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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00020

Stephen Elliott papers


The Stephen Elliott papers consist of manuscripts and research notes, some in Elliott's hand and some in other hands; subscription forms for his A sketch of the botany of South-Carolina and Georgia; and correspondence, mostly to Elliott from fellow botanists, dated from 1791 to 1829. Also includes some twentieth century material related to Elliott's botanical research.


  • 1791- circa 1947
  • Majority of material found within 1808-1829


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1 collection (1 box)

The Stephen Elliott papers consist of manuscripts and research notes, some in Elliott's hand and some in other hands; subscription forms for his A sketch of the botany of South-Carolina and Georgia; and correspondence, mostly to Elliott from fellow botanists, dated from 1791 to 1829. Also includes some twentieth century material related to Elliott's botanical research.

There are almost 90 letters to Elliott from about 20 correspondents, dating from 1808 to 1828, mainly concerning the collection, identification, and exchange of botanical specimens. In this group, 31 letters are from Henry Muhlenberg (1753-1815) and about 25 are from James Macbride (1785-1817). The only other correspondents represented by more than one letter are François André Michaux (1770-1855), William Darlington (1782-1863), and Samuel Boykin (1786-1848). Eight of the correspondents are included in Joseph Ewan's list of collectors cited in A sketch of the botany of South-Carolina and Georgia.

The collection also includes an article on botany; broadsides related to the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina; lists, invoices, and correspondence related to the purchase of books by Elliott for the Charleston Library Society; and records about enslaved people.

The bulk of the material is in English, with some correspondence in French and German.

Biographical Note

Stephen Elliott was born on November 11, 1771, in Beaufort, South Carolina, the third son of William Elliott, a merchant. His father died when Stephen was a boy, and his older brother is said to have taken charge of his education. He was sent to New Haven, Connecticut, in December 1787 to be tutored by Judge Simeon Baldwin (1761-1851) and entered Yale College in February 1788. Elliot received his B.A. from Yale in 1791, with valedictorian honors. His English oration was on "The Supposed Degeneracy of Animated Nature in America" (Ewan xxvii). Elliott then returned to South Carolina and became a planter. He was elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1793 or 1796 (sources disagree) and served until about 1800. In 1796 he married Esther Habersham, with whom he had a large family. From 1800 to 1808 he seems to have devoted himself to his plantation and to the study of natural history. In 1808 he was re-elected to the legislature, where he was active in promoting the establishment of a state bank. When the bank was established in 1812, he ceased legislative work and was appointed President of the "Bank of the State," moving to Charleston. He remained president of the bank until his death.

In Charleston, Elliott was involved in a number of scientific and cultural concerns. He was active in the founding of the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina and served as its president from 1814 to 1830; he was president of the Charleston Library Society; and he co-founded the Southern Review with Hugh Swinton Legaré (1797-1843) in 1828. In 1820 he was elected president of South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina); most accounts say he declined the post, but according to one version he served a short term. He was an early and active campaigner for the establishment of the Medical College of South Carolina, where he taught natural history and botany from 1824 until his death.

Elliott carried on an active correspondence with Henry Muhlenberg (1753-1815) and other people interested in botany and natural history. He published A sketch of the botany of South-Carolina and Georgia from 1816 to 1824 and thereby established himself as a major figure in the history of American botany. He received Honorary Doctor of Law degrees from Yale University (1819), Harvard University (1822) and Columbia University (1825) (Ewan xxx). Elliott has been memorialized in a number of ways. The Elliott College building on the University of South Carolina campus was named for him, and 1853 the Elliott Society of Charleston was founded. In 1933 a monument was erected over Elliott's unmarked grave in St. Paul's churchyard, Charleston (Ewan xxxi). Elliott is remembered also "in a genus of plants of the Heath family...established by Dr. Muhlenberg" (Sargent 202). Sargent is probably referring Ericaceae Elliottia racemosa (IPNI).

Elliott died "of Apoplexy" (most likely a stroke) in Charleston on March 28, 1830.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Manuscripts and printed documents
  2. Series II. Correspondence


The Stephen Elliott papers were given to C.S. Sargent by Mrs. J.A. Huger (who may be his daughter Miss S.B. Elliott) before October 18, 1894: George A. Rogers has a copy of a letter from Sargent to Mrs. Huger dated Oct. 18, 1894, in which Sargent thanked her "for Mr. Elliott's manuscripts and letters" which he had deposited in the library of the Arnold Arboretum.

Existence and Location of Copies

All of the Elliott materials have been microfilmed except for: Folder 7. Typed list of plants named in Stephen Elliott botanical manuscript, approximately 1947; Folder 36. Letters from Stephen Elliott to Henry Muhelenberg (photostats); Folder 37. Letter of Ambrose-Marie-François-Joseph Palisot de Beauvois (photostats.) Master microfilm number 12959.

Related Materials

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

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

In the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

  1. Henry Muhlenberg papers (collection 0443)


  • Elliott, C. 1979. Biographical dictionary of American science : The seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Westport (CT): Greenwood Press.
  • Ewan, E. Editors Introduction. In: Elliott, S. A Sketch of the Botany of South-Carolina and Georgia In Classica Botanica Americana. (Facsimile of the 1816-1824 edition). New York: Hafner Pub. Co.; 1971. p. V.
  • Gee, W. 1918. South Carolina botanists: biography and bibliography. Bull. Univ. S. Carolina. 72: 35-37.
  • Hooker, WJ. 1825. On the botany of America. Amer. J. Sci. Arts. 9: 275-276.
  • The International Plant Names Index (2012).Published on the Internet [accessed 28 July 2016]
  • Ravenel, HW. 1883. Some North American Botanists. VII. Stephen Elliott. Bot. Gaz. 8(7): 249-253.
  • Sargent, CS. 1894. Stephen Elliott. Gard. & Forest. 7: 201-204.

Processing Information

Processed: January 1982

By: Lynn McWhood

Preservation and additional description were supported in part by the Arcadia-funded Colonial North American Project at Harvard University in 2016.

Elliott, Stephen, 1771-1830. Stephen Elliott papers, 1791-circa 1947, bulk 1808-1829: 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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