Dr. Hosack’s Enchanted Garden: A Tale of Botany, Medicine and Discovery in Old New York

PODCAST: Dr. David Hosack was no ordinary doctor in early 19th-century New York.

His patients included some of the city’s most notable citizens, including Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, both of whom he counted as close friends — and both of whom decided to bring him along to their fateful duel.

But it was Dr. Hosack’s love and appreciation for the field of botany that would eventually make him famous in his time. In 1801 he opened his Elgin Botanic Garden on 20 acres of land located three miles north of the city on Manhattan Island.

Engraving circa 1802 of a drawing by L. Simond, titled View of the Botanic Garden at Elgin in the vicinity of the City of New York, frontispiece of a pamphlet by David Hosack

In this first public botanical garden in the country, Hosack would spend a decade planting one of the most extraordinary collections of medicinal plants, along with native and exotic plants that could further the young nation’s agriculture and manufacturing industries. 

And yet, he also spent a decade looking for funding for this important project, and for validation that this kind of work was even important.

 In this episode we discuss Hosack’s life and surprising legacy with Victoria Johnson, author of the 2018 book, American Eden, David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, a New York Times Notable Book of 2018, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction, and a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History. 

LISTEN NOW — DR. HOSACK’S ENCHANTED GARDEN

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The esteemed Dr. David Hosack

Courtesy New-York Historical Society

Elgin Botanic Garden, painted in 1910, artist unknown

Tom and special guest Victoria Johnson with a copy of her book American Eden

PLACES TO VISIT

Rockefeller Center — See if you can find the plaque in honor of David Hosack and the Elgin Botanic Garden. It’s located along the way in the Channel Gardens.

FURTHER LISTENING:

Listen to these shows in our back catalog for more information on subjects mentioned in this show —

DUEL! Aaron Burr vs Alexander Hamilton presents a pivotal moment in American history and one that would forever change Hosack.

Our DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal show from many years ago gives further insight into the man much admired by Hosack, so much so that he wrote the man’s memoir

What was medical care like in the early 19th century? Look no further than our show on one of the most prominent medical institutions of the day — Bellevue Hospital:

FURTHER READING FROM THE WEBSITE:

Our book review of Victoria Johnson’s book American Eden

Aaron Burr’s Cousin Built the First Bridge Over the Hudson River

100 Years Ago: The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Opens

The Cow and the Country Boy: The Story of the First Vaccine

The Plant Doctor: The Extraordinary Life of George Washington Carver

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