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Edwin Tappan Adney (1868-1950) Papers

Edwin Tappan Adney (1868-1950) Papers

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EDWIN TAPPAN ADNEY (1868-1950) PAPERS, 1821, 1848, 1880-1950

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Adney, Edwin Tappan, 1868-1950
Title:Edwin Tappan Adney (1868-1950) Papers
Dates:1821, 1848, 1880/1950
Quantity:26.25 linear feet (46 boxes, 2 flat files)
Abstract:The Edwin Tappan Adney papers contain materials created or collected by Adney relating to First Nations' linguistics, ethnology, heraldry, and other related topics of interest.
Collection Number:E 7

Series List

SERIES I. Linguistics
A. Language and Grammar
B. Vocabulary
SERIES II. Individual Tribes
SERIES III. Other Research/Topics of Interest
A. Canoes
B. Heraldic Art
C. Treaties/Political Status of First Nations
D. Mythology, Astronomy, and Natural History
E. Ethnology
F. Norse Correlations
G. Animals and Trapping
H. Tobacco
I. Notebooks and Miscellaneous Research
SERIES IV. Correspondence
A. From Adney
B. To Adney
C. Other Correspondence

Scope and Content Note

The Edwin Tappan Adney papers contain materials created or collected by Adney relating to First Nations' linguistics, ethnology, heraldry, and other related topics of interest. The majority of the material is typewritten notes. All of the material has been left in the original order within the folders, labeled with the original title or label if one was provided. The spellings of names in this finding aid reflect Adney's spellings; they are not reflective of the current spellings of names, for example, Adney referred to the Maliseet people as "Malecite". It should also be noted that the names and titles of Adney's work do not reflect modern cultural sensitivities or politically correct naming conventions, instead they reflect the time in which Adney and his contemporaries worked. Any name or reference that was changed for sensitivity reasons, will be found in brackets. As mentioned in the above biographical note, this material comprises only a select part of Adney's manuscript material, his archival materials were divided among different repositories after his death per his expressed wishes. This collection contains five series.

Series I. Linguistics contains Adney's notes and manuscripts about his study of First Nations' languages. The language and vocabulary material is about the Maliseet language, unless otherwise noted; other languages include Micmac, Beothuk, and Algonkian. The material in the folders labeled "Notes" have been left in the original order in which they were found. Some of it may be parts of a manuscript or research for a different topic. Some of the linguistic data about names and places contains correspondence and news clippings, in addition to the notes. This series has been divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Language and Grammar contains notes, manuscripts, and research material about the rules of the various languages that Adney studied. Most of this material was originally in boxes labeled "Miscellaneous language and grammar", with little to no information to further identify it. For this reason, the materials have been left in the order in which they were found, and identified when possible. Subseries B. Vocabulary contains notes, research, and some of Adney's manuscripts on the First Nations' vocabulary.

Series II. Individual Tribes contains research and notes about individual tribes. This material has been organized by the name of the particular tribe: Beothuk, Blackfeet, Eskimo, Iroquois, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Western tribes. The Maliseet material is the most prolific.

Series III. Other Research/Topics of Interest contains material about other research areas that Adney had an interest in. This material includes notes, manuscripts, sketches, photographs, news clippings, and has been divided into seven subseries. Subseries A. Canoes contains materials relating to Adney's study of birch bark canoes, including research notes, sketches, and photographs. Subseries B. Heraldic Art contains research notes, sketches, and drawings of heraldry and crests. Subseries C. Treaties/Political Status of First Nations contains material relating to various treaties involving First Nations, and the political status and rights of the people of the various tribes. Adney was an advocate for the fair treatment of the First Nations, and lobbied on their behalf at numerous times. Subseries D. Mythology, Astronomy, and Natural History contains material researched and collected by Adney about First Nations' mythology, astronomy, and natural history. This subseries contains notes, research material, drawings, and photographs. Of interest is a sample that Adney collected of a fern, known as a Fiddlehead (box 30, folder 1). Subseries E. Ethnology contains research, notes and sketches about the characteristics of the various tribes that Adney studied. Of particular interest in this subseries is a volume of sketches of "picture writing" found at Lake Missinaibi, Ontario.

