Harriet Fox: Drowned at the Wethersfield Ferry

“Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”—Beckwith’s Almanac

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Harriet Leonard Hale Fox, 1/4-plate daguerreotype, circa 1852. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Harriet Leonard Hale, scion of an old and venerable New England family, was the third child and only daughter of Russell Hale. Hale was born 22 July, 1799, in Glastonbury, Hartford County, Connecticut, and died 13 April, 1849, in that same place. Harriet’s mother, Harriet Ely, was  born 17 April, 1803, in Agawam, Massachusetts, and died 2 September, 1880. Russell was the son of Thomas Hale of Glastonbury (10 June, 1768–12 Feb., 1819) and Lucretia House (1771–24 September, 1835). The Hales descended from Samuel Hale, born 1 July, 1615, at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, England, who came to Connecticut as a young man, married Mary Smith in about 1642, and died in Glastonbury on 9 November, 1693.

Harriet Hale was born 14 April, 1833, in Glastonbury. Her two older brothers were Robert Ely (1827–1847) and Henry Russell (1830–1876). The 1850 Census of Glastonbury included Harriet Ely Hale as a widow, together with her daughter Harriet and her son Henry, a farmer. It is the only census that Harriet Hale Fox appeared on, as the one compiled a decade previously, when she was seven in 1840, listed the names of household heads only.

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A daguerreotype of Henry Fox, circa 1852, now in a private collection. The daguerreotypes of both Henry and Harriet were sold concurrently online.

At age 18, Harriet wed blond, bearded, and bespectacled Henry Fox, a man twelve years her senior, on 5 October, 1851. He had been born in East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, 19 April, 1821, and was the son of Leonard Fox (1792–1866) and Hannah Nicholson (1795–1894). The Fox family had been in New England since emigrating from London in the 17th century. Members of the clan participated in the Revolutionary War, and Leonard Fox fought in the War of 1812.

The 1850 census of Hartford included Henry Fox, a cooper—a maker or repairer of barrels and casks—who dwelt on a farm with his parents; his brother Clement (b. 1817), who was also a cooper; sister Lucy A. (b. 1826); brother Leonard (b. 1825)—a burnisher; and sister Eliza (b. 1831).

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An advert for H. & D. Fox, Hartford Courant, 4 June, 1850.

It was at about this time that Henry went into business with his paternal cousin Dudley, the son of Solomon and Clarissa Low Fox. The cousins appear to have been exceptionally close all of their lives.

Dudley, who was born 8 May, 1823, was a silversmith and a tinner. In the early 1850s, the Hartford Courant ran adverts for H&D Fox, selling tinware and stoves out of a shop at 49 Main Street. Other adverts mention the sale of cleaning fluids, brass and sheet metal for bespoke projects, and cooking pots and pans.

After marrying, Henry and Harriet quickly produced two daughters—Lucy Ely (8 October, 1852-20 March, 1910) and Julia Helen (2 November, 1854-26 Feb., 1946). These little girls were aged just four and two when they lost their mother.

“As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger.”

The Wethersfield Ferry, now known as the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, is the oldest still operating in the United States. It began in 1655, more than a century before the founding of an independent nation, as a raft propelled by pole across the Connecticut River. Later, its movement was powered by a horse on a treadmill, and by steam after 1876. The ferry is today part of the Glastonbury-Rocky Hill Ferry Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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A photo postcard of the Wethersfield Ferry, now the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, taken in about 1910.

The sixth of August, 1856, was a day busy with misfortune. Beckwith’s Almanac kept a running daily list of things that happened in the Hartford area—many of them macabre. For instance, on the sixth, “Patrick Sheridan, a well digger, and one of his assistants, were at work at the bottom of a well which they had been digging for a Mrs. Ely, in Fair Haven, when the earth suddenly gave way, and buried them with sand and stones nearly thirty feet below the surface.” In Hartford, “An unfinished house…belonging to Sam’l J. Tuttle, was set on fire and burned down.” The entry about Harriet reads: “The wife of Mr. Henry Fox, of Hockanum, was drowned at the crossing of the Wethersfield Ferry.”

Another, and almost completely erroneous report appeared in the 7 August Courant: “The steamer Granite State reports that as she was passing Glastonbury this afternoon, a woman by the name of Fox, wife of Henry Fox of Chester, either jumped or fell off the dock and was drowned.”

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The steamer Granite State from which Harriet’s drowning was sighted. This ship met its own tragic end in 1883 when it caught fire after an engine room explosion and burned to the waterline. Two passengers died and many were injured.

Thanks to court records of Fox vs. Town of Glastonbury, a suit in which Henry sued the town for negligence leading to Harriet’s death, the full and correct story of that day can be detailed. The scene was set by conditions reported in Beckwith’s Almanac: “Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”

In his opinion on the case, Judge David Curtis Sanders recounted, “An inlet from the Connecticut River, called the cove, runs up to the main land in the town of Glastonbury. About twenty-seven rods from its mouth, a highway had been laid through this cove to the Wethersfield ferry, and a causeway constructed thereon for the accommodation of public travel. The causeway…was raised about two feet above the ordinary surface of the water.”

Sanford continued, “The water in the cove, along the sides of the causeway, was ordinarily about one foot deep, but in times of freshet it frequently rose so high as to submerge the causeway, and render its passage perilous and sometimes impossible.”

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Hartford Courant, 13 November, 1859

According to the judge, at about 3 p.m., Harriet was at the reins of a horse and wagon, headed for the ferry crossing. With her was Dudley Fox’s wife Clarinda Grant, whom he had married in New Britain in 1844. Both women resided “about a half mile from the east end of the causeway.”

As noted by Beckwith’s, the river was swollen and turgid, and Judge Sanford writes that water was already covering the causeway.  “The deceased and her companion stopped in front of the house of Mrs. French, a short distance from the causeway, but in full view of it, and there observed that the water was running over [it]…. The deceased inquired of Mrs. French whether people crossed there that day, to which Mrs. F. replied they had, but that she had not before noticed that the water was over the road. The deceased then inquired of Mrs. F. if she would dare to cross. Mrs. F. replied that she would be afraid, unless she had a very gentle horse; and the deceased remarked that their horse was perfectly gentle.”

