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Lucy Audubon (Bakewell)

Birthplace: Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom
Death: June 18, 1874 (87)
Shelbyville, Shelby County, KY, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Woodhouse Bakewell and Lucy Bakewell
Wife of John James Audubon
Mother of Victor Gifford Audubon; John Woodhouse Audubon; Lucy Audubon and Rose Audubon

Managed by: Private User
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About Lucy Audubon

Lucy Bakewell Audubon was an educator and philanthropist. She was the wife of John James Audubon, an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. As the primary provider for her family, Lucy Bakewell Audubon is said to have financially supported the publication of John James Audubon's The Birds of America, his most recognized work. In addition to assisting her husband, Audubon established two successful schools and worked feverishly to teach her students.

Lucy Bakewell was born to William Bakewell and Lucy Green, an affluent couple living in Derbyshire, England. Her father championed her education, believing education to be "necessary to make a woman a better companion and helpmate to the man she married." He sent Bakewell to a nearby boarding school, but her education was most enhanced by her own study. In addition to having a personal tutor as well as a mother who cared deeply about her daughter's education, Bakewell educated herself by frequently visiting her father's immense library. Tradition posits that her father's political ideologies eventually pushed him to move his family to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1798 when Bakewell was 11. However, by 1803, they again relocated to Norristown, Pennsylvania, settling on Fatland Ford, the family's plantation. Bakewell was able to maintain a close connection with her extended family, as evidenced by a number of letters between them. Such letters have been used to determine Bakewell's history.

It was in Pennsylvania that Bakewell met John James Audubon. Their courtship began shortly after, with John James Audubon visiting Fatland Ford often. Bakewell even frequently tutored John James in English. In exchange, John James taught Bakewell to speak French. Their courtship, however, was not without strife. François Dacosta, for example, opposed their union and worked tirelessly to end their relationship. As years passed, Bakewell continued to guide John James, encouraging him to accept a position with her uncle, Benjamin. This venture proved unsuccessful, but Bakewell resolved to marry John James. Reluctantly, William Bakewell consented to the union. Lucy Bakewell and John James Audubon were married on April 5, 1808, in the parlor at Fatland Ford. Bakewell officially became Lucy Bakewell Audubon.

The newlyweds relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. Audubon frequently assisted her husband by shopping for merchandise for his store, which ultimately closed. Before long, Audubon saw little of John James, as he spent much of his time in the woods. Still, their first son, Victor Gifford Audubon, was born in 1809. Their second child, John Woodhouse Audubon, was born in 1812. She also had two daughters, Lucy and Rose, who died in infancy.

Shortly after the birth of their son, the couple quickly lost financial stability. As John James scrambled to make ends meet for his family, Audubon met Elizabeth Speed Rankin, who asked her to tutor her children. She continued to do so as John James traveled. His absences were frequent and long, leaving Audubon in charge of the family. At one point, Audubon returned to Fatland Ford with her children.

It is said that Audubon, despite being "brought up in comfort", eventually "became a woman of towering strength in adversity." To support her family, Audubon sought an advance on her inheritance, acquiring $8,000 from her father. John James's lengthy absences, of course, were felt by the family, but Audubon served as the ultimate "breadwinner". She worked tirelessly to support her husband's success while caring for her sons, tutoring, and serving as a governess. Audubon was later hired to work for Jane Percy of Beech Woods, a plantation in what is now West Feliciana Parish in Louisiana. In this position, Audubon was recognized as "a woman of refinement and intelligence, a well-qualified and experienced teacher." She taught a number of students, all of which were from affluent areas in Feliciana. She was considered to be a "surrogate mother" for many of her students.

John James is reported to have said: "My wife determined that my genius should prevail and that my final success as an ornithologist should become triumphant." She even managed to save $3,000 to send John James to Europe, as he was working to publish his most famous piece. For his second publication, Audubon traveled with John James and arranged for the engraving and publication of The Birds of America. Her support of his endeavors ultimately granted John James the ability to grow the family's wealth. It is said that, without Lucy Bakewell Audubon, John James Audubon would not have been as successful—if at all.

