and works were bequeathed to the Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science.

He was buried in the Oaklands Cemetery, near West Chester.

An epitaph in Latin is inscribed on his stone marker, written by Darlington some twenty years before his death:

"Plantae Cestrienses, quas dilexit atque illustravit, super tumulum ejus semper floreant" or May the plants of Chester, which he loved and documented, forever blossom over his grave.

And, Darlington's tombstone is crowned with a relief of Darlingtonia californica.


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William Darlington by John Neagle 1825
William Darlington by John Neagle 1825