Gertrude Holbrook American Manuscript Herbarium and Travelogue: Wheaton Seminary, Tennessee during the Civil War, mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, and Southern Canada (1845-1871)

Gertrude Holbrook Manuscript Herbarium 1845-1871: American herbarium collection of approximately 50 pages inscribed with personal observations spanning 27 years (1845-1871) including from the South during the U.S. Civil War, prepared in a black leather bound book with gilt decorations on covers, the front cover titled "HERBARIUM". Plant specimens of leaves and flowers and moss from primarily native landscapes are identified and dated by locale, some from Gertrude's home garden and vicinity in Aurora, Illinois and most from locations that required considerable travel: e.g. Mackinac, Michigan, coastal Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Providence and Pokonet, Rhode Island, Southern Canada and most notably in 1864 to Nashville and vicinity, Tennessee during the U.S. Civil War.
Unrestored original condition
The dried plant specimens in this herbarium archive are varied as to size, type and species, have very good color and overall are in very good condition with few exceptions. Manuscript ink or pencil dates and personal comments on the Herbarium book's pages are highly legible. Paper condition of pages good. The leather bound book itself is in good condition, with signs of use at corners and edges, its binding stable, front cover gilt decorations of scrollwork and plant motifs and cherubs are in good condition, covers are attached to leather spine, with some loss at end of spine and to hinges and thus hinges are fragile.
10.5 × 7 × 1.75 inches
Sale Status: 
For Sale

The Herbarium was purchased locally and is new to market.
      A gilt decorated leather bound volume titled "HERBARIUM" on front cover containing approximately 41 unnumbered, blank, gilt edged pages, each page mounted with dried plant specimens most of which are annotated individually in manuscript ink or pencil usually with common plant name. Tucked into bound pages are seven (7) single sheets of paper with additional loose and mounted specimens and various manuscript annotations.  Altogether there are approximately 235 plant specimens, most of which are accompanied by manuscript annotations, personal comments and observations that explain when (1845-1871), where or how Gertrude Holbrook (b.1840-1912) 1/ added them to her Herbarium. Most plant specimens have a note stating they were found by Gertrude in person, or that a few were given to her in person or mailed to her by friends or family from 1845-1871 from within the United States and some internationally. Because the Herbarium writer's notes credit Gertrude with collecting all of the specimens, we are calling this the "Gertrude Holbrook Herbarium." All pages are transcribed.  Please see  below.

The dated Herbarium pages cover Gertrude Holbrook's life in three primary clusters:  1845-1847, 1854 Aurora, Illinois, 1871 Chicago, Illinois; c. 1857 at school in Norton, Massachusetts and travel; and Summer, 1864 in Nashville, Tennessee and vicinity. Certain pages have dated and undated comments and locations: the Great Lakes region, Southern Canada (1854, 1857), New Hampshire and New York (1852), Rhode Island (1854). Manuscript identifications of plants are by common or botanical names. Or there is no labeling.  Destinations include mid-19th c. places of interest for a traveler, personal destinations and others requiring further study to be understood.

Place names are frequently written next to a specimen, such as "Cumberland River" [Tennessee] or the city or locale where each plant specimen was collected. Some place names in Rhode Island, such as Providence, Pokonet or Tockwotton House or in Tennessee or Canada are locations that may be on an itinerary.   Gertrude's reports sometimes give the name of the person present with her in the field when that plant specimen was discovered, including one field trip to Plymouth Rock with her father whose cane was a handy tool.  There are four plant specimens credited to Charles Allaire, most given to Gertrude in person, and one by mail. "Charles" is mentioned once in an annotation that appears to be for a flower in Illinois or Rhode Island. He is likely a family friend. In 1863-65 Charles B. Allaire was a Union Army soldier stationed in Alabama and Tennessee with the Illinois Eleventh Infantry.

