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Bulloch History with Roger Allen

‘Bug man’ Abbott adopts Bulloch

    Englishman John Abbott was nuts about bugs. As a child, his parents noticed that wherever he went, he wanted to catch and then draw the biggest and the most unusual insects, no matter what kind. Born on either May 31st or June 1st of 1751, he was soon apprenticed to the famous artist and engraver Jacob Bonneau in his London, England, studio. As his skill increased, he eventually got the attention of Dru Drury of the Royal Society of Entomologists, whom he convinced to pay for him to travel to the "New World." In July of 1773, he set sail from London onboard the vessel, the Royal Exchange.
    While on board, he met the family of Parke and Mary Goodall, who were coming to America to establish a store in Hanover County in the colony of Virginia. At first, he settled in with them, but by 1776, he had moved on again. This time, he travelled to Saint George Parish (which became Burke County), in 1777) in the new colony of Georgia.
    At this time, John Sr. had become a serious proponent of the American Revolution, fighting in at least three major battles. He enlisted as a private in the 3rd Georgia Continental Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John McIntosh. Fighting alongside Benjamin and William Few, he fought British forces at the County Jail and at Kettle Creek in Burke County. He then served under Colonel Elijah Clarke in the Battle of Black Creek in Bulloch County.
    For his service to the American forces, in 1779 Abbott was awarded 575 acres of land alongside the Oconee River in Washington County. It is at this same time that his most important work comes out in print: the “Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, Collected From the Observations of Mr. John Abbott.”
    Smith was the president of the Linnean Society of London. This organization was, and still is, the world’s foremost experts on the study and classification of zoology, botany and biology. He recognized the importance of Abbott’s work, as it preceded John James Audubon, who is considered by most to be the finest American wildlife painter. Abbott’s paintings of the Dew Snowy Owl, Scarlet Ibis and White-Winged Crossbill are the only images of these birds, which shortly thereafter became extinct.
    Abbott’s fame was so great that even the famed scientist Charles Darwin, whose studies in natural selection and evolution reign supreme today, consulted at length Abbott’s works before setting off on his trips.
    When Screven County was formed from some of Burke and Effingham counties, and Bulloch was formed from some of Screven and Bryan counties, Abbott moved, first to Jacksonborough, the now-ghost town, which lay near Beaver Creek, and then to Bulloch County. Here, in 1818, he moved onto land owned by William McElveen. He set up residence in a log cabin in Hadler’s Field near the forks of Iric and Stone Branches.
    While living here, Abbott soon gained an apt and eager pupil: Aaron Cone. Young Aaron gathered various insects for Abbott from throughout the area.
    Abbott lives on, in his work, even today. Two species of spiders (Peucetia and Spodros), and one specie of moth (Sphecodina), were named by him. In fact, the Southern Lepidopterous Society (established in 1978) created the annual John Abbott Award for remarkable work done in the field. It is estimated that Abbott painted some 2,000 watercolors and 500 illustrations of all sorts of butterflies, birds, moths, and spiders in his lifetime.
    He died either in December of 1840 or in January of 1841. There is a Georgia Historical Society marker identifying the gravesite [marker #016-02]. This site is located about one mile south of US 80 (Ga. 26) on the road from Arcola to Pembroke. Bulloch County people and its wildlife figured very prominently throughout the entire adult life of this most amazing man.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger dodger53@hotmail.com

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