Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after a team of scientists led by Western University learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.
Research published in June 2018 in Scientific Reports—Nature includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition.
“It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. student in Western’s Department of Chemistry and lead author of the scientific paper.
“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time,” continues Kozachuk. “But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the tablecloth.”
The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.
For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.
Invented in 1839, daguerreotype images were created using a highly polished silver-coated copper plate that was sensitive to light when exposed to an iodine vapor. Subjects had to pose without moving for two to three minutes for the image to imprint on the plate, which was then developed as a photograph using a mercury vapor that was heated.
Kozachuk conducts much of her research at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and previously published results in scientific journals in 2017 and earlier this year. In those articles, the team members identified the chemical composition of the tarnish and how it changed from one point to another on a daguerreotype.
“We compared degradation that looked like corrosion versus a cloudiness from the residue from products used during the rinsing of the photographs during production versus degradation from the cover glass. When you look at these degraded photographs, you don’t see one type of degradation,” says Ian Coulthard, a senior scientist at the CLS and one of Kozachuk’s co-supervisors. He is also a co-author on the research papers.
This preliminary research at the CLS led to today’s paper and the images Kozachuk collected at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source where she was able to analyze the daguerreotypes in their entirety.
Kozachuk used rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging to analyze the plates, which are about 7.5 cm wide and identified where mercury was distributed on the plates. With an X-ray beam as small as 10×10 microns (a human scalp hair averages 75 microns across) and at an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption, the scan of each daguerreotype took about eight hours.
“Mercury is the major element that contributes to the imagery captured in these photographs. Even though the surface is tarnished, those image particles remain intact. By looking at the mercury, we can retrieve the image in great detail,” said Tsun-Kong Sham, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation at Western University. He also is a co-author of the research and Kozachuk’s supervisor.
This research will contribute to improving how daguerreotype images are recovered when cleaning is possible and will provide a way to seeing what’s below the tarnish if cleaning is not possible.
The prospect of improved conservation methods intrigues John P. McElhone, recently retired as the chief of Conservation and Technical Research at the Canadian Photography Institute of National Gallery of Canada. He provided the daguerreotypes from the Institute’s research collection.
“There are a lot of interesting questions that at this stage of our knowledge can only be answered by a sophisticated scientific approach,” said McElhone, another of the co-authors of today’s paper. “A conservator’s first step is to have a full and complete understanding of what the material is and how it is assembled on a microscopic and even nanoscale level. We want to find out how the chemicals are arranged on the surface and that understanding gives us access to theories about how degradation happens and how that degradation can possibly or possibly not be reversed.”
As the first commercialized photographic process, the daguerreotype is thought to be the first “true” visual representation of history. Unlike painters who could use “poetic license” in their work, the daguerreotype reflected precisely what was photographed.
Thousands and perhaps millions of daguerreotypes were created over 20 years in the 19th century before the process was replaced. The Canadian Photography Institute collection numbers more than 2,700, not including the daguerreotypes in the institute’s research collection.
By improving the process of restoring these centuries-old images, the scientists are contributing to the historical record. What was thought to be lost that showed the life and times of people from the 19th century can now be found. Ω
The opulent mat surrounding this daguerreotype would draw attention from the portrait of a lesser subject, but not the ruggedly handsome, square-jawed, blue-eyed Nathaniel Amory Tucker, then aged 39. Blessed with money and looks, one of his obituaries described him as “an officer and a gentleman of much talent and geniality of wit.” Frère Quevillion, a Catholic priest who knew him well, called Tucker “a rich [man] in every sense.”
Tucker was the son of Catherine Hay Geyer (1778-1869), who married merchant Nathaniel Tucker (1775-1857) on 8 July, 1802, in Boston. The Geyers were well-moneyed. Before the Revolution, Catherine’s father—Nathaniel’s grandfather—Friedrich Geyer (1743-1841), had inherited an estate worth £1,000. The family name was originally Von Geyer and the family was “a late immigrant hither, and the tradition was [that] he was of a good German family,” reports English origins of New England families, Second series, Vol. I.
Frederick Geyer married Nathaniel’s grandmother Susanna Ingraham (1750-1796) on 30 April, 1767. In 1778, just before the birth of his daughter Catherine, Geyer—an ardent British royalist—was exiled and his property sequestered.
