CATESBY, Mark (1683-1749) Appendix Pl. 16, The Whip-Poor-Will

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Painted and etched by Mark Catesby (1638 - 1749)
Etching with hand color, paper dimensions: approximately 19 x 14 inches
From the Appendix (Part 11) to Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands
London: 1747 - 1771

Currently known as the common nighthawk, Chordeiles minor and American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius*Catesby described these subjects as follows:

Caprimulgus minor Americanus.


This nocturnal Bird is about a third part less than the Caprimulgus, or Goat-Sucker of Europe. The length of it, from the bill, is eight inches; and from the shoulder of the wing to the end of it, is seven inches. The length of the bill, from the basis of the upper mandible to the end of it, is half an inch long; two thirds of which being covered with feathers, there is visible so small a part of it, that, in proportion to the bigness of the bird, it seems to have the smallest bill of any other. From the bases of the bill shot forth some stiff bristly hairs. The throat has a white list half round its neck, The breast is white, faintly stained with red and transverse dark lines. The quill feathers of the wings are of a dark brown colour, except a broad white lift crossing five of them on the middle of each wing. The tail feathers, except the three uppermost, have also two white spots near their ends. The plumage of all the rest of the body is brown, irregularly mixed, or powdered with an obscure reddish colour. The legs are very short, being but half an inch in length, and formed like those of the Goat-fucker ; having also the inside of the middle toe serrated. 

This Bird I have mentioned in the Addenda to this Volume; but having since received 
two of them from Virginia, it has enabled me to exhibit the figure of it, and also to add to the description of it some remarks sent me by Mr. Clayton concerning it, as follows: 

“The Whippoorwill, not so large as the Bird called here the East-India Bat, i.e. Caprinmlgus, but in shape, and colour of the feathers, it very much resembles it, having 
also at each fide of its mouth three or four stiff black hairs like those of a horse's main, 
two or three inches long. These Birds visit us about the middle of April, from which time, till the end of June, they are heard every night, beginning about dusk, and continuing till break of day; but it is chiefly in the upper or western parts that they are so very frequent. I never heard but one in the maritime parts, although my abode has been 
always there; but near the mountains, within a few minutes after sun-set, they begin, 
and make so very loud and shrill a noise all night, which the echoes from the rocks and sides of mountains increase to such a degree, that the first time I lodged there I could hardly get any sleep. The shooting them in the night is very difficult, they never appearing in the day-time. Their cry is pretty much like the sound of the pronunciation 
of the words Whip-poor-will, with a kind of chucking noise between every other or 
every two or three cries, and they lay the accent very strong upon the last word Will
and least of all upon the middle one. 

The Indians say these Birds were never known 'till a great massacre was made of their countryfolks by the English, and that they are the Souls or departed Spirits of the massacred Indians. Abundance of people here look upon them as Birds of ill omen, 
and are very melancholy if one of them happens to light upon their house, or near 
their door, and set up his cry (as they will sometimes upon the very threshold) for they 
verily believe one of the family will die very soon after. These Birds, as I have been 
credibly informed, breed exactly as the Goat-Sucker before mentioned, which is thus: 
they lay only two eggs of a dark greenish colour, spotted and scrawled about with 
black, in the plain beaten paths, without the least sign of any nest, upon which they sit 
very close, and will suffer a very near approach before they fly off.” 

N. B. This concludes the whole number of Birds exhibited in both Volumes, containing in all 113, and in which are also contained all the land birds I have ever seen, Or could discover in that part of North-America included between the 30th and 45th degrees of Latitude. And tho' more kinds may not improbably remain unknown within those limits, yet north of them I think there cannot reasonably be thought 10 be many new species, because there are not only but a few Birds at the northern limits, but also because animals in general, and particularly Birds, diminish in number of species so much the nearer they approach the Pole. 

Aureliana Canadenfis R. P. Lasiteau, 

The Ginseng, or Ninsin of the Chinese. 

