Ord, George, 1781-1866

Alternative names
Birth 1781
Death 1866-01-24

Biographical notes:

George Ord was a naturalist and philologist. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1817.

From the description of Correspondence, 1844-1852, to Titian Ramsay Peale. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122632852

From the description of Notes, [n.d.], on the use of French verbs. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122380137

Ord was a naturalist and philologist.

From the description of George Ord letters to Charles Waterton, 1833-1850. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 86118697

American naturalist and philologist.

From the description of ALS, 1844 Nov. 14, Philadelphia, to George Mifflin Dallas, Philadelphia. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122540630

George Ord was a naturalist and philologist; he was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1817.

From the guide to the George Ord notes, [n.d.], on the use of French verbs, n.d., (American Philosophical Society)

From the guide to the George Ord correspondence, 1844-1852, to Titian Ramsay Peale, 1844-1852, (American Philosophical Society)

George Ord was a naturalist and philologist.

From the description of Extracts from letters on John James Audubon, [n.d.]. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 86165412

From the description of Letters, 1832-1864, to Charles Waterton. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122632808

From the guide to the Extracts from letters on John James Audubon, [n.d.], n.d., (American Philosophical Society)

George Ord (1781-1866, APS 1817) was a naturalist, ornithologist, and writer. He completed the eighth and ninth volumes of Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology after Wilson’s death, and he described and formally named several of the specimens returned by the Lewis and Clark expedition. However, Ord is perhaps best known for his animosity towards ornithologist John James Audubon (1785-1851, APS 1831).

Ord was born in 1781 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father George Ord, a retired sea captain, was a ship chandler and rope maker. His mother was Rebecca Lindemeyer. Ord joined his father in his business in 1800 and continued in the business after his father's death in 1806. He retired in 1829, wealthy enough to allow him a comfortable life devoted to the pursuit of his scholarly interests. While there is no reliable record of his early formal education, he evidently became interested in the study of science and literature at a young age. In 1804 Ord married Margaret Biays, daughter of the Baltimore rope maker and shipbuilder Joseph Biays. Before Margaret died in 1808, the couple had two children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. Ord apparently remarried; however, information about this marriage is lacking.

Shortly after his first marriage, Ord made the acquaintance of the Scottish poet and naturalist Alexander Wilson (1766-1813, APS 1813), who had lived in Pennsylvania since 1794. The two men became close friends, and Ord accompanied Wilson on some of his expeditions around Philadelphia and New Jersey. When Wilson died in 1813, Ord was left to finish the final two volumes of Wilson's illustrated nine-volume American Ornithology .

Ord contributed numerous articles that appeared in the scientific periodicals of the day, including the British Annals and Magazine of Natural History, the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, and the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia . His essay on American zoology in William Guthrie’s New Geographical and Commercial Grammar (1815) imposed, for the first time, binomial scientific names on several species of American birds and mammals. In this “first systematic Zoology of America by an American,” Ord described several of the specimens from the Lewis and Clark Expedition that Meriwether Lewis had deposited at Peale’s Museum at Thomas Jefferson’s behest. Moreover, Ord was able to draw on information furnished by Henry Brackenridge that came from the journals of Lewis and Clark. Ord eventually wrote the first scientific taxonomies of ten specimens returned by the expedition, more than any other individual. They included the black-tailed prairie dog ( Arctomys ludoviciana ) and Ursus horribilis, better known as the grizzly bear.

Ord himself undertook only one extended scientific expedition. In 1817 he joined Thomas Say (1787-1834, APS 1817) and Titian Ramsey Peale (1799-1885, APS 1833) on a trip led by William Maclure (1763-1840) and funded by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia to collect specimens in Georgia and Florida. The “Florida Party,” as the group was frequently called in Academy records, undertook what would be the first private, museum sponsored exploration in the United States. The aim was to collect specimens, make them available for study, and publicize the findings in lectures and the Academy’s new journal. The Academy hoped that this would put the institution on par with its European counterparts.

In addition to his interest in the natural sciences, Ord also had a passion for literature and philology. This is reflected in the assistance he gave to Noah Webster (1758-1843, APS 1827) in the completion of his dictionary. In addition, Robert Gordon Latham used an extensive manuscript completed by Ord in his revision of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary in 1870. Ord also wrote biographies of fellow naturalists Thomas Say and Charles A. Lesueur.

Despite these publications, Ord is mostly remembered for his less than friendly relationship with John James Audubon. In fact, Ord detested Audubon, calling him a "impudent pretender" and "neither a scholar nor philosopher." He described Audubon's book Birds of America as "stupid" and thought that his illustrations were "vile." After Audubon's death, Ord wrote that he believed his autobiography was a "fable" and that "little reliance can be placed on his [Audubon's] narrative." Audubon was not the only ornithologist to receive harsh words from Ord. Ord once wrote that the botanist and naturalist Thomas Nuttall was a "presumptuous ass" who deserved the "lash." Ord was known for his unkind words and strong opinions. His efforts to discredit Audubon in particular may have stemmed from his desire to preserve the claim to preeminence for Wilson. Indeed, Ord published a tribute to his late friend and mentor, titled Sketch of the Life of Alexander Wilson, in 1828, just when Audubon was beginning to publish his Birds of America .