In the years that followed, the Geyers were based in London. The family had grown to include one son and five daughters, the latter of whom were undoubtedly raised to be prominent ladies of good society. The eldest, Mary Anne (1774-1814), married Andrew (1763-1841), the son of Jonathan Belcher, first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, on 7 September, 1792. When Catherine’s younger sister Nancy Geyer married Rufus G. Amory on 13 February, 1794, a guest at the wedding was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, father of the future Queen Victoria, who was in Boston on his way to Halifax.
Amongst her father’s property seized in 1767 was their Summer Street mansion—a possession not reconveyed until 1791 when Geyer’s U.S. citizenship was restored. “The [Summer Street] house, in the days of Mr. Geyer, was famed for its social gaieties and elegant entertainments. Tradition tells us of the brilliant gatherings of wit and fashion around its sumptuous Board,” notes the article “A Home in the Olden Time,” excerpted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. “Mrs. Geyer was noted for the courtesy and grace with which she presided and put everyone at their ease. There could have been few pleasanter banqueting rooms in Boston.”
It is likely that Catherine Geyer, born and raised in London, considered herself British and spoke with a like accent. With the wealth, connections, and good looks she assuredly possessed in youth, she was a fine catch for Nathaniel Tucker. He came from a line of Nathaniels, including his grandfather (1744-1796), a Massachusetts Revolutionary War private who served under the command of Colonel Thomas Hutchinson.
Whilst living in Massachusetts, Nathaniel and Catherine had four daughters: Anna Amory (1803-1875), who married merchant Henry Atkinson Green; Catherine Geyer (1805-aft. 1870), who married James Iredell Cutler; Marion Belcher (1807-1851), who wed Rudolph Geyer; and Charlotte Mayette (1812-1850), who married George W. Summer. A son, Nathaniel Amory, was born 30 May, 1809, but died in 1813. A new boy given the same name was born 14 August, 1814, in an apparently successful attempt to replace the first beloved child and only son. This Nathaniel Amory, called “Nat-Nat” by his family perhaps in reference to his position as the second Nathaniel, would grow as the heir to money that was old, new, and accumulated by his own merit.
After the birth of their children, theTucker family removed to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a town that made much money from industries such as paper milling, woolen textile production, and factories that produced furniture, marble, sashes and blinds, iron castings, carriages, cabinet ware, rifles, harness, shoe pegs, and organs. Connecticut River Valley in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire: Historical Sketches by Lyman S. Hayes explains how the family got its wealth, as well as provides a story about young Nat-Nat himself. It is worth including in near entirety:
“One of the most prominent citizens of Bellows Falls a century ago was a man named Nathaniel Tucker. In 1826, he came into possession of the old first toll bridge across the Connecticut River here, and in 1840, he planned and financed the erection of the present structure that has now served the public 88 years. Mr. Tucker was born in Boston in 1775 and became a resident in Bellows Falls in 1815.
“The first bridge became unsafe, and, in 1840, Mr. Tucker consulted a noted local bridge builder, Sanford Granger, in regard to it. Together they planned and built the present structure…. [Tolls were] gathered for passing these two bridges from 1785, when the first bridge was built, until the towns of Rockingham and Westminster made the present bridge free on November 1, 1904, a period of nearly 120 years….
“During most of the years of his ownership of the bridges, Mr. Tucker attended to the collection of the tolls himself…. Mr. Tucker was a small wiry man, extremely nervous, and was often the victim of pranks by the boys who teased him. He had a son, Nathaniel, Jr., who was somewhat peculiar and erratic. He was a hunter of some note. At one time, he went hunting on horseback, and in riding through the woods, his gun was accidentally discharged and killed the horse. His father, when he returned home and was told of the accident, was greatly excited, and shaking his cane in the young man’s face exclaimed, “Nat-Nat Tucker, the next time you go hunting on horseback, you go afoot!” much to the amusement of several bystanders.
“In 1839, there was a great freshet and the frame bridge at South Charlestown, known as the Cheshire Bridge, was washed away, coming down the river whole…. The old toll bridge was much lower than the present one, and Mr. Tucker feared for its safety if the oncoming bridge came over the falls whole. Neighbors who saw Mr. Tucker that day often told of his great excitement as the bridge neared the falls, and he frantically motioned with his cane, shouting to the bridge to go on the Vermont side where there was more room. As the bridge neared the dam, it suddenly fell apart and passed under Mr. Tucker’s bridge without harming it.
“Mr. Tucker was an ardent churchman, much troubled at hearing profanity used. The fact that he was very brusque and sometimes thoughtless in his reproofs, caused the boys to annoy him greatly. He was a most ardent friend of Rev. Carlton Chase, rector of Immanuel (Episcopal) Church, who later became bishop of New Hampshire. Mr. Chase was with Mr. Tucker during the freshet referred to above when the water was so high it was in danger of lifting the toll bridge off its abutments. Assisting in tying it with ropes, Rector Chase fell into the rushing rapids, nearly losing his life. A rope was quickly thrown to him, which he grasped, and by which he was drawn, much exhausted, to safety.
