Joel Roberts was born in 1779 in South Carolina to a prominent family. His family could support his education at some of the finest schools in America and Europe. Joel wanted a career in the military, but his father wanted him to study law and join the aristocratic society of Charleston.
As a compromise, Joel was supported in a European tour that lasted for several years. This led to a series of important meetings where Joel became engaged with international leaders. He became a non-official envoy where American interests were involved.
When he returned to the U.S., he became involved in politics with a special interest in what we would now call infrastructure development. While in the U.S. House, he became a special envoy to Mexico. When the Mexican government became more stable, Joel resigned his seat in the House to become a minister of the U.S. government in Mexico.
He returned to the U.S. and again served in the South Carolina legislation. He was a supporter of slavery and owned slaves but supported a strong federal government.
During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, he served as the Secretary of War. It was during this time in his career, that he presided over the shameful removal of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi. He later retired from this position and returned to this plantation in South Carolina.
For all of his diplomacy and governmental activities, Joel is better known today for two other parts of his life. He was the co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts. This institute is better known today as the Smithsonian Institution.
But perhaps, Joel Roberts Poinsett is best known today for introducing to America the plant we now know as the poinsettia.
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“A crimson star that brings holiday cheer. The poinsettia’s allure is ever near.” – Anonymous