Named after merchant and horticulturist Enoch Bartlett of Roxbury, Massachusetts, an officer in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society who popularized the variety in the 1820s and ‘30s in the United States, the Bartlett Pear was a large summer pear of pyramidal shape from three to four ½ inches in length. Possessing an unsunken eye, its skin was pale green spotted with darker green and brown. When ripe the sun side cheek turns yellow with a blush of red. Its flesh is white, juicy, and fragrant—a lush mouthful. The tree is vigorous with erect branches, jutting out straight until bent but the weight of ripening fruit. The deep green leaves are broad and sharply serrated. It ripens in August.
The history of the Bartlett Pear was ascertained by Thomas W. Silloway in the Massachusetts Ploughman in 1890. For a long while, Americans thought the variety the creation of Enoch Bartlett, and hence an American innovation. Silloway showed that the Bartlett was a rebranded Williams’ Bon Chretien Pear imported from London by Captain Thomas Brewer of Rosbury in 1806. After Thomas Brewer was lost at sea in 1812 Enoch Bartlett took over the captain’s property and orchard. The Williams Bon Chretien was a seedling of the Summer Bon Chretien discovered in the garden of Schoolmaster Wheeler of Aldermanston, Berkshire, England in 1769. Cuttings were obtained by nurseryman Richard Williams of Turnham Green who sold the variety in England. Despite its qualities, it did not receive wide note until early in the 19th century. In America, named the Bartlett, it came to be the most popular summer pear variety and retains its popularity in the 21st century.
Among the historic southern nurseries who sold the Bartlett were Alabama Nursery in Huntsville, W. D. Beattie’s Atlanta Nursery, H. F. Nillenbeyer & Sons Bluegrass Nursery in Lexington, Kentucky, Cherokee Nursery in Waycross, Georgia, N. W. Craft’s Cedar Grove Nursery in Yadkin, North Carolina, Clingman Nursery in Keithville, Louisiana, Colmant Nursery in West End, Alabama, Smith Brothers’ Concord Nursery in Concord, Georgia, Dixie Garden in Chattanooga, Tennessee, J. S. Downer & Sons Forest Nursery in Fairview, Kentucky, Emporia Nurseries in Emporia, Virginia, Excelsior Nursery in Rome, Georgia, J. A. Ramsburg’s Frederick Nursery in Frederick, Maryland.
Image: "U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705" Bertha Heiges, 1897.