Ord’s scientific contributions were widely recognized. In 1815 he became a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, serving as curator of their collections (1815-1817), vice-president (1816-1834), and on their publications committee (1817-1821, 1832, 1833). In 1817 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, serving as secretary (1820-1827), vice president (1832-1835), councilor (1839), treasurer (1842-1847), and librarian (1842-1848). He was also a member of the Linnaean Society of London. He was president of the ANS from 1851 to 1858, a position that he "never sought after." He accepted the election despite of his age and "infirmities," and his "habits of retirement," which had rendered him "averse to company and the turmoil of life." In his later life he plunged further into the life of a recluse with each passing year. His health was not always good; he suffered from poor eyesight and regular bouts of influenza. He died in 1866 in Philadelphia and is buried in Philadelphia next to his friend and mentor Alexander Wilson.

From the guide to the George Ord Collection, 1831-1864, (American Philosophical Society)

José Francisco Correia da Serra (1750–1823, APS 1812) was an abbot, diplomat, scholar and botanist. In his work as a botanist he was particularly concerned with the systematic classification of vegetable species. Thomas Jefferson described him as “profoundly learned in several branches of science he was so above all others in that of Botany; in which he preferred an amalgamation of the methods of Linnaeus [1707-1778, APS 1769] and of Jussieu [1686-1758] to either of them exclusively.” Correia spent many years of his life in France, England and the United States where he made the acquaintance of leading European and American intellectual leaders of the time.

Correia was born in Serpa, Portugal, to the physician and lawyer Luis Dias Correia and Francisca Luisa da Serra. In 1756 the family was forced to leave Portugal because the elder Correia’s scientific work had incurred the displeasure of the Holy Office. They settled in Naples, Italy, where the boy came under the tutelage of the abbé and university professor of “Commerce and mechanics” Antonio Genovesi (1712-1769), a major force in the Neapolitan Enlightenment. During this time Correia was also taught in natural history by the botanist Luis Antonio Verney (1713-1792). In 1772 Correia moved to Rome where he studied at the University and other institutions. By that time he was already corresponding with Carl Linnaeus, in Latin. He also made the acquaintance of Don John Carlos of Braganza, second Duke of Lafoens, a member of the Portuguese royal family. The Duke became Correia’s friend and patron.

In 1775 Correia was ordained a Presbyterian abbot; two years later he received the degree of Doctor of Laws. However, it was clear that Correia’s real interest was natural history, especially botany, and that he did not plan to pursue a life in the church. In fact, some of his biographers have suggested that he focused on ecclesiastical studies mainly in order to protect himself in his scientific work from potential suspicions by the Inquisition. Whatever the case, in early 1778 the young abbé, with encouragement from the duke, who hoped to encourage scientific research in Portugal, moved to Lisbon. There he turned his attention to scholarly pursuits and diplomacy.

Correia and the duke set out right away to organize the Royal Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, a learned institution that was dedicated to the advancement of science. Correia also conducted botanical research. He spent the period from 1786 to about 1788 outside of Portugal, and while his activities during this period remain unclear, there is evidence that he visited Rome. In the mid-1790s, after his return to his native country, he began the task of editing what would be the first three of five volumes of Colleccao de livros ineditos da historia Portugueza, an extensive collection of documents.

In 1795 political difficulties compelled Correia to leave Portugal. The Royal Academy and many of its members were viewed with suspicion by certain ecclesiastical groups, especially after Correia befriended the French naturalist and Girondist Peter Marie Auguste Broussonet (1761-1807), who had taken refuge in Portugal. Armed with letters of introduction to several British scientists, Correia traveled to London. He soon became the protégé of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820, APS 1787), president of the Royal Society, who facilitated Correia’s election to the Society. He also was welcomed by James Edward Smith (1759-1828, APS 1796), president of the Linnean Society. By then, Correia was already publishing on various natural science topics, especially botany, which contributed to his growing reputation as a naturalist.

For about one year during his residence in London, Correia also served as Secretary to the Portuguese embassy. However, tensions with the conservative Minister compelled him to depart from England in 1802. In the summer of that year, Correia moved to Paris. There he made the acquaintance of leading scientists and other public figures. The list includes Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours (1739–1817, APS 1800), the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834, APS 1781), Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859, APS 1804), the French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), Augustin Pyrame de Candolle (1778-1841, APS 1841), and André Thouin (1746-1824), superintendent of the Jardin du Roi, now known as Jardin des Plantes, in Paris. Correia also met Esther Delavigne, who eventually became his lover.

Of particular importance to Correia was his extensive correspondence with friends in Portugal that he maintained throughout his time in London, Paris and then the United States. Through his contact with them he hoped to bring the latest scientific ideas and discoveries to his mother country. His letters are filled with news of new vaccines, maritime maps, instruments, and anything else that he thought might serve to aid the progress of Portugal. Correia’s wide-ranging contacts with fellow botanists made him an important intermediary in the exchanges between naturalists in different parts of the world. In 1807 his own government recognized his contributions by making him a Knight of the Order of Christ.

