Jackson Thornton Dawson

Historical Biographies

Jackson Thornton Dawson

Jackson Thornton Dawson circa 1910.

Jackson Thornton Dawson (1841-1916)

Jackson Dawson was born in England but came to America as a child settling in Andover, Massachusetts. He trained with his uncle who was a nurseryman there and gained early notoriety with his discovery of heather growing wild in Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War and was wounded near Washington, DC. While convalescing he did gardening for people in the area.

After the war, he was engaged as Plant Propagator by Charles Sargent becoming the first employee of the newly formed Arnold Arboretum. Dawson lived and raised his family in the white frame house at 1090 Centre Street. It was here that he also maintained the Arboretum’s propagation facilities, including a greenhouse and outdoor nursery. All of the seeds and cuttings sent by Arboretum collectors in this period, including Ernest Wilson, William Purdom, and John Jack, were raised here. In total he raised 450,718 plants and distributed 47,993 seed packets during his 43 years as Arboretum Propagator.

Dawson was a horticulturist of exceptional ability, and it was said only half in jest, that he could coax life from a dead stick. He was an active member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (MHS) and was honored several times by that organization. He was also a noted rosarian and bred several important varieties. He was honored posthumously by the MHS in 1927 by the creation of the Dawson Memorial Medal for “skill in the science and practice of hybridization and propagation of hardy woody plants.”

Arboretum Plant Propagator Jack Alexander is a recipient of the Dawson Medal.

Connor Geary, Sheila and Hutchinson, B. June. “Mr. Dawson, Plantsman.” Arnoldia 40(2), March/April 1980 [pdf].