Dearest Family, July 12 - 25, 1926


Loring Whitman




Dearest Family: 

            I started to write a letter the other day to mail before I left Monrovia but as I was writing it I found that I was not to leave until Tuesday instead of Friday as scheduled. In consequence I was forced to unpack all my photographic outfit and personal clothes for another five days. It was quite a blow.

             My last letter was dashed off in order to get in into the mail in time for the boat and I am afraid that it was pretty illegible toward the end. It was a relief to get out of town for those two days and actually get out into the bush for I must admit that Monrovia has very little to offer in the way of entertainment and of course it was my first trip on a really tropical river. On its lower stretches it is flanked by wall of palm fronds – solid walls which wave in the breeze – not trees growing but just a mass of leaves growing out of the water, and in places were scattered mangroves altho they were soon left behind. As we worked further upstream, the scenery slowly changed – the palms grew into trees, the whole vegetation became taller and took on the rich tropical green. Vines became more frequent and soon we began to pass giant silk cotton trees, tremendous things towering 150 ft. or more, with straight gray trunks which send out massive horizontal branches as they near the top. And as we progressed further the huge trees came closer and closer to the water in some places completely overhanging the stream and the vines dropping from their tops all the way into the water screen off completely in spots the jungle behind.

            The river is extremely twisty – in one place, for example, there is a cut off less than 100 yds. Long which saves 20 minutes travel on the river in the launch. You always are going around right angle bends so that your vision is quite limited. Here and there we passed dugout canoes loaded with an entire family and produce either silently paddling or drawn up along the side of the stream waiting for us to pass. And occasionally little landing places where a few naked, or nearly naked, men, women and children stood in the deep shade of the jungle to watch us pass. We also met three of the big whale boats being rowed up stream by steaming blacks – rice going up to the plantations.

            In case I didn’t describe the plantations, I will say a few words about them now. They are huge clearings at present through which are scattered half burnt logs and stumps. The system of clearing is as follows: first, they fell the trees, every one of them, cut with axes. It is quite impressive to hear the men at work yelping (so it sounds) from one to another all the time. When a tree is ready to all the yelps increase and when it crashes to the ground with a roar like thunder the chorus becomes almost deafening. It is really quite impressive. These trees are now stripped of their branches which are packed to the ground that they may burn better. Then when they are dry the whole mass is burnt in one big fire. What trunks and stumps are left are removed by rot and insects. In this way since November they have cleared several thousand acres on each of the three divisions we visited. No. 1, where we spent the night, is the largest, about 4000 acres, while No. 3, where we are to say, is the smallest and the chopping is near at hand. At each Division there is a bungalow on stilts – usually on some barren knoll near the center where a long white man stays in charge of the division. No. 1 is the only one on which they have set out any trees, little spikes now which in five years will begin to yield latex. 

            Coming down the river we saw two crocodiles, a few monkeys and birds of all descriptions, steel blue swallows with a white patch on their throats, kingfishers with orange bellies and breasts and iridescent blue backs; slate gray warbler- like birds which hopped from vine to vine always just above the water; huge awkward hornbills, croaking in the lofty treetops; and an occasional white and black eagle perched on some dead stub or soaring majestically in the air. And just as we were nearing Duport we shot at, with no apparent damage, a beautiful cinnamon colored teal with bright pale blue patches on his wings.

            That takes us up to my last letter. Since then we have done much and accomplished little. From a medical standpoint we have found one excellent case of Bilharzia (you can look it up) a parasite which lodges in the small veins of the bladder and lays eggs which penetrate into it. In consequence blood in the urine is a symptom. This patient showed microscopically not only the eggs but the hatched ciliated trematodes. These pass into a certain kind of snail in which they change into adult form when they again pass out into the water and are ready to burrow thru the skin of any luckless bather. Another thing we found was a nematode which kills cocoanut palms. It is one of two animal parasites which are known to affect plants and as far as we know it will be the first time that it has been described from Africa. We have also found malaria parasites in the monkey which I shot, another new find so far as we know.