GINSENG is the root of a medicinal plant of the highest esteem with the Chinese. Their 
principal Physicians have wrote many volumes of its virtues. Most of the Writers of China take notice of the Ginseng; yet it was very little known 'till Father Jartoux, a Jesuit and Missionary in China, who being employed, by order of the Emperor, in making a Map of Tartary, in the year 1709, had an opportunity of seeing it growing in a Village about four leagues from the Kingdom of Corea. That Father took the opportunity to make a draught of the Plant, and give an accurate description thereof, which being published in the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, gave light to the discovery of the same Plant in Canada and Pensylvania; from which last place it was sent to Mr. Collinson, in whose curious Garden at Peckham it has the preceding two or three years, and also this year 1746, produced its blossoms and berries as it appears in the figure here exhibited, and agrees so exactly to the Father's description of the Chinese Ginseng, that no doubt can be made of its being the very Species he describes. But as the Jesuit's account is too long to be inserted here, I shall recite only what is most remarkable, adding to my Figure the blossoms, which the Father owns he never saw. The Father's account is as follows: 

“The place of its growth is between the 39th and 46th degree of Latitude, upon the declivities of mountains, in thick forests, and upon the banks of torrents. That part of the country in which this precious root grows, is on every side secured by a barrier of wooden stakes, and about which guards continually patrol, to hinder the Chinese from going out and looking after this root. Yet how vigilant soever they are, greediness after gain incites the Chinese to lurk about privately in these deserts, sometimes to the number of two or three thousand, at the hazard of losing their liberty, and all the fruit of their labour, if they are taken either as they go out of, or come into the province it grows in. 

The Emperor having a mind that the Tartars should reap all the advantage that is to be made of this Plant, rather than the Chinese, gave orders, in 1709, to 10000 Tartars to go and gather all that they could of the Ginseng, upon condition that each Person should give him two ounces, and that the rest should be paid for, weight for weight, in pure silver. It was computed that by these means he Emperor would get this year about 20000 Chinese pounds of it, which would not cost him above one fourth part of its real value. 

The Ginseng (says Father Jartoux) we have observed is an ingredient in most of the medicines which the Chinese Physicians prescribe to the better sort of Patients. They affirm that it is a sovevereign remedy for all weaknesses occasioned by excessive fatigues, either of body or mind; that it attenuates and carries off pituitous humours, cures weakness of the lungs and the pleurisy, stops vomiting, strengthens the stomach, and helps the appetite, disperses fumes or vapours, fortifies the breast, and is a remedy for short and weak breathing, strengthens the vital spirits, and is good against dizziness of the head and dimness of sight, and that it prolongs life to extreme old age. 

No body can imagine (adds the Father) that the Chinese and Tartars would set so high a value upon this root, if it did not constantly produce a good effect. Those that are in health often made use of it to make themselves more vigorous and strong; and I am persuaded (adds the Father) it would prove an excellent medicine in the hands of any European who understands Pharmacy, if he had but a sufficient quantity of it to make such trials as are necessary, to examine the nature of it chymically, and to apply it in a proper quantity, according to the nature of the disease for which it may be beneficial." It is certain that it subtilifes and increases the motion of, and warms the blood, that it helps digestion, and invigorates in a very sensible manner.

After I had designed the root (he goes on) I observed the state of my pulse, and then took half of the root raw as it was, and unprepared; in an hour after I found my pulse much fuller and quicker; I had an appetite, and perceived myself much more vigorous, and could bear labour better and easier than before. Four days after, finding myself so fatigued and weary that I could scarce sit on horseback, a Mandarin who was in company with us perceiving it, gave me one of these roots; I took half of it immediately, and in an hour after I was not the least sensible of any weariness. I have often made use of it since, and always with the same success. Thus far Father Jartoux." 

This Plant had a straight round stem, and arose to about the height of ten inches; from the top of which shot forth three smaller stalks of three or four inches long, each of which had at their ends five serrated leaves on short foot-stalks. From the summit of the stem arose perpendicularly another shorter stalk, on the top of which was placed a globular bunch of red berries, the pedicles of which spreading circularly, formed the radii of a sphere. These berries were double, containing each two flattish rough seeds covered with a thin skin. The flowers were very small, composed of five round white petals, with five stamina and a stilus, rising from a calix with five sections. 

The root is white, three or four times the size of the stem, and grows tapering to the end, and is usually about three inches in length, more or less; and it often parts in two or three branches. 

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749)

Facts regarding Catesby’s early years are scant. It is known that he was born in the ancient market town of Sudbury, England to a father who was a legal practitioner and mayor of Sudbury and to a mother from an old Essex family.  It seems that he received an understanding of Latin and French and was familiar with the eminent naturalist Reverend John Ray. Following his father’s death, he was endowed with the means to pursue his interest in the natural history of North America.

