The garden was to be modeled after the physick and botanical gardens at Oxford and Chelsea in England. The Society of Apothecaries had set up a model garden for medical plants in the seventeenth century. The garden in Savannah was also intended as an agricultural experiment station for the semitropical products,
Viniculture was promoted in particular by Philip Miller, chief gardener of the physick garden in Chelsea, but the noble grape vines would not flourish, despite the abundance of local grapes. Similar difficulties were encountered in the growth of imported fruit trees, chestnuts, and olives. One of the early gardeners, Joseph Fitzwalter, favored useful crops such as hops for beer and flax and hemp for naval riggings, but little came of these experiments.
One of the major reasons for the lack of agricultural success was the climate. Contrary to the assumptions of the Trustees and their advisors, Georgia was not subtropical but subject to considerable temperature fluctuations, particularly during the early spring. In addition, there was a lack of skilled labor. Silk making in Savannah was beset by constant strife between the Italian experts and local authorities; only in the German settlement of Ebenezer, with its centralized governance and economy, were silkworms raised consistently on settlers' plots. But although the wife of the minister there set up a reputable sericulture that provided spun silk for fishing lines until the nineteenth century, neither wine nor useful and consistent yields of flax and hemp were obtained in the colony.
Medical Botanicals and Dyestuffs
The main objective of the garden was to serve as the experimental site for a reliable source of exotic botanicals from the Spanish Americas, in particular Jesuit or Peruvian bark (later known as the antimalarial quinine), which was in widespread demand for its fever-quenching properties. Demand was also high for ipecacuhana, an emetic, and cochineal, a plant parasite yielding the scarlet dye used for military uniforms and court dress. The Spanish had severely restricted the export of drugs and dyes that could challenge their monopoly, and Georgia seemed an excellent place to circumvent these restrictions.
Therefore, the physick garden was specifically sponsored by three major players in the drug trade of the first half of the eighteenth century. The first, the Society of Apothecaries, was a powerful company and guild entitled by royal charter to supply London and environs with drugs. It also held a monopoly to supply drugs, first to the navy and then to the East India Company, through a special stock of drugs prepared on the premises of the society.
The third, Charles DuBois, was a treasurer of the East India Company, which was well represented on the Trustee Council. (It was no coincidence that tropical spices, on whose import into England the East India Company held a monopoly, were not included in the plans for the garden.)
Special funds were set aside for botanist William Houstoun in 1732 and after his death in Jamaica, for Robert Millar in 1734. The money was to finance travel across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea down to the northern coast of Brazil and the collection of specimen for trans-shipment to Georgia. Although unsuccessful in wresting Jesuit bark and cochineal specimens from the Spanish, Miller sent contrayerva and Peruvian and Capivi balsam to his brother in London. Subsequent exports from Georgia to London did include local and Indian plant drugs, such as jalap, sassafras, snakeroot, and sumac. The German element at Ebenezer, however, did not contribute to the search for local drugs because they were supplied with proprietary medications from Germany.
Despite its brief and spotty success and its decline by the 1740s, the Trustee Garden in Savannah was characteristic of eighteenth-century scientific and utilitarian interest in the natural world. As an early transatlantic enterprise, its founders prefigured the independent American botanists of the end of the century.
Kenneth Coleman, Colonial Georgia: A History (New York: Scribner, 1976).
David L. Cowen, "The Trustees' Garden at Savannah," Georgia Pharmacist Quarterly (spring 1983): 3-5.
Penelope Hunting, A History of the Society of Apothecaries (London: The Society, 1998).
Joseph Krafka Jr., "An Account of the Attempt of the Society of Apothecaries to Establish the Drug Trade in Colonial Georgia," Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association 28, no. 9 (1939): 616-19.
Frank P. Rossiter, The History of Trustees' Garden Village, Savannah, Georgia, 1733-1952 ([Savannah, Ga.]: n.p., 1953).
Renate Wilson, Pious Traders in Medicine: A German Pharmaceutical Network in Eighteenth-Century North America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).
Renate Wilson, "Public Works and Piety: The Missing Salzburger Diaries for 1744-1745," Georgia Historical Quarterly 77 (summer 1993): 336-66.
Renate Wilson, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
David L. Cowan, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
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