Library of the Gray Herbarium

THOMAS MORONG (1827-1894)



Thomas Morong was born in Cahawba, Alabama, on April 15,1827. He spent his childhood in the South and moved north with his family when he was about fifteen. He received his bachelor's degree from Amherst College in 1848, married Mary L. Bennett in the same year, and began the study of law. He dropped his legal studies after less than a year, decided to go into the ministry and entered Andover Theological Seminary. He graduated from Andover in 1853 and was ordained a Congregational minister in 1854. In the course of his ministry he served in Iowa City, Iowa, and a string of Massachusetts towns: Webster, Globe Village, Gloucester, Ipswich and Ashland. During this period he and his wife had children, at least two sons--Joseph and Arthur. Joseph tried to establish himself as a dentist in Chile but died after about two years there, on June 8,1880.

According to N.L. Britton, Morong developed an interest in botany through acquaintance with William Oakes (of Ipswich) and Dr. James W. Robbins (of Uxbridge). The influence of Robbins was undoubtedly the stronger, since Oakes died in 1848, while Robbins lived to 1879. Robbins was particularly interested in aquatic plants, and Morong devoted much of his energy to this area. Robbins was an expert on Potamogeton, having written the Potamoget section of the fifth edition of Gray's Manual, and he left his Potamogeton collection to Morong with the understanding that the latter would prepare and arrange it in sets and distribute the sets. Morong also inherited Robbins' Naiadaeae collection with the understanding that he would continue Robbins' studies.

Morong's interest in botany continued to develop after Robbins' death, and he became interested in collecting plants along the water ways of South America. Through contacts with N.L. Britton and R.F. Allen at the 1886 and 1887 meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he was able to make his dream of collection in South America possible. He resigned from his Ashland church and left for Buenos Aires on July 30,1888. He made some collections in Argentina, but concentrated on Paraguay. In July, 1890, he sailed for Chile in order to visit his brother, John C. Morong, who had lived in Chile for many years. He also collected plants in Chile's Atacama desert before leaving for the U.S. on Oct. 25,1890. On his return he became curator of the Columbia University herbarium, a position he held until his final illness. Morong died at his son's home in Ashland on April 26,1894.

A list of Morong's botanical publications can be found at the end of Britton's article about him. His major works include a compilation of the plants he collected in Paraguay, prepared with the help of Britton, and a monograph on the Naiadaceae.



Britton, N.L. "Thomas Morong." Bull Torrey Club 21: 239-244.
Bull Torrey Club 21: 271.
Deane, Walter. "Thomas Morong." Bot Gaz 19: 225-228.
Letter from Mrs. S.M.H. Perry, May 29,1879 (in the following collection)
Letter from John C. Morong, June 17,1880 (in the following collection)
Letters from Joseph T. Morong ( in the following collection)
Letter from Jacob Taft, June 4,1879 (in the following under Robbins)


Scope and Content;

The Morong papers consist of two main groups: letters to Thomas Morong and papers of James Watson Robbins that had apparently been acquired by Morong.

The letters to Morong consist of about 890 letters from 156 correspondents, dating from 1874 to 1888, up to Morong's departure for South America. The bulk of the letters were written in the 1880's. They are almost entirely botanical, with the exception of letters from three relatives in Chile. The letters were found in a disordered state, partially grouped into categories of nationality, as letter from American, European, Canadian or English botanists. They are now arranged alphabetically by name of sender. Major correspondents (10 or more letters include: Timothy Field Allen, Lerty Hey Bailey, Arthur Bennett, Caroline P. (née Lord) Bingham, Elizabeth Gertrude Britton, Nathaniel Lord Britton, Frank Shipley Collins, Robert Irvin Cratty, Allen Hiram Curtiss, Walter Deane, Edwin Faxon, James Fletcher, Edward Lee Greene, Ellsworth Jerome Hill, Thomas Jefferson Howell, Auguste Barthélemy Langlois, John Macoun, Joseph Hinson Mellichamp, Maria L. Owen, Harry Norton Patterson, Cyrus Guernsey Pringle, Gustaf Tiselius, and Sereno Watson.

The James Watson Robbins papers consist of letters to Robbins and a few of Robbins' botanical manuscripts. [Robbins was born in Colebrook, Conn. on Nov. 18,1801: he graduated from Yale in 1822 and received he M.D. from Yale in 1828. For may years he was a physician in Uxbridge, Mass., and he died there on Jan. 9,1879. See Am Jour Sci III 17: 180 (1879).]

The Robbins collection contains about 145 letters from 34 correspondents, mostly from the period 1863-1868, although there are a few earlier (1828, 1830) and later (up to 1880). The Robbins letters were found in a state of disorder, but there were some bundles that had been labeled with names of correspondents, probably by Robbins. The collection is now arranged alphabetically by correspondents. In terms of quantity of letters the most important correspondents are Edward Tuckerman (26 letters)and Thomas Conrad Porter (21 letters). Other significant correspondents (7-13 letters) include Michael Schuck Bebb, William Boott, Elias Durand, George Engelmann, Asa Gray and Aphponso Wood. The Subject matter of the letters in botanical. An interesting aspect of this collection is that there are notations indication when the letters were received and answered and considerable notes about the content of replies, sometimes written in shorthand.

There are four chunks of manuscript in the collection, all in Robbins' hand:

1. "Notes of herbaria examined and returned. For Prof. Tuckerman of Rev. Mr. Morong to go with the Potamogetons." 6 pp of notes on Prof. Eaton's herbarium and Mr. Durand's herbarium.

2. "Notes on Potamogeton." About 20 pp on notes, with draft of a letter from Robbins to Gray, May 17,1867 bound in.

3. "Potamogeton after revision for publication in his 'Manual,' in 1867, by Prof. Gray." 22 pp, double spaced.

4. "Notes and Corrections of the 1st edition of Wood's Class Book of Botany." 65 pp, first 4 pp apparently missing.



As noted above, the Robbins papers were most likely given to Morong as part of an understanding that he would be continuing Robbins' work. It appears that the combined Robbins and Morong materials may have been given to Walter Deane by Morong before leaving for South America. No evidence has turned up yet to firmly document this conjecture, but there are a couple of hints:

1. There was a group of picture postcards found with the Morong collection that clearly did not belong with the collection; notes on the cards indicated that they had been collected for Walter Deane.

2. One group of letters to Morong (from T.F. Allen) was found with a note stating "Letters given me by Dr. Thomas Morong just before sailing for South America"; the handwriting of the note seems compatible with Deane's.

Presumably Walter Deane gave the collection to the Gray Herbarium at some later point in time; there is no record of the source or date of the gift or any restrictions on its use.

Note: This collection may also shed some light on the provenance of the William Oakes papers (q.v.) previously described. The Oakes letters were mostly to J.W. Robbins, so they could have been part of the Robbins' letters acquired by Morong. Also, in a letter to Morong dated May 7, 1885, Deane wrote, "Did you say that sometime you could give me a letter from Oakes? How pleased I should be." According to a record found in Walter Deane's papers, letters to Robbins and Morong were given by Deane on Oct. 25, 1918.


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