Audubon also helped create and publish The Life of John James Audubon: The Naturalist, though it is largely credited to her husband. The original publication acknowledges that it was edited "by his widow".

When John James died, Audubon returned to work at 70. Much like their father, Audubon's two sons experienced failed business ventures. Audubon, then, needed to support her family, again stepping up in order to serve everyone but herself. In a letter to a friend, Audubon said: "It does seem to me as if we were a doomed family, for all of us are in pecuniary difficulties more or less."

Twenty-three years after John James, Audubon died at 86. She had been staying with her brother, Will, in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Though her husband is well remembered, Lucy Bakewell Audubon is often considered to be a large part of his success. She become the subject of a 1982 publication, Lucy Audubon: A Biography by Carolyn DeLatte.

AUDUBON, Lucy Bakewell, educator, philanthropist. Born in the English Midlands, January 18, 1787; daughter of William Bakewell and Lucy Green. Immigrated to the United States, 1801, met and married John James Audubon, 1808. Early years of marriage were spent on Kentucky frontier where two sons, Victor Gifford b. 1809 and John Woodhouse 1812 were born. Financial ruin in 1819 brought Lucy to accept the role of family provider in order to free Audubon for work on The Birds of America. Arrived in Louisiana in 1821, began work as tutor in New Orleans; from 1823 to 1830 she conducted classes for young ladies, first at Beech Woods, and then at Beech Grove Plantation in West Feliciana Parish where she taught many of the daughters of the most prestigious families. Her determination and savings allowed Audubon to complete and to publish The Birds which restored the family's fortunes—fortunes that Lucy lived to see lost once again. Died, Shelbyville, Ky., June 18, 1874.


Lucy Green Bakewell lived for a few years in Crich, probably in the Mansion House according to the recollections of of Miss Mary Brown recorded in New York during 1902 when she was aged eighty-seven.

Lucy emigrated with her family to America where she married John James Audubon in 1808. Her husband went on to become of the worlds best illustrator of birds. Audubon’s great masterpiece was The Birds of America, published in London by R. Havell & Son, 1827-1838. This four-volume elephant folio set achieved Audubon’s goal that the birds should be shown life size, in action and in appropriate settings. The Birds of America was a popular and lucrative success, earning Audubon a place among the great American artists of the nineteenth century. There is hardly a library in any stately home in England which does not have a copy of Audubon's work.

Mary Brown's recollection:

A little farther on the street, and on the same side, is a house fronting on the street, with walks and shrubs on two sides. That was Mr. Saxton's house, and a building in the rear had been fixed with outside steps for a schoolroom, and an elder Miss Saxton taught for many years. That house had been the house of Mr Bakewell's family (our Mrs Audeben's parents). Miss Lucy Bakewell was about six years older than my mother, but she and her sisters were intimate with the family. Mr Bakewell's removal to America was a cause of grief to my mother and her sister, and Miss Lucy wrote letters to my mother for some years afterwards. When I was in my teens, living at Hollins, I often read these letters, written in New Jersey thirty years before. They seemed a sort of romantic story, and now I think Mrs. Lucy Audeben's whole life was a romantic story. Pity these letters were lost when we left England. I wish you could take a picture of that home of Miss Lucy Bakewell. photo of Lucy Bakewell Lucy Audubon (née Bakewell) 1788 – 1874
photo of John Audubon John James Audubon 1785 – 1874

A brief history of Lucy entitled "Lucy Audubon née Bakewell: from a Derbyshire childhood at Crich" has been written by George Wiggleworth, who has given his permission for it to be included on this site. Download the book

The 1826 John James Audubon, wrote an account of his journey to England and Scotland to arrange the publication of "The Birds of America." In part of the journal he writes about his time at Bakewell (his wife's namesake) and Matlock. Interestingly he recounts that it was in Matlock that Dr Charles Darwin bounced Lucy Bakewell on his knee. audubon journal 202 audubon journal 203 audubon journal 204

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Lucy Audubon's Timeline

January 18, 1787
Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom
June 12, 1809
Henderson, Henderson County, Kentucky, United States
November 30, 1812
Henderson, KY, United States
June 18, 1874
Age 87
Shelbyville, Shelby County, KY, United States