George Vasey was born near Scarborough, England on February
28, 1822. A year later his family moved to Oriskany, New York. The
fourth of ten children, Vasey attended school until the age of twelve.
During the next year, while working as a store clerk, he became
interested in botany and began studying Mrs. Lincoln's Elements
of Botany. Unable to afford a copy of his own, he copied it entire.
One day a gentleman outside his store stooped down, picked a flower
from the sidewalk. “Coming to where I stood,” wrote
Vasey,“he held up the plant and asked if I knew the name
of it. I replied, ‘Yes, it is a buttercup.' ‘Well,'
said he, ‘do you know its botanical name?' ‘Yes,'
I replied, ‘it is Ranunculus acris.'”
The gentleman turned out to be Dr. P. D. Kneisbern, a noted botanist
of the day, and invited Vasey to visit him and study under him.
Kneisbern introduced him to renowned botanists Drs. John Torrey
and Asa Gray.
Vasey later studied medicine and became a doctor, but his botanical
interests eventually drew him back. Now acquainted with the elite
of the botanical world, he was introduced to a fellow self-taught
scientist, Major John Wesley Powell of Illinois.
Powell invited him on his Colorado Expedition of 1868. Vasey gladly
accepted. He traveled with Powell throughout the Rockies that summer
and returned to Denver with “a splendid collection which has
enriched and enlarged several of the best herbaria of the country.”
He was subsequently appointed curator of the Natural History Museum
in the State Normal University of Illinois, a position he resigned
to become the Botanist of the Department of Agriculture and Curator
of the U. S. National Herbarium. His work there included the building
up of the herbarium to one of the greatest in the world. He published
extensively and in later life specialized in grasses. He died in
Washington on March 4, 1893.
“He was a quiet and dignified gentleman of most kindly feeling
and pleasing address. Those connected with him in his work speak
with warmth of the pleasant relations he sustained with them. While
conscientiously efficient and firm in his duties, his sweetness
of disposition made him loved by all. To the narrowing circle of
the older botanists who have so long known him and cherished his
friendship his loss comes with peculiar force.”
Extracted from a eulogy in the 1893 Botanical Gazette, mailed into
us by Don Lago.