“Once each year, Mr. Tucker advertised in the local newspaper that all those from New Hampshire points who wished to attend the Christmas services at Immanuel Church could pass the bridge free of toll. The Christmas services were at that time much more extensive than at present, including illumination of buildings, open hospitality; and, with fine music, they drew crowds from thirty miles around.
“When staging times excited much competition, at one time the ordinary fare from Boston to Bellows Falls was $3.00, but for a short time, even that was reduced to 25 cents. Drivers sometimes ran the bridge to get here first. One day, Driver Brooks ran the bridge and was followed by Mr. Tucker to the local Stage House. He exclaimed with much heat, ‘You run my bridge. The fine is $2.’ Upon which Mr. Brooks drew out his wallet and offered to pay; but Mr. Tucker turned away much calmed, saying, ‘Well, don’t ever do it again.’….
“At the New Hampshire end of the old toll bridge, during the first half of the last century, stood a large building known in its last years as the Tucker Mansion, erected previous to 1799. It was built for a hotel and known early as The Walpole Bridge Hotel. In 1817, it was known as the Mansion House Hotel. Soon after the latter date, it became a dwelling house and was long occupied by Nathaniel Tucker … and the tollhouse also was located on the New Hampshire side of the river, just in front of it. These buildings, with numerous outhouses, were, in their day, the most entitled to the name of ‘Mansion’ of any in this whole region, because of their grand proportions, elegant surroundings of gardens, statuary, and decorative trees and foliage. They were a prominent feature of the landscape when the Great Falls were noted far and wide for their scenic beauty. Persons coming from the south to this vicinity were struck by their beauty and majestic location. They were removed when the railroad was built in 1849…. Mr. Tucker then purchased the brick dwelling on Church Street, now known as the Hetty Green House, and there, spent his last years, still taking tolls at his bridge.”
Early in life, living near the port city of Boston, Nat-Nat’s imagination was captured by ships and the sea. According to the History of St. Joseph Parish, Burlington, VT 1830-1897, edited by Robert G. Keenan, “He went to sea at the age of 15 and in twelve years progressed from seaman, through mate, captain, and shipmaster, but kept the title of captain.” By 1842, as he approached the end of his 20s, Captain Tucker left the sea behind, possibly for the woman he loved—Maria D. Deming. The couple wed that year and Tucker settled with his wife in Burlington.
Born 10 March, 1817, Maria was the daughter of Eleazur Hubbell Deming (1785-1807) and Fanny Fay Follett (1788-1878). According to Genealogy of the Descendants of John Deming of Wethersfield, Connecticut by Judson Keith Deming, “Eleazur … moved early in life to Chittenden County, Vermont, where he became a prominent merchant in Burlington. He was a man of great energy and sterling honor, and it was said of him that he was the best businessman in Northern Vermont. His son Charles Follett Deming, was a graduate of the University of Vermont, and of Cambridge (Mass.) Law School, who died at the onset of what promised to be a brilliant career as a lawyer.”
Julius, the only other son, died in infancy. There were also five daughters, only three of whom survived to adulthood. The eldest was Caroline—born 19 November, 1811, who married Carlos Baxter and died 25 May, 1843; Juliet—born 20 October, 1814, and lived only a few months; Maria; Anne—born 21 July, 1819, who married in 1838 the Reverend William Henry Hoyt and died 16 January, 1875; Frances, who was born in 1822 and died in 1823; and Mary Elizabeth, who was born in July 1827 and died the following June. All of the children were raised in Burlington at 308 Pearl Street. This was a fine mansion built by their father in 1816 that Maria would eventually inherit.
Tucker was in business with his brother-in-law, James Cutler, operating a paper mill at Hubbell’s Falls, and was also a partner in the merchant company of Bradley, Canfield, and Co. In 1847, Tucker helped found Burlington Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Next, The businessman is also referenced in History of Chittenden County, Vermont by W. S. Rann: “[S]team tow-boats had become necessary for the purpose of ensuring the regular passage through [Lake Champlain] of boats going to New York…. On the 2d of November, 1847, a charter was granted by the Legislature of Vermont to John Bradley, Thomas H. Canfield, O. A. Burton, H. L. Nichols, N. A. Tucker, A. M. Clark, Horace Gray, J. C. Hammond, Charles F. Hammond, and Allen Penfield, for a steam towboat company.”