Subseries F. Norse Correlations contains materials relating to the idea of correlations between the First Nations and Norsemen, and the Norsemen's travels to North America. Subseries G. Animals and Trapping contains materials relating to Adney's study of animals and their relationship to the First Nations. This subseries also contains material about the trapping of animals and the fur trade. Subseries H. Tobacco contains research notes, photographs, and samples of tobacco. Subseries I. Notebooks and Miscellaneous Research contains Adney's notebooks, research notes on miscellaneous topics including other people's publications with Adney's notes, and news clippings on various topics. Included in this subseries are some news articles written by Adney.

Series IV. Correspondence contains correspondence sent or received by Adney, and mostly relate to his work and studies. Personal correspondence has been filed in separate folders, but has been organized by items sent or received by Adney. All materials have been organized by year. This series has been divided into three subseries. Subseries A. From Adney contains correspondence written by Adney. Subseries B. To Adney contains correspondence written to Adney. Subseries C. Other contains correspondence that was neither written by or to Adney, but was kept with his collection. There is one letter written to a Doctor Waterhouse, dated March 5, 1821, which discusses Cherokee and Osage Native Americans; it is possible that Adney collected this letter for his research.

Series V. Other contains miscellaneous items found in the collection. Included in this series are brochures and programs for events that Adney likely attended, some pages from a personal diary or journal, some financial papers, a deed of gift, list of ethnological models, and Adney family genealogy. The items in this series have been organized by date.

Biographical Sketch

Edwin Tappan Adney was born on July 13, 1868, in Athens, Ohio, to William Harvey Glen Adney (1834-1885) and Ruth Clementine Shaw Adney (1845-1911). William Adney was a natural history professor at Ohio University and a Civil War veteran. When William retired from teaching, the family moved to a tobacco farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Tappan was 13 when he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied classical literature, Greek, and Latin for two years. A few years after moving to North Carolina, the Adneys divorced, and Ruth took the children to New York City where she opened a boarding house. In 1883, Tappan enrolled in the New York Art Students' League. He worked in a law office during the day, and studied art under William Merritt Chase and Kenyon Cox for the next three years. Tappan produced 110 line drawings for The Handbook of the Birds of Eastern North America (Gates).

Tappan met his future wife, one of his mother's boarders, Minnie Bell Sharp, during this time. Sharp, originally from Woodstock, New Brunswick, was the daughter of the well-known Canadian horticulturist, Francis Peabody Sharp. In June 1887, Tappan and his sister Mary visited the Sharps in Woodstock. It was during this trip that Tappan met Peter Jo, one of the last of the Maliseet canoe builders on the Saint John River. Peter Jo introduced Tappan to native canoe building and to the Maliseet culture, both of which would become lifelong passions. Tappan stayed in New Brunswick until February 1889, living with Peter Jo and his family for an extended period of time in order to learn the Maliseet language, and to record and sketch the building of birch bark canoes. Under Peter Jo's instruction, Tappan built his first birch bark canoe and bark canoe models. In 1890, Tappan published a detailed description and sketches of a Maliseet birch bark canoe in Harper's Young People Supplement. This was important because until then, historical descriptions of Native canoes were vague, with no one having described or illustrated the building process in detail (Jennings 11-13).

In 1897, Tappan worked as a special correspondent for Harper's Weekly and the London Chronicle, observing, sketching, and photographing the Klondike Gold Rush in the Canadian Yukon. He published his first-hand account of the gold rush, along with photographs and illustrations, in his book The Klondike Stampede (Gates). He also covered the continuation of the gold rush in Nome, Alaska.

Tappan was mustered into the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Valcatier, Quebec, on May 10, 1916. The next three years were spent mostly at Canada's Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Engineers. Tappan was assigned to construct models of trench warfare for troop training, which were used at training depots across Canada. In May 1917, Tappan became a Canadian citizen, and after the war he moved to Montreal, where he worked as a commercial artist specializing in works such as murals and heraldry. To support his canoe work, Tappan accepted commercial art contracts of various sorts (Jennings 15-16). He apparently became well known throughout Canada for this knowledge of decorative historical heraldry, even hoping his design for the Canadian flag would be adopted—it was not (Gates).

