John James Audubon

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Jean-Jacques Fougere Audubon

Also Known As: "Joh", "James"
Birthdate: (65)
Birthplace: Pre-Haiti, Saint Domingue, Distrito Nacional, Hispaniola
Death: January 27, 1851 (65)
New York, NY, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Lieutenant Jean Audubon and Jeanne Rabin, Mistress of Jean Audubon
Husband of Lucy Audubon
Father of Victor Gifford Audubon; John Woodhouse Audubon; Lucy Audubon and Rose Audubon
Half brother of Fille / Daughter Audubon

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John James Audubon

John James Audubon (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, hunter, and painter. He painted, catalogued, and described the birds of North America in a manner far superior to what had gone before. Born in the French colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) and raised in France as a youth, in his embrace of America and his outsize personality and achievements, he represented the new American people of the United States.

Early life

Audubon was born in the Les Cayes in the French colony of Saint Domingue on his father's sugar plantation. He was the illegitimate son of Lieutenant Jean Audubon, a French naval officer (and privateer), and his mistress Jeanne Rabin, a chambermaid recently arrived from France. They named the boy Jean Rabin. His mother died when the boy was a few months old, as she had suffered from tropical diseases since arriving on the island. His father already had two mixed-race children by his mulatto housekeeper, Sanitte, and he took up with her again and had another daughter following Jeanne Rabin's death. Sanitte also took care of the infant boy Jean.

During the American Revolution, Jean Audubon was imprisoned by the British. After his release, he helped the American cause. A slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue in 1788 convinced Jean Audubon to sell his holdings and return to France with his French son and infant mixed-race daughter, who was very fair (she was the daughter of Sanitte).

The boy was raised by his father and stepmother Anne Moynet Audubon in Nantes, France, who formally adopted both the children in 1794. They renamed the boy Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon. When Audubon at age 18 boarded ship for immigration to the United States in 1803, he changed his name to an anglicized form: John James Audubon.

From his earliest days, Audubon had an affinity for birds. "I felt an intimacy with them...bordering on frenzy must accompany my steps through life." His father encouraged his interest in nature; "he would point out the elegant movement of the birds, and the beauty and softness of their plumage. He called my attention to their show of pleasure or sense of danger, their perfect forms and splendid attire. He would speak of their departure and return with the seasons." In France during the chaotic years of the French Revolution and its aftermath, Audubon grew up to be a handsome and gregarious young man. He played flute and violin, and learned to ride, fence, and dance. He was hearty and a great walker, and loved roaming in the woods, often returning with natural curiosities, including birds' eggs and nests, of which he made crude drawings. His father planned to make a seaman of his son. At twelve, Audubon went to military school and became a cabin boy. He quickly found out that he was susceptible to seasickness and not fond of mathematics or navigation. After failing the officer's qualification test, Audubon ended his incipient naval career. He was cheerfully back on solid ground and exploring the fields again, focusing on birds.

John James Audubon was featured on a U.S. postage stamp issued in 1940.

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John James Audubon's Timeline

April 26, 1785
Saint Domingue, Distrito Nacional, Hispaniola
June 6, 1809
Age 24
November 30, 1812
Age 27
Henderson, KY, United States
Age 29
Age 31
January 27, 1851
Age 65
New York, NY, United States