In Summer, 1864 Gertrude visits Nashville, Tennessee and vicinity and certain well known sites. The writer of the Herbarium credits several locals who gave Gertrude a flower or leaf specimen. At "Belle Mont", Mrs. Adelicia Acklen's Belmont Mansion 2/ specimens were "given me by one of the slaves in 1864", a Tulip Magnolia "given me by one of General Jackson's slaves at the Hermitage" and at the "Insane Asylum a beautiful place"  a "White Rose given me by a crazy woman in the Insane Asylum near Nashville" and a second flower  given by a different "crazy woman." Using a term of the times for a secessionist, one note next to a specimen explains a wild flower "near Harpeth Shoals given me by an old Secesh woman" in 1864. Many of these wild plants are not labeled. Gertrude chose them intentionally from the banks of the Cumberland River and Shoals perhaps because she didn't know what they were.

For scholarly study, and frequent consultation of the Herbarium without damaging the original, a transcription of each page of the Herbarium accompanies this description. Photographs (color)  of each page of the Herbarium are  printed and presented in a loosebound binder. A list of destinations noted in the Herbarium is included with these materials. Further research of the other individuals named and place names in the Herbarium remains to be done. Certainly plant research requires specialized study. Please see the discussion below.

I. Introduction:
The Gertrude Holbrook Herbarium is a newly discovered 19th c. American manuscript travelogue and personal herbarium of approximately 235 plant specimens, many annotated. Gertrude collected them during her travel throughout the United States. In some instances they were sent to her from out of state, or from abroad. Some of Gertrude's travel was to attend boarding school, and at other times appears to be dedicated in part to collecting plants that were her "record" of a trip, either for personal travel or family matters. One question is why did Gertrude embark on creating the Herbarium. In part the wild plants and flowers selected are informal field work.  Perhaps Gertrude was developing this collection with a family member or as a family heirloom. The name inscribed on the book's inside front free end paper can be read as "Mrs. B.H. Holbrook, Aurora, Ills." and therefore may be her mother. The handwriting in the Herbarium throughout appears to be of one hand. Mrs. B.H. Holbrook may be the writer who has transcribed Gertrude Holbrook's notes, either received in correspondence or presented to Mrs. B.H. Holbrook when Gertrude visited or returned home.

External correspondence of at least one individual named in the Herbarium may add to our understanding of Gertrude's remarkable travel to the South during the Civil War, an unusual destination then for a Northerner and a woman. Charles [B.] Allaire of Aurora, Illinois is named several times in the Herbarium in annotations of plant specimens dated 1864 Nashville, Tennessee and vicinity and one "sent home from Alabama". Certain of Charles B. Allaire's Civil War letters are held in Special Collections. 3/ These letters are cited in literature about the Union Army's strategic canal project undertaken at Lake Providence and Providence, Tennessee to provide a militarily advantageous canal link the Mississippi River for the Union Army.  In one such letter addressed to "Professor" Charles describes Tennessee's plants and the natural beauty of the landscape. Is "Professor" possibly Gertrude's father? Further research to study these archived Allaire Civil War letters is warranted to add to our understanding of Charles Allaire's relationship with Gertrude, and why she was in Tennessee in 1864 apparently accompanied by him.

The Herbarium is organized for the most part chronologically, and the earliest dates are at the back of the book. Thus, the book when read back to front provides the timeline of Gertrude's collecting. Some pages are not dated. The archive straddles the decades before, during and after the Civil War.  The earliest page in the Herbarium records Gertrude's first plant dated 1845 "Flower of the Century Plant Picked in New York and given me by Josiah." The second flower is dated 1846 "Flowers from our old garden in Aurora, Ills." 4/ One page in the Herbarium has a specimen with a note that Gertrude picked flowers from the yard of her grandfather's old house in Aurora. Holbrook Mill (c.1840-1843) was built by a John Holbrook and is one of the earliest buildings in Aurora. Perhaps this is Gertrude's father or paternal grandfather.  The third oldest flower noted is dated 1852, "Wild flower from grandmother Nyes grave in Berlin N.Y. picked by myself in July 1852." The "Mop-From an old stone wall in Berlin the wall laid by my great grandfather Hubbard [?]"is on the same page and likely from the same trip. The 1852 entry may be to her maternal grandparents' home in Berlin, on the Massachusetts-New York border.

