American Medical Biographies/Chapman, Alvan Wentworth

Chapman, Alvan Wentworth (1809–1899)

Alvan Wentworth Chapman, botanist, was born at Southampton, Massachusetts, September 28, 1809, and died at his home in Apalachicola, Florida, April 6, 1899, in his ninetieth year. The son of Paul and Ruth Pomeroy Chapman, he entered Amherst College at seventeen, graduating with honor in 1830. A few months later he became a teacher in a family on Whitemarsh Island, near Savannah, Georgia, where he spent two years; he was then elected principal of the academy at Washington, Georgia, and it was while at this place that he began the study of medicine, with Dr. Albert Reese. The study was continued at Savannah and Washington, Ga. (1830–1836).

It was in the winter of 1835–36 that he entered upon the practice of his profession in Florida, first at Quincy, then at Marianna, and finally, for more than half a century, at Apalachicola. It was in 1846, about the time that he settled at Apalachicola, that he received the honorary degree of M. D. from the Louisville Medical Institute. In 1886, the University of North Carolina conferred upon him the degree of LL. D.

Before leaving Massachusetts, young Chapman was greatly interested in the natural sciences, especially botany, entomology, and meteorology. As years passed by, he devoted more and more attention to botany, until it occupied all of the time that he could spare from his busy professional life. In 1860, after several years of hard and thorough work, he published his "Flora of the Southern United States;" this, in several editions, was for nearly fifty years the only manual of the flowering plants of the southeastern states, and assured the reputation of its author as one of the foremost American botanists of his day. He published little else, but his correspondence was extensive, and long before the appearance of his flora he was well known to his fellow-botanists as a keen observer and an enthusiastic and scholarly worker. It was as early as 1838 that Torrey and Gray named in his honor the genus Chapmannia; species in at least five genera (Aster, Liatris, Polygala, Rynchospora, and Spermacoce) had been named for him before 1860, to say nothing of many others in later years.

Dr. Chapman was a man of fine physique and robust constitution, retaining all of his faculties (except that of hearing) almost unimpaired until the last day of his long life. A label on a plant specimen records the fact that he walked thirteen miles to collect it, in his eighty-third year; and a companion on a day's trip along the Apalachicola river, in the almost inaccessible palmetto and cypress swamps, bears witness to the fact that then, when he was eighty-seven years old, he showed the alacrity of the botanical collector in the best years of life. In November, 1839, he married Mrs. Mary Ann Simmons Hancock, but he was a widower for the twenty years preceding his death, and left no surviving children.

Biographical record of the alumni of Amherst College, 1883. 62, 63.
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American biography, 1S87, vol. i, 581.
Bull. Torrey Bot. Club, F. Lamson-Scribner, 1893, vol. xx. 330-332.
Silva of North America, C. S. Sargent, 1895, vol. vii, 110.
Bot. Gazette, C. Mohr, 1899, vol. xxvii, 473-478. Portrait.