John James Audubon and Adoption

Audubon by John Syme, 1826



French-American Naturalist

Audubon was born in what is now Haiti, the son of a well-to-do married French naval captain and slave trader and his Creole servant-mistress. His mother died soon after his birth and his father took him home to France, where he was legally adopted by him and his wife. (In later years Audubon tried to conceal his illegitimate birth by giving several fictitious accounts of his origins, but documents discovered in France in the early 1900s are believed to give the true story.)

As an adolescent he studied art with the famous painter David. When he was 18 his father sent him to manage a family plantation near Philadelphia, where he met and married his wife. He was unsuccessful at business (he went bankrupt twice and was imprisoned for debt in 1819), and only became famous as a nature artist and naturalist later, after going to Britain and Europe in 1826. He is considered one of the greatest painters of birds and animals who ever lived, and he also wrote several books about natural history. His Birds of America are now some of the most expensive books in the world: a copy sold in 1990 for £1,600,000, and another copy in 1989 for $3,600,000.


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97 Streshinsky, Shirley. Audubon: Life and Art in the American Wilderness. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998) Kendall, Martha E. John James Audubon: Artist of the Wild. (Brookfield: Millbrook Press, 1993) (Gateway Green Biography) Alexander, Pamela. Commonwealth of Wings: An Ornithological Biography Based on the Life of John James Audubon. (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1991) "John James Audubon, 1785-1851." Available at: "John James Audubon." Available at: