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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00058

Charles Wright papers

Scope and Content

The Wright papers consist primarily of papers pertaining to collections he made while on the U.S. Commission in Santo Domingo.

The North Pacific papers include Wright's journal of the expedition and descriptive notes on plants collected in Madeira, St. Jago, Cape of Good Hope, Sydney, Hong Kong, Loo Choo and Bonin Islands, Japan, Bering Straits, and California. There are also notes on plants collected by Wright in Nicaragua. Notes appear to be plant identification records; some are in Asa Gray’s handwriting. There is a 400-page unpublished manuscript on the plants of Japan in Asa Gray's handwriting. There are also notes on Cape of Good Hope plants by William Henry Harvey and descriptions of grasses by William Munro.

The Santo Domingo papers consist of a draft of an unpublished "Flora Domingensis" with a letter from Daniel Cady Eaton dated 1871 and notes by Daniel Oliver.


  • 1853-1871

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


1 linear feet (3 boxes)


Charles Wright was born on October 29, 1811 in Wethersfield, Connecticut, to James and Mary Wright (née Goodrich). He entered Yale University in 1831 and graduated in 1835. On the recommendation of Yale president Jeremiah Day, Wright spent the year following graduation as a private tutor to a family in Natchez, Mississippi. His employer’s business failed in the financial crisis of 1837 and Wright moved to Texas, supporting himself by surveying and teaching.

Wright botanized in his spare time and began sending specimens to Asa Gray in 1844. Gray eventually invited Wright to go to Cambridge to assist in sorting his collections. Wright spent several months in Cambridge and with his family in Wethersfield during the winter of 1848-1849. He left Cambridge in April 1949 to join the U.S. War Department survey of the border between the United States and Mexico and spent the next three years collecting specimens for Gray in Texas and Arizona.

Wright left Texas in the summer of 1852. The following spring he joined the U.S. North Pacific Exploring Expedition. From June 1853 to October 1855, Wright was the botanist for the expedition, which sailed from Virginia across the Atlantic, then down to the Cape of Good Hope, to Sydney, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and islands of the Bering Strait before arriving in San Francisco. Wright left the expedition in early 1856 and traveled to Nicaragua, where he collected for a few weeks before returning to New England for the summer.

From 1856 to 1867 Wright undertook a series of explorations in Cuba, and made a short collecting trip to Santo Domingo in 1871. Between collecting trips, he spent time at his home in Connecticut and at the Gray Herbarium in Cambridge. From October 1875 to April 1876 he also served as librarian of the Bussey Institution. Wright spent the last years of his life in Wethersfield and died there on August 11, 1885.


Gray A. 1885. Botanical necrology of 1885. Am. J. Sci. Arts. 3(31):12-17.

Geiser SW. 1948. Naturalists of the frontier, 2nd ed. Dallas (TX): University Press.


Wright's manuscripts were likely left at the Gray Herbarium by Wright or given to the Herbarium after his death.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:

Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892; Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965; Botany Libraries photograph collection; Jane Gray autograph collection, 1563-1908.

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood

Wright, Charles, 1811-1885. Charles Wright papers, 1853-1871: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Gray Herbarium.

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