National Anthropological Archives

Guide to the William Louis Abbott Collection, 1888-1919

Collection ID:
Abbott, William Louis, 1860-1936
Hough, Walter, 1859-1935
Raven, Henry Cushier, 1889-1944
Kloss, Charles Boden
Mason, Otis Tufton, 1838-1908
Physical Description:
13 Linear feet
The papers in the Abbott collection appear to have been brought together in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology in order to process ethnological specimens from Malaya and Indonesia and to prepare an exhibit and publications. Included are some of Abbott's original letters, notes, maps, and a considerable number of photographs. Most of these materials concern the Enggano, Jakun, and Dyak. Many other documents in the collection consist of copies of or extracts from Abbott's letters, the originals of which are now in the Smithsonian Institution Archives. There are also letters and other materials of Otis Tufton Mason and Walter Hough accumulated as they worked on the collection, many simple lists of accessions compiled in the Department of Anthropology, and a few manuscripts. In addition, there are printed materials that were apparently used by the department's staff for reference purposes. Some of the photographs made in Borneo in 1914 are by Henry Cushier Raven, a field assistant of Abbott and, later, a collector financed by Abbott. Additional materials of Abbott and Raven are in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and their material (often duplicate photographs) are included in several collections in the National Anthropological Archives.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
William Louis Abbott, although formally trained in medicine, chose instead to devote his time and inherited wealth to worldwide exploration and the collection of natural history specimens and ethnological artifacts. The Abbott papers in the National Anthropological Archives reflect his collecting activities in the East Indies, and the work on his collections from that region by United States National Museum personnel, especially Otis Tufton Mason, curator of ethnology. The collection includes correspondence, maps, illustrations of artifacts, manuscripts, lists of objects in the Abbott collection in the Smithsonian Department of Anthropology, and photographic prints and negatives. In addition, there is a subject file which contains information on a variety of topics relating to Indonesia and Malaysia. The materials date from the 1890s to the early decades of this century.
This archival collection forms a valuable complement to the collection of artifacts housed in the National Museum of Natural History. (Abbott's collections from Indonesia are described by Dr. Paul M. Taylor, curator of Asian ethnology, in the Museum Anthropology Newsletter, April, 1985.) The subject file and lists of objects provide data on certain specific artifacts and their uses and Abbott's correspondence contains his observations of the daily life of the various peoples from whom the objects were collected. These documents are supplemented by a generous photographic record and sketch maps which outline the routes he followed. The papers focus on the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago, the region closest to Abbott's heart and to which he dedicated over a decade before eye disease forced him to leave the tropics.
In addition to Abbott's own materials, there are notes by museum staff, including descriptions of artifacts, and manuscripts of articles mostly by Mason who was particularly interested in basketry. The bulk of the correspondence is between Abbott, Otis Mason, Walter Hough, and Cecil Boden Kloss who accompanied Abbott on several expeditions. Other correspondents include Cyrus Adler, Jesse Walter Fewkes, William H. Furness, Alfred Cort Haddon, Ales Hrdlicka, Mary Lois Kissell, Elmer D. Merrill, William Palmer, Richard Rathbun, and Charles Clark Willoughby. Most of the letters are brief and discuss proposed work on the Abbott collections, bibliographic sources, and basketry.
Additional material in the National Anthropological Archives relating to William Louis Abbott is contained in the papers of Ales Hrdlička and of Herbert W. Krieger, the Manuscript and Pamphlet File of the United States National Museum Department of Anthropology, and the photographic collection of the United States National Museum Division of Ethnology. Because Abbott donated material to a variety of departments in the Smithsonian, his original written material is located in several other Smithsonian departments as well. There are personal letters to his mother and sister as well as Smithsonian personnel in the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Field notebooks including detailed sketch maps of collecting stations are in the libraries of the departments of Mammals and of Birds.
The spelling of place names used here are those of Abbott who frequently wrote them as they sounded to him.

Collection arranged into 9 series: (1) Correspondence, 1896-1919; (2) Subject file; (3) Register of accessions, 1890-1906; (4) Lists of objects by accession number and location; (5) Lists of objects by type or geographic location; (6) Drafts of unpublished articles with working materials; (7) Printed material; (8) Photographic prints; (9) Photographic negatives.

