MOSER, JOHN, schoolmaster and naturalist; b. 27 April 1826 at Mosers Island, N.S., seventh of the eight children of John Moser and Christianna (Christine) Jennings; d. unmarried 11 June 1907 in Salem, Kings County, N.B., and was buried in nearby Butternut Ridge (Havelock).
John Moser attended Horton Academy and Acadia College in Wolfville, N.S., graduating with a ba in 1848. In 1853 he completed a three-year course of training for the Baptist ministry at Newton Theological Institute in Massachusetts. He was not ordained, however, and pursued instead a career as a schoolteacher.
Little is known of Moser’s whereabouts in Nova Scotia following his return from Newton. After 1867 he resided permanently in New Brunswick, heading a succession of grammar, superior, and common schools in many small communities throughout the province. He was largely in Queens County, at Canaan Forks and in neighbouring school districts, from 1886 onward, and retired from teaching only a few years before his death. Moser’s professional qualifications and experience might have fitted him for a more responsible post in the New Brunswick school system, but he was “of a retiring disposition,” according to George Upham Hay*, and evidently preferred the proximity of nature and long vacations afforded by teaching in country schools.
The first indication of Moser’s engagement in botanical pursuits was his contribution of several records of flowering plants from the vicinity of Grand Falls to the Reverend James Fowler*’s “List of New Brunswick plants,” the first comprehensive catalogue of the flora of the province, published in 1879. Self-taught in botany, Fowler had been appointed instructor in natural science at the Normal School in Fredericton in 1878. When he left New Brunswick in 1880 to take up a lectureship at Queen’s College in Kingston, Ont., the task of compiling additions to the known provincial flora was carried on by the botanical committee of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick in Saint John, chaired by Hay. Moser, along with several other New Brunswick schoolteachers who had been influenced by Fowler, communicated noteworthy records of flowering plants to this committee, and Moser was elected a corresponding member of the society in 1883. By this time the focus of his interests had shifted to mosses and it was in this branch of botany that he made a lasting, if minor, contribution.
Moser worked without a microscope, a virtual requirement for the serious student of mosses, but he had a “quick eye and a remarkably intuitive perception of differences of structure.” Encouraged by Hay, he established a correspondence and exchange of specimens, beginning about 1888, with John Macoun*, assistant director and naturalist of the Geological Survey of Canada. Since 1886 Macoun had been submitting his own extensive moss collections to the Swedish bryologist Nils Conrad Kindberg and along with these he forwarded the specimens received from his far-flung Canadian correspondents, including Moser. Kindberg obliged Macoun by providing prompt identifications and describing a large number of species purportedly new to science. Moser supplied part of the grist to this taxonomic mill, 24 of Kindberg’s species or varieties being based in whole or in part on Moser’s New Brunswick collections. The recognition thus accorded to Moser’s work earned him a modest renown among naturalists and schoolteachers in the Maritime provinces. Ironically, most of Kindberg’s “new” species proved to be founded on insignificant variations in earlier described mosses and the soundness of his taxonomic judgement was questioned even by contemporary bryologists.
Moser’s work on mosses culminated in the publication in 1898 of his only scientific paper, a catalogue summarizing the known collections and localities of 245 species in New Brunswick. Subsequent collectors have increased this total by more than 100 species, but the occurrence of several mosses in the province, or in the Maritimes as a whole, is as yet documented only by Moser’s 19th-century specimens. The largest part of his moss collections, along with a much smaller number of flowering plant specimens, is in the herbarium of the New Brunswick Museum. Smaller collections, of mosses only, are located at the National Herbarium of Canada, the Fowler Herbarium of Queen’s University, the Natural History Museum in Stockholm, and the New York Botanical Garden.
John Moser is the author of “List of mosses of New Brunswick,” edited by G. U. Hay and published in N.B., Natural Hist. Soc., Bull. (Saint John), no.16 (1898): 23–31, and of “Acadia during the 40’s,” in the Acadia Athenœum (Wolfville, N.S.), January 1907: 100–3. Only one photograph of Moser is known, an undated print in the N.B. Museum.
Andover Newton Theological School Library (Newton, Mass.), Newton Theological Institute, student anniversary essays, personal information forms. NA, RG 32, 25, Hay to Macoun, 18 Feb., 9 March, 14 April 1887; 29, Moser to Macoun, 24 Jan., 7, 26 Feb., 5 Sept., 11 Nov., 28 Dec. 1889; 14 Jan. 1890; also an undated letter. Acadia Athenœum, December 1907: 95–97. Maritime Baptist (Saint John), 10 July 1907: 9. Sun (Saint John), 15 June 1907: 7. Educational Rev. (Saint John), 21 (1907–8): 34. James Fowler, “List of New Brunswick plants,” N.B., Secretary for Agriculture, Report (Saint John), 1878, app.B: 35–63. G. U. Hay, “Memorial sketch of the late John Moser,” N.B., Natural Hist. Soc., Bull., no.26 (1908): 46.