Harriet then guided her wagon toward the causeway, where, according to Sanford, “the cove and the condition of the water in it could not have escaped their notice. They saw, and observed, that the causeway was entirely submerged, that a swift and strong current of turbid water was passing over it, that there was no rail or visible object of any kind, above the surface of the water, on the sides of the causeway, by which to be protected or guided in their course.”

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The daguerreotype of Harriet in its case and pictured with the identifying note, “Harriet Leonard Hale, wife of Henry Fox and Mother of Julia H. Baker.”

In the middle of the causeway was a bridge raised about 2.5 feet from the level of the causeway. Sanford notes that the wagon made it to bridge, the water having been as high as “the hubs of the fore wheels of wagon.” What occurred next could only have been recounted by Clarinda to the court, as only she was privy to it, “On the bridge they stopped, noticed and remarked on the height of the water and the rapidity of its current, and felt some degree of alarm, but concluded to proceed. As they drove off the bridge into the water, they began to apprehend the extent of their danger and became frightened; the horse stopped; they urged him forward with the whip, and becoming more frightened, they probably tried to turn around and went off the causeway, nearly at right angle with it, into the deep water on the north side.”

The wagon sunk—Harriet, Clarinda, and the horse with it. Two boys in a boat nearby saw the incident and managed to haul Clarinda from the river, but it was too late for Harriet.

Judge Sanford opined that although “a majority of us are of the opinion that the town had been culpably negligent” for not erecting a fence or railing along the causeway as was demanded by law, the court found that “however negligent the defendants may have been, the unfortunate woman who lost her life contributed to the production of that result by her own culpable imprudence and indiscretion.” Harriet and Clarinda had “voluntarily assumed the risks and all the consequences,” the court concluded. One can imagine what a stinging slap this was for the widow and father, Henry Fox.

The body of 23-year-old Harriet was buried in Glastonbury’s Green Cemetery. She sleeps there today, beneath a weathered stone, with Henry by her side. Her husband would live another two decades before he joined her.

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The gate of Green Cemetery, Glastonbury. Photo by Jan Franco.

“Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork.”

By 1860, Henry had returned to his family home. The census enumerated him with his parents, Leonard and Hannah, as well as his brother Leonard, Jr., who was a mariner, and his daughter Lucy, aged 7. Henry listed his occupation as schoolteacher; his business with cousin Dudley ended some years before. Henry’s second daughter, Julia, was not with the rest of her family in 1860. She lived up the street with Dudley, Clarinda, and their young daughter for a number of years—why this was so is unknown.

In 1854, Dudley Fox had built a fine house at 177 Naubuc Avenue in East Hartford, “producing tin, pewter, and silver-plated goods from a small shop next to his home,” notes a Rootsweb site on American silversmiths. “The inventory of the full contents of the shop found in the East Hartford Land Records dated January 20, 1868, reads, ‘17 Rolls of Stock about 1,300 lbs. in the front of Store also 15 Rolls of Stock 1000 lbs. in Back Room together with 500 lbs scrapes or cuttings. 5 shelves of wooden chucks. 3 Lathes in Running order, one Large Press & Die, One Small Press & Dies, One Drop Press & Dies, One Large Press Down Seller, Two Squaring Shears, One Small Laze Folding Machine, One Drop Press down below, 2 Melting Kettles, also Sett of Copper or Brass Molds for Castings.’”

Additionally, Dudley was postmaster for Hockanum from 12 May, 1865, to 27 November, 1867. During this tenure, to comply with an 1860 federal requirement that stamps be thoroughly cancelled to prevent reuse, Dudley created a whimsical running fox that is beloved by philatelists today.

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A hand-cancelled three-cent postage stamp with the imprint of Dudley’s running fox.

W. J. Duffney has written extensively about Dudley and his running fox, however, in his work, Duffney misidentified Julia as the daughter of Dudley and Clarinda, rather than that they served as Julia’s foster parents after her mother drowned. The second cousin mentioned by Duffney, “Mrs. Baker…who for a time lived with [Dudley’s] family,” was Julia Fox after her marriage to Isaiah Baker, Jr. (6 June, 1856-30 Nov., 1923).

Duffney reports, “In 1920, collector J. Arthur Ritchie wrote to Hockanum requesting answers to a series of questions that he proposed. It was about this time that the Running Fox fancy cancellation first came to public attention. Isaiah Baker, Jr., sent a short but informative response to the query. He wrote that ‘Mrs. Baker [said that] Mr. Fox had a fad of using the head of a fox whenever he could and Mrs. Baker recalls very distinctly his cutting the fox on pieces of cork, striking same on a pad of black ink and cancelling stamps on envelopes. She knows they quickly wore out, or the eyes of the fox would fill, and he was very fussy about having that clear, so new ones were frequently made.’”

When Dudley Fox died in Hartford, aged 66, on August 23, 1889,  “His funeral was a rather large event. Organizations of which he was a member — the Putnam Phalanx, the Eastern Star Lodge, the Improved Order of Red Men, the Masonic Lodge of East Hartford, and St. Thomas’s Church—had representatives serve as bearers. Fellow jewelers of the city closed their shops in his honor and the flag on the Putnam Phalanx Armory flew at half mast. It was said that Dudley would be long remembered, and he has been, not just for his ‘frank and open-hearted’ character, but for making the marvelous Running Fox fancy cancellations,” Duffney noted.

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The graves of Henry and Harriet Hale Fox, Green Cemetery, Glastonbury. Photo by SheWolf.

In 1870, the census of Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut, enumerated Henry Fox as a coal dealer. Both daughters were with him, grown into teenagers. Also listed in the household was “Hattie B.,” a new Mrs. Fox. She was Harriet King Bidwell (1833–1902), eldest daughter of farmer Julius Bidwell (1805–26 Feb., 1889) and his wife Rhoda Cook (16 Dec., 1810-8 Nov., 1863). Hattie was baptized 2 July, 1837, at an East Hartford Congregationalist church by the Rev. Mr. Spring.

