1718 Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Portrait of Catherine Ten Broeck with Bird
We know that native North American birds fascinated men & women alike in 18C British American colonies. Colonials kept cages for their birds. Some even built larger bird-keeping areas called aviaries.
An aviary is an enclosed area, often in a garden & larger than a traditional birdcage, meant for keeping, feeding, and hopefully breeding birds. Aviaries in South Carolina sometimes contained two-story bird houses.
1725 Charles Bridges (American artist, 1670-1747). Detail of William Byrd II & Lucy Parke daughter Evelyn Byrd and a bird in the tree.
Mark Catesby (1682-1749) sailed to Virginia in 1712, and stayed in the British Atlantic colonies for 7 years, sketching & compiling The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands for publication upon his return to England. In his monumental work, he described birds he had seen in the colonies in cages. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Catesby's History in his library.
Between 1739 and 1762, South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c 1722-1793) kept a letterbook in which she wrote, "Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody...the mocking bird...inchanted me with his harmony." By this time, enterprising Southerners caged red birds and even exported cages of mockingbirds to England.
The New York Journal published a poem of a woman imagining her ideal garden entitled A Wish of a Lady in 1769.
"...Just under my window I'd fancy a lawn,
Where delicate shrubs shou'd be planted with taste,
And none of my ground be seen running to waste.
Instead of Italians, the Linnet and Thrush
Wou'd with harmony greet me from every bush;
Those gay feather'd songsters do rapture inspire!
What music so soft as the heav'nly choir..."
1733 Gerardus Duyckinck (American artist, 1695-1746). Detail David and Phila Franks with bird.
And 18C portrait painters in America depicted men, women, & children with birds from the beginning of the century to the end. The question is whether the birds are being used as symbols or are actually birds that they might have owned.
Birds were kept as pets around Charleston, South Carolina, when an ad in the South-Carolina Gazette in January of 1753 noted, "ANY Persons willing to try the cultivation of Flax and Hemp in this province, may have gratis a pint of Hemp Seed, and half a pint of Flax Seed, at Mr. Commissary Dart's store in Tradd-Street.—But it's hoped ladies will not send for any Hemp Seed for birds."
1755 John Wollaston (American artist, 1710-1775). Detail Elizabeth Page & Mann Page, children of Mann & Ann Corbin (Tayloe) Page of Rosewell, Gloucester County, with bird.
In February of 1768, James Drummond announced in Charleston's The South Carolina and American General Gazette that he had "just imported...from L(ondon), a large and compleat (Assortment) of GOODS, Among which are the following... men and womens white Italian gloves... corks, an sortment of watchmaker's tools...a bird cage."
James McCall advertised in the 1771 South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal the he had "just received...a great Variety of Garden Seeds, Pease and Beans; Hemp, Canary, Rape, and Moss Seed for Birds."
1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail Anne Fairchild (Mrs. Metcal Bowler) with bird in birdcage.
In 1772, the South-Carolina Gazette carried an ad for a plantation to be rented "on the Ashley River near Charleston" with "two well-contrived aviaries." A year later, the same paper noted a lot in Charlestown which contained, "a very good Two-Story Birds House."
1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail Thomas Aston Coffin with two birds.
Baroness Von Riedesel traveling through the British American southern colonies with her officer husband during the American Revolution wrote, "I had brought two gorgeous birds with me from Virginia. The main bird was scarlet with a darker red tuft of feathers on his head, about the size of a bull-finch, and it sang magnificently. The female bird was gray with a red breast and also had a tuft of feathers on its head."
The Baroness continued, "They are very tame soon after they are caught and eat out of one's hand. These birds live a long time, but if two male birds are hung in the same room they are so jealous of each other that one of them dies soon afterwards."
She related that she, "saw black birds in Virginia of the same size, which always cry 'willow.' This amused us very much because one of my husband's aides was named Willoe."
1763-65 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). Detail of Gordon Family with bird.
The Baroness stated, "One of my servants discovered a whole nest of these red birds and fed and raised them. Knowing how much I loved them, he left Colle with two cages full on his back, but they all died before he reached me, much to our sorrow."
1766-67 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Mary Boylston (Mrs Benjamin Hallowell) with bird.