Overall, Correia’s time in Paris was happy and fruitful. However, life as a liberal under Napoleon was not easy, and Correia soon began to explore the possibility of relocating once again, this time to the United States. Finally, in the winter of 1811, the abbé was aboard the U.S.S. Constitution, on his way to what would become a particularly interesting period in his life.

Correia arrived in Washington, D. C., in early 1812, and he did not lose time in making the acquaintance of leading Americans, including President James Madison. He was anxious to visit Thomas Jefferson but owing to the fact that Philadelphia was the intellectual center of the new nation, he decided to establish himself there first. His European friends had already announced Correia’s imminent arrival to several prominent Philadelphians, including the physicians Benjamin Rush (1745-1813, APS 1768) and Caspar Wistar (1761-1818, APS 1787), and John Vaughan (1756–1841, APS 1784), the treasurer and librarian of the American Philosophical Society. The abbé was elected a member of the Society in January of 1812, before his arrival in the city. He became close friends with Vaughan who soon handled his business affairs and advised him in all kinds of matters. Correia also got to know the botanist Henry Muhlenberg (1753-1815, APS 1785), who introduced him to the physician and botanist Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879, APS 1818). And he reconnected with several Philadelphians he knew from his time in Paris, including the lawyer and financier Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844, APS 1813), and William Short (1759-1849, APS 1804), Jefferson’s private secretary in Paris. Life in Philadelphia was clearly enjoyable for the Portuguese exile but he remained anxious to visit “the great the truly great Mr. Jefferson.” In July of 1813 he left for Virginia for the first of what would eventually be seven visits over a period of about eight years.

Jefferson had been introduced to Correia in glowing letters from Lafayette, Du Pont, Thouin, and Humboldt. It is not surprising, then, that Jefferson received the visitor with warmth and great expectations. They were not disappointed. Jefferson described his guest as “the best digest of science in books, men, and things that I have ever met with; and with these the most amiable and engaging character.” The room in which Correia stayed during his visits to Monticello, the North Square Room, is still known as the Abbé’s room. Correia spent much of his time in Virginia on rambles through the country, often in the company of Thomas Mann Randolph (1768-1828, APS 1794). His interest in natural history eventually also took him to Kentucky, Georgia and north to the Canadian border.

Through Jefferson, Correia made the acquaintance of Francis Walker Gilmer (1790-1826), a promising young man who readily accepted the abbé’s invitation to accompany him on his excursions. In 1816 President Madison asked the two men to deliver a letter from him to the agent of the Cherokee, in the southeastern United States. In the course of their journey through South Carolina and Georgia, they made extensive botanical notations, and Gilmer also recorded several pages of Cherokee vocabulary.

In 1816 Correia received news of his appointment as Portuguese minister-plenipotentiary at Washington, D. C. His expectation that this post would not interfere with his scientific pursuits turned out to be mistaken, even though he never spent more than half a year in the nation’s capital. From the start he was forced to deal with complaints about privateers flying foreign flags who were threatening the Portuguese colonies in South America. The fear was that these privateers, many of whom were American, could encourage and aid a rebellion in Brazil. Correia successfully lobbied the U. S. government for a Neutrality Act that was designed to curb these actions.

In the late 1810s, increasing worries about the turn of Portuguese-American affairs and serious health problems gradually made the abbé’s temper shorter and his spirits lower. He also ultimately became a severe critic of America and Americans, an attitude that contributed to his estrangement from some of his older American friends. However, he also found comfort in new relationships with, for example, the English-born chemist and lawyer Thomas Cooper (1759-1839, APS 1802). Most significantly, Edward Joseph, his fifteen-year old son with his lover Esther Delavigne arrived in the United States from Paris in 1818. Edward, who stayed with his father until their return to Europe, got to know many of his Philadelphia friends quite well. In 1820 father and son sailed from the United States for Portugal via London, a year after Correia had learned of his appointment as Counselor of State for Brazil. Correia spent the last three years of his life in Lisbon, “covered with honors,” as his son Edward wrote in a letter to John Vaughan. He died in Lisbon in 1823.

Correia published many essays and reports on botany in the leading European and American scientific journals of his time. His research centered on the systematic classification of vegetable species. In his work he attempted to apply the methods of compared anatomy of zoology to botany; he sought to group plants into families based on their similarities. His concept of symmetry was later adopted and developed by Candolle. While Correia was not “a member of every philosophical society in the world,” as his young protégé Gilmer wrote enthusiastically in a letter to his brother, he did belong to numerous learned societies. They included the Royal Society, the Linnean Society, the Academy of Science of Paris, and the Société Philomatique. He also offered several courses in botany at the American Philosophical Society.

From the guide to the José Francisco Correia da Serra papers, 1772-1827, 1772-1827, (American Philosophical Society)


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