From the censuses, we know that Henry did not marry Hattie before 1860, and that he was her spouse by 1870. Their union lasted less than a decade. The Courant reported the “sudden” death of Henry Fox on 8 June, 1874, at the rather ironically named Deep River, Middlesex County. He was 53.

Before 1880, Hattie Bidwell Fox relocated to Massachusetts, where she worked as a dressmaker in Holyoke. She died at age 69 and is buried in Green Cemetery, although not with her husband and the first Harriet.

After their father passed away, both Lucy and Hannah became schoolteachers. On March 10, 1881, Julia married Isaiah Baker. He was a member of the Masonic Order, who served as an officer of the rather pompously named Charter Oak Lodge of Perfection in Hartford. Lucy married insurance agent Charles McCloud Webster (b. 1847) on 13 September, 1882. Julia and Isaiah had two children—Helen Eunisa (1885–1959) and Leverett Chase (1892–1975). Lucy and Charles had four children—Raymond Wing (b. 1884), Harold McCloud (b. 1886); Zulette Hale (b. 1888); and Florence Pease (b. 1892). Ω

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The Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry today. Photo Courtesy Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Long Letters Home

The sons of Albert Berthoud and Marinda Boyton Root left Pennsylvania for Kansas, Colorado, and beyond, but they never stopped writing to the people of Wellsboro.

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Albert Berthoud Root, Cabinet Card Copy of Original Daguerreotype, Circa 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Albert Berthoud Root was born 3 October, 1813, in Farmington, Connecticut. His parents were Connecticut-born Noah Root, Jr. (1777-10 Oct., 1854), and Nancy Smith (1779-17 May, 1845.) The Root family had come to the American Colonies in the mid-1600s, and can be traced as far back as John Roote, who was born 24 January, 1576, in Badby England.

Between 1830 and 1832, Albert married the slightly older Marinda Boyden, who had been born in Royalton, Windsor County, Vermont in 1809. From the fashions displayed in this pair of cabinet cards, the originals were daguerreotypes taken in about 1850. They likely belonged to the descendants of the couple’s third son John C., as he is referenced on the reverse of each image: “Albert B. Root. John C. Root father,” and “Mrs. Mariandra Root Boyden. John C. Root mother.” The cabinet cards, which date to about 1890, are both marked “F. C. Lutes, Topeka, Kans.”

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Marinda Boyden Root, Cabinet Card Copy of Original Daguerreotype of Circa 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

What Marinda actually called herself is up for debate. In the public records she appears as “Marinda,” “Miranda,” “Lavinda,” “Mariandra”—even “Gorinda.” However, Marinda appears most often, and is most likely correct.

Hannah Carroll gave birth to Marinda’s father, Joseph Boyden, Jr., less than a year before her husband set off to fight in the American Revolution.

Marinda’s paternal grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran and Walpole, Massachusetts, native Joseph Boyden (b. 4 December, 1729). According to a Sons of the American Revolution membership application filed by a descendant, Jonathan Boyden was a private in Captain Jeremiah Smith’s Company of Colonel John Smith’s Regiment, “which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775, service 7 days; also Capt. Bullard’s Co., Col. Joseph Read’s Regt. Muster roll dated August 1, 1775. Service 2 months, 1 day; also company return dated Roxbury, Sept. 26, 1775; also order for bounty coat or its equivalent in money dated Dec. 20, 1775; also Capt. Daniel’s Co., Col. Ephram Wheelock’s Regt. Reported discharged Oct. 16, 1776; also Capt. Oliver Clap’s Co., Col. Wheelock’s Regt. Under command of major James Metcalf, marched to Rhode Island on the alarm of Dec. 8, 1776, service 21 days, at Warwick, RI, reported drafted for 3 weeks service at Warwick. Also Capt. Jacob Haskin’s Co., Col. John Jacob’s Regt., enlisted July 2, 1778, service 6 months, 1 day, at Rhode Island, enlistment to expire Jan. 1, 1779.”

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The bounty coat that Marinda’s grandfather received for his Revolutionary War service probably was similar to, albeit less embellished than, this extant example worn in 1777 by Colonel Peter Gansevoort, Jr., of the 3rd Regiment of the New York Continental Line. Courtesy Smithsonian Museum.

The above reference to a “bounty coat” leads to this little-known historical tidbit taken from Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: “On the 5th of July, 1775, a resolve was passed to provide each of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the army … with a coat, and 13,000 were ordered to be provided by the towns and districts, in accordance with a regular apportionment. This gift of a coat was considered in the nature of a bounty, and later, at the time of their distribution, the men in service were permitted to choose between acceptance of the coat or a sum of money in lieu thereof.”

Joseph Boyden’s wife Hannah Carroll gave birth to Marinda’s father, Joseph Boyden, Jr., in Walpole on 4 August, 1774, less than a year before her husband set off to fight in the American Revolution. Joseph, Jr., was later enumerated there with his then-widowed mother on the 1790 census of the town.

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An early 20th Century postcard of the old main gate of Wellsboro Cemetery in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.

More than a half a century later, in 1854, a local paper wrote of Joseph, Jr., after his death and burial in Wellsboro Cemetery, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, “He grew to manhood [in Wapole], married Abigail Gilmore [b. 1781 in Wrenthan, Massachusetts; known as “Nabby”] on 2 October, 1799, in Walpole, and in 1848 came to Tioga County, Pennsylvania, and located in Delmar township. He was the father of nine children, as follows: Nancy, who married Enoch Cheney; Harriet, who married Charles Bond; Sanford; Addison; Lemuel; Miranda, wife of Albert Root, of Wellsboro; Eliza, wife of Lemuel Colvin; and Maria, who married Lyman Whitmore. Addison, Mrs. Root, and Mrs. Colvin are the only survivors of this family.”

Boyden died in Charleston township on January 5, 1854; his wife died 11 July, 1858, and was also buried in Wellsboro Cemetery, as are many other members of Marinda’s father’s family.

