Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) was born near Constantinople. In 1792, he moved with his family to Leghorn, Italy, where he was educated by private tutors. Rafinesque showed an early enthusiasm for the study of nature, beginning the systematic collection of a herbarium when he was eleven years old. In 1802, he traveled to Philadelphia, where he became acquainted with several American scientists, including Benjamin Rush and William Bartram. During his three years in America, Rafinesque made several field trips, collecting botanical and zoological specimens. He returned to Italy in 1805 and for the next ten years resided in Sicily. While studying the ichthyology of Sicilian waters, Rafinesque worked as secretary and chancellor to the American Consul and as an exporter of squills and medicinal plants. A series of personal problems caused him to return to America in 1815. Surviving a shipwreck off Long Island, he settled in New York where he worked at times as a private tutor. From 1815 to 1818, he studied the flora and fauna of the Hudson Valley, Lake George, and Long Island. In 1819, Rafinesque was appointed Professor of Botany, Natural History, and Modern Languages at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he remained until 1826. From 1826 until his death, he lived in Philadelphia and continued to make field trips and study the flora and fauna of the region.
Rafinesque's chief interests were botany and ichthyology. Despite a peculiar personality that alienated many colleagues, he contributed significantly to nineteenth century scientific thought. He was one of the first American naturalists to depart from the Linnaean system of classification and adopt the emerging schemes of natural plant classification. Rafinesque was an early advocate of evolutionary theory and his ideas were acknowledged by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species.