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Abbot immortalized birds of Bulloch in many paintings
Bulloch History
roger allen
Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of articles looking at events in the history of Bulloch County.

H.W. Leibee's article, "John Abbot of Georgia: A Pioneering Naturalist," in the Southern Lepidopterists News of December of 2003, revealed much about John Abbot's life.

Leibee continued, "He left England in July 1773, (traveling) to colonial Virginia." His ship, "the Royal Exchange arrived at the mouth of the James River" on Sept. 9." Abbot was unhappy with most everything.

First, there weren't enough insects to collect in Virginia; secondly, three lost shipments of his samples (ships sinking) resulted in lost commissions; and thirdly, a revolutionary fervor was in the air.

As Leibee said, Georgia became his next home. "With his cabin as a base, he collected insect, bird, and spider specimens (along) the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers, Brier Creek, and Black Creek in Bulloch County."

Once "in his later years, Abbot, by now overweight (and) partially deaf, moved into a cabin on the land of his friend William McElveen. He did continue to work in the field, (until) his death in 1840 at the age of 89."

Pamela Gilbert's book, “John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies, and Other Wonders” (1998) revealed " Abbot began collecting around the 'Ogechee' (or 'Ogochee') River, and the Savannah River."

And, "Abbot never published his own work but supplied other authors with illustrations or specimens. Only one work bears his name, the two-volume set, “The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia.’"

Authored by James Edward Smith, the co-founder of the Linnean Society, in 1797, the front-plate states it was "collected from the observations of Mr. John Abbot, many years resident of that country."

M.B. Simpson Jr.'s article, "The Artist-Naturalist John Abbot: Contributions to the Ornithology of the Southeastern United States," appeared in the North Carolina Historical Review of July of 1984.

Simpson wrote, "Abbot sent some 8,000 of his best stuffed bird specimens to French Naturalist Noel-Frederic-Armand-Andre, Baron de la Fresnaye, who displayed these "bird skins" in his own private museum."

He, in time, gave them to the Boston Society of Natural History, and eventually they were transferred to Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

It was written Abbot "received 6 1/2 cents for each specimen." Simpson declared "18 birds in the catalog (are) specifically attributed to 'abbot' or 'Savanha' or 'georgie'. Another 45 specimens are unlabeled.

Then came Abbot's collections of bird drawings, which often ended up in American collections. His first major collection of 73 drawings was entitled Birds of Georgia, Consisting of the Most Rare and Beautiful Kinds (1823).

The second collection of 116 sheets of ornithological watercolors were acquired by Lord Baron Rothschild in 1889, and transferred to the British Museum of Natural History in London.

The third collection, which consists of 130 unbound and undated watercolor drawings, weas donated to Washington City's (later Washington, D.C.) Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Simpson revealed there was also a fourth collection of 122 pieces of Abbot's work in the De Renne Folio at the University of Georgia. Its 62 watercolors are similar to those in the Rothschild and Smithsonian collections.

Joseph Ewan's article, entitled "The Natural History of John Abbot," was published in Bartonia, which was the journal of the Philadelphia Botanical Club, in 1985.

Ewan stated, during "Abbot's lifetime, he painted 2,000 watercolor drawings of insects and arachnids; 5,000 drawings of inspect specimens; 500 drawings of birds and bird eggs, and dried plant specimens."

Abbot, "a Rural Naturalist," moved to the Savannah area, "and then Bulloch County, in his mid-twenties, (living) "on the border of a woodsy creek in the Great Savannah River flood plains."

And, Abbot's description of the "Yellow-Billed Cuckoo," the "Prothonotry Warbler," and the "Anhinga," of "American Darter or Snakebird," caused famous ornithologist John Latham to choose to publicize them in Europe.

When Abbot shared his observations of the Anhinga with American ornithologist Alexander Wilson, Wilson included them in his encyclopedic multi-volume work on America's birds, “American Ornithology (1808-1814).”

As John James Audubon readied to publish his own encyclopedic multi-volume work on America's bird's, “The Birds of America (1827-1939),” he too decided to include many of Abbot's spectacular watercolors.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history who provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email him at

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