Root “came to Wellsboro in the winter of 1849, where he followed the trade of a mason as long as his health would permit.”

According to Albert Root’s obituary, which was published in the wonderfully titled Wellsboro Agitator, he had lived for some years in Binghamton, New York, with Marinda and their children. Root “came to Wellsboro in the winter of 1849, where he followed the trade of a mason as long as his health would permit. He was the father of a large family of children most of whom survive him. ”

The children of Albert and Marinda Boyden Root were Maria Louise (1833-1912); Joseph A. (1836-1926); Franklin Albert (3 July, 1837-1926), John C. (1839-1924); Eugene Bathobe (9 October, 1841-1917); Nancy (b. 1845); Josephine (b. 1847); and Henry C. (b. 1849), who were all born in Binghamton, New York, and Julius, who was born in 1851 in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

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A circa-1910 postcard of the Main Street of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Marinda, who died in 1899, would certainly have recognized it.

The Root family appears on the 1850 census of Wellsboro with baby Henry aged only two months old. At the other end of the sibling spectrum, the eldest son Joseph III was a day laborer—later he would become a mason like his father. It was around this time that Albert and Marinda sat for the original daguerreotypes from which these images were copied.

A decade later, in 1860, the Roots still lived in Wellsboro. Albert once more gave his occupation as a mason; son John was a jobs printer, and Eugene a day laborer. The eldest children had established homes of their own; the youngest of the progeny were still with the parents.

Son John C. appears as a 22-year-old printer on the list of men subject to the military draft in 1863, as does his elder brother, the mason Joseph III. While it appears that neither John nor Joseph fought in the Civil War, their brothers Henry and Eugene did.

Henry was a member of Company A of the 187th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The company participated in the siege of Petersburg, the Yellow Tavern, and fighting on the Weldon railroad, one of the main arteries of the South to ship supplies to Petersburg and Richmond. Eugene served as a private in Company I, 45th PA Infantry. He enlisted 21 September, 1861. The unit mustered at Camp Curtain on 21 October for a three-year enlistment under the command of Colonel Thomas Welsh. Among the bloody battles in which they fought were Antietam, Cold Harbor, South Mountain, and the Wilderness. Eugene’s unit mustered out 17 July, 1865.

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The Wellsboro Cemetery gravestone of Julius C. Root, youngest son of Albert and Marinda, who died of consumption as a young man. Photo by TSOtime.

Franklin, known as Frank, also did not serve. This is explained by his entry in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc.; “He was educated in the country schools of New York and Pennsylvania, and in his boyhood worked on a farm. He was later hod-carrier and stage driver in Pennsylvania. At the age of twenty he came to Kansas, where he worked first in the office of the Herald of Freedom at Lawrence, and in the latter [18]50s was local editor on the Quindaro Chindowan. When the Civil War broke out he was assistant postmaster at Atchison, and was prevented from enlisting by his resignation not being accepted.”

By 1870, only sons Eugene and Julius remained with Albert and Marinda in Wellsboro. Both followed their father into the profession of mason—in Eugene’s case, his obituary makes clear he was a stone mason. Not long thereafter, Eugene married Elizabeth Kriner (b. 1854) and they became the parents of children Nellie Miranda (b. 1876) and Albert Laverne (15 April 1886-19 December, 1966). Eugene lived until 11 October, 1917, when at 10:30 in the morning, he died of valvular disease of the heart. Julius did not grow old; he died of consumption on 21 June, 1871, at the age of just 20 years.

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Albert Root’s obituary.

A decade later, the 1880 census enumerated 44-year-old son Joseph III living with Albert and Marinda. Two years afterward, Albert Root died on 12 May, 1882. The Agitator of 16 May reveals, “Mr. Albert B. Root, an old and well-known resident of this borough, died at his home on Pearl Street last Saturday morning after being ill a few days with pneumonia.” He was buried in Wellsboro Cemetery. Marinda Boyden Root died 22 April, 1899. It seems logical that she is buried with her husband in Wellsboro Cemetery, but if this is the case, her grave is unmarked.

“Westward, Ho! Mr. John C. Root, who, boy and man, apprentice and foreman, has been in the Agitator Office for nine years, left for Kansas last Friday.”

Albert Root’s obituary states, “Three of his sons are engaged in the newspaper business in the West.” Two of those were John and Henry, who were both in Atchison Kansas in 1879, along with John’s wife Elizabeth (“Libby”) Bell (b. July 1842) and one-year-old daughter Mary. (John and Libby were married on 30 December, 1866, in Atchison.) Albert and Marinda’s firstborn daughter, Maria, also went west. She married blacksmith Samuel King (b. May 1836-15 June, 1886). The couple went to Kansas in 1864.

The circumstances around son John’s migration were reported by the Agitator, 20 December, 1865: “Westward, Ho! Our much esteemed foreman, Mr. John C. Root, who, boy and man, apprentice and foreman, has been in the Agitator Office for nine years, left for Kansas last Friday. He goes into the Daily Free Press Office, Atchison, Kansas, of which his brother [Harry C. Root], and our old friend and correspondent, is publisher. He takes with him what every young man, may, by equal fidelity and industry, command: the best wishes of all who know him, and the regrets of many, ourselves among the number. A tender hearted, more faithful and honest, and honorable man never breathed. Such a man must prosper wherever he goes. And may he prosper abundantly in his new home.”

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Atchison, Kansas, during the time the Roots were newspapermen there.

Frank Root married Emma Clark in Topeka, Kansas, on 21 October, 1864. He regularly communicated with the Agitator about life in the new territory. Some of these printed letters mention his brothers and other former Wellsboro immigrants to Atchison. For example, on 3 March, 1868, he wrote, “I have lately received calls from G. D. Sofield, Lazell Kimball and John B. Emory, all from Wellsboro. Your quiet little place is well represented here. Bailey and Emory are selling goods, Kimball is recruiting his health, and John C. and Henry C. Root are ‘sticking type’ in the Daily Free Press office. All are well pleased with our ten-year-old city and bright prospects before her.”