The month before towboat enterprise charter was issued, Nathaniel and Maria Tucker officially converted to Catholicism; they had previously been ardent Episcopalians. The History of St. Joseph Parish records, Maria’s “brother-in-law, Rev. William H. Hoyt, was Rector of the Episcopalian Church in St. Albans. When the Hoyts converted to Catholicism in 1846, they started [a movement] and about fifty persons are reported to have followed them into the church; among them were Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.” The couple was baptized 8 October, 1847, in Chambly, Quebec, Canada.
Professor Jeremiah K. Durick of St. Michael’s College wrote in the church publication Our Sunday Visitor of 2 August, 1953, that—surprisingly—the Tuckers did not suffer social backlash from their conversion. This fact was put down largely to Nathaniel Tucker’s affability and hospitality at their Pearl Street mansion. In 1853, the Tuckers would hold a reception there for the installation of Bishop Louis DeGoesbriand (1816-1899). The mansion, now known as the Deming-Isham House, still stands in Burlington and is listed on the Library of Congress Register of Historic Buildings.
Nathaniel’s Father, the nervous and irascible Nathaniel, Sr., died on 2 Aug 1857, in Bellows Falls. By that date, it had become clear that Nat-Nat and Maria would have no son to extend the line of Nathaniels. Whether there were miscarriages is unknown, but no children were born of the marriage. It may have been a great sorrow to them, but the couple may have accepted it as God’s will and as a mandate to dedicate themselves entirely to their faith and community.
Tucker was 47 when the Civil War began. A man of his age could not be expected to fight, but he could serve in other ways. First, he was an inspector of ordnance at Reading, Pennsylvania, then on 13 June, 1864, he enlisted as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Volunteers Paymaster’s Department and was promoted to full major on the same day. In this capacity, he became a military paymaster who served with the soldiers in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Carolinas.
On March 12, 1866, Tucker was appointed as brevet lieutenant colonel. The 1866 Executive Journal notes his nomination by President Andrew Johnson thusly: “Additional Paymaster Nathaniel A. Tucker, United States Volunteers, for faithful services in the Pay Department, to date from February 7, 1866.” After the war, Tucker was given a position in Washington, D.C., with the Bureau of Preferred Claims of the War Department. He mustered out 1 February, 1869, and returned at last to Burlington.
On the day of the 1870 Census, the reunited Tuckers—now 50-somethings—lived alone in Bellows Falls in the old mansion on Pearl Street. On the official document, Nathaniel listed his profession as “merchant” and stated he possessed real estate worth $25,000 (more than $450,000 today); his wife listed her own personal income as $20,000.
The 28 February, 1873 edition of the Burlington Free Press reported that in January 1871, Tucker suffered a stroke that resulted in some paralysis from which he quickly recovered. Sadly, only a few months later, another stroke crippled him. “From that time onward, he was an invalid, confined most of the time to the house, his powers failing by successive strokes…. For two weeks before his death he lay motionless and speechless, yet perfectly conscious, indicating by his eyes and the feeble motions of his lips, his recognition of his friends and the attention shown him. He bore his struggles with unexampled patience, accepted the offices and consolations of religion, and passed away at last without a struggle” on 25 February. Maria, the article noted, had scarcely left his side for eight months.
Nathaniel Amory Tucker was described by the newspaper as “a man of wide acquaintance with men and things, of quick and generous sympathies, and an interested and intelligent observer of public affairs. He was fond of society and gifted with uncommon powers of anecdote and conversation, which with his genial temper and kindly humor, made him a delightful companion. His integrity and frankness won him the respect of all who knew him, and few citizens of Burlington were ever more missed than he when his patriotic duty and subsequent disease withdrew him from daily intercourse with the community.”
Nathaniel was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Burlington. He was outlived by his mother, Catherine Geyer Tucker, who died in 1875. Maria lived on in Pearl Street with her niece, Jane A. Hugh, and several servants, in the home her family had filled—a house that she and Nathaniel once hoped to fill with their own brood. She lived on until the summer of 1904, when the Burlington Free Press announced her death in the 21 July edition. After 30 years, she returned to Nathaniel’s side. Ω
In about 1849, a mother and child were photographed in a New York town where visionaries struggled to change the world.
A long inscription is penciled inside the case of this daguerreotype: “The picture of Flora and her mother, taken when she was three years old at McGrawville, Cortland Co., NY.
