Plate LXXVII: The First Picture of an American Butterfly from The Butterfly Book by W.J. Holland, 1930 edition.

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In 1930, this picture… or rather, the picture with the inscriptions beside it… had never before been published. And the inscriptions are rather interesting. In Latin, the short one reads, “Hanc e Virginia Americana Candidus ad me Pictor detulit, 1587”, which the author of The Butterfly Book (where I found this) translates as “White, the painter, brought this picture to me from American Virginia, 1587”.

White, we’re pretty sure, was John White, described elsewhere as “a man deft with water-colours,” and the father* of Virginia Dare, the first European child born in the New World. They were citizens of the short-lived Roanoke Colony, which vanished while John White was in England obtaining supplies. It took him a year. His wife and daughter** may have joined the local Native American people while he was out.

The butterfly is a tiger swallowtail, Papilio turnus… apparently, according to the other inscription, called by the local people, “Mamank anois”.

The Butterfly Book, by the way, is great fun – interspersing descriptions of butterfly families and species with quotes from Shakespeare, observations about how important it is to learn entomology (it saves lives! Due to crops, among other things), cute anecdotes, and, occasionally, interesting bits of history like this one.

Plus, there are some great illustrations. There’s a copy on, but I used my own copy for this. This illustration isn’t in earlier editions.

* No, sorry, grandfather.

**Thus, daughter and granddaughter. Sigh.