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Locating the Transatlantic Seed Trade in James Madison’s Garden

The early colonial transatlantic seed trade started when the first colonists set foot on North American land. It grew and prospered over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Landowners, like James Madison, used the seed trade as a livelihood and for scientific study. Yet the seed trade also served other purposes: it was a tool of colonialist expansion as well as a lifeline for enslaved peoples to hold onto their own culture and botanical practices. The results of the early American seed trade can be seen today with the existence of botanical gardens, historic greenhouses, and European plants that have gradually naturalized into the North American environment. Learn more below. 

This exhibit was designed and written by Molly Nebiolo. Ms. Nebiolo is a PhD candidate at Northeastern University, and was an Experiential Fellow for the Center for Digital Scholarship this summer.