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Banister, John

1. Dates
Born: Twigworth, Gloucestershire, 1650
Died: Virginia, May 1692 shot in a hunting accident
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 42
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
John Banister is known only from his son's matriculation record in Magdalen College, where he is recorded as "pleb."
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English (England and Virginia)
Death: English (Virginia)
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A.
Magdalen College, Oxford, 1667-74; B.A., 1671; M.A. 1674.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Botany, Entomology
Banister's hope was to compose a general natural history of Virginia. He sent John Ray a lengthy catalogue of the plants of Virginia, and he published papers on the insects, mullusks, and plants of Virginia in the Philosophical Transactions.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Academia, Patronage, Personal Means
He functioned as a clerk in Magdalen College, 1674-6, and then Chaplain, 1676-8.
Apparently Banister went to Virginia to be an Anglican minister, and he does appear to have been one until the end of his life. Although his name does not appear on early lists of ministers, his status as a minister, possibly a curate, does appear well established. By 1689 there are records of him as a clergyman.
Banister received at least encouragement and hospitality from William Byrd I, the trader at the falls of the James River, who acted as Banister's patron and business manager when Byrd was in London. Through Byrd's representation Banister probably received financial support from the Temple Coffee House Botany Club in London (Compton, Plukenet, Doody, Lister, and others), from 1687 to 92. Banister certainly sent them specimens and information.
About 1690 Banister became a landholder himself, and he imported at least two slaves and apparently some indentured servants.
8. Patronage
Types: Merchant, Scientist, Eccesiastic Official
His relation to Byrd is somewhat ambiguous, probably reflecting the rough state of the colony. Byrd became one of the wealthiest landholders in Virginia, and he ran a thriving trade with the Indians near the falls in the James River. He was also an important figure in the government of Virginia. His interest was in practical matters, such as products of economic potential, including minerals. The Ewans are dubious that Byrd gave Banister financial assistance. However, in a letter of 1679 Banister said that he was exceedingly obliged to Byrd, which is the language of patronage. Plukenet referred to Byrd as Banister's patron, and Banister's son was in the service of Byrd's son.
Banister also probably got financial support from the Temple Coffee House Botany Club in London (Bishop Compton, Martin Lister, and others) during the period 1687-92. With the help of the club he imported 35 persons into the colony and received, from Lt. Gov. Francis Nicholson, 1735 acres in Charles City County on the south side of the Appomatock River in 1690.
Bishop Compton appears to have had a special relation with Banister. A letter to the Bishop, who was greatly interested in his garden, to which Banister contributed seeds, certainly sounds like the letter of a client.
(Source on patronage: Ewans, pp. 53, 78, 86-7.)
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Agriculture
I list this with hesitation. One letter shows Banister much concerned with the crops that might possibly grow in Virginia as well as the natural species of plants. He sent seeds that introduced American species into English gardens. This is the most tenuous ascription of technological involvement in the whole catalogue; read his letter of 6 April 1679 to the Bishop of London (Compton) and decide for yourself.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal connections: correspondence with the members of the Temple Coffee House Botany Club, and with John Ray, Martin Lister, and other leading naturalists in England.
  1. Joseph and Nesta Ewan, John Banister and his Natural History of Virginia, 1678-1696, (Urbana, Ill., 1970). QH31 B18E94 This book contains letters and manuscripts.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 1, 1039-40. Dictionary of American Biography, 2nd ed., ed. Allen Johnson et al., 11 vols. (New York, 1957-8), 1, 575-6.
  3. Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, The Early English Colonies, (London, 1908), pp. 192-201. On the title page and in the signature to the preface it is merely Arthur Foley. All that is here is the original publication of Banister's letter of 6 April 1679 to Bishop Compton.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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