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Robert Statham Williams (1859-1945)

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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
1 linear foot (2 boxes)


Robert Statham Williams (1859-1945) was born on May 6, 1859. As a boy growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, R. S. Williams was an ardent naturalist. When he was 20 years old, his love of nature took him from Minneapolis to Montana, where he became a successful businessman, miner, and explorer, and for a short while he was a rider for the famous Pony Express.

In 1898, during the early days of the "gold rush," Williams joined one of the parties going to the Yukon by way of Alaska, where he engaged in business rather than searching for gold, which also gave him time to collect plants. His plants collected in that region during 1898 and 1899 represent the first extensive collections made there by a resident naturalist.

In 1899, R. S. Williams came to The New York Botanical Garden with his collections and determinations. He was appointed Museum Aid in 1899, a position which he held in absentia, until January 1906 when he was named Assistant Curator. In 1910 he became an Administrative Assistant and in 1932 his title became Research Assistant in Bryology.

Williams chose to work on mosses and made a substantial contribution of his own collections of mosses from Alaska and the Yukon. In 1901, Williams accompanied an English land company on an exploration to Bolivia. He returned to New York with an enormous collection of plants from Bolivia and Peru. Later, in 1903, the Garden sent him to the Philippine Islands. He amassed large collections which furnished him with enough material to publish an authoritative work on Philippine mosses (1914). His last expedition was to Panama in 1908.

In 1909, the Garden purchased the William Mitten Herbarium, an important collection of bryophytes containing type specimens of hundreds of new species described by Mitten. Williams was sent to Mitten's home in Hurstpierpoint, England, to supervise the packing and shipping of the herbarium.

Williams was one of the few botanists who could devote himself full-time to bryology, and because of his cooperative attitude he was called upon by many botanists for help with identification of mosses. He made every effort to identify these mosses and often prepared meticulously careful drawings to illustrate details.

Williams lost his fortune during the Depression, which contributed to his waning health. He eventually lost his enthusiasm for bryology and retired to his boyhood home in Minneapolis, where he remained until his death on March 13, 1945, at the age of 86.


The Robert Statham Williams Records document his career at The New York Botanical Garden, his bryological collections, which are deposited in the Garden's Herbarium, and his botanical explorations. They contain correspondence, research and field notes, and specimen determinations and receipts. The collection is arranged in two series.


Series 1:  Correspondence
Series 2:  Research and Field Notes

Series 1:   Correspondence
                   8 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

This series consists of correspondence from colleagues requesting determinations of moss and lichen specimens.  Primary correspondents include Elizabeth Britton, A. J. Grout, J. M. Holzinger and W. R. Maxon.

Series 2:  Research and Field Notes
                  1 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically by subject and then by geographic location.

Miscellaneous notes on determinations of mosses and lichens and the Field Notebooks of collecting trips to Bolivia, the Philippines, and Panama are contained in this series.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG 4    Records of Elizabeth G. K. Britton

RG 4    Records of Nathaniel Lord Britton

CFN    Numbers 29, 83-84, 192, 295-96

Processed March 1999 by Susan Fraser under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA-23141-98) and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T.Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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