The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

Mark Catesby's First Journey

Catesby was fortunate enough to have the means to travel to America. Accompanied with his sister, he first depart London for the New World in 1712. While his sister had the intentions of visiting her husband who had founded a medical practice in Williamsburg, VA, Catesby had much different intentions. He finally had the opportunity that no other European naturalist had, to explore the natural history and wildlife of the New World.

Once arriving to America, Catesby’s brother-in-law, who happened to be a close acquaintance with Lieutenant Governor Spotswood, introduced him to many important landowners, government and military personal. With the help of these individuals, Catesby was able to quickly depart from his original home-base in Williamsburg, and move inland to explore the unseen scenery to any European. He quickly found an interest in surveying the natural life of the James River, which ran throughout Virginia. He spent a significant amount of time looking at the plants that grew throughout the state, and illustrated all of his findings. He had a unique method that helped amplify the variety of nature he saw: “My method is never to be twice at [the same] place in the same season for if in the sp[ring] I am in the low Country [in the Sum]mer I am [at] the hea[ds] of the rivers the next Summer in the Low countrys, so alternating that in 2 Years [I visit] the two different parts of the Country” ( Meyers, 8). After spending two years in Virginia, he ventured to the West Indies, primarily staying in Jamaica. Here, he continued to explore the natural productions, mainly plants and fish.


"Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands." Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Accessed May 22, 2015.

Meyers, Amy, and Margaret Pritchard. Empire's Nature: Mark Catesby's New World Vision. Williamsburg, Virginia: Omohundro Institute, 1998.

Catesby, Mark, and George Frederick Frick. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. Savannah, Ga.: Beehive Press, 1974.

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