The Herbarium is therefore also a diary of Gertrude's childhood years at home (1845-46), on family trips to her mother's home and later at school at the Wheaton Seminary for Women (c. 1857-1859)5/ in Norton, Massachusetts (in 1903 Wheaton College).  One composition of many flowers and plants "Norton wild flowers gathered and pressed by Gertrude while she was there at school" includes two Lady Slippers, a native Massachusetts orchid that is now scarce. Before and after Wheaton Seminary Gertrude travels to Canada, New England, Berlin, New York, New Jersey. She sought out historic places. In Rhode Island, she visited Pokonet, the Native American settlement. And she sought out a social reform institution, the Tockwotton House, a school built as a cluster of stone "cottages" that was established in 1847 by the Providence City Council as a reform school for boys, mostly poor who were sent by the court for care and to improve their prospects with education at what became a highly regarded residential school.

The Herbarium has further aspects of a family diary. A newspaper clipping pasted on a page near the beginning of the Herbarium is Gertrude's Christmas Eve, Aurora wedding announcement, placed below her bouquet. Her husband name is " I._[saac] N.[ewton] Hardin"./ One page in the Herbarium reports that specimens were collected "while out for a walk with the children" - Gertrude or her mother?

In 1864, a year after the Emancipation Proclamation and at the height of the U.S. Civil War, Gertrude travels from the North, possibly from Aurora, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee and vicinity a previously Union occupied city. She was likely in her early twenties. Tennessee was the last state to secede, and anti-slavery sentiment was strong in the Eastern and Central part of the state.  Secessionist advocates tended to the Western half of the state. Perhaps Gertrude's travels are a more typical example of North/South travel beyond border states than commonly noted in histories. She accepts a flower from an enslaved person at least twice. She accepts a flower from an old woman secessionist on the banks of the Cumberland River. She appears unafraid to wander in these unfamiliar social settings.Gertrude visits the Nashville City Cemetery. She comments in her Herbarium about the toll of the Civil War in her note accompanying a flower from a soldier's grave "one among ten thousand" in General Jackson's Army. She honors another soldier by name at "John Washington's grave". Zollicoffer's grave is also noted.

The section of the Herbarium that pertains to Nashville is one of its most intriguing. What drew Gertrude to the South during the Civil War? How did she as a single woman travel from either Aurora, Illinois or a different Northern location to Tennessee and areas along the Cumberland River? Did she travel on her own for part of this journey? Commercially published traveller's guides were certainly available6/ and the Nashville & Chattanooga R.R. became a United States Military Railroad. 7/

Another dimension to this Herbarium is the written conversation between Gertrude and the author, likely Gertrude's mother, apparent in the manuscript notes accompanying many of the mounted plant specimens. The Herbarium refers to letters also received by friends outside of Illinois. The Herbarium functionally is therefore also a letter archive, posting certain news sent by family and friends in a geographically widespread community.  One specimen, perhaps ironically described on the page is "Given by Mr. P.L. Underwood of Chicago from a plant in his garden raised from seed brought from the place supposed to have been the Garden of Eden." The Herbarium is a unique conversation with and about flowers including then contemporary Civil War news.  

II. Themes:
There are many themes in mid-19th c. American history raised by the Herbarium. One is mid-19th c.  woman's education, beyond manners and including substantive knowledge which Wheaton Seminary (founded 1835) offered in its curriculum to Gertrude. Another theme is the manner in which during the Civil War ordinary Americans attempted to go about their business, traveling both in industrialized and rural Union territory and into Confederate secessions notwithstanding the ongoing fury of the Civil War.  Finally, the Holbrook family is an example of Easterner's who migrated west, settled in Illinois when towns were still forming and became prosperous enough to travel back East with children to maintain knowledge of their origins.  Visits to Plymouth Rock suggest travel to learn America's origins. Greater knowledge about the family's history would add context to the Herbarium and to Gertrude Holbrook's life story.