Catesby arrived in Virginia in 1712 as the guest of his sister and her husband, Dr. William Cocke, an aid the Governor of the colony.  Soon he was acquainted with the well-connected William Byrd, a Fellow of the Royal Society whose diary contains passages discussing Catesby’s strong curiosity with all things relating to North America. 

This included plants native to the fields and woods of Virginia through which Catesby traveled, collecting examples of botanical specimens unfamiliar in England, which he illustrated and sent back to his uncle, Nicholas Jekyll and the apothecary and botanist, Samuel Dale.

Catesby’s first trip to the New World was extensive and included a visit to Jamaica. Although he felt that his approach to a larger understanding of its natural history was lacking in structure, his experience would inform his future expeditions. 

Following his return to London in 1719 Catesby resolved to return to the colonies and gather additional information for his illustrated Natural History... He gained the financial support of members of the local scientific community, many of who were members of the Royal Society keen to send a naturalist to Carolina who could provide an accurate account of its resources.  Among those who belonged to the Royal Society was William Sherard, who after examining Catesby’s drawings, was key in advancing the project. With further backing by Sir Hans Sloane, court physician and naturalist whose collection would form the basis for The British Museum, Catesby sailed to Carolina in 1722.

Catesby’s four years of travels following his second arrival in North America brought him throughout South Carolina, parts of Georgia, and the Bahamas. He was 

intent on visiting the same location at different times throughout the year in order to observe his subjects as they developed. In addition to gathering botanical specimens of potential horticultural importance, he also acquired birds and other creatures.  

Catesby’s patrons in London were eager to receive examples of the varieties of plants and animals he encountered but collecting, packaging, and sending them back to England served as a distraction to his intended Natural History...  Nevertheless, he continued to observe, paint, and write descriptions of the previously un-investigated wildlife he encountered on the shores and in the swamps, woods, and fields of the middle American colonies.

Catesby returned to England from his final voyage to America in 1726 and spent the next seventeen years preparing his Natural History... He envisioned his work containing colored plates reproducing his studies from nature in a substantial, folio-sized format, an achievement nearly unprecedented in earlier natural history publications. Catesby arranged for financing in the form of an interest-free loan from the Quaker Peter Collinson, a fellow of the Royal Society. Nevertheless, the cost of paying professionals to prepare his delineations on copper plates for printing was too great. To this end, with the assistance of Joseph Goupy (1689–1769), a French artist living in London, he taught himself to etch.  In addition to producing nearly all of the plates for his publication, Catesby closely supervised the coloring of the engravings, either painting the impressions himself or closely overseeing the work to insure its fidelity to his preparatory work. To further finance the project Catesby sold subscriptions, offering his book in sections of 20 plates to be published every four months.

The first volume of Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands, containing one hundred plates, was completed in 1731 and no doubt facilitated his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in February, 1733. The second volume, also containing one hundred plates, was finished in 1743 and was supplemented with twenty plates based on information sent to Catesby by John Bartram and others in in America appeared in 1746–1747. Of the approximately 180 - 200 copies of the first edition produced, roughly 80 copies remain complete and accounted for and there are an unknown number in private collections. A second edition was issued by George Edwards in 1754 and a third edition, published by Benjamin White, in 1771 who continued to print examples of the plates until at least 1816. As early as 1749 editions were produced for the European market with translations of the text in German, Latin, and Dutch. In these the plates for the first volume and appendix were re-etched by Johann Michael Seligmann and the plates for the second volume re-etched by Nicolaus Friedrich Eisenberger and Georg Lichtensteger.  

Catesby’s tenacity resulted in a sweeping and compelling study of American plants, animals, and marine life native to little documented lands in which he strove to assign scientific nomenclature to his subjects. Indeed, Linnaeus, in his 1758 Systema Naturae, made use of much information brought to light by Catesby using it as the foundation of his system of binomial nomenclature for American species.

Throughout the production of his Natural History…Catesby lived in London with his Elizabeth Rowland with whom he had four children and married in 1747, before his death in 1749.

*From James L. Reveal’s Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands in the appendix of The Curious Mr. Catesby, University of Georgia Press.