In the 19th century, the Ohio Valley was the frontier, and the relentless destruction of the wilderness was just beginning. No laws protected America's wildlife. Even the robin and blackbird were fair game. American artists saw untouched forests threatened by the first assault of civilization.
Audubon hunted large numbers of birds for sport and collected specimens for drawing. He was also deeply moved by the wonders of America's wildlife. In his journals and drawings he recorded what are now rare and vanished species.
In 1832, Audubon and five enthusiastic young naturalists, including his son John, cruised the wild coast of Labrador for two months. In order to study birds summering in the region, Audubon rose at three each morning and worked for 17 hours daily. The long hours, sea sickness, and foul weather caused Audubon to write: "Seldom in my life have I left a country with so little regret as I do Labrador."
Upon his return from Labrador, he was given a hero's welcome in Boston. The Boston Patriot praised him for his tireless "labours in a branch of sciences which he has made peculiarly his own."
An expedition to the South followed Audubon's triumphant return from Europe. Now famous and well-financed, he had every kind of aid he needed. The scientific community which once ignored him tracked his route and discussed his work.
In search of new species of water birds, Audubon and his assistants first traveled to the Charleston home of Reverend John Bachman, an ardent amateur bird lover. The people of the city showered them with gifts and attention.
Tearing themselves away from their Charleston success, the group continued to St. Augustine, Florida. They cruised by revenue cutter around Key West and the Far Tortugas for six months. Audubon, now 45, was full of energy and enthusiasm.
"We are up before day... If the day is to be spent at drawing, Lehman and I take a walk... returning when hungry or fatigued, or both. We draw uninterruptedly till dusk, after which, another walk, and then write up journals, and retire to rest early... We go wading through mud and water, amid myriads of sandflies and mosquitos, shooting here and there a bird, or squatting down on our hams for half an hour, to observe the ways of the beautiful beings we are in pursuit of..."