 Technically speaking this Herbarium appears not to have been undertaken as a strict scientific sampling of plants.  However, it differs from a 19th c. poetic gathering of petals in the language of flowers, e.g. The Floral Keepsake for 1850. 8/ Gertrude appears frequently to select flowers for which she does not know the plant name. She visits known tourist places and other unnamed spots on river banks, mountain tops, oceanfront and fresh water islands - and she visits different climate zones to collect wild flowers and plants.  Gertrude selects some plant specimens to record current events that affected the built and natural environment: a grey tinged specimen, dated "October 12, 1871, Chicago just after the Great Fire" embodies the ash of the fire.The Herbarium is about the natural world.

There is much to absorb in the Gertrude Holbrook Herbarium. This analysis summarizes the considerable original source material, suggesting a framework for seeing what is there on the nearly 50 pages. This essay suggests some highlights and themes. Taking time with the Herbarium plants themselves shows their surprising freshness. We can recognize many of these plants. And with regret the Herbarium is a contemporary inventory of the loss of habitat and the extinction of many plant species held in these 19th c. pages. The book is an exercise of the imagination and a slice of life in mid-19th c. America through the Civil War. The book is an example also of personal field work conducted over much of Gertrude Holbrook's life, science as an act of curiosity about this world.

1. two genealogies match our Gertrude, both date her birth 1840, New York/New Jersey and d. 1912; mother Betsy W. Huntoon b. 1814, Berlin, Vermont  d. 1885 Brooklyn, NY, buried Aurora, Ill.  and father John Holbrook b. 1794 Massachusetts d. 1866 Aurora, Ill. m.1839;  Gertrude m. Isaac N.[ewton]Hardin (b.1838, d. 1921) in 1865, Illinois: three children, John Hardin (1866), Gertrude Hardin (1868), and Geraldine Hardin (1871), Illinois. see, Mrs Betsey N. Huntoon Holbrook (1814-1885) buried in West Aurora Cemetery located in Aurora, IL | People Legacy
2.  Belmont Mansion History Adelicia Acklen was one of the wealthiest plantation owners in Tennessee. Her Italianate mansion was designed by the same architect who designed the Nashville Insane Asylum, which Gertrude describes in her Herbarium as a beautiful place.3. see LSU, Univ. Tennessee. Please see also: The Papers of the Blue and Gray Papers Society, "The Winter of 1863: Grant's Louisiana Canal Expedition", Caroline Pace Davis, BGES, Danville, Virginia 1997 Microsoft Word - #4, complete - monograph_4_complete.pdf, in the Bibliography, Unpublished Material, Allaire Collection, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, LSU, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, quoting Charles B. Allaire 1863 letter to "Professor":
"Providence is a small town of only a few hundred inhabitants on the Louisiana shore of the Mississippi about 300 miles below Memphis. . . . I think this country comes as near to my idea of Paradise as is possible . . . this fills my expectations of the "Sunny South." flowers are already in bloom. Our camp is pitched on the western bank of Lake Providence her Peach trees have been in bloom 3 or 4 weeks. . . . The road . . . is bordered on either side with the Palmetto,
China trees filled with little white balls about the size of the end of your little fingers and there is trees filled with moss hanging down like a goat's beard
Charles B. Allaire was mustered out of the 105 Regiment, Illinois Infantry Volunteers, promoted to Sergeant Major, Aurora, 1865.
4. Aurora, Illinois, 1840, Township 38 North, Range 8 East - Historic Maps of Aurora - Illinois Digital Archives The Holbrook Mill is a state designated landmark 1840.
5. Journal of school founder Eliza B. Wheaton 1875, Friday 5(1875), "...Gertrude Holbrook now Mrs. Harding of Chicago... pupil(s) at Seminary in 1858- at Delavan
6. For example, the Traveller's Guide to the Hudson River ...Falls of Niagara..Also to the Green and White Mountains  with map, J. Disturnell, NY 1864. In 1863, Colton published a map of the Southern States.
7.  Please see The First Railroad in Tennessee for railroad history of this era.
8. The Floral Keepsake for 1850, John Keese, Editor, Leavitt and Company, New York M.DCCC.L. (1850)

