A Memorial of George Gibbs

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  • This Memorial of George Gibbs, an ethnologist who provided invaluable service to the Smithsonian Institution, was read as a eulogy in 1873 before the New York Historical Society, where he had been librarian from 1842 to 1848 and a leading member for many years. Gibbs was born July 17, 1815, on Long Island, New York. His prestigious family background, education and travel experiences before entering Harvard University are described. After earning a law degree, Gibbs worked in that profession in New York City while devoting time to his life-long interests: literature, politics, and particularly the outdoors. Gibbs was a student of geology and natural history, and had collected a large mineralogical cabinet.. Yearning to be closer to nature, he moved to Oregon during the 1848 gold rush.
  • Gibbs received an appointment as Collector at the port of Astoria, then moved to work as the geologist attached to a federal boundary commission in Washington Territory, where he also devoted himself to the study of American Indian languages of the region. In 1857, he was appointed to the northwest boundary survey and reported at length on the geology and natural history of that area. Gibbs returned to New York in 1860; he did not intend to remain in the East, but the outbreak of the Civil War changed his plans. Chronic health difficulties prohibited him from regular military service, but he served the Union through organizations supporting the cause and bore arms a number of times when riots or attacks threatened.
  • After the war he was employed as secretary of the Hudson Bay Claims Commission in Washington, D.C., where he also gave of his talent and knowledge to the Smithsonian Institution by continuing his work concerning the ethnology and philology of the American Indian. Gibbs published a series of vocabularies, and after his death in 1873, his large collection of papers concerning American Indian languages was bequeathed to the Smithsonian.


  • Gibbs, George 1815-1873
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Introduction was written by first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Annual Report, 1873 (Book)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Scientific expeditions
  • Ethnologists
  • Ethnology
  • Museums
  • Philology
  • Biography
  • Museum publications


North America

Physical description

Number of pages: 7 Page numbers: 219-225

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