HENRY WILLIAM RAVENEL, 1814-1887: SOUTH CAROLINA SCIENTIST IN THE CIVIL WAR ERA
HAYGOOD, TAMARA ANNE MINER
Doctor of Philosophy
Recent historical interest in science in the Old South inspired this biography of mycologist Henry Ravenel (1814-1887). Prior writing on antebellum southern science was done without the benefit of strong monographs on southern scientists or institutions. Writing done in such a vacuum was necessarily very general and distorted in its perspectives. T. Carey Johnson exaggerated the importance of southern science, while Clement Eaton denigrated it, attributing the South's supposed lack in scientific contributions to the effect of two of her major institutions: slavery and religious orthodoxy. Henry Ravenel, though a South Carolina slaveholder and a devout Episcopalian, was also one of a small group of leaders in antebellum American botany. He was a familiar correspondent to such other top American botanists as Asa Gray, Edward Tuckerman, William Sullivant, Moses Ashley Curtis and Alvan Wentworth Chapman. He also corresponded with a number of European scientists, particularly Miles Joseph Berkeley. To Berkeley he sent specimens of fungi together with detailed notes and descriptions. Berkeley would examine his collections and name new species, sometimes sharing authorship with Ravenel. Between 1852 and 1860 Ravenel published a five volume fungus exsiccati, or collection of dried plants. During this early period of his career, Ravenel's residence in the South, ownership of slaves and religious piety presented no impediment to his pursuit of botany. Civil War nearly bankrupted the once-wealthy man. Ravenel returned to botany after the Civil War to earn money by selling collections. He no longer had time to study the theoretical foundations of taxonomy nor the money to purchase botanical books. In addition, for the first time Ravenel suffered some discrimination from northern botanists. The postbellum period, then, is revealed as the time when residence in the South first became a liability to Ravenel's pursuit of botany.
History of science