Michaux, André, 1746-1802

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André Michaux was a French botanist and traveler.

From the guide to the Botanical journal in North America, 1787-1796, 1787-1796, (American Philosophical Society)

From the guide to the Documents on his botanizing in the United States, 1785-1807, 1785-1807, (American Philosophical Society)

André Michaux, French botanist, was the first botanical explorer to travel widely in North America. André Michaux's botanical career started off amidst difficult times; his wife had died during the birth of his son near the Palace of Versailles in 1770. He wanted to travel, and leave his old life behind, and he took his son, François André, to Paris. It was there that he studied and worked under the legendary French botanist Andre Thouin, who was considered the most knowledgeable man alive about the naturalization of foreign plants. Michaux traveled to England in late 1779 or early 1780 and from there he was assigned a trip to the U.S. to study botany on behalf of France, which had of course maintained close ties to the U.S. during the Revolution. He was the first to discover and describe hundreds of American plants; he also introduced many important foreign plants into American culture: camellias, the crape myrtle, the herb ginkgo biloba, and others. After his trip, Michaux published the definitive work Forests of North America. His son, François André became a bontanist and traveled and worked with his father.

From the description of Letters to André Thouin, 1786-1807. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 502286256

André Michaux was a French botanist and traveler.

From the description of Botanical journal in North America, 1787-1796. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 173466134

From the description of Letters and papers, 1783-1890. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 173466136

From the description of Documents on his botanizing in the United States, 1785-1807. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 173466138

From the description of Subscription list, 1793, for proposed exploration of the American West. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122578963

André Michaux (1749-1802) was a French botanist. He conducted extensive botanical expeditions through Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Michaux, who served as King’s Botanist for a time, is best known for his studies of American plants. He and his son François André Michaux (1770-1855, APS 1809), a botanist who accompanied his father on several expeditions, made the acquaintance of many prominent Europeans and North Americans of their time.

Michaux was born in 1749 on a royal farm near Versailles, France, of which his father André was manager. His mother was Marie-Charlotte Barbet (Barbée) Michaux. In addition to four years of formal education, young André received instruction in agricultural practices from his father. After his father’s death in 1763, Michaux managed the farm alongside his brother. His aptitude for growing difficult plants soon attracted the attention of influential members of the court of Louis XVI. Upon the recommendation of the king’s physician, Michaux decided to study botany. The death of his wife Cecil Claye after giving birth to their only child in 1770, just one year after their marriage, plunged Michaux into a deep depression. The naturalist Louis-Guillaume Le Monnier (1717-1799) recommended a sustained study how foreign plants could be grown in France as a way to occupy the heartbroken Michaux. Michaux followed the advice. He conducted experiments on his farm and later became a student of the French naturalist Bernard de Jussieu (1699-1777) at Trianon.

Michaux subsequently studied at the Jardin du Roi, now known as Jardin des Plantes in Paris. During this period, he made the acquaintance of many eminent scientists of the day, including the Garden’s long-time director Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte du Buffon (1707-1788, APS 1768), whose assertion of American degeneracy provoked an extensive rebuttal by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes . Michaux also met the Garden’s superintendent André Thouin (1746-1824), a friend and correspondent of Jefferson.

During his tenure at the Jardin du Roi, Michaux conducted extensive botanizing expedition throughout England, France and Spain. In 1782 he embarked on what would be a three-year journey through the Middle East to collect seeds and plants. His subsequent plan to explore the regions of Kashmir and Tibet was thwarted when the French government instead chose him to lead a scientific mission to the United States. The primary goal of the expedition was to search for plants that could be used in France, including new species of trees with which to replenish French forests. Prior to the journey Michaux was appointed King’s Botanist.

In 1785 Michaux departed for North America with a gardener and his fifteen-year old son François André. Michaux founded a nursery at Hackensack, New Jersey, and the next year established a base in Charleston, South Carolina, from which he launched expeditions through various parts of Canada and the United States, from Nova Scotia to Spanish Florida, into the Ohio River Valley, Kentucky, and the prairies of Illinois. While his main objective was the collection of plants, he also introduced several plants into North America, including the mimosa or silk tree, the crape myrtle, the tea plant, and the camellia. Michaux kept journals in which he recorded in great detail the conditions of travel, the day’s progress, and the plants he observed.

Michaux made contact with many leading Americans, including several prominent members of the American Philosophical Society. He met, for example, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington (1731-1799, APS 1780), John Bartram (1699-1777, APS 1768), and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826, APS 1780). In 1792, Jefferson enlisted the Society to sponsor Michaux to "find the shortest & most convenient route of communication between the U.S. & the Pacific Ocean." However, political complications prematurely ended the mission when Jefferson learned that Michaux apparently intended to aid the French Foreign Minister Edmond-Charles Genet (1763-1834) in his efforts to arouse support for France. The nature of the secret political mission that Michaux supposedly agreed to undertake is still largely unclear; in any event, the controversy left Michaux without support to complete the expedition.

Despite these difficulties and France’s diminishing ability to finance his work, Michaux continued with his botanical studies and travels in the United States for three more years. He was not only an astute observer of plants but he also was particularly skilled in questioning local people about their produce and agricultural practices. Indeed, a contemporary noted that Michaux “was not a Frenchman, an Englishman, or a Canadian, but everywhere one found him closer to the natives than any other foreigner would have been.”