William Faris (1728-1804) was a silversmith & clockmaker living in Annapolis, Maryland, for over 50 years. He kept journals & a diary of his life there, on & off, during the last quarter of the 18th century. On October 25, 1793, Faris noted, "Last night the 2 yallow Birds died." Earlier, he had written that his "poor Mocking Bird" had died. Although these are the only references to birds in the diary he kept during the 1790s, his 1804 inventory listed eleven bird cages.
Although it is difficult to find descriptions of 18th century aviaries in the British American colonies, we find the the books flowing into the colonies from England were replete with references to aviaries & descriptions of them.
1766 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Elizabeth Ross (Mrs. William Tyng) with bird.
We know that Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, & author, did not like aviaries, or so he wrote in his 1625 Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall in the essay entitled Of Gardens. "For Aviaries, I like them not, except they be of that largeness as they may be turfed, and have living plants and bushes set in them; that the birds may have more scope and natural nestling, and that no foulness appear in the floor of the aviary."
One of England's earliest agricultural writers, John Worlidge's (1640-1700) Systema Horticulturae published in 1677, noted that, "One of the pleasures belonging to a Garden, is an Aviary, which must be near your house, that you may take some delight in it there, as well as in your Garden, and that you may in all seasons take care of its Inhabitants." Actually, Worlidge dreamed of "an Aviary at large, that the whole Garden with its Groves and Avenues may be full of these pretty Singers, that they may with their charming Notes, rouze up our dull Spirits, that are too intent upon the Cares of this World, and mind us of the Providence, the great God of the Universe hath over us, as well as these Creatures."
1770-1775 James Peale (American artist, 1749-1831). Girl with bird.
In 1701, when Charles Smith (1715-1762) published his Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork, he noted that "also nearer Cork Mr. John Dennis Merchant has a good house and neat gardens with an aviary."
1770 Daniel Hendrickson (American artist, 1723-1788). Detail of Catharine Hendrickson surrounded by birds.
The most widely read 18C gardening writer & the chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden, Philip Miller's (1691-1771) The Gardeners and Florists Dictionary of 1724, noted that "Mr. J. B. The Author of the Hereford/hire Orchards enumerates the Benefits of Orchards, that besides their Profit, they sweeten and purify the ambient Air, and by that Means, he thinks, conduce to the Health...and afford Shade and Shelter in the Heat of Summer, but harbour a constant Aviary of sweet Singers without Wires." Philip Miller was widely read throughout the British American colonies. His Dictionary was owned by Benjamin Franklin, Lady Jean Skipwith of Virginia, & Thomas Jefferson.
By 1733, garden designer & writer and an early exponent of the English style landscape garden, Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) was instructing his readers on aviaries in his Practical Husbandman and Planter. In the month of June he wrote that the aviary requires the "Assistance of the Person who looks after it, by the bruising and Emulsion of the cool Seeds of Melon and Cucumbers, in their watering Pans; as also, by the giving of them the leaves of Succory, Beets...and fresh Gravel and Earth, to cure them of their Sicknefs in Moulting-Time, being now sick of their old Feathers. And now young Partridges, Indian Hens, Pheasants, Partridges, &c. begin to require a little looking after to preserve them from the griping Hawk, constantly digging up of Ant-hills for the Pecking and Support of the little chirping Brood."
One of the classic books in Thomas Jefferson's library, The Builder's Dictionary: or, Gentleman and Architect's Companion explained in 1734, that an avairy was a "House or Apartment for the keeping, feeding, and breeding of Birds." The book covers all aspects of building design, construction, and finishes. In its time, the Dictionary was considered the most complete summary available for use by English architects & members of the construction trades.
In 1721, Richard Bradley, a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1712, and about to become Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, wrote a treatise, New Improvements in Planting and Gardening both Philosophical and Practical. Bradley's work New Improvements... also noted that orchards "harbour a constant Aviary of sweet Singers, which are here retained without the Charge or Violence of the Italian Wires." In the British American colonies, Thomas Jefferson also owned a copy of Bradley's New Improvements.