            To continue chronologically – We had dinner at Mr. Bussell’s on Wednesday night (July 14th) the day I last wrote. He is a very pleasant broad faced Virginian who is in charge of customs here and, on the side, on the big government wheels as far as the U.S.A. is concerned. His wife, who came to Liberia in February to marry him is also extremely pleasant. She came out here against all her family’s wishes – of course they had no animosity toward Bussell – but rather dreaded the country. They showed us several small statuettes, some native spears and a native harp. This is shaped as follows <Drawing of a native harp> with a half gourd for a base which is placed against the chest as a sound box. The strings are then held horizontal when played. 

            Thursday (15th) was largely spent in unpacking as we have just got our supplies through the customs. We also interviewed numerous boys who came with recommendations for steward boys. Of course I suspect veracity of many employers and I also suspect that the bearer is not always the boy for whom the recommendation has been written. Still, what can you do? As Hal’s and my boys had both been sacked in the morning we took on a gun and camera boy respectively to act as stewards for our stay here. Later we found that Hal’s gun boy was distasteful to others already hired and that he had been in jail twice for stealing – so he is no longer with us. And although Gaybar (pronounced Gebber) is good I suspect him of being a little too sophisticated for the bush in the rainy season. However, he is intelligent and thoughtful. In the evening I did my first developing which came out successfully and the negatives dried by the next noon even though it rained hard all night long. 

            Friday (16th) we continued to repack – a whole morning spent running up and down stairs, opening trunks and dividing the outfit up into various lots to go, not to go and doubtful. We have brought a good deal more than we need and our transport system is going to be awkward enough as it is without adding extra men for unnecessary luxuries.

            In the afternoon Hal and I paid some bills down town and I called on Farmer where I chatted for about an hour. He is a very agreeable slow self confessed tramp who hoped to get a job with much title and no work. He got six titles or so and is now bored to death because there is nothing to do. He has gone down to Grand Bassa to build a government warehouse and he says he is going to take as long as he can for he may not get another job for a long time and he wants to make this one last. In the evening I again developed, this time movies, with fair success and much effort. It comes easier now that I have practiced more.

            Saturday (17th) was spent once more packing and this time we really could see a little daylight after the morning was over. Hal’s and my room which had been a mass of guns, tin trunks, cameras, tripods, duffle bags, etc. has now cleared slightly and we don’t have to continually hurdle the many obstacles as we walk across the room.

            After lunch, the chief, Dr. Shattuck, Dr. Willis (our host) and I went forth in search of congo town, a village supposedly made up of congo slaves whose chief virtue is a high rate of degeneracy. We set out in Mr. Ross’ car – a Dodge sedan – with a colored driver who didn’t know that second speed was used on hills. In consequence he would run as far as possible in high, slipping his clutch toward the end to get more speed out of the motor. Then on would go the brakes, the car might or might not stall, and we would go into low speed. He also had the ability to magnify absolutely every bump, and he never missed a hole in the road if he could find it. When we got to congo town we found a neat little village of thatch topped mud huts but no people. We were directed to another one further on. And this new one was wrong, and so on. We visited three congo towns, non of which were right, until we found that the true place had originally been the one we first visited but had long since been abandoned though kept up by the road gang for appearance’s sake. We stopped at the Mt. Barclay (Firestone) rubber plantation where we found our Bilharzia patient. 

            The rubber trees are very surprising. First they are spaced in even rows so that they always appear in lines, secondly, there is no undergrowth. Thirdly, they look remarkably clean and neat. Fourthly, they are about 40 feet tall and slender, looking very much like a cross between a young maple tree with the shape of a birch tree though with less branches. This plantation originally belonged to an English concern whom the government ran out of business by raising the tax to six-pence a pound when the sales value was the same. In addition they wanted sixpence a pound for all the former rubber which had only been taxed at threepence. Firestone now rents the land from the government at a ridiculously low figure. Of course the government tried first to run it but failed. We met Mr. Piggot, in charge, a thin Scotsman in shorts with heavily tatooed arms.