III. Maps as Research Aids:
Aurora Historic Maps, please see Historic Maps of Aurora - Illinois Digital Archives

IV. Bibliography
Wheaton College, 1834-1957: a Massachusetts Family Affair
Paul C. Helmreich
Cornwall Books, New York and London 2002

Wheaton College, 1834-1957 : a Massachusetts family affair  [web edition]

V.  Gertrude Holbrook Herbarium: Locales Identified

Alabama     c. 1863-64 reference to Charles Allaire sending home specimens in his letter from the South.

Illinois:  Aurora, 1846               2nd entry Flowers from Our old garden in Aurora Ills., given me by Gertrude

            Aurora, 1858               Mr. Holbrook's father's old house. Walked with two of his nieces, Ermeline and Sarah.

            Peru, 1854                  Picked from the old stone house in Peru-out for a ride with the children, September, 1854

            Chicago, Oct. 13, 1871,after the fire, plants from Mr. P.L. Underwood including one said to be from a seed from the Garden of Eden

Massachusetts, c.1857?         Cape Cod, Marshfield, near Mt. Auburn, Nahant, Norton c. 1857, Plymouth, Plymouth Rock, Old Plymouth Burying Ground, Stoughton, 1864

Michigan, Lake Mackinac

Green Bay ?                            March, 1864 by Ann when carrying home father's dead body

New Hampshire                      White Mountains, Franconia Range, top of Mt. Lafayette

New Jersey                              Montclair, Patterson (1854) given me by mother from Mrs. Crosby

New York                                1845 - first entry, flower of the Country Plants picked in New York and given me by Josiah 1845
                                               1852, Berlin, Grandmother Nye's grave and Great Grandfather Hubbard, mop plant found near stone wall, Berlin, New York
                                                West Point

Rhode Island 1854                  Picked at Pokanoket, Smithfield R.I. (vic. of Mt. Hope) [Historic Pokanoket First People of East Bay, Bristol, Rhode Island. They                                                         welcomed the Pilgrims.]
                                                1854, Providence given me by Frank, brought from Providence
                                                Tockwotton House


Nashville, 1864, summer        Belle Monte, 177 acre mansion of Adelicia Acklen (1859- 1860) remodeled (1859-60) with architect Adolphus Heiman                                                 occupied by Union Troops, a flower picked by a slave.

Nashville, 1864                       The Hermitage, General Jackson's estate, a flower picked by one of General Jackson's slaves

Nashville, 1864                       Tennessee Hospital for the Insane in Nashville. Also designed by architect Adolphus Heiman.

Nashville, 1864                       Nashville City Cemetery with comments on Grave of Zollicoffe, a "Soldier's Grave" in General Jackson's army "one among ten                                                       thousand", John Washington's grave

Harpeth Shoals                       On the banks of the Cumberland River Old Secesh Woman

Shoals of the Cumberland

Cumberland Banks

Vermont, Montpelier            


Canada:           1857                Canada side of Niagara Falls

                        1864                Sault St. Marie

                        Fall, 1864        Marquette

Italy                                         sent from Lake Como and Lake Lugano

Scotland                                  sent from Furness Abbey (?)

Item Type Taxonomy: 
Geographic Scope: 
The Back Room
Published Location Freeform: 
Manuscript herbarium with personal notes in leather bound book