“Frank Root is again in the newspaper business. This time he is publishing a neat weekly paper in North Topeka, called the Times.”

Henry Root also became a regular correspondent to the Agitator. (The brothers’ fascinating published reports from Kansas can be read in their entirety here.) Henry wrote of his brother, “Frank Root is again in the newspaper business. This time he is publishing a neat weekly paper in North Topeka, called the Times. Frank says his forte is in the newspaper business, and somehow he can’t keep out of it. He has got a live town to support him in his latest enterprise, and no doubt he will succeed.”

Henry Root returned to Wellsboro at least once, presumably to visit his parents and siblings. He mentions being there in the fall of 1876 in one of his letters to the Agitator. John also made at least one return visit to Wellsboro. Henry wrote on 2 July, 1877, “John C. Root, an old ‘typo’ in the office of the Champion and who is well known by everybody in Wellsboro and Tioga County, left on Wednesday last for a few weeks’ trip visiting his old home in Wellsboro. It is hoped the ‘boys’ will take good care of him while there. He has not been home for ten years.”

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Bartholomew Brothers Outfitting Store, Gunnison, Colorado, 1880. Frank Root would almost certainly have visited this retail hub of the nascent town.

On 10 May, 1880, Henry wrote of Frank, “Frank A. Root has left Kansas, settling in Colorado, and will shortly commence the publication of a weekly paper at Gunnison City, in the southern portion of that State. This valley is said to be rich in agricultural as well as mineral wealth, and Frank predicts he has struck a big bonanza. A large emigration is flocking into this country.” (A fascinating series of letters that Frank wrote to the Agitator from primordial Gunnison can be read here.)

A year later, the Agitator of 5 July 1881, reported, “Mr. John C. Root, of Atchison, Kansas, arrived here on a visit to his parents last Friday. Mr. Root is a compositor in the Daily Champaign office at Atchison. It is four years since he last visited Tioga County. We are indebted to Mr. Root for some interesting western journals.” It was the last time  John saw his aged father, and it was possibly also a last meeting with his mother.

John appeared in the 1885 and 1895 Kansas censuses with Libby and adult daughters Elva May (b. December 1871) and Annabel W. (b. March 1873). The 1880 U.S. census of Atchison showed the couple living with both, who are enumerated as “Elva May Hall” and “Hannah McClung,” as well as Annabel’s husband Charles McClung. John’s career was noted as compositor (print typesetter), whilst his son-in-law was a railroad brakeman.

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A postcard of Atchison, Kansas, as the Roots knew it in about 1912.

On 3 February, 1901, Henry Root wrote to the Agitator, “The Overland Stage to California, by Frank A. Root, a former Wellsboro boy, now of Topeka, will soon be ready for the printer. It will contain upwards of 600 pages, including 200 or more illustrations, many of them from original drawings. The book itself will be an authentic history and personal reminiscences of the Overland Stage line and Pony Express between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, carefully written by Mr. Root, who for some time was messenger in charge of the express and agent of the Post Office Department between Atchison, on the Missouri river, to the Rocky Mountains in the early [18]60s.”

By the taking of the 1910 census, the household of John Root had shrunk to himself, wife Libby, and daughter Annabel, who was married to a new man, the German “A. Wernimthier,” whose professional was as a “teletype operator, newspaper.”

Remarkably, we get a glimpse of Annabel as an elderly lady and former working woman in 1951, when the Atchison Daily Globe reported on 5 May, “When the Globe installed its first linotypes almost 50 years ago, three compositors were sent to Chicago for six weeks to learn how to operate and maintain the new machines, according to Mrs. A. W. Wernimthier of Lawrence, the former Annabel Root, who was one of them. The other two were Frank Watson and Jake Arthur. Mrs. Wernimthier had been setting type by hand for the Globe several years, and her father, John C. Root, long was a Globe printer. Adolph Wernimthier came from Chicago to set up the new linotypes, and four years later he and Annabel Root were married. Mrs. Wernimthier came to Atchison yesterday for the funeral of her sister, Mrs. Elva May Edlin.”

“In the old town I learned the printing business and there had my last school days way back in the ’50s.”

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Frank Root in old age, from his book, The Overland Stage to California.

On 2 August, 1911, the Agitator reported that “Mr. Frank A. Root of Topeka, Kansas, the author of The Overland Stage to California, has the distinction of furnishing the first volume for the Green Free Library in Wellsboro. And it is proper that he should do so, for he is a Wellsboro boy…. On the flyleaf he writes the following autograph letter:

“‘I have known Wellsboro more or less from the first time I saw the little village in 1849. My admiration for the place and its people and institutions [is] lasting. In the old town I learned the printing business and there had my last school days way back in the [1850s]. I want to congratulate Wellsboro on its free public library and herewith I send the new institution one free passage by The Overland Stage to California.’ The volume… contains the personal reminiscences and authentic history of the great overland stage line and pony express and mail transportation from the Missouri river to the Pacific coast. Mr. Root was for years messenger in charge of the express and agent of the Post Office Department to look after the transportation over the plains and mountains…. Mr. Root is also the late publisher of the Atchison Free Press, the Atchison Champion, Waterville Telegraph, Seneca Courier, Holton Express, North Topeka Times, Gunnison, Col., Review-Press, and the Topeka Mail.”

Frank and Henry were still writing to the Agitator as late as the early 1920s, and continued to include memories that bring into the lives of the Root family. On 8 July, 1820, Frank wrote, “While enclosing my subscription for the Agitator, I am reminded that in the old Advertiser office, directly south across Main Street (opposite Dr. Robert Roy’s pioneer drug store,) in a one-story log building, I began work as an apprentice in 1850. This was the first printing office I was ever in. Wm. D. Bailey, who learned the trade with the Bergers in the Harrisburg Telegraph office, was proprietor and editor of the Advertiser, he having started the paper in the latter [1840s]. My first day’s work for Mr. Bailey was sawing up into stove lengths a cord of wood in the rear of the office. Before finishing the printing trade at times I worked also in the Banner and Eagle offices….”

