(Plaque located at the Chapman Botanical Garden on Market Street)
Alvan Wentworth Chapman (1809-1899) was a physician and internationally renowned botanist. His discovery of an amazing variety of plants, trees, and flowers over his decades of work in the South established him as one of the brightest scientific minds of the times.
One of Dr. Chapman’s major accomplishments was authoring Flora of the Southern United States in 1860, the first comprehensive description of U.S. plants outside the northeast.
Dr. Chapman was born on September 28, 1809, at Southampton, Massachusetts. He graduated with honors from Amherst College in 1830. He received his medical degree in Louisville, Kentucky. In the winter of 1835, Dr. Chapman moved to Florida where he practiced medicine first at Quincy and then Marianna. In 1839 he married Mrs. Mary Ann Hancock of New Bern, North Carolina, who had two daughters. They had one child together who died in infancy.
Upon moving to Apalachicola in 1847, Dr. Chapman built a home on the corner of Avenue E (HWY 98) and 6th street which still stands today. His love for the science of botany became a principal work of his life especially after the Civil War. He was influenced by his friendships with botanists Hardy Croom who discovered the rare Florida Torreya tree and Harvard scientist Asa Gray. He was also friends with local physician John Gorrie who invented the ice-making machine and is considered the father of air conditioning.
During the Civil War, Dr. Chapman was a Union sympathizer. A poignant example of someone he provided aid to during the war is Daniel Bond. Bond, of the First Minnesota Battalion, escaped from horrific conditions at the Andersonville prison in southern Georgia in April of 1865, and credits Dr. Chapman with assisting him in the final leg of his escape when he reached Apalachicola. Dr. Chapman provided him with meals and overnight lodging at his home and used his boat to take Bond out to the Union Navy’s blockade just offshore. In his memoir, Bond recounts catching sight of the “long black gunboat with the stars and stripes streaming above.” He was taken on board the Mahaska, went on to become a school teacher after the war, and lived to an advanced age.
Dr. Chapman was also a local businessman, County Judge, Mayor, and Collector of Customs. He died in 1899 at almost 90 years of age. A contemporary, C.I. Kimball, wrote, “The passing of Dr. Chapman is to this community like the fall of a mighty oak which leaves the landscape desolate.” His gravesite can be found at the historic Chestnut Street Cemetery.
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida.
177 5th Street
Apalachicola, Florida 32320 USA