October 2019

Vol. 47, No. 5

William Brewster: At the Right Place at the Right Time

William E. Davis, Jr.


Fig. 1.
William Brewster in 1895 at one of his Concord River cabins. Courtesy of the Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

William Brewster lived most of his life in the greater Boston area and made that area his "patch." Although he became a nationally known and respected figure through his involvement with the Nuttall Ornithological Club, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), and his numerous publications, and while he did travel three times to Great Britain and once to the European continent, Brewster nevertheless remained at heart a local New England devotee. He was characterized by wealth and ill health, and these two factors played a significant role in the trajectory of his life. But the single most important factor in his life was his consuming love of nature that took on nearly spiritual dimensions. Around 1890, he purchased a tract of land on the Concord River, in Concord, Massachusetts, later added the adjoining Ball's Hill, and still later added the Barrett farm and another property to bring together about 300 acres that constituted his "October Farm" (Henshaw 1920). He built several log cabins at the riverbank, and he invited his friends to camp with him and roam the fields and forests of his farm. His other patch was Lake Umbagog on the border between Maine and New Hampshire, to which he returned nearly every year for several decades. His wealth allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do, and that was to wander and camp in the woodlands of his patches. In the process he made contributions to the field of ornithology and became revered by those who knew him—an icon in the local ornithological community.

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