Frank Root died at the home of his son, George Root, 324 Lindenwood Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, 20 June, 1926.

“He is full of reminiscences of Wellsboro in early days and he has written of them in former years most interestingly for the Agitator.”

On 9 August, 1922, the Wellsboro & Vicinity News published that “Henry C. Root, of Topeka, Kansas, is spending a month around his old home in Wellsboro. He is a veteran of the civil war and has been in the West since 1865. Mr. Root has been connected with prominent newspapers in Kansas for years. He is now a bailiff of the State Supreme Court. He is full of reminiscences of Wellsboro in early days and he has written of them in former years most interestingly for the Agitator. He says the first money he earned as a boy was paid him by Dr. Robert Roy, and a little later he was ‘roller Boy’ in the Agitator office when the paper was printed on a hand-lever press. For two days at such service each week he earned the princely wage of $1.”

In 1924, the Agitator noted that Henry was one of only eight living Civil War veterans of Company A of the 187th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The group gathered in Wellsboro in early September, 1924.

In February 1932, Henry, was diagnosed with myocarditis and sent for care to the military home in Leavenworth, Kansas. Just two weeks later, on 14 March, he passed away. Henry Root lies buried in Topeka Cemetery. Ω

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Their Lives Well Lived

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”―Marcus Aurelius

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An elderly woman in her final sleep, 1/9th-plate postmortem ambrotype, circa 1860. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

We see the still, worn body of old lady, prepared for burial by her family and laid out, most likely, upon her own bed.

This photograph may have been both this woman’s first and her last. She was likely a child in the 1790s and a young wife and mother when Jane Austen wrote her literary oeuvre. The story of her life unfolded during the waning of one century and the child years of another. For many, by the time this post-mortem ambrotype was taken, familiar patterns of life had been radically altered by the industrial revolution. The War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars had rolled by like awful storms. The British Queen would shortly lose her dearest love and plunge herself into perpetual mourning. America was spilling out across a vast continent and tensions were escalating to the point of eruption between its North and South. War was a dark cloud on the horizon, threatening the young men of her family, but mercifully, she never saw it blot out the sun.

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Grandmother Whitney, postmortem cased melainotype, circa 1856-1860.

A note tucked inside the case of this 1/6th-plate reads, “Grandmother Whitney—mother of Samuel. Born between 1775 & 1780.” The plate is stamped “Melainotype for Neff’s Pat 19 Feb 56.”

In John Towler’s 1864 opus on what was then state-of-the-art photographic technology, The Silver Sunbeam, he writes, “The melainotype takes its name from the black background upon which it is taken…. Very thin plates of sheet-iron are covered with a protective varnish or Japan, of which one is of a rich black or brown-black color, highly polished, and without flaw, for the reception of the collodion and the collodion picture. Glass in this sort of picture is entirely dispensed with, and so is also the black Japan, the black velvet, and paper. This type is by far the easiest and the quickest to take, and in general the most satisfactory when taken. Melainotype plates of all the variable photographic sizes, and of variable qualities, can be obtained from the photographic warehouses.” Ω

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Postmortem tintype of a very old woman, circa 1863. Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.
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An elderly nun in her coffin, 1/6-plate daguerreotype, circa 1858. Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Sit Down, John: An Adams Image Rediscovered

The historical importance of March 1843 daguerreotype was forgotten until now.

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Newly rediscovered daguerreotype of President John Quincy Adams. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

A new image of John Quincy Adams, America’s sixth president, will be presented for sale by the auction house Sotheby’s later this year. The March 1843 daguerreotype, which Quincy Adams gifted to a friend, remained in the recipient’s family through the generations although its historical importance was forgotten. The image was made during a sitting with early photographers Southworth & Hawes that yielded at least two daguerreotypes. A copy of the other now resides in the collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum.

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This daguerreotype copy of a second, cleaner image from the Southworth & Hawes sitting shows the former president as he actually appeared. Daguerreotypes present a mirror image of the subject; daguerreotype copies present the correct frontal view. Although it may appear so, Adams was not photographed in a private home. This set was used in other daguerreotypes taken by Southworth & Hawes. Image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum.

There is a third, badly damaged daguerreotype of Quincy Adams held by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Adams disliked it, noting in his diary that he thought it “hideous” because it was “too close to the original.” More than a hundred years later, in 1970, the daguerreotype was bought for 50 cents in an antique shop. After identification, it was eventually donated it to the nation.

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John Quincy Adams. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Quincy Adams, born 11 July, 1767, was the son of the second U.S. president, John Adams (30 Oct., 1735-4 July, 1826)—a patriot renown as an American Founding Father. His mother, Abigail Smith (22 Nov., 1744–28 Oct., 1818), called her infant after her dying grandfather, Colonel John Quincy (21 July 21, 1689–13 July, 1767), for whom Quincy, Massachusetts, was named. Quincy Adams spent his formative years with his father on diplomatic missions to France and The Netherlands, studying for some time at the University of Leiden. He would travel to Russia and Scandinavia before returning to America to attend Harvard.

Quincy Adams served as a U.S. senator; a Harvard professor; a minister to Russia, the Court of St. James’s, Portugal, and Prussia; and secretary of state under James Monroe before narrowly winning a four-candidate presidential election in 1824. On 4 March, 1825, he took the oath of office, served one term, and was defeated by Andrew Jackson in the bitter election of 1828.

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In his prime: John Quincy Adams, aged 29, painted by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy Boston Museum of Fine Art.

Adams married British-born Louisa Catherine Johnson (12 February, 1775–15 May, 1852) in London in 1797. They had three sons and a daughter named after her mother—the latter of whom was born and died in infancy in St. Petersburg, Russia whilst the Adamses were on diplomatic assignment. One son, George Washington Adams (12 April, 1801–30 April, 1829), became a lawyer and politician. He committed suicide by jumping off a steamship in Long Island Sound in April 1829. Another son, John Adams II (4 July, 1803–23 October, 1834), was private secretary to his father during Quincy Adams’ presidency, then went into business.