William Derham (1657-1735), was an Anglican clergyman, Canon of Windsor Castle, & natural philosopher. He was the first man known to measure the speed of sound. As a member of the Royal Society, he edited the correspondence between Eleasar Albin (1708-1742) & John Ray helping publish a Natural History of Birds which was illustrated by Albin between 1731-38, and which noted the Gamboa Grossbeake. "This Bird was brought from Gamboa on the Coast of Guinea and was in the Possession of his Grace the Duke of Chandos in an Aviary at his Grace's Country Seat at Edgeworth," where Albin went to draw it.
The juvenile edition of Spectacle de la Nature, Or Nature Display'd recommended the joys of communing with the birds in an aviary. Although the book influenced many to become naturalists, it was a work of popularization, not of science. In the book, the Duchess character explains that in the "Bower which the Count has inclosed with a Lattice of Brass Wire. I think I have seen, in this charming Aviary, all imaginable Sorts of little Birds, as well as those of a middling Size... this Aviary boafts a little of my Invention, and I commonly undertake the Management of it; but my Pains are requited by Pleasures that vary every Day. The Contentions of these little Creatures, their Endearments, their Melody, and Labours, and the obliging Civilities I receive from the Generality, when I pay them a Visit, are extremely entertaining to me. I carry my Work to them, and am never alone. One may pass whole Hours and Afternoons there."
In the 1760 Short Account, of the Principal Seats and Gardens, in and about Twickenham, female writer Joel Henrietta Pye (Jael Henrietta Mendez Pye) (1737-1782) tells of The Earl of Lincoln's Seat. "About a Mile beyond Weybridge, situated in the midst of a noble Park. The Gardens contain 150 Acres, and are divided by a fine Canal. The whole is laid out in the modern Taste, of Flowering Shrubs, Lawns, Clumps & ...an Aviary of every kind of Singing-Birds, who are, so concealed by the Trees, that tho' they fillthfe Garden with their Harmony, it is impossible to discover whence it proceeds."
Christopher Smart, Oliver Goldsmith, & Samuel Johnson reported in a compilation of their writings called, World Displayed: or, A Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels published in 1750, that in Mexico, "Montezuma had, besides the palace in which he kept his court, several magnificent pleasure houses, one of which was a noble building, supported by pillars of jasper. In this edifice he had an aviary of those birds that are most remarkable on account of their singing or feathers, and these were so numerous, that 300 men were said to be employed in attending them." Both George Washington & John Adams owned a copy of this book.
1790s Ellen Sharples (American artist, 1769-1849). Detail of Theodosia Burr of New Jersey with bird.
Arthur Young's (1741-1820) accounts of his travels throughout Great Britain were imported into the colonies as soon as they were published. In his 1778-1770, A Six Months Tour Through the North of England, he wrote, "From hence a walk winds to the aviary, which is a light Chinese building of a very pleasing design; it is stocked with Canary and other foreign birds, which are kept alive in winter by means of hot walls at the back of the building."
1793 Rufus Hathaway (American artist, 1770-1822). Detail of Church Sampson of Duxbury, MA. with bird and birdcage.
English Architect William Chambers (1723-1796) also wrote of what he hoped would be a strong Asian influence on English gardening. In his 1772, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, he noted that in China, "The saloons generally open to little enclosed courts, set round with beautiful flower-pots, of different forms, made of porcelain, marble or copper, filled with the rarest flowers of the season: at the end of the court there is generally an aviary." Chambers' book was found in libraries across the new American republic.
In England, the 1773 Encyclopaedia Britannica, offered its readers practical advice. "AVIARY, a place set apart for feeding and propagating birds. It Should be so large, as to give the birds some freedom of flight; and turfed, to avoid the appearance of foulness on the floor." These folks had obviously read Francis Bacon's essay Of Gardens! John Charnock (1756-1807) wrote in his 1794 Biographia Navalis that the retired "Admiral (George) Churchill (1654-1710) ...had constructed the most beautiful aviary in Britain, which he had, at an incredible expence, filled with a most rare and valuable collection of birds."
In America, the New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository of 1792, was advising its readers that, "A Goldfinch must never be let loose in an aviary, for he destroys the nests and breaks the eggs of the other birds."
The next year, William Marshall's (1745-1818) Planting and Rural Ornament critically explained that "An Aviary Of Foreign Birds appears to be equally ill placed, in such a situation: exotic birds are apt accompaniments to exotic plants; and a shrubery, rather than a sequestered dell, seems to be the most natural situation for an aviary." George Washington & many other early Americans owned a copy of this book.