“I’ll think of thee at eventide/ When shines the star of love/ When Earth is garnished like a bride/ and all is joy a-bove/ and when the moon’s pale genial face/ is shed or [sic] land & sea/ and throughs [sic] around her soft light/ t’is then I think of thee. EM
“Flora & I are in the parlor as I write this, talking of the war, etc. etc. Henry …?… is buried Thursday Oct. 30th, ’62.”
The sentimental verse is likely based on “Better Moments,” by poet Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), printed in 7 July, 1827’s New-York Mirror and Ladies Literary Gazette, Volume IV, as well as and in the New Mirror’s Poems of Passion in 1843. Willis’s poem includes the lines: “I have been out at eventide/ Beneath a moonlit sky of spring/ When Earth was garnished like a bride/ And night had on her silver wing.” It is uncertain whether variants of Willis’s poem existed that included the stanza scriven in the case, or whether the writer “borrowed” a few lines of it for his or her own poetic creation.
McGrawville, Cortland County, New York, was once home to New York Central College, an institution of higher learning founded by the antislavery American Baptist Free Mission Society in 1848 and which held its first classes in 1849—a date congruent with the fashions worn by Flora and her mother.
The college “opened its doors to any student able to pay the modest tuition regardless of sex, race, or religion. Blacks constituted an estimated half of its enrollment,” explained historian Catherine M. Hanchett. “Some came from New England, from Virginia, from Canada West [Ontario]. Some where fugitive slaves, others newly freed. Several were members of prominent black families.”
The college employed at least three Black professors—Charles Reason (1818-1893), George Boyer Vashon (1824-1853), and William G. Allen (1820-aft. 1878), the latter of whom was at least two-thirds white, but who would cause scandal by asking for the hand of a Caucasian student, Miss Mary King.
Fittingly, the college also served as a stop along the Underground Railroad that assisted escaped slaves heading to Canada.
A smallpox epidemic in 1850 led to the deaths of some of the college’s African-American students—all were buried on the campus beneath tombstones extant today. Illness at the school seemed persistent, as student William Austin wrote to his family on 23 May, 1852, “There has been and is at present a considerable sickness among students but Mumps and Measles are to blame but I think they will not injure me.”
Otherwise, Austin found the nearby villages and the college bucolic. “This is a beautiful section of country, somewhat uneven, but just enough to awaken mankind to the romantic beauties of nature,” he wrote. “The boarding hall is some thirty rods [165 yards] from the college so that we have a pleasant walk to get there to meals which are at 6 1/2 o’clock in the morning, at noon, and at 5 P.M. The Ladies all room at the hall. The Gentlemen at the College.”
Throughout its existence, New York Central College faced constant racist and misogynist criticism from both southern and northern states. It was “an institution confessedly established for the purpose, figuratively speaking, of whitening the blacks and blackening the whites,” pronounced the Buffalo Courier of 4 July, 1851, during a state funding appropriation battle. “It is said that one of the professors, an accomplished and skilled teacher, has crispy hair and a southern skin,” the Orleans Republican of Albion, New York, snickered on 9 July. The article continued with a quote from a Mr. A. A. Thompson, who was of the opinion that “‘Rather than give $4,000 [in state money] to that vile sink of pollution … they ought to give it to a mob that would raise [sic] it to the ground.’” Later in July, the Albany Argus called the college, “an institution repulsive in its objects and character.”
However, one female graduate had another opinion of the school that recognized her innate equality. Angeline Stickney wrote of her alma mater, “I feel very much attached to that institution, not withstanding all its faults, and I long to see it again, for its foundation rests upon the basis of Eternal Truth—and my heartstrings are twined around its every pillar.”
The inscription states that Flora was three when the daguerreotype was taken in McGrawville, which, when fashions are considered in tandem, makes the approximate year of her birth between 1848 and 1850. On 30 October, 1862, the writer was in the parlor with Flora, then in her teens, speaking about the ongoing Civil War. The indecipherable surname of Henry, who was buried that day, might lead to a breakthrough, but thus far no guesses of mine have yielded results.
How was Flora’s family connected to McGrawville? Was she the child of a teacher, an administrator, abolitionist Baptists, or simply part of a local Cortland family? Where did Flora and her people go after leaving McGrawville? Why did the burial of Henry raise memories of the more than decade-old daguerreotype, and what motivated the writer to pencil the poem and message in the case at that time? These questions remain stubbornly unanswered. Ω
“Connecticut River at Hartford 18 feet above low water mark. Heavy rain still prevailed, with much thunder.”—Beckwith’s Almanac
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 widower 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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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
“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
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.
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