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
William L. Abbott studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and, after receiving an M.D., continued his training in London. Although a highly successful student, he seems never to have been fully committed to medicine. Instead, around 1880, using his own resources, he turned to a life of exploration and the study of natural history.
Abbott's early expeditions were in the United States, but, in time, he went abroad, at ever increasing distances, to the Greater Antilles, East Africa, Kashmir, and Turkestan. In 1896, he began work in Malaya and Indonesia that would largely occupy him until 1915. Using Singapore as a base, he sailed his ship, the Terrapin, to points on both coasts of the Malayan Peninsula, Trang in Thailand, the Anambas Islands, the Mergui Archipelago, the Nicobars and Andamans, both costs of Sumatra and the nearby islands (notably Nias, the Mentawai Islands, and Enggano), the Rhio Archipelago, and Borneo. On many of thes voyages, he collected both biologcial and ethnological specimens and photographs. At times, however, he was accompanied by an Englishman, Cecil Boden Kloss, who handled the ethnological work. Kloss retain his own notes and many of his photographs.
Abbott's later work, between 1916 and 1923, was carried out in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After this, he retired to a farm on the Elk River in Maryland.
Abbott has been described as one of the great field naturalists of all time simply for the quantity of material he collected. Virtually the only body of work he left, in fact, is his large collection of specimens and notes, letters, and photographs that relate to them. Although he contributed to the collections of several museums, the chief benefactor of his work was the United States National Museum. Its staff and associated produced around forty publications based on his material. Abbott himself published very little.
1860 February 23
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Collected birds in Iowa and North Dakota
Bachelor of Arts, University of Pennsylvania
Collected birds in Cuba and Santo Domingo
Doctor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Postgraduate work in England Licentiate of Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians
Received inheritance and discontinued formal practice of medicine
Exploration of Taveta region near Mt. Kilimanjaro with William Astor Chandler. Collection donated to United States NationalMuseum
Exploration and collection in Zanzibar, Seychelles Islands, and Madagascar
Ethnological collections in the U.S. National Museum from Kilima-Njaro, East Africa,
Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1891
, pages 381-398Exploration and collection in India, including Baltistan, Karachi, Kashmir, and Srinagar
Exploration and collection in Vale of Kashmir, Baltistan, Aden, Seychelles Islands, and Aldabra Island
Exploration and collection in Seychelles Islands; India, including Kashmir and Srinagar; Leh Ladakh; Sinkiang, China; and Eastern Turkistan
Continued exploration and collection in region of Eastern Turkistan, Pakistan, India, and Ceylon
Exploration and collection in Madagascar and Kashmir
Exploration and collection in Malay Peninsula, including:Jan-Feb – PerakFeb-Mar – CantonApr-Nov – Trang Province, Siam, including Pramon, Tyching, and Penang
Exploration and collection:Jan -- TrangApr-May -- PenangMay-Dec -- India
Volunteered in Spanish-American War with William A. Chambers as Irregular Horse in Florida, and served in CubaTravel in Singapore and China
Construction of schooner TerrapinExploration and collection accompanied by Cecil Boden Kloss:Jan-Mar -- TrangMarch -- SingaporeMar-Apr -- JavaJul-Sept -- Lingga and Anamba islandsOct-Nov - Singapore, PenangDec - Junkseylon
Exploration and collection accompanied by Kloss:Jan-Mar -- Burma, Mergui ArchipelagoJun-Aug -- Natuna ArchipelagoNov-Dec -- Penang, Burma, Mergui Archipelago
Exploration and collection accompanied by Kloss:Jan -- Andaman IslandsJan-Mar -- Nicobar IslandsApr-Nov -- Northern Sumatra, Rhio-Lingga Archipelago, Johore, PenangNov-Jan 02- Simalur
Exploration and collection accompanied by Kloss:Jan-Feb -- Banjak Islands, Lasia, BabiFeb-Mar -- Western SumatraMar -- NiasApr-May -- Pahang, Malaya; Singapore and Straits IslandsAug-Sep -- Bintang, Rhio ArchipelagoOct-Nov -- SimalurNov-Jan 03 -- Pagi Islands
Exploration and collection:Jan -- Western SumatraFeb -- Pulo TelloApr -- Penang, SingaporeMay-June -- Karimun IslandsJuly-Aug -- Rhio-Lingga ArchipelagoAug-Sep -- Eastern SumatraOct -- PenangNov-Mar 04 -- Burmese coast, including Victoria Point, Mergui Archipelago, and Tenasserim
Exploration and collection:Apr -- Penang and Straits of MalaccaMay-Jun -- Banka IslandJul-Aug -- Billiton IslandAug-Sep -- Karimata IslandOct -- Benkulen, SumatraNov-Dec -- Engano