            We had dinner with the Hines, a large affair with fourteen present. The hors d’oeuvres were a meal in themselves. After the meal we sat around and talked or danced to the tune of a very squeaky victrola placed round the corner. And, of course, the floor was only rough porch planking. Bed at 1.30.

            Sunday (18th) The laboratory was in session this morning studying the specimens from the Bilharzia patient. We also did some more crating of chemicals and medicines, which for me finishes my packing except my clothes, and I assorted them. In the afternoon Dr. Strong and I went out to collect some leaves from a cassava patch which we saw was blighted. When we got back I took pictures of the leaves, both sick and healthy. After that Dr. and Mme. Bonet came in for tea and I had to accompany her songs on the uke. She knows not only most of the American songs but also the words for them. She has a very high soprano voice which is quite good. Once more I developed till 12, got 40 negatives done however.

            Monday (19th) After puttering round packing away negatives or making rather poor sunprints, I went out to take pictures of pawpaw trees, breadfruit trees and other vegetation which the chief wants.

            The afternoon was spent, or most of it, in Krutown, the native settlement if you could call it that when most of Monrovia is black too. The Kru boys are probably the best known negroes on the west coast and are by far the most travelled, working up and down the coast on the freighters. We descended upon the town armed with cameras to take their pictures. As soon as we got there we were surrounded by a crowd of little naked savages from the cradle up of both sexes and all ages. They danced about in front of the cameras as merrily as you please and we took movies of them. But when we wanted to film the streets, they continued their antics making it almost impossible. While we were still on the beach taking the kids as they raced for us or jumped over dugout canoes, a great big 6’2 buck nigger in a blue cloth draped about him like a toga came out brandishing a club. Evidently a head man trying to restore order I had already put my camera away but, at a wink from the chief, I got it out while he called to the retreating man. As he came back and expostulated with the chief I took his movie. Then Hal and I, like two pied pipers, led a parade of kids thru Krutown, at least 50 of them, whom we could not shake in any way. Every time we lifted our cameras they darted in front and danced up and down before us. One old lady came out brandishing a knife – but she danced for us. Two girls working with huge wooden mortars fled as we started the machinery. And so it went until the crowd became too boisterous and all picture taking must needs cease. 

            We returned to the House, got Dr. Strong and went out to visit the cocoanut palm grove near the French wireless station. The chief was out for this before mentioned nematode and, sure enough, after an hour examining trees, we finally chopped one down which subsequently yielded the little round worms which, though microscopic, clog the circulation of the trees.

            Hal and I had dinner with Mr. Farmer. It was a very pleasant evening, chatting about Liberia and Africa in general, Monrovia and ourselves in particular.

            Tuesday (20th) Mr. Ross, the general manager of the Firestone plantations Co. in Liberia, and Mr. and Mrs. Hines arrived to take us out to the Mt. Barclay plantation. I took some pictures and a movie of a boy climbing a tree which was subsequently shown to be pas bon pour la moose. We visited the factory where they first pour the rubber either into big boxes partitioned off or into trays. The first coagulate in slabs like bacon and about the same size which is then smoked until I am sure that it could be passed off as bacon to a near sighted person. The stuff in trays, on the other hand, is pressed into white thin mats which when smoked are almost transparent. Of course, before smoking, they are a rich creamy white.

            In the afternoon, Dr. Allen, Bequaert, Linder and I drove out the Duport Road to collect flowers and take a few pictures which took us till about 4.00, and in the evening, more developing.

             Wednesday (21st) Dr. Shattuck, Theiler, and Hal and I went aback to Kru town to make a medical survey of all the children available. The system is as follows: We set up two wooden boxes in a assort of square upon which were placed glass slides, alcohol and ether pills, etc., our supplies. The movie camera was then set up both as a decoy and to film the proceedings. Then we started, each youth was felt for the size of the spleen and liver and a drop of blood was taken from the lob of his ear which was made into smears on slides and numbered, and so on. Soon we had such a crowd that we had to back up against a wall to keep the populace in front only, the rain had something to do with this too. As for the kids, we found that, unless we were careful, they came back for a second or third time. Fortunately the right ear would have the telltale prick. During this, Harold and I wandered around, this time without a host, taking pictures of the streets and people. A girl mixing grain in a big wooden bowl, two men weaving nets, an albino child and a woman with elephantiasis of the legs. It was a relief to get away from the pressing mob of rather dirty children for a while.