John Quincy and Louisa’s youngest son, Charles Francis (18 August, 1807–21 November, 1886), led a distinguished political and diplomatic career, then turned to writing history. Charles’s son Henry Adams (16 February, 1838–27 March, 1918) was a noted historian and husband of photographer Marian “Clover” Hooper, who committed suicide by drinking her own darkroom chemical, potassium cyanide. Both Henry and Clover now lay buried in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery beneath sculptor Augustus St. Gauden’s masterpiece, “Grief.”

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The gravesite of John Quincy Adam’s grandson Henry and his wife Clover, taken in the 1970s. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Quincy Adams, whose grandson Henry was about five when he sat for the newly found daguerreotype, suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the House of Representatives on 21 February, 1848. He was carried to the Speaker’s room and placed in a bed; he died there two days later with his wife and son beside him. Quincy Adams was buried first in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery, but was later moved to Hancock Cemetery in Quincy, Massachusetts, to rest with his ancestors. Ω

For Want of a Surname, Her Lifestory is Lost

Julia was one of thousands of Americans who made for California after gold was discovered in 1848.

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This wonderful 1/6th-plate daguerreotype shows a plump, well-dressed, melancholy woman whose first name was Julia. An inscription in the case reads “Aunt Julia. mothers [sic] sister that went to Calif. in 1851 or 52.” Unfortunately, the niece or nephew who penned this message to posterity left out Julia’s last name. Lacking it, we will never know Julia’s story, save that this daguerreotype almost certainly marked her departure west, as her fashionable clothing and coiffure can be dated to about 1851.

After the Gold Rush kicked off in January 1848, many thousands hurried west to seek their fortune or to provide goods and services for those allured by gold’s siren song. This mass movement lifted the nonnative population from less than a thousand to 100,000. Filled by newcomers and new wealth, the California Territory was quickly admitted as the U.S. 31st state on 9 September, 1850.

The society that Julia joined was only somewhat more than nascent. One new arrival, Jessie Benton Fremont, who came by sea to San Francisco in 1849, noted her first impressions from the deck of the vessel, “A few low houses, and many tents, such as they were, covered the base of some of the wind-swept treeless hills, over which the June fog rolled its chilling mist.” (A Year of American Travel, published 1878.)

Fremont, the daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton and the wife of military officer and politician John C. Fremont, was used to the finer things. Her account of society in early San Francisco and Monterrey makes for enticing reading. I quote her here at length not necessarily as a member of the social class that Julia represented, but as one of the few surviving women’s voices from the Gold Rush era.

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Jessie Benton Fremont

“I was taken to one of these houses, which had been the residence of Liedesdorff, the Russian consul, who had recently died there. It was a time of wonderful contrasts. This was a well-built adobe house one story high, with a good veranda about it, and a beautiful garden kept in old-world order by a Scotch gardener. Luxuries of every kind were to be had, but there were wanting some necessaries. Fine carpets and fine furniture and a fine Broadwood piano, and no house-maid. The one room with a fire-place had been prepared for my sleeping-room, and had French furniture and no end of mirrors, but lacked a fire. The June winds were blowing, and I felt them the more from recent illness, which had left the lungs very sensitive. There was no fuel proper; and little fagots of brush-wood, broken-up goods boxes and sodden ends of old ship timber were all that could be had.

“The club of wealthy merchants who had this house together had excellent Chinese servants, but to make everything comfortable to me they added the only woman that could be procured, who accepted a temporary place of chamber-maid at two hundred and forty dollars a month and perquisites. One of the perquisites was the housing of her husband and children as well as herself. She had been washer-woman to a New York regiment, and was already the laundress of these gentlemen. She was kind enough to tell me that she liked my clothes, and would take the pattern of certain dresses, and seemed to think it a matter of course that I would let her carry off gowns and wraps to be copied by her dress-maker, a Chinaman. I declined this as civilly as I could, but the result was that she threw up the situation.

“The only really private house was one belonging to a young New-Yorker, who had it shipped from home, house and furniture complete—a double two-story frame house, which, when in place, was said to have cost ninety thousand dollars. At this price, with the absence of timber and the absence of labor, it will be seen that it was difficult to have any other shelter than a tent. The bride for whose reception this house was intended arrived just before me, but lived only a few weeks; the sudden and great changes of climate from our Northern weather into the tropics, and from the tropics again into the raw, harsh winds of that season at San Francisco, were too much for her, even with all the comforts of her own beautiful home. At a party given to welcome her the whole force of San Francisco society came out, the ladies sixteen in number.”

Later, to aid her health, she and her husband went to Monterrey, finding “There was none of the stir and life here which made San Francisco so remarkable. There was a small garrison of married officers with their families, but no man of any degree voluntarily kept away from the mines or San Francisco; it was their great opportunity for sudden money-making. Domestic matters were even more upset than in San Francisco, where Chinese could be had. Here it was like after a shipwreck on a desert shore; the strongest and the most capable was king, and, to produce anything like comfort, all capacities had to be put to use. The major-general in command of the post, General Riley, was his own gardener. He came to me, proud and triumphant, with a small market-basket on his arm, containing vegetables of his own raising. And as we would bring roses of our cultivation, so he brought me a present of a cabbage, some carrots, and parsley.

“The French ships brought cargoes of everything that could be sealed up in tin cans and glass, but the stomach grows very weary of this sort of food. It was barely a year since the gold had been discovered, but in that time every eatable thing had been eaten off the face of the country, and nothing raised. I suppose there was not a fowl left in the northern part of the state, consequently not an egg; all the beef cattle left had been bought up by ‘Baron’ Steinberger in San Francisco; there were no longer vaqueros or herdsmen, and flocks and herds had dispersed. There were no cows, consequently no milk. Housekeeping, deprived of milk, eggs, vegetables, and fresh meat, becomes a puzzle; canned meat, macaroni, rice, and ham become unendurable from repetition.”