Exploration and collection:Dec 04-Feb- Western SumatraFeb-Mar -- NiasJun-Sep -- Western Borneo, including Pontianak and Kapuas riversNov-Jan 06 -- Eastern Sumatra Designated Honorary Associate in Zoology by the U.S. National Museum
Visited Hong Kong and Japan (April-May)Exploration and collection accompanied by Kloss:Oct-Feb 07 -- Easter Sumatra, including Bengkalis and Rupat islands and Siak River
Exploration and collectionMar -- Rhio ArchipelagoMay -- Islands of South China Sea, including Direction Island, Datu, Temayer, Lamukutan, Panebangan, and PelapisMay-Sep -- Western Borneo, including Kapuas and Simpang riversNov-Dec -- Java Sea, including Bawean Island
Exploration and collection:Dec 07-Mar- Southeastern Borneo, including Pulo Laut and Pulo SebukuJun -- Southwestern BorenoNov -- Java Sea
Exploration and collection:Dec 08-Apr -- Pulo Laut and eastern Borneo, including Pasir RiverOnset of partial blindness caused by spirochetosis, and treatment in Aachen, Germany. Illness forced Abbott to suspend collecting activities in tropics.
Exploration and collection in Kashmir
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expedition to Borneo by Henry Cushier Raven
Brief visit and collection in Molucca Islands and Celebes, accompanied by his sister
Donated funds for expedition by Raven to Dutch East Indies, especially Celebes
Exploration and collection in Dominican Republic
Exploration and collection in Haiti
Interruption of field work by Abbott because of servere illness (dysentary) and by Raven because of the war
Exploration and collection in Hispaniola
Donated funds to United States National Museum for botanical collection in Haiti by Emery C. Leonard, aid in Division of Plants
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expedition to Australia by naturalist Charles M. Hoy
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expedition to China by Charles M. Hoy until Hoy's death in the field; workconcluded by Reverend David Crockett Graham
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expeditions to Hispaniola
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expedition to China
Donated funds to United States National Museum for expedition to Hispaniola by Arthur J. Poole, Division of Mammals
Donated funds to United States National Museum for archeological expedition to Hispaniola by Herbert William Krieger, curator, Division of Ethnology
Donated funds to United States National Museum for archeological expedition to Cuba
Purchase and donation of birds of the Himalayas for the United States National Museum
April 2, 1936
Death of William Louis Abbott at his farm near North East, Maryland of heart disease after a long illnessBequest to Smithsonian Institution any of books and papers desired (278 volumes accepted) and approximately $100,000 (1/5 of estate) to promote zoological researchers

Judith Boruchoff
Processing Information
Processed by Judith Boruchoff, 1986 Encoded by NAA staff, 2011
Immediate Source of Acquisition
William Louis Abbott was a self-trained and self-sustaining collector who donated large numbers of ethnological artifacts, zoological specimens, and funds to the United States National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution around the turn of the twentieth century. The Abbott Papers in the National Anthropological Archives were apparently compiled by the staff of the Department of Anthropology, especially Otis Tufton Mason, curator of ethnology, in order to process incoming collections. The correspondence and printed materials relate primarily to Abbott's collecting activities and to Mason's research on Abbott's collections.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
William Louis Abbott collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Conditions Governing Use
Contact repository for terms of use.
Conditions Governing Access
The William Louis Abbott collection is open for research. Access to the William Louis Abbott collection requires an appointment.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Trang -- Thailand Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Anambas Islands (Indonesia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mergui Archipelago Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Enggano (Malaysia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sumatra Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Enggano Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Malaysia Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jakun (Malaysian people) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mentawai Islands (Indonesia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Nias Island (Indonesia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Borneo Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Indonesians Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Dyak Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
National Anthropological Archives
Museum Support Center
4210 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, Maryland 20746