After moving to Montreal, Tappan's interest in native bark canoes, and Native canoe culture became more focused. In some cases, his approach involved the reconstruction of canoes based on information he gleaned from a detailed study of native cultures and languages to study crafts that has already disappeared. He was able to track down a few active native bark canoe builders and several retired fur traders for information. In addition to creating precise drawings, notes and photographs, he began to construct exact and consistent one to five scale models of all the important native bark canoe types. By the mid-1920s, he began looking for possible publishers for his proposed manuscript on bark canoes; unfortunately he did not have much luck (Jennings 16). In 1928, Tappan's model collection was loaned to McGill University's collection (Jennings 20). In January 1940, Tappan sold his model collection to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia (Jennings 22).

Tappan became increasingly involved in native advocacy and began work on two other books, one about Native issues with the New Brunswick government, and the other a Maliseet dictionary; his original manuscript still incomplete. Tappan championed the Maliseet's land claims against the government of Canada (Gates). After his death, his unfinished manuscript, notes, and drawings were turned into The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, by Howard Chapelle of the Smithsonian (Jennings 22-25).

Tappan married Millie Bell Sharp in Woodstock in 1899. They had one child together, Francis Glenn Adney (1902-1983). Minnie died in 1937, and Tappan died in 1950. He left the disposal of his manuscript materials to his son. Glenn gave most of the materials to the Mariners' Museum, which later passed on the linguistic material to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Tappan's Klondike material was given to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a famous Artic explorer, who passed the materials on to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (Jennings 25).

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Adney, Francis Glen, 1902-1983
Adney, Tappan, 1868-1950
Byers, Douglas S., 1903-1978
Deardorff, Merle H. (Merle Henry), 1890-
Eskstrom, Fannie H.
Gorham, R. P.
Hadlock, Wendell S.
Speck, Frank G. (Frank Gouldsmith), 1881-1950
Swanton, John Reed, 1873-1958
Uhlenbeck, C. C. (Christianus Cornelius), 1866-1951
Webster, John Clarence, 1863-1950
Mariners' Museum (Newport News, Va.)
McGill University
Algonquian Indians
Beothuk Indians
Beothuk language
Canoes and canoeing
Eskimo language
First Nations (North America)
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples--Civil rights
Iroquois Indians
Iroquois language
Language and languages
Malecite Indians
Micmac Indians
Micmac language
Native language--Study and teaching
Natural history
Passamaquoddy language
Sihasapa Indians
New Brunswick


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Edwin Tappan Adney (1868-1950) Papers, E 7, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


According to John Jenning's book Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney, Adney left his manuscript material with his son, Glenn Adney, who gave it to the Mariner's Museum, in Newport News, Virginia. The Mariner's Museum passed the linguistic and ethnology material on to the Peabody Museum of Salem (Jennings 25). The linguistic and ethnology material was donated by Glen Adney to the Peabody Museum on December 27, 1950 (accession #12,388).

A folder of drawings done on birch bark by First Nations' peoples of Maliseet canoe (and other) personal marks, and other drawings, was presented to the Peabody Museum of Salem, by Edwin Tappan Adney.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, August 2017.

Related Material Canada, Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

Gates, Michael. "The Naked Truth About Tappan Adney." Yukon News, October 2, 2009. Accessed May 4, 2017.

___________. "Tappan Adney and the Klondike Stampede." Western New York Public Broadcasting, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2017.

Jennings, John. Bark Canoes: The Art and Obsession of Tappan Adney. Firefly Books Ltd.: Buffalo, NY, 2004.


Frank G. Speck Papers, 1908-1949. E 44

Hadlock Research Collection on Edwin Tappan Adney, 1941-1948, undated Acc. 24,031

A number of sketches and photographs have been reproduced by the Peabody Essex Museum's Photography Department. These items have negative numbers written on them.

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