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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
America's foremost naturalist and illustrator of birds, John James Audubon was born April 26, 1785, in St. Dominque (now Haiti) on Les Cayes, his father's plantation. His father, Jean Audubon, was a French naval officer, merchant, and slave trader who had served under General LaFayette in the American Revolutionary War. Audubon's natural mother is thought to have been Jeanne Rabbine, his father's mistress, who died shortly after his birth. Audubon grew up in France under the affectionate care of his father's wife, Anne Moynette Audubon. He preferred roaming the woods and sketching birds to academic studies.
In 1803 Audubon arrived in America to manage his father's farm in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He led an active social life, with enough time to study and draw the abundant birds of his new country. His outgoing nature and accomplishments as a musician and dancer attracted Lucy Bakewell, daughter of a neighbor, who became his wife on April 5, 1808.
Audubon and Ferdinand Rozier, his fellow-Frenchman and business partner, had left Pennsylvania in 1807 to become storekeepers in Louisville. Both were aware of the frontier town's reputation as a gathering point for trappers and traders. The following year, Audubon brought his new bride to "temporary" quarters in Louisville's Indian Queen Hotel, which was to be their home for more than two years. In 1809 their first son, Victor Gifford, was born. As before, Audubon spent a great deal of his time in the woods, observing and drawing birds.
By 1810 Audubon's collection of bird portraits had grown to more than two hundred drawings. At that time, noted Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson arrived in Louisville to draw birds and to sell subscriptions to a published portfolio of his works. After seeing Wilson's drawings, Audubon confided that he, too, had been working for years in an effort to draw all the birds of America. Until that meeting, he had considered his efforts merely a personal pastime. However, he could see that his own drawings were superior to Wilson's.
Later that year, believing more profits could be made where there was less competition, Rozier convinced Audubon to move their business 120 miles downriver to Henderson, Kentucky. Along with Rozier, the Audubon family moved into a log cabin, setting up their store in the front room. By 1811 the ambitious Rozier suggested moving farther west, to the Mississippi River outpost of St. Genevieve, Missouri. After seeing St. Genevieve, Audubon decided that it lacked potential, and he and Rozier amicably agreed to end their partnership.
The first years in Henderson brought the Audubons relative prosperity and happiness. A second son, John Woodhouse, was born there on November 30, 1812. Audubon took advantage of frequent business trips to increase the number of drawings in his portfolio. Victor and John took an interest in their father's avocation, later becoming accomplished artists and playing roles in the successful completion and publication of Audubon's books on birds.
By 1818 Audubon had fallen into serious debt. Embittered by his misfortunes and grieving at the death of his two-year-old daughter, Lucy, in 1817, Audubon sold the family's belongings and they returned to Louisville, where he earned his living by painting portraits and giving art lessons. He was jailed briefly for his debts, and he filed for bankruptcy in the panic of 1819. The final sad note of his time in Kentucky came with the birth and death, in Louisville, of his daughter Rosa, who was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. Audubon and his family left Kentucky in 1819, moving first to Ohio, where he became a taxidermist for Daniel Drake 's new Western Museum in Cincinnati, and in 1820 to Louisiana.
Audubon's four-volume Birds Of America was published in 1827-38, ensuring his place in history. His artistic renderings of America's birds and animals are unsurpassed in their accuracy and beauty. The work was followed by the five-volume The Viviparous Quadrupeds Of America (1842-45) and portfolios (1846-54). Audubon also wrote Ornithological Biography (1831-39), the text of the fifth volume of Birds Of America, and Synopsis Of Birds Of North America (1839), which cataloged the birds.
Audubon spent several years of increasing senility. He died on January 27, 1851, at Minnie's Land, his home on the Hudson River (now Audubon Park in New York City), and he was buried there.
Many of Audubon's engravings, paintings, personal artifacts, and one of the few remaining complete, four-volume sets of the double-elephant Birds Of America portfolios are on view at the John James Audubon Memorial Museum at Audubon State Park, Henderson, Kentucky.
CONSTANCE ALEXANDER and ROY DAVIS, Entry Authors
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
John James Audubon papers.
87M4, Special Collections Research Center - Manuscripts Collection
The original water-color paintings by John James Audubon for The birds of America : reproduced in color for the first time from the collection at the New York Historical Society / introd. By Marshall B. Davidson.
598.297 Au29or, Special Collections Research Center - Oversize Collection
Journal of John James Audubon made during his trip to New Orleans in 1820-1821, edited by Howard Corning, foreword by Ruthven Deane.
B Au29j 1929a, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection