Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Torrey, John

From volume XXIII of the work.
See also the Project Disclaimer.

TORREY, John (1796-1873), a distinguished American botanist, was a member of an old New England family which contributed several officers to the War of Independence. He was born at New York, and spent his school days there, save for the concluding year at Boston. When he was 15 or 16 years of age his father received a prison appointment at Greenwich, and there he made the acquaintance of Amos Eaton, one of the foremost pioneers of natural history studies and popular science teaching in America. He thus learned the elements of botany, as well as something of mineralogy and chemistry, so deter mining the studies of his life. In 1815, he commenced the study of medicine, meanwhile finding time to prepare his first catalogue of plants, and to establish a correspondence with American and foreign botanists, and in 1818 he commenced practice. Stimulated by Elliott's account of the flora of South Carolina and Georgia, Torrey commenced a systematic account of the botany of the Northern States, of which the first and only volume appeared in 1824. In the same year he obtained the chair of chemistry and geology at West Point military academy, whence he was translated three years later to the chemical professorship in the college of physicians, New York. He next described the collections of the first exploration of the Colorado Territory, so laying the foundation of all subsequent work upon the flora of the Rocky Mountains. In these years he also monographed the sedges, and did good service in substituting the natural for the Linnæan system. In 1836 he was appointed botanist to the State of New York, producing his Flora of the State in 1843; while from 1838-43 he carried on the publication of the earlier portions of Flora of North America, with the assistance of his pupil Asa Gray. Becoming more and more immersed in chemical labours, which from 1857 passed partly and soon completely into those of U.S. assayer, he notwithstanding continued to accumulate and work up masses of material for this vast undertaking, which still awaits completion at the hands of his colleague and successor, Prof. Gray. He evinced a continued interest in botanical teaching, and made over his valuable herbarium and library to Columbia College two or three years before his death. He will be remembered not only as the father of American systematic botany, and an accurate and faithful, if some what excessively cautious, investigator, but also as an eminent teacher, and for an excellence of personal character and simplicity of beliefs much resembling Faraday's. His memory is literally kept green by the beautiful Coniferous genus Torreya, and his labours commemorated and continued in the valuable memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club.

See Gray, in Silliman's Journal, 1873.