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Finding your Brooklyn Roots in Brooklyn Historical Society’s Beginnings

By Adrienne Lang

Posted on May 28, 2020

With its “Finding Your Brooklyn Roots” initiative, BHS invites its followers to submit questions about their Brooklyn ancestors. In this post, we share one of our recent discoveries based on one of your inquiries.

When a patron wrote to us hoping to learn more about her family roots in Brooklyn, she didn’t expect that we would be able to trace her ancestors back to Brooklyn Historical Society. We were just as surprised to find out that her second and third-great grandfathers, Julian and John Hooper, were not only early members of the Society, but made several contributions to our collections that still exist today.

Introduction to Algology

Introduction to Algology

Introduction to algology; with a catalogue of American Algae, or sea-weeds, according to the latest classification of Prof. Harvey (1850) by John Hooper. U.S. National Library of Medicine via Internet Archive

Julian Hooper was born in England in 1828, but when he was just twelve years old his entire family, including his parents and two younger siblings, immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Brooklyn. According to Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography, Julian’s father, John, was a botanist who  “devoted himself to natural science,” specifically to the study of marine algae. When he died in Brooklyn in 1869, he gifted his collection of algae specimens to the Long Island Historical Society (now BHS).

“I believe [they] are the most perfect collection of U.S. algae extant,” he wrote, “And being my life work, too, desire them kept.”

It might seem strange that John Hooper gave his algae to a historical society, but at the time BHS had an extensive natural history collection, and enthusiastic naturalists like the Hoopers regularly met there to show off their newest specimens and read aloud from scientific papers. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from 1892 describes, in great detail, the Society’s natural history, geology, and “ethnography” collections, which at the time contained “a total of 4,077 specimens of 2,321 species,” including a taxidermied elk, a puma, and over four hundred prepared birds. But nothing could approach the “bounty of the botanical array,” the article asserts, including samples of local marine plants “prepared and preserved by the late Julian Hooper.”

While BHS no longer has its natural history collection, the library has held on to Hooper’s catalogue of algae specimens, Introduction to algology; with a catalogue of American Algae, or sea-weeds, according to the latest classification of Prof. Harvey, published in Brooklyn in 1850  (available online here), as well as a transcript of a lecture he gave in 1865 titled “The Birds of Long Island.”

Julian Hooper inherited his father’s love of the natural world, though he was more passionate about insects than plants. As a teenager in he was awarded a diploma for “best prepared insects” by the American Institute of the City of New York (which merged with the New York Academy of Sciences in the 1980s), and later he lectured and exhibited specimens at the Brooklyn Institute (where he served as secretary) and at Long Island Historical Society.

Like many 19th century naturalists, he was also an artist, and in June 1868, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he presented the Long Island Historical Society with a “large painting of the butterflies of Long Island.” The painting was still displayed in the museum in 1893, when this article was published in the Eagle.

lepidopterarhop00stre_0060-1

Page from Lepidoptera, rhopaloceres and heteroceres, indigenous and exotic; with descriptions and colored illustrations (1872) by Herman Strecker. Smithsonian Libraries via Internet Archive.

While BHS no longer has its natural history collection, the library has held on to Hooper’s catalogue of algae specimens, Introduction to algology; with a catalogue of American Algae, or sea-weeds, according to the latest classification of Prof. Harvey, published in Brooklyn in 1850  (available online here), as well as a transcript of a lecture he gave in 1865 titled “The Birds of Long Island.”

Julian Hooper inherited his father’s love of the natural world, though he was more passionate about insects than plants. As a teenager in he was awarded a diploma for “best prepared insects” by the American Institute of the City of New York (which merged with the New York Academy of Sciences in the 1980s), and later he lectured and exhibited specimens at the Brooklyn Institute (where he served as secretary) and at Long Island Historical Society.

Like many 19th century naturalists, he was also an artist, and in June 1868, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he presented the Long Island Historical Society with a “large painting of the butterflies of Long Island.” The painting was still displayed in the museum in 1893, when this article was published in the Eagle.

Julian also gifted two butterfly specimens to Herman Strecker, an amateur entomologist who owned one of the largest and most important private collections of butterflies and moths when he died in 1901. Strecker’s collection was acquired by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in 1908, and still contains this specimen of catacala perplexa from Brooklyn—very likely one given to him by Julian Hooper.

Do you have a Brooklyn ancestor you’re hoping to learn more about? A persistent mystery in your Brooklyn roots that you’re trying to solve? Trying to locate where your ancestors lived? Send your question to our library and collections staff at [email protected] with the subject line “My Brooklyn Roots.” Our staff will help get you started with your research. We may also, with the submitter’s permission, undertake more extensive research that we will share in a “Finding Your Brooklyn Roots” series on social media.

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