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From early childhood the well-born Catesby was exposed to many of England's "new intelligentsia" who were ushering in the Age of Reason. 1 His uncle, a minor local historian by the name of Nicholas Jekyll, introduced him to the prominent naturalist John Ray. Ray nurtured the young Casteby's interest in botany and introduced him to others who shared it, notably Samuel Dale, an amateur botanist who would help finance Catesby's later American collecting expeditions. 2

Catesby's first opportunity to travel to America came through a family connection. His sister, Elizabeth, had married Dr. William Cocke and the two lived in Williamsburg, Virginia. Cocke had become involved in Colonial politics and provided Catesby with introductions to the many of the ruling class in Virginia, including William Byrd, who would also provide support for Catesby's second trip to the Colonies.

Catesby arrived in Virginia on April 23, 1712. It was seven years before he would return to England. Except for a visit to Jamaica in 1714, he spent his time in Virginia, traveling through the Tidewater and up the James River towards the Appalachians. He observed and sketched local flora and fauna. He also collected botanical specimens for Samuel Dale and for Thomas Fairchild, whose nursery at Hoxton Catesby often mentions in the Natural History.

In his preface to the first volume of the Natural History Catesby expressed regret that he had not approached his study with more structure:

I thought then so little of prosecuting a Design of the Nature of this Work, that in the Seven Years I resided in that Country, (I am ashamed to own it) I chiefly gratified my Inclination in observing and admiring the various Productions of those Countries, -- only sending from thence some dried Specimens of Plants and some of the most Specious of them in Tubs of Earth, at the Request of some curious Friends. 3

Yet his time in Virginia proved to have been well spent, for his observations, sketches and specimens collected during that time, with the help of a few well-placed friends, secured him funding for a second trip. Samuel Dale provided him with an introduction to England's premiere botanist, William Sherard, writing to him:

Mr. Catesby is come from Virginia...He intends againe to return , and will take an oppertunity to waite upon you with some paintings of Birds &c. which he hath drawn. Its [a] pitty some incouragement can't be found for him, he may be very usefull for the perfecting of Natural History. 4

Happily for Catesby, Sherard had just begun plans to send a naturalist to America. He lobbied several of his influential friends and colleagues to select Catesby for this role.

Sherard's affiliation with The Royal Society of London for the Advancement of Science (known simply as the Royal Society) a group sponsored by the British government to support scientific investigation since 1662. In October of 1720 Colonel Francis Nicholson, about to depart for America as the first Royal Governor of South Carolina, told the Royal Society that throughout his reign he would provide Catesby with a pension of twenty pounds per year "to Observe the Rarities of the Country for the uses and purposes of the Society." 5 While the Royal Society itself did not fund Catesby, their endorsement of him was instrumental in securing funding. Catesby soon received the support of Sir Hans Sloane, then President of of the Royal College of Physicians and later President of the Royal Society. 6

Catesby's backers were not only men of science and politics, but also business men, who clearly stood to gain from the as yet unknown natural resources of America. Among such men was Charles Dubois, merchant and former treasurer of the East India Company. 7 Catesby included a list of sponsors on page vi of the preface to Volume I. 8 Without such support, Catesby could not have made this second trip to America, yet this support would come at a price.

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