            After the medical end was thru, Hal and I took a dugout canoe and went for a photographic tour of the inside harbor, taking pictures of the bar and the water front, as well as the island where the original settlers were forced to live due to the hostility of the natives. It is a little island barely above water with a huge tree growing out of it. And on it are about 15 close packed thatch huts in which natives are living. Rather damp I suspect.

            In the afternoon it rained as usual so that we were forced to putter round the house. A case of elephantiasis came round by request when I photographed. Besides elephantiasis he had the queerest set of teeth of anybody I have ever seen. They were irregularly cubical in shape with flat tops, just a band of putty-like material about ¾ of an inch thick with irregular lines as dividing marks between. The gums were practically absent.

            In the evening I again developed, this time, 200 ft. of movies before dinner and 3 dozen still pictures afterwards. 

            Thursday (22nd) Rain spoiled going to Mt. Barclay to take pictures. By the way, while I am thinking of it, there is not mountain at Mt. Barclay. It is just a name, I got my photographic outfit dried and packed from A-2, all my clothes put away and locked up and all set to go tomorrow when the plans were changed and I found that I was to wait until Tuesday. I was rather discouraged, not only because I must unpack, but because I must sit four more days in this place, a morning wasted. In the afternoon Hal and I went forth with our cameras to see what we could see. We shot various scenes along the waterfront depicting the life in Monrovia. However, it is much too active there to be typical. Whenever we changed films we had the customary crowd around us peering over our shoulders to see what we were doing with our queer machinery. One our way home we bought a set of Liberian stamps o show the fascinating shapes and pictures thereon. I think that they make more from souvenir stamp hunters than from actual sale for mail purposes.

            As we were returning, a boy told us that Mr. Wharton wanted to see us so we dropped in at the American legation to see him. He is a young chap, slightly colored, who is in the American diplomatic corps. He is quite bright as far as I can make out and very agreeable. He was sent here on account of his color. He told us that he had received a letter from President King which authorized a blanket hunting license to cover all game for all the party for nothing. Good fortune for us. We sat around and talked to him for about an hour until the rain let up and we could go home to dress fro this evening’s Banquet with the President at the mansion.           

Harold and I supplied Theiler and Shattuck with white coats for the evenings entertainment while Dr. Strong supplied all the rest either with mess jackets or evening coats – the order of the evening. Then at 8.00, Mr. Ross and Mr. Hines came for us and we drove off. As we entered, the band played in our honor. We were ushered into the reception room where we were introduced to the president and members of his cabinet. There were some 36 of us of whom 17 were white. Eight of us – Mr. Ross  and Mr. Hines, Drs. Willis, Fuszek, Bonet and Woerly – Mr. Bussell and Mr. Clark (The American Consul) and an unnamed youth in the Methodist mission service. After a while we were led one by one as if going to jail into the dining room and seated, a slow procedure. Then when all were present the band played the Liberian national anthem and the President entered.

            Dinner started, croquettes, fish, meat, ice cream, pie, etc., and with each a different kind of win and in the interim the band played. Now, when you consider that the band is the product of three years labor on bush boys it is rather astounding that they can now read music and play the various orchestral instruments. Still, without that knowledge, the discords were enough to drive one mad. And the selections played were quite choice. Of course they were all printed on the menu with the composer’s name. First came “Yes sir She’s My Baby” which was followed by the “Missouri”, “Last Night On the Back Porch”, the “Mikado” and “Cavalieria Rusticana” plus a few others whose names I have forgotten, quite a choice selection to drown our conversation.

