The Travels of Peter Kalm Through Colonial North America - Purple Mountain Press

Commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus, 1707-2007

Reviewed in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, November 17, 2007


by Paula Ivaska Robbins
Preface by James L. Reveal


"Today, one can visit the Linnean Society at Burlington House in London and examine the actual Kalm specimens used by Linnaeus to name many of his American plants. For me, it is a bit humbling to touch a leaf or examine a flower collected by Kalm in the wilds of America, brought to Europe, and studied by Linnaeus. It is a reminder that most of my knowledge of American plants is based, to a considerable degree, on the efforts of others who lived generations ago in a time and under circumstances I hardly can comprehend. Now, in this book, one can gain a feeling for the man, Peter Kalm, and not just admire the surviving dried plant specimens he labored to bring to the Master." —James L. Reveal, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland; Honorary Curator, The New York Botanical Garden


On May 19, 1750, Kalm left Raccoon for Philadelphia, presumably to make final preparations for his trip north and probably to consult once again with Evans. He wrote a letter to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on May 28, outlining his plan, optimistically hoping to be able to return to Sweden in the autumn or in the following spring to sow the seeds he had collected.

Kalm dined with Franklin on May 30 and was served a dish of yams, a vegetable new to him, which he found tasty. Kalm was very adventuresome when presented with new foods or methods of preparation and was always eager to experiment.

The next day he and Jungström left Philadelphia and sailed up the river, stopping at Burlington, and arrived at Trenton, New Jersey, early on the morning of June 1. The next day they traveled by wagon to New Brunswick through fields sown with wheat, rye, corn, oats, buckwheat, hemp and flax, and they saw many wild flowers in bloom in the woods. The air was perfumed with the scent of magnolia blossoms from the trees growing in swamps that they passed.

On June 3, in pleasant weather, they boarded a boat bound for New York that sailed down the Raritan River and around Staten Island. In New York he was able to purchase wild strawberries from a street vendor. They spent a week in the city making final preparations, even purchasing fabric for the tailor to make their summer clothing.28 Kalm conferred again with Cadwallader Colden.

With the aid of the incoming tide, Kalm and Jungström boarded a boat on June 11 that sailed up the Hudson, through the majestic Highlands, past the current site of West Point. At first, the sloop was able to make use of its sails to propel them, but when the wind died down, the sailors were forced to use oars. When the tide turned and the wind blew against them, they stopped for a time on shore, where Kalm saw Kalmia latifolia in full blossom and sassafras, chestnut and tulip poplar trees. On June 12, they were propelled by the tide, and later the wind, past the village of Rhinebeck. “This little town is not visible from the riverside.”

They arrived in Albany at eight o’clock on the morning of June 13, having sailed all night with a favorable wind. Albany’s location, at a point where the Hudson was still deep enough for large vessels, was an advantage. The merchants of the city sent lumber, wheat, flour, and dried peas to New York City. The city was also the main collection point for furs from Oswego, the trading town on Lake Ontario to which Indians from the interior brought their furs. Kalm reported with disdain that the merchants of Albany sold brandy to them, which often enabled them to cheat drunken Indians on the price of the cloth and metal goods which they obtained in exchange for furs.

When Paula Ivaska Robbins learned that a book had never been written about Kalm’s travels for an American audience, despite the fact that his journal is frequently quoted by historians, it seemed the perfect topic for her. Born in the United States of Finnish parents, she had written a previous book about Finnish history, Nights of Summer, Nights of Autumn, and about American history, The Royal Family of Concord. A lifelong gardener, she is a volunteer guide at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina. Dr. Robbins, a retired university administrator, has degrees from Vassar College, Boston University, and the University of Connecticut; she has taught at the University of Helsinki.

Her biography of Jane Colen, America's first woman botanist was published by Purple Mountain Press in 2009.

213 pages, 7" x 10", illustrated, index, paper, $19.00
978-1-930098-80-0--A Purple Mountain Press original


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