Isaac Weld (1774-1856) noted in his 1800 Travels through the States of North America that at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia, "A large apartment is laid out for a library and museum, meant to extend the entire breadth of the house, the windows of which are to open into an extensive greenhouse and aviary."
By the early 19th century, John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) was eager to share his knowledge of aviaries with readers of his Encyclopedia of Gardening. He explained that originally apiaries were common at the country houses of the Romans, where they were used primarily as safe-keeping for birds destined to be eaten. Loudon notes that singing-birds, however, also were kept by the Persians, Greeks, & Romans in wicker-cages. Larger cages of songbirds more permanently set in gardens followed. The Chinese built actual house-like structures for their birds. In 1808, the last of the great 18C English landscape designer Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) re-popularized aviaries with his Design for an Aviary and Pergola in the Chinese Style.
However, Loudon explains that Varro built an elegant & spacious aviary, at his country house, near Casinum. Varro wrote that there were two sorts of aviaries, one for containing birds intended for the table, and the other for birds kept for their song or plumage. The former sort were built entirely for use, but the latter were often beautiful pavilions, with an apartment or saloon in the center, for guests to sit in and enjoy the melodies of the feathered songsters.
According to Loudon, his fellow countryman, John Evelyn (1620-1706) mentioned in his Kalendarium Hortense: or, the Gardner's Almanac the parrots in the aviary of the Marquis of Argyll at Sayes Court. Loudon explained that a parrot aviary was built with a glass roof front and ends covered with shades & curtains to protect it from the sun & frost, and a flue for winter heating. In these aviaries artificial or dead trees with glazed foliage were fixed in the floor. Sometimes cages hung on them, and at other times the birds allowed to fly free within the aviary. Early Americans (Increase (1639-1723) & Cotton Mather (1663-1728) and New Yorker Lewis Morris (1726-1798) owned Evelyn's Kalendarium.)
Loudon revealed that a special canary aviary was set in an opaque-roofed greenhouse or conservatory, by enclosing it with a partition of wire; and furnishing the greenhouse with...branches suspended from the roof for the birds to perch on. In another type of aviary...a net or wire curtain was thrown over the tops of trees. Here songbirds could sing on the trees; aquatic birds could glide on the water; & pheasants could stroll over the lawn. For severe seasons, discreet houses & cages would offer them refuge.
Loudon noted that in England, portable netted enclosures, from 10 to 20 feet square, were distributed over areas of the lawn to display a curious collection of domestic fowls. In each enclosure was a small wooden box for sheltering the animals during night or in severe weather, and for breeding. Loudon even suggested that "Curious varieties of aquatic fowls might be placed on floating aviaries on a lake or pond." & explained that birds from the hot climates were sometimes kept in hot-houses among their native plants with doors & openings for giving air covered with wire cloth. Loudon proposed that grouping birds together geographically would give rise to an educational aviary containing specimens of the native birds of a particular country...promoting the knowledge of their names, classification, climates, & habits. Loudon noted that the emperor Napoleon kept a large aviary with species of birds from all over the globe.
In America, we finally do get an eyewitness account of an aviary in New York City. Grant Thorburn's (1773-1863) early 19th-century Horticultural Repository on John Street in New York City had an avaiary, when Thomas Green Fessenden (1771-1837) visited. He wrote of it in the Horticultural Register and Gardener's Magazine, "The aviary...is filled with many beautiful birds which fill the air with their sweet songs--the native mockingbird, canary & all exerting their sweet voices in mingled harmony, and fluttering as merrily as in their native woods."
As the 19th century saw American towns & industry grow and homeowners' property size decrease, caged birds became more popular. Pennsylvania attorney Henry Beck Hirst (1813-1874) wrote, "And what man lives, who, as he passes by the cottage of the humble labourer, and observes the wicker habitation of the well tended Canary suspended at the door, does not form a favorable idea of the taste of those who dwell within its walls...And oh! in the crowded cities, with the hum of business & the rattle of wheels sounding ever around, is it not pleasant to the ear...to hear the voice of some lone bird...and the melancholy warbler is converted into the many voiced choir of the forest."