The Fremonts eventually left California, but she and her husband returned to settle in Los Angeles later in life. On the whole, Jessie’s was a happy, adventurous story, which ended 27 December, 1902, in her adopted state. Her ashes were buried at Rosedale Cemetery. We know nothing of Julia’s fate. The inscription implies that she never returned from California, rich or otherwise. She was an aunt unknown and passed into legend— just “mothers sister,” long away, dead or not in contact with the clan; a vestige of family recalled only by her mirror image on a metal plate. Ω

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Daguerreotype case inscription.

Fashion Fix

“The woolen dress in this portrait has been finished with self puffing to emphasize the waist taper, the shoulder caps, and the sleeve cuffs.”

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Dennis Waters, who conserved this 1/6th-plate daguerreotype in 1994, helpfully left a note on the reverse that says, “Pemberton & Co, Conn. Very rare plate mark. C. 1850.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This circa-1851 daguerreotype, now in my collection, was published on page 126 of Joan Severa’s seminal work on nineteenth century fashion, My Likeness Taken. Of it she wrote, “The woolen dress in this portrait has been finished with self puffing to emphasize the waist taper, the shoulder caps, and the sleeve cuffs. The fitted and darted bodice has the shorter waist point of the [1850s], and the skirt is taken into the waistline by small knife pleats. It is interesting to speculate on the color of the dress, as it is not black. Cherry red is a possibility, but soft brown is more likely.

“A standing band of whitework, with lappets crossed, is worn at the neck, and fine, close undersleeves extend the somewhat shortened sleeves. The netted mitts cover the fingers to the first finger joint, a new style for the year.

“The hair is done in long curls hanging behind the ears on either side.”

The figure at bottom left of this April 1851 fashion plate wears a similar dress and can help us visualize the full length gown worn by the daguerreotype’s subject. Ω

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European Daguerreotypes

Europeana.eu offers up 2 million historical photographs that bring the old Europe and its people to life.

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Courtesy Nordiska Museet.

In this daguerreotype an unknown woman sits in a high-backed chair, dressed in a patterned dress with elbow-length sleeves and a wide slanted neckline. The white paper passe partout is printed with a gold decorative pattern and the stamp “Daguerreotype by J. W. Bergström.” According to Nordiska Museet, Johan Wilhelm Bergström (1812-1881) was born in Kungsholmen to a carpenter’s wife and died quite wealthy, after a decade as a leading daguerreotypist and a career as an inventor.

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Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, “This is one of the first daguerreotypes ever taken in the UK. Landscape view of London: Parliament Street from Trafalgar Square. In the foreground to the right is a statue of Charles I mounted on horseback, seen from the back, on a raised stone plinth or column with carved royal arms, surrounded by a palisade of railings and protected by stone bollards. Parliament Street goes to the left, lined with tall buildings of five or more storeys, most of which have awnings over the street. The skyline shows many chimneys and chimney-pots. The pavements have lamps at regular intervals. On the left side of the street is a line of vehicles and drivers. In the distance is the Royal Banqueting House. Note the man in a top hat sitting slumped against the lamp-post in the middle foreground, with four bollards around him.”

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Courtesy Technische Sammlungen, Dresden, Germany

Technische Sammlungen writes of this portrait of an unknown man with glasses and chin whiskers wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, “A simple wooden chair, a cloth as a background, and straight posture are the ingredients of this expressive portrait. The necessity of standing still in front of the camera demanded the anonymous man maintain a firm gaze and physical immobility, which made numerous daguerreotypes appear collective portraits of bourgeois self-confidence…. The unidentifiable order ribbon on his jacket lapel adds extra strength to the man’s proud aspect like a footnote.”

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Courtesy Royal Collection Trust, United Kingdom.

Acquired by Queen Victoria in 1852, the process of making this hand-colored, enameled daguerreotype “involved varnishing the daguerreotype and then heating and adding another coat of varnish after the colour pigments had been added. Interestingly, [daguerreotypist Richard] Beard seems to have signed the plate three times, presumably before varnishing and again after each coat was added.” The subjects of the image are “a group of Tyrolese singers called Klier, Rainer, Margreiter, Rahm, and Holaus. Rahm is seated facing partly left playing a dulcimer and Rainer holds a guitar. All are wearing traditional Tyrolese costume, coloured with both dark and pastel tones. Queen Victoria had first seen this troupe of Tyrolese singers at Kensington Palace in 1833. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, later arranged for the singers to perform at Osborne on her birthday in 1852. The Duchess recorded in her diary that ‘dearest Victoria appeared very much pleased with the surprise’. Later the same year Queen Victoria acquired this daguerreotype.”

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Courtesy Archivo Gráfico José Huguet, Spain.

This nude image of an unknown woman was made by daguerreotypist Felix Jacques-Antoine Moulin who ran a studio at 31 bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre from 1849. Moulin produced risqué daguerreotypes of young girls, and ultimately his work was confiscated and he was jailed for immorality. After his release, notes Archivo Gráfico José Huguet, “Moulin continued his activities more discreetly. He taught photography, sold photographic equipment, and had a backdoor installed to his studio to dodge further legal problems. His works eventually gained esteem from critics.”

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Courtesy the Royal Collection Trust, United Kingdom

This daguerreotype was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1852, notes the Royal Collection Trust. It shows “a group of 15 men, including the gamekeepers Mr. McDonald and Mr. Cowley, gathered in front of a wall of Windsor Castle. At the centre of the group a tall man stands with a gun resting on either shoulder. The man in front of him bends down to button his gaiters. All of the men are wearing top hats and most are carrying sticks…. [Daguerreotypist Theodore Robert] Brunell was invited to Windsor Castle at the beginning of 1852 to photograph the royal family. He spent almost three weeks making portraits of the royal children and also took a number of photographs of the gamekeepers. McDonald and Cowley had originally been employed at Balmoral but by 1848 were working at Windsor, with McDonald in charge of the kennels. Both men were photographed on several occasions over the following years and their portraits appear in the personal albums of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who as well as collecting portraits of their own family commissioned photographs of their staff.”

The Europeana Collections are accessible here. Ω