Correia da Serra (1751-1823)

José Francisco Correia da Serra was born in Serpa on 5 June 1751. In 1757, at the age of six, he went to live in Italy with his parents, the doctor Luís Dias Correia and Francisca Luisa da Serra. His studies in Rome were aided by the Duke of Lafões, João de Bragança (1719-1806). In 1775, he was ordained a Presbyterian. While in Italy, he befriended Luís António Verney (1713-1792). He returned to Portugal on 29 March 1777. Two years later, he met up with the Duke of Lafões once again in Lisbon, with whom he created the Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa, in 1779. For reasons not totally explained, he left the country in 1786 and moved to France, returning to Portugal in 1791. In 1797, he emigrated once more, this time to England. The reason for his second emigration was because the protection he gave to the French doctor Broussonet, who had flown his country, in the Academia’s facilities. In London, he was nominated Adviser of the Portuguese Delegation, but was deposed immediately afterwards, having moved to Paris where he resided until 1813. From Paris he left for the United States, where he lived until 1821 and where he occupied the position of Minister Plenipotentiary to the North American government.

He returned to Portugal in 1821 where he was elected deputy to the Courts by the circle of Beja, in 1822. He died in Caldas da Rainha on 11 September 1823.

Scientific Activity

Abbot Correia da Serra founded the Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa, in conjunction with the Duke de Lafões. He was the Academia’s secretary in the first years of its activity, developing an intense activity in the organisation of programmes and activities aimed at promoting scientific research and in the publication of scientific texts.

Correia da Serra also developed a remarkable activity in the field of botanical research. He published regularly in some of the most prestigious scientific publications of his time, namely: Philosophical Transactions, of the Royal Society; Transactions of Linnean Society; Transactions of the American Philosophical Society; Annales du Muséum; Bulletin de la Société Philomatique; Archives Littéraires de l’Europe; The American Review.

He was a member of the Royal Society and of the Linnean Society, a corresponding member of the Academy of Science of Paris, of the Société Philomatique and of the Academies of Turin, Florence, Siena, Mantua, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Liege, of the Agrarian Societies of Piedmont and Toscana, of the Economics Society of Valença, and of the American Philosophical Society.

During the periods in which he lived in France, England and the United States, he made contacts with some of the most renowned researchers at the time, such as Augustin de Candolle (1778-1841), Lametterie (1743-1817), editor of the Journal de Physique, A-L. Millin (1759-1818), editor of the Magasin Encyclopédique, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836), and Georges Cuvier (1769-1832). As a result of these contacts, he served many times as an intermediary in the dialogue between botanists of various nationalities. He exchanged correspondence with the Portuguese botanist Félix Avelar Brotero (1744-1828).

His research work in botany was developed mainly in systematics, namely in the systematic classification of vegetable species. His classification methods closely followed the natural method, defended by Joseph Gartner (1732-1791), Michel Adanson (1727-1806) and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1830), among others, in an attempt to apply the methods of compared anatomy of zoology to botany. He tried to establish the most significant similarities among plants so as to be able to group them into families, having introduced the concept of symmetry, which was later adopted and developed by Candolle.

His research in Carpology, a branch of botany formed at that time, is also worth mentioning. He contributed with his texts and reflections to the ongoing discussion on the importance of structural and functional characteristics in the classification of plants.

He also carried out research in the field of Geology, namely studying the formation of the soil in Kentucky.

In the United States, he lectured several courses in botany at the American Philosophical Society and was invited to occupy a position in the University of Pennsylvania, which he turned down. He befriended Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), whom he visited regularly. In his mansion in Monticello, in Virginia, the former president of the United States had a room permanently reserved for his friend. Even today, this room is known as “Abbé Corrêa’s room”.


“On the fructification of the submersed Algae”, Philosophical Transactions, 1799, pp. 494-505.
“On a submarine forest on the coast of England”, Philosophical Transactions, 1799, pp. 145-155.
“On two genera of plants belonging to the natural family of the Aurantia”, Transactions of the Linnean Society, 5, pp. 218-226.
“On the Doryantha, a new genius of plants from New Holland next akin to the Agave”, Transactions of the Linnean Society, 6, pp. 211-213.
“Observations sur la famille des oranges et sur les limites qui la circonscrivent”, Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, 6, pp. 376-386.
"Mémoire sur la germination du nelumbo", Annales du Muséum d’Histoire naturelle, 13, 174.
"Vues Carpologiques/Observations Carpologiques", Annales du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, 8, 9, 10.
"Mémoire sur la valeur du périsperme, considerée comme caractère d’affinité des plantes", Bulletin de la Société Philomatique, 11, 350.
"De l’état des Sciences, et des lettres en Portugal, à la fin du dixhuitième siècle", Archives litteraires de l’Europe, vol. I, 1804.
"Sur l’agriculture des arabes en Espagne", Archives Littéraires de l’Europe, 2, pp. 239-404.
"Observations and conjectures on the formation and nature of the soil of Kentucky", Transactions of the American Phiulosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1811.
“Considerations générales sur l’etat passé et futur de l’Europe", The American Review, 1812.

Besides thee texts he wrote others as a preface or introduction to several works published by the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa and drew up the “Discurso Preliminar” of the Memórias Económicas da Academia published in 1789.

Fernando Reis


CARVALHO, Augusto da Silva, O Abade Correia da Serra, Lisboa: Academia das Ciências, 1948, Sep. Memórias, Classe de Ciências, 6.
CARVALHO, Rómulo de, "Serra, José Correia da", in SERRÃO, Joel, Dicionário de História de Portugal, Porto, Figueirinhas, 1981, vol. V, pp.539-540.
DAVIS, Richard Beal, The Abbé Corrêa in America, 1812-1820, Gávea-Brown, Providence, Rhode Island, 1993.
DIOGO, Maria Paula, CARNEIRO, Ana, SIMÕES, Ana, "The Portuguese naturalist Correia da Serra (1751-1823) and his impact on early nineteenth-century botany", Journal of the History of Biology, 34, 2001, pp. 353-393.
HENRIQUES, Júlio, Correia da Serra: apontamentos biográficos e correspondencia, Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade, 1923, Separata do Boletim da Sociedade Broteriana Vol. II, 2ª Série.
SILVA, Inocencio da, ARANHA, Brito, Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, T. IV, pp. 336-342.


The Abbé Correia (1750-1823) and Jefferson
Correspondência de Correia da Serra com Lineu
Academia das Ciências de Lisboa
D. João VI e o seu tempo – A Academia

© Instituto Camões 2003-2005