            But, at last, the President got up and spoke about Coolidge (Cal not Hal) as a man whose motto was “Deeds not Words” as was the motto of the Liberian government. (can you tie that). He also said that the President (Cal) would be watching our progress and that courtesy to us was courtesy to him, etc. Mr. Clark got up next and replied at the same time, saying that Hal was no relation to Cal, only in less familiar terms. Next came the chief who outlined the work of the expedition at the same time confounding them with medical terms concerning the Bilharzia, Palm nematode and yellow fever. They were duly impressed. And last, but not least, Ex-President Barclay made a pleasant though slightly inaccurate address which started with a history of Harvard College, how Greenleaf, a Harvard graduate, had helped them and how we would continue to help them and that they were closely connected with Harvard in consequence. 

            That ended the dinner. We sat around outside in desultory conversation watching our clocks and hoping that it would soon be over. We left a little after one o’clock.

             Friday (23d) We got up at about 6.30 to see Allen, Bequaert and Linder off in the pouring rain for the Du and No. 3 where they are to set up camp. I don’t envy them the rain but wish that I had gone with them instead of waiting until Tuesday in order to take pictures of the National holiday on Monday. Then we more or less sat in a sleepy fashion while it poured outside. I started to get out my outfit again, unpacked some chemicals and generally settled back. Some of us read, and all morning it just poured.

            In the afternoon Hal and I went out to buy two muzzle loading gun for the native hunters and to send a cable home. Before we left however, Mr. Tui (so pronounced) came in to call. He is a colored hunter who is optimistic about getting all kinds of game altho Sir Alfred Sharp when out with him got no elephants. However, he is an interesting chap and we had a very pleasant time showing him our guns and discussing the country thru which we hope to pass. When Hal and I got to the cable office at 4.15 we found that by the time of the outside world it was 5.00 and we were just in time. We sent the message to Mr. Coolidge and signed it Coolidge Whitman in hopes that you would have it forward to you. If you do get it I think you will be amused at the wording which is taken from the Western Union Travellers’ Code Book.

            When we got back to the house I mixed up developer, etc., and did 200 ft. of movies before supper for I am tired tonight and I want to get to bed early for a change.

Saturday (24th) Today has been largely spent in writing this letter although I did go downtown for about an hour and a half to see about sending off some films and to talk with a Mr. Denis, also colored, who was connected with Schomberg who had the pleasure of filming Liberia about a year ago. I find that this gentleman, whose films by the way are excellent, spent four months in the dry season here with two professional movie men, taking over 50,000 feet. Really what chance have I with my small outfit and straight pictures to handle in the bargain. But then, such is life. Mr. Denis was pessimistic about film keeping even after development but as today is Saturday and I must have a consular certificate before I can send stuff home I am up a tree. However, I may be able to ship just the same.

            Now, in case I do, I will send it all to 78 Chauncy Street. If possible, have it sent to the Eastman Kodak Co. for rejuvenation but not printing unless you wish some of it reduced to small size for your own personal use. Do not let any of it be seen broadcast as Dr. Strong does not want to have anybody see it before we get back. He also doesn’t want anything published unless I first show it to him and then send it on with special notice. So don’t let William try to rehash these letters unless I tell him to.

            Another thing – If I send any ordinary film, take them to Solatia Taylor on Bromfield Street, having them washed if necessary and printed, 2 each, set of which can be sent to us here if there is time. Our present plant is to leave Monrovia about the middle of November so that stuff shipped by the first of October will surely reach us unless they are completely lost. The other set can be kept for the family but again, under no circumstances, must it be broadcast, sold or used in any way. And tell them to absolutely sure that they do not get them mixed up otherwise I will never to able to identity them after I have made a year’s collection.

* * * * * * *

            I wrote this last on Saturday and now it is Monday and I am in bed with a slight fever. It’s a great life. Here I have stayed over for four days to take photographs of the Liberian holiday – Independence Day – and now I am in bed with no movies taken. They think I have Dengue Fever – a perfectly harmless fever which lasts for about three days and has a fatality of less than 1/10 of 1%. It has for symptoms a splitting headache, especially round the eyes, a fever, a rash and rheumatic-like pains in the joints. It is quite common in the tropics and is mosquito born, the same mosquito which transmits yellow fever. I have never sweat so much in all my life. My pajamas and bed clothes are soaking wet and I did have the splitting headache altho, at the moment, 15 grains of aspirin have taken it away. The worst of it is I don’t know whether I can go up river tomorrow as planned and I have been unable to make any arrangements about sending home films, etc. Still, while there is life there is hope.

