John James Audubon was born in what was then San Domingo (now Haiti) on this date 232 years ago in 1785. His childhood was spent in France, but by 1803 he left there to avoid conscription in Napoleon’s army. His father was a successful businessman and sea captain, and hoped an extended visit to Pennsylvania would encourage John James to find his way in the New World. Though he didn’t follow the path his father hoped, John James discovered two loves that endured for his lifetime – his friend and wife, Lucy Bakewell, and living in and preserving the outdoor life.
By the time he was 35, Audubon had attempted to earn a living for himself and his family with several failed ventures. What he enjoyed the most was sketching and drawing birds and animals, and in 1820 he began producing the exquisite, detailed drawings that make up his magnum opus, Birds of America. This monumental work grew until over 400 different drawings
were ready to be shared with the world. While he was working on this, Lucy became the major breadwinner of the family, serving as a governess to a New Orleans family. John supplemented their income by painting portraits for $5.00 each.
American publishers were not interested in Birds of America, so in 1826 John James tried England. His work was a major hit in Scotland and England. The publishing firm of Havell and Son published it in four volumes, over the time span of 1827 – 1838. By 1841, the family was able to buy a rural estate on the Hudson River. He began work on a second book, Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, but due to his ill health a majority of the plates in that book were finished by his son, John Woodhouse Audubon. John James Audubon, early American naturalist, died in New York State in January, 1851.
Sources available through the Bellevue University Library:
Audubon: Beyond Birds QL31.A9 A92