In 1796 Michaux embarked from North America for France. Four weeks after his departure, his ship was wrecked off the coast of Holland. His herbarium was damaged, and he lost some of his manuscripts, but he arrived safely in Paris in December 1796. To his disappointment, he learned that most of the thousands of trees he had sent from North America had not survived the turmoil of the revolution. Furthermore, he was unable to secure funding that would have allowed him to return to the United States, as he had hoped.

Instead, for the next four years, Michaux focused on the cultivation of his collected plants and on preparing for publication his studies Oaks of North America (1801) and Flora of North America (1803). Finally, in 1800 Michaux set out for another expedition, this time to Australia. In 1801 he left ship at the island of Mauritius to study plant life there. In 1802 he went on to Madagascar where he died of a fever.

From the guide to the André Michaux letters and papers, 1783-1890, 1783-1890, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Genet, Edmond Charles, 1763-1834. Edmond Charles Genet papers, 1734-1895 (bulk 1789-1793). Library of Congress
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Letters to André Thouin, 1786-1807. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Botanical journal in North America, 1787-1796, 1787-1796 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Humboldt, Alexander von, 1769-1859. Papers, 1801-1859. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIa, 1743-1806 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Observations on Proposed Western Expedition, 1793 January 20, Philadelphia, [Pennsylvania]. William & Mary Libraries
referencedIn Savage, Henry, 1903-1990. Henry Savage papers, 1927-1994 (bulk 1933-1986). University of South Carolina, University Libraries
creatorOf [André Michaux, biographical materials] University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Penney, James Theophilus, 1900-1964. James Theophilus Penney papers, 1924-1990. University of South Carolina, University Libraries
referencedIn Kuralt, Charles, 1934-1997. André Michaux talk at Grandfather Mountain, Aug. 28, 1994 / [by Charles Kuralt]. Appalachian State University, ASU
referencedIn Rodney H. True Papers, 1861-1939 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Botanical journal in North America, 1787-1796. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Garden Club of Charleston. Michaux Garden records, 1943-1949. South Carolina Historical Society, SCHS
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Subscription list, 1793, for proposed exploration of the American West. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf André Michaux letters and papers, 1783-1890, 1783-1890 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Documents on his botanizing in the United States, 1785-1807. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. The diary of Andre Michaux. Book II-[10], April, 1787-[1796] / translated by Mary E. Radford. Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H Raven Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives, 1743-1984 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Lord, Clifton F. The botanical Garden of Andre Michaux near Charleston, 1786-1802 / Clifton F. Lord, Jr. and Martha Jane K. Zachert. Medical University of South Carolina Libraries
referencedIn André Michaux et son exploration en Amérique du Nord, 1785-1796, 1981 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Alexander von Humboldt papers, 1801-1859, 1793-1859 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Documents on his botanizing in the United States, 1785-1807, 1785-1807 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Edmond Charles Genet Papers, 1734-1895, (bulk 1789-1793) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Michaux, André, 1746-1802. Letters and papers, 1783-1890. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Drayton, John, 1766-1822. John Drayton papers, 1757-1943. University of South Carolina, University Libraries
referencedIn Rolla Kent Beattie Papers, 1899-1956 Washington State University Libraries: Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, John, 1735-1826. person
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), b. 1875 person
associatedWith Billardrie DAngiviller, Flahault de la, family
associatedWith Billardrie DAngiviller, Flahault de la, Comte de. person
associatedWith Drayton, John, 1766-1822. person
associatedWith Garden Club of Charleston. corporateBody
correspondedWith Genet, Edmond Charles, 1763-1834. person
associatedWith Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804. person
associatedWith Humboldt, Alexander von, 1769-1859. person
associatedWith Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. person
associatedWith Kuralt, Charles, 1934-1997. person
associatedWith Lamaute, Marie Florence. person
associatedWith Le Moine, J. M. (James MacPherson), Sir, 1825-1912. person
associatedWith Linné, Carl von, 1707-1778. person
associatedWith Lord, Clifton F. person
associatedWith Madison, James, 1751-1836. person
associatedWith Michaux, François André, 1770-1855. person
associatedWith Morris, Robert, 1734-1806. person
associatedWith New Jersey. Laws, statutes, etc. corporateBody
associatedWith Penney, James Theophilus, 1900-1964. person
associatedWith Phillips, Henry, Jr. person
associatedWith Phillips, Henry, Jr. person
associatedWith Savage, Henry, 1903-1990. person
associatedWith Thouin, André, 1747-1824. person
associatedWith True, Rodney H. (Rodney Howard), 1866-1940 person
associatedWith Washington, George, 1732-1799. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New Jersey
United States
North America
United States
Illinois
North America
France
United States
New Jersey
United States
United States
North America
Subject
Botanical gardens--New Jersey
Plants
Scientific expeditions
Nurseries (Horticulture)
Philosophy--Societies, etc
Botanical gardens
Travel
Botanists
Plant collecting--History
Joint ventures
Natural history
Botany
Trees
Marriage and Family Life
Nurseries (Horticulture)--United States
Botany--United States
Botany--North America
Discoveries in geography
Botany--History--18th century--Sources
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1746-03-08

Death 1802-10-11

French

French,

English

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