American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

On a clear morning in July 1804, Alexander Hamilton stepped onto a boat at the edge of the Hudson River. He was bound for a New Jersey dueling ground to settle his bitter dispute with Aaron Burr. Hamilton took just two men with him: his “second” for the duel, and Dr. David Hosack.


As historian Victoria Johnson reveals in her groundbreaking biography, Hosack was one of the few points the duelists did agree on. Summoned that morning because of his role as the beloved Hamilton family doctor, he was also a close friend of Burr. A brilliant surgeon and a world-class botanist, Hosack—who until now has been lost in the fog of history—was a pioneering thinker who shaped a young nation.


Born in New York City, he was educated in Europe and returned to America inspired by his newfound knowledge. He assembled a plant collection so spectacular and diverse that it amazes botanists today, conducted some of the first pharmaceutical research in the United States, and introduced new surgeries to American. His tireless work championing public health and science earned him national fame and praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander von Humboldt, and the Marquis de Lafayette.


One goal drove Hosack above all others: to build the Republic’s first botanical garden. Despite innumerable obstacles and near-constant resistance, Hosack triumphed when, by 1810, his Elgin Botanic Garden at last crowned twenty acres of Manhattan farmland. “Where others saw real estate and power, Hosack saw the landscape as a pharmacopoeia able to bring medicine into the modern age” (Eric W. Sanderson, author of Mannahatta). Today what remains of America’s first botanical garden lies in the heart of midtown, buried beneath Rockefeller Center.
Whether collecting specimens along the banks of the Hudson River, lecturing before a class of rapt medical students, or breaking the fever of a young Philip Hamilton, David Hosack was an American visionary who has been too long forgotten. Alongside other towering figures of the post-Revolutionary generation, he took the reins of a nation. In unearthing the dramatic story of his life, Johnson offers a lush depiction of the man who gave a new voice to the powers and perils of nature.

Title:American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic
ISBN:9781631494192
Format Type:

About Victoria Johnson

Victoria Johnson loves history, gardens, and opera. She earned her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Yale and her doctorate in sociology at Columbia. She teaches on the history of philanthropy, the arts, the natural environment, and New York City at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Her latest book, AMERICAN EDEN, is a biography of the doctor at the Hamilton-Burr duel, David H


    American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic Reviews

  • Shelley

    This is a great view of medical science/practice/botany/pharmacology in the early Republic, and to illustrate how important science was to the founding and next generation. You know, before willful ig...

  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    I found the audiobook for this National Book Award non-fiction title on #Hoopla. David Hosack was an important scientist and physician in the early days of the country. He fought tirelessly to establi...

  • Erika

    My father enjoyed and suggested I read this biography of a doctor and botanist in the early republic of the USA....

  • Colleen

    really enjoyed this. Had no idea one of our first botanical gardens was located where rockefeller center is now. Lots of interesting characters and historical events framed in a different perspective,...

  • Gaby Chapman

    The birth of a nation and one New York City botanist/doctor who dedicated his life to putting medicine and botanical science on a par with the Old World...

  • Anna

    If you are into history especially medical history. This is the book for you. I learned so many fascinating facts about American medicine from this book. I’ve never actually taken the time to consid...

  • Maryellie

    American Eden is the story of Dr. Hosack a doctor who believed botany and the study of plants would help medicine. In the late 1700's and 1800's he created a garden in what is now Rockefeller Center. ...

  • Kathleen

    American Eden is a well-researched, readable, compelling history of the life of David Hosack. His life provides an engrossing narrative including descriptions of botany, medicine and political network...

  • Carol Evans

    American Eden is the story of David Hosack (August 31, 1769 – December 22, 1835), a botanist and doctor in New York City in the late 18th – early 19th centuries. I admit, I was drawn to the book a...

  • Robert Walkley

    American Eden by Victoria Johnson is about a long forgotten American hero of the early Republic. David Hosack (1769-1835) was both a scientist and a dreamer. He was also an indefatigable doer and a pr...