John James Audubon

John James Audubon (ô´dəbŏn), 1785–1851, American ornithologist, b. Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti). The illegitimate son of a French sea captain and plantation owner and a Creole chambermaid who died months after his birth, he was educated in France and in 1803 came to live in his father's estate, "Mill Grove," near Philadelphia. There he spent much time observing birds and making the first American bird-banding experiments. In 1808 he married Lucy Bakewell, whose faith and support were factors in his eventual success. Between 1808 and 1820 he lived mostly in Kentucky, frequently changing his occupation and neglecting his business to carry on his bird observations. He began painting portraits for a livelihood and descended the Mississippi to New Orleans, where for a time he taught drawing. From 1823 to 1828 his wife conducted a private school, in which he taught for a short time, in West Feliciana parish, La.

In 1826 Audubon traveled to Great Britain in search of a publisher and subscribers for his bird drawings, meeting with favorable response in Edinburgh and London. The Birds of America, in the large elephant folio size, was published in parts between 1827 and 1838, with engravings by Robert Havell, Jr. Unlike the static ornithological portraits of most of his predecessors, Audubon created drawings and paintings of birds infused with life and frequently including backgrounds that show their natural habitats. The accompanying text, called the Ornithological Biography (5 vol., 1831–39), was prepared largely in Edinburgh in collaboration with the Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray, who was responsible for its more scientific information. Extracts from Audubon's contributions, edited in 1926 by F. H. Herrick as Delineations of American Scenery and Character, reveal his stylistic qualities and furnish many pictures of American frontier life. Audubon worked on a smaller edition of his great work and also, in collaboration with John Bachman, began The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, which was completed by his sons Victor Gifford Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon (plates, 30 parts, 1842–45; text, 3 vol., 1846–54). During these years his home was on the Hudson River in N Manhattan. While Audubon's works on bird life may not wholly satisfy either the critical artist or the meticulous scientist, their achievement in both areas is considerable. Reprinted many times, they are widely popular and remain one of the great achievements of American intellectual history.


See his journal (1929) and letters (1930, repr. 1969), both ed. by H. Corning; John James Audubon's Journal of 1826: Voyage to The Birds of America (2011), ed. by J. D. Patterson; biographies by A. Ford (1988) S. Streshinsky (1993), W. Souder (2004), and R. Rhodes (2004); The Art of Audubon: The Complete Birds and Mammals (1981), R. C. Tyler, ed., Audubon's Great National Work: The Royal Octavo Edition of The Birds of America (1993), A. Blaugrund and T. E. Stebbins, Jr., ed., The Watercolors for The Birds of America (1993), and S. V. Edwards, ed., Audubon: Early Drawings (2008); studies by A. J. Tyler (1937), S. C. Arthur (1937), A. E. Ford (1964), A. B. Adams (1966), F. H. Herrick (2d ed. 1938, repr. 1968), K. H. Proby (1974), and D. Hart-Davis (2004).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2017, The Columbia University Press.

John James Audubon: Selected full-text books and articles

Early Southern Sports and Sportsmen, 1830-1910: A Literary Anthology By Jacob F. Rivers III University of South Carolina Press, 2014
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
John James Audubon's Journal of 1826: The Voyage to the Birds of America By John James Audubon; Daniel Patterson; Patricio J. Serrano University of Nebraska Press, 2011
The Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon By John James Audubon; Daniel Patterson University of Nebraska Press, 2016
Audubon By Constance Rourke; James MacDonald Harcourt Brace and Company, 1936
Audubon: Images of the Artist in Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren By Cluck, Nancy The Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring 1985
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Discovered!: The First Engraving of an Audubon Bird By Peck, Robert M.; Newman, Eric P Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 30, No. 3, October 1, 2010
Audubon Landscapes in the South By Steinberg, Michael K The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 1-2, Spring 2010
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Audubon the WRITER By Heitman, Danny Humanities, Vol. 32, No. 6, November/December 2011
John Audubon: Roots in Haiti By Rodriguez, Zina L The New Crisis, Vol. 106, No. 5, September/October 1999
Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists By Keir B. Sterling; Richard P. Harmond; George A. Cevasco; Lorne F. Hammond Greenwood Press, 1997
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