Person Details: C. Wright
( Charles Wright )
1811 – 1885
Spermatophytes; Pteridophytes; Bryophytes; Mycology
United States of America, Nicaragua, Cuba, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong
Charles Wright was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut on October 29, 1811. After attending school in Wethersfield, he attended Yale University, then known as Yale College. He graduated from Yale in 1835 and began his career as a private teacher for a family in Natchez, Mississippi. Although Wright had no botanical mentor in college, it was there that his interest in botany was piqued. Asa Gray assumed that the interesting botanical setting was one of the reasons that Wright traveled to Mississippi after graduating from Yale. When Wright's job in Natchez ended due to his employer's bankruptcy, he moved to the territory of Texas. Wright held many teaching positions in Texas, from instructor all the way up to the position of principal, but his first passion remained botany. During these early years in Texas, Wright began a correspondence with Asa Gray of Harvard University's Gray Herbarium in Cambridge, Massachusetts that would last until Wright's death. Wright sent Gray specimens collected on all of his travels, while Gray assisted Wright by sending him supplies, raising money, and making introductions.
Wright pursued his botanizing in any way possible, often attaching himself to military or federal surveying expeditions. Most of the travel involved with these expeditions relied on walking as the sole mode of transport. In the spring of 1849, Wright traveled with troops across the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso, Texas, a distance of 673 miles, all traversed by foot. Despite the harsh conditions, Wright managed to collect numerous specimens, most of them collected and described for the first time. His work was written up by Asa Gray and published by the Smithsonian as Plantae Wrightianae in 1850-1852.
Wright pursued his passion far beyond the borders of the United States and its territories. In 1853, he joined the United States North Pacific Exploring Expedition as botanist. This expedition traveled around the world, stopping in such places as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and islands of the Bering Straits. The vast collections made on this expedition were sent to Asa Gray in Cambridge. At the end of the expedition, Wright chose not to return home, but detoured for a time in Nicaragua, making more collections.
After spending some time in Wethersfield and Cambridge, Wright made the first of a series of trips to Cuba. From 1856 to 1867, Wright made many trips to Cuba. His work was described by the botanist August Grisebach in his work Plantae Wrightianae e Cuba Orientali, published in two parts from 1860-1862. Rarely did Wright publish his findings himself. It appears that he was much more interested in collecting than writing.
Wright's return from Cuba in 1867 marked the end of his epic travels. In his later years, he spent much time in Cambridge, working at the Gray Herbarium. He also spent one winter at Harvard's Bussey Institute, where he was acting librarian. Eventually, Wright returned to the family home in Wethersfield, where he cared for his infirm siblings until his own death in 1885. Wright has been remembered in the botanical world as a prolific and indefatigable collector who contributed greatly to the sum of botanical knowledge.
Gray, Asa. "Botanical Necrology of 1885." American Journal of Science 31(1886): 12-17.
"Wright, Charles." The Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/WW/fwr1.html [Accessed 22 May 2002].
Orig. GH; duplicates widely distributed by A. Gray