Mark Catesby, a little-known English naturalist, spent 12 years exploring Britain’s colonies in south-eastern North America in the early decades of the 18th century. The book that he published afterwards in London, The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1729-1747), was the first fully illustrated work on the flora and fauna of any part of our continent. In two large folio volumes, he included 220 full-page, hand-colored illustrations of hundreds of species of trees, flowers, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, and mammals, most of them the first view Europeans had of North-American plants and animals.
Mark Catesby, The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands: containing the figures of
birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants , 1731-43 [1729-48], Plate 86 – The Great Booby.
His book was greatly celebrated through the 1700s and remains important in the natural sciences to this day. So he deserves to be remembered on his birthday, but when is it? It is recorded in the village church where he was baptized as March 24, 1682, but this needs to be translated to modern dates.
First of all, in England in Catesby’s time the civil or legal calendar-year changed in March — New Year’s Day was March 25, to be exact — so he was born on the last day of 1682, as they saw it. But if one counts the year as changing in January, as we do, the year of his birth is really 1683. (Because January was used as the start of the year for other purposes back then, you’ll sometimes see the year written as 1682/83, for example, for dates from January 1 to March 24.)
Plate 15 – Blue Jay.
And secondly, Britain was using the Julian calendar. Devised in ancient Rome under Julius Caesar, by the 16th century the Julian calendar was significantly out of synch with the astronomical seasons that the Church used for calculating various holy days, notably Easter which was keyed to the Spring equinox. The Julian calendar was replaced in the late 1500s by the Gregorian calendar (named for Pope Gregory XIII) throughout most of Europe, but Britain stuck with the Julian until 1752. In Catesby’s day there was a difference of 10 days between the two calendars, and thus England’s March 24 was April 3 elsewhere.
So, when should we celebrate Mark Catesby’s birth? Why not both dates!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARK CATESBY — 328 YEARS AGO TODAY (and next week…) !!!
— Leslie Overstreet
The second Sunday in March is Buzzard Day. The Libraries' Galaxy of Images makes it easy to celebrate, wth two wonderful plates by Mark Catesby and François-Nicolas Martinet featuring buzzards.
Mark Catesby, The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants, 1731-43 [1729-48], The Turkey Buzzard.
François-Nicolas Martinet, Ornithologie [Histoire des Oiseaux Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles] [Ornithology], 1773-1792, Plate 133: The Buzzard.
Catfish fries have it all over Thanksgiving turkey as a time-honored culinary tradition!
At least as far back as the early 1700s, Americans—and surely Native Americans long before that—were enjoying “good eating” catfish.
English naturalist Mark Catesby spent 12 years exploring in the southern colonies in the 1710s and 1720s to observe, sketch, and collect the plants and animals of North America. Back in London he published The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731-1743 [sic.]) and supplemented his etching of a catfish (vol.2, pl.23) with a lengthy description, noting:
“Some of these Fish are two Feet in Length. …they frequent both fresh and salt Waters in most of the Rivers in the Northern Parts of America; their Flesh tastes like that of an Eel, and are accounted good eating Fish… .”
To see more images from Catesby’s book, which is held in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, go to our Galaxy of Images, get the drop-down menu under “Explore the Collections” and click on “Search by Author/Title of Book,” and then enter his name in the search box.
Sciurus volans. The flying squirrel. / Guajacana [Persimmon tree], Mark Catesby. Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731-1743 [i.e, 1729-1747]). Vol.2, pl.76.
Mark Catesby spent a total of twelve years in the 1710s and1720s exploring the south-eastern seaboard of North America and produced the first fully illustrated book on the plants and animals he found there. He usually depicted the animals in association with an appropriate tree or plant, and thus was one of the first to emphasize ecological relationships. Here he shows a North American flying squirrel in a persimmon (“pishimon”) tree, and says:
These Squirrels have not membranous Wings like those of a Bat, whereby they can fly to any great Distance, but have only Membranes covered with their Furr, which grow along their Sides and are attached to their Legs, by which they can expand them, and so help themselves in leaping from one Tree to another… . [They] are gregarious, travelling in Companies of ten, or twelve together. When I first saw them, I took them for dead Leaves, blown one Way by the Wind, but was not long so deceived, when I perceived many of them to follow one another in one Direction: They will fly fourscore Yards from one Tree to another. They cannot rise in their Flight, nor keep in a horizontal Line, but descend gradually… . Their Food is that of other Squirrels, viz. Nuts, Acorns, Pine Seeds, Pishimon Berries, &c.
Carl Linnaeus, who systematized the naming of plant and animal species in the 1750s, renamed the flying squirrel Glaucomys volans and cited Catesby’s illustration in naming the tree species Diospyros virginiana in his Species plantarum (Stockholm, 1753).