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David Hosack (1769-1835)

Influential physician, botanist, and New York citizen who was the first person to bring European-style landscape architecture to the United States of America.

David Hosack
David Hosack by Rembrandt Peale (public domain)

David Hosack was born in 1769 in New York City. He attended King's College — now known as Columbia University — for two years where he became interested in medicine. Hosack then transferred to Princeton where he was influenced by the work of noted physician Samuel Bard.

After graduating with a B.S. from Princeton, Hosack went on to study medicine, first at the University of Pennsylvania then at the University of Edinburgh, believing medical training in Europe to be superior to that offered in the United States.

Hamilton-Burr duel

Hosack was the family doctor of renowned statesman Alexander Hamilton and his family, and became known as the doctor present during Hamilton's duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804. Hosack, who was a friend to both Hamilton and Burr, treated Hamilton after Burr fired, and accompanied him across the river to the dockside home of prominent banker William Bayard Jr., where Hamilton died the next day. At Hamilton's funeral, Hosack was one of the pallbearers.

Three years after the duel, Burr was tried and acquitted on a charge of treason for a conspiracy to form a new nation in the Louisiana Territory and Spanish Texas. Hosack loaned Burr money for passage on a ship to Europe, where Burr lived for several years in self-imposed exile to escape his creditors and the infamy resulting from the trial.

Botany and history

Although these events brought Hosack a certain level of historical notoriety, his most influential work developed not in the medical sciences but in the fields of botany and history. Hosack created the Elgin Botanic Garden (where Rockefeller Center now stands), the first of its kind in the United States. Friends and associates around the world sent Hosack seed samples for the garden, which was modelled after the gardens Hosack observed in Europe and which he named after the Scottish birthplace of his father.

Indeed Hosack was one of the first people to introduce European style landscape architecture in the United States. He brought many new plants and trees — particularly apple trees — never before seen or cultivated in this country.

'Learned and enlightened'

In 1828, Hosack purchased the estate of his mentor Samuel Bard. The property became a gathering place for intellectuals throughout the Hudson Valley. Visitors to the house included artists from the Hudson River School, naturalists, and authors such as Washington Irving. Hosack was considered one of New York's first citizens, having been a founder of the New York Historical Society, the American Academy of Fine Arts, and Bellevue Hospital.

David Hosack died in 1837, leaving a distinguished legacy in the arts and sciences and his mark on New York civic and social affairs. His estate, it was said, was "the resort of the learned and the enlightened from every part of the world."

Additional sources

The New York Journal of American History