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Repository: Botany Libraries
Title: Papers of Thaddeus William Harris, 1818?-1852
Thaddeus William Harris was born in Dorchester, Mass. on Nov. 12, 1795, the son of a minister who had for a short time been Librarian of Harvard. Harris attended Harvard, receiving his A.B. degree in 1815 and his M.D. in 1820. He practiced medicine for a while but was not able to make a comfortable living at it. He married Catherine Holbrook, the daughter of his first medical partner, and from 1826-1849 they had twelve children, one of whom died in infancy.Having looked around for a better way to support himself and his family, Harris took the position of Librarian of Harvard in 1831, after the death of Benjamin Peirce. Over the years, Harris had developed a private interest in natural history, particularly in entomology, an interest that was originally sparked by contact with William Dandridge Peck. In 1831 he prepared a catalogue of insects for Edward Hitchcock's Report on the Geology, Minerology, Botany and Zoology of Massachusetts. From 1837-1842 he gave lectures on natural history at Harvard, during thevacancy of the natural history professorship. During those years he also taught a private class on entomology and prepared "A Report on the Insects of Massachusetts, injurious to vegetation." He built up a carefully described and arranged insect collection, compiled painstaking indexes to major works on entomology, and over the course of his life published on the order of a hundred articles on insects and insect-related diseases. He had hoped to be appointed professor of natural history, but that position wentto Asa Gray in 1842.Harris was interested in botany as well as entomology, but his botanical achievements never reached the level of his entomological ones. He published three articles on squashes and pumpkins in New England Farmer, 1851-1852, and left a manuscript of "an elaborate monograph of the natural order Cucurbitaceae" (according to Higginson). After Asa Gray's appointment, Harris had less and less time available for natural history study, a source of continual frustration to him. When he died on Jan. 16, 1856, he still held the post of Librarian of Harvard.References:Barnhart, John Hendley. Biographical Notes upon Botanists.Elliott, Clark A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science.Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Memoir of Thaddeus William Harris.Boston: Boston Society of Natural History, 1869 (Biog 2 H24)
The Harris papers in the Gray Herbarium are primarily botanical and fall into three major groupings: correspondence, materials relating to botanical lectures, and general botanical notebooks.The correspondence consists of about twenty letters which were found grouped by subject -- general botanical, hemp, Lycopsis Virginica and Myosotis avensis, soybeans, squashes and entomology -- and a half dozen letters that were found with the lecture notes. [The notes labeling the groups were not in Harris's handwriting.]The materials that were found together in a folder labeled "Botanical Lectures" included notes on instructional details, charts and illustrations, notes for specific lectures, notes on characters of plantsfor lectures, and other loose botanical notes.Of the botanical notebooks, four seem to be notes for an unfinished work by Harris entitled "An Artificial Method for determining the natural Orders or Tribes of the most common Flowering Plants; upon the plan of the School Botany of Professor Lindley; with Analytical Tables of the Genera." One notebook appears to be an index to some works of Linnaeus, and one consists of brief descriptions of various plant groups.