Joel Robert Poinsett (1779-1851) was the first American Minister to Mexico, serving from 1825-1830. As a result of that assignment, he introduced into the United States the poinsettia, a flower named in his honor. Though born in Charleston of Huguenot parents, like many sons of wealthy families, Poinsett was educated in England and traveled extensively abroad. After he returned to the United States, he was elected to the South Carolina Legislature and became involved in improvement of navigation on South Carolina rivers and promotion of railroad building as chairman of the South Carolina Board of Public Works. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1816-1821. President Martin Van Buren appointed him Secretary of War from 1837-1841, and while he lived in Washington, D.C., he was also instrumental in the founding of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and Useful Arts, a predecessor of the Smithsonian Institution. Portrait by William Wilson (?-1850), about 1848.
Courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association.