            I got your cable this morning which was very cheering altho since your letter dated about June 14th  have had no news up till now. However a mail boat came in this morning and, if we don’t go tomorrow, I will undoubtedly get mail up to July 1st. It will be very pleasant for, after all, one letter in six and a half weeks is awful little. And I am glad that you like my letters even tho they are degenerating from week to week. 

            Saturday afternoon Hal and I went over to the British legation with Mr. and Mrs. Hines to call on the Mills family, a farewell call as Hal was leaving early Sunday morning. They have a civet cat over there which was let out for exercise and then cased all over the house in an endeavor to recapture it. It is far from tame and would gladly put his teeth thru you if it got the chance. After supper I developed some more movies making my total 1000 ft.

At six o’clock Sunday morning we all got up with much bustling and moving of tin trunks. All Dr. Shattuck’s and Harold’s things were loaded onto the truck along with some of mine and Theiler’s. Then boys were counted and the baggage was off. We sat around and waited – where was Mr. Ross? At last he came in his Dodge and we all went out to say goodbye. But we were a little premature for when he went to start his car was completely dead. We worked on it for over an hour before we finally commandeered a Ford to take the travellers to Duport. Soon after that I went down to Dr. Bonet’s to take some pictures for him – an antelope and a leopard skin and a tropical alces. Most of the time was spent, however, chatting with Madame Bonet. In the afternoon I went down to Wolo’s house to take some photos of him and his wife in native costume as well as of his entire family. Of course, then I had to sit and talk with them all until about four. As I was walking slowly home I first began to realize that I was getting a headache. So I mixed my chemicals early that I might get as much done before dinner as possible. But while I was working I began to get colder and colder. I started to shiver and even a coat didn’t help. And I felt weak too. I stopped work and lay down until supper when Dr. Strong took my temperature which was about 100.6. And as soon as possible afterwards I went to bed. At 2.30 I had another chill, this time with two blankets over me and my had under them, my teeth were chattering and, after that, I started to sweat, just run water and have ever since. I tried to get up this morning but, after feeling progressively worse, I lay down again. I am in bed now.

            By the way, my camera boy, Gaybar Togay wants me to get him some khaki trousers and some gray flannels which he says he will pay for when they come. Now, one trouble is that he may not pan out and may get fired in which case I would be out of luck. And again, if they did come I think that he would find them a little more expensive than he planned. However, I think I will run the risk. Get two pair of khaki long trousers about my size but large enough round the leg, not yid pants. And get good substantial tho not too expensive ones. And send two pairs of gray flannels of like nature. About a 32 waist and 32 length. 

            I guess this letter is long enough for the present. My next will be send, I suppose, in about three weeks from the Du plantation and may be the last for a long while. Our plans at present are to spend two weeks or so up the Du, then move on three or four days and set up a new base camp from which we can set off on side journeys. As Liberia is only about 250-300 miles long we can cover it in about three weeks steady travelling and as we do not plan to leave before November 12th we will have plenty of time to go on side trips. Whether we will be able to send out mail from the interior or not remains to be seen. 

            But, enough said for now. My bestest love to you all at home and please remember me to all my friends. And soon I will have something more interesting to write about. 

            Your most affectionate son,


P.S. – I have just received two letters dated 17th and 23d. I tell you there is nothing like news from home. And do send Joe de Ganahl a wedding present.


            And again my best love to you all and tell Aunt Jenny that I hope that by this time she is better than she has ever been before.


P.S.S. It is now Thursday and I am still in bed though I will probably get up today as my temperature is normal. I had a variation in temperature up to 103 so I am now told and I don’t believe I have ever sweated so much in all my life. It was not malaria. But I will probably be able to go up the Du in a couple days and at present I feel fine and much rested.


            Again my best love to you all.




Historical Documents



Original Format


Mr. and Mrs. Whitman Jr.


Loring Whitman, “Dearest Family, July 12 - 25, 1926,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed May 25, 2018,