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.

His Good Late Majesty: Memorial Jewelry for King Charles I

In Britain in the 1800s, the widow’s grief of Queen Victoria helped spur the creation of mourning jewelry, but in the 1600s, the impetus was the judicial murder of an anointed king.

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A mid-17th Century gold mourning ring for King Charles I with a enameled portrait covered by cut crystal. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; gift of Mrs Stubbs, 1923.

Charles Stuart, later King Charles I,  was born in Fife, Scotland, 19 November, 1600, to then King James VI of Scotland, later James I of a unified Britain, and his wife Queen Anne of Denmark. He was a second son, never meant to rule. Yet, Charles had the role of heir foisted on him at the death of his beloved, handsome, and accomplished older brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, who died unexpectedly in 1612.

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This circa-1700 mourning pendant, sold by the auction house Christie’s in 2016, contains a painted oval portrait of Charles I against a blue ground within black dot decoration, beneath faceted rock crystal. The reverse features a sepia crown and cypher ‘C. R.’ above the date ‘Jan 30 1648/9’ and an image of a skull and crossed bones upon a plinth, under crystal.

Charles was small, sickly, and had a stammer. He was also intellectual, loved and patronized the arts, favored elaborate high Anglican worship in the age of the Puritans, and married a Roman Catholic—the delicate and beautiful Princess Henrietta Maria of France, known as Queen Mary, after whom the U.S. state of Maryland is named. Charles also believed profoundly in the Divine Right of Kings, was willful and stubborn, and refused to make the compromises that could have prevented a civil war, the destruction of the monarchy, and his own death.

As had the life his similarly-natured paternal grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, his own earthly days ended in execution by beheading on 30 January, 1649. His final words were “I go from a corruptible to an uncorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be.”

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The inscribed band and reverse image of the National Gallery of Victoria ring, showing the initials C. R. (“Charles Rex”) between a skull, with a crown and laurels floating above.
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A Heart-shaped gold and enamel pendant, circa 1650, containing a miniature of Charles I, an interwoven arrangement of his hair, and a part of the blood-stained linen shirt he wore at his execution. Courtesy National Museums of Scotland.

After his death, loyal adherents of King Charles ordered a small number of memorial rings made incorporating various Stuart motifs, portraits, and locks of the dead king’s hair. Antique jewelry expert JJ Kent, in Jewelry Guide, Volume I, wrote that a ring, “said to be one of the seven given after the King’s death, was possessed by Horace Walpole and sold with the Strawberry Hill collection. It has the King’s head in miniature and behind, a skull; while between the letters C. R. is this motto: ‘Prepared be to follow me.’”

Another of the rings was in the hands of a gentleman who wrote to Notes and Queries in June 1862, more than 200 years after Charles’s death: “I possess one of the rings alluded to [in a previous issue]. The family tradition is that it was given to a maternal ancestor, one of the Finnes family, by King Charles on the eve of his martyrdom. The portrait, in enamel, is set between two small diamonds.”

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A 16th Century mourning piece for Charles I of unknown provenance that includes a skull and the date of the king’s death.

During the Commonwealth and the Restoration, Royalists created hundreds of additional rings, pendants, and other jewelry items memorializing the king. Multiple examples exist today in museums and private collections. Remarkably, new memorial jewelry for Charles was created in 1813, when his body was discovered in the burial vault of Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour at Windsor. The coffin was opened in the presence of George, the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and his private physician, Sir Henry Halford, who later wrote a detailed account of what transpired.

“[There was] an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the Body, carefully wrapped up in cerecloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter, mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been melted, so as to exclude, as effectively as possible, the external air. The coffin was full [and] great difficulty was experienced in detaching [the cloth] from the parts which it enveloped….

A pencil sketch by Sir Henry Halford of the head of King Charles I when his coffin was opened in 1813. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

“On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin… bearing an inscription ‘King Charles, 1648,’ in large legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to the view. A square opening was then made in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions as to admit a clear insight into its contents. [The head] was found to be loose, and, without any difficulty, was taken up and held to view…. The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct… and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness….

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A circa-1650 high-carat gold Royalist’s memorial ring, set with a hand-painted enamel miniature portrait of King Charles I and housed in a box of the period. Courtesy C. J. Antiques.

“…On holding up the head, to examine the place of separation from the body… the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance, transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, and appearance which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify King Charles the First.”

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A locket in the Royal Collection containing the hair of Charles I cut in 1813.

Halford noted that the King’s hair appeared black, but “a portion of it, which has since been cleaned and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown colour. That of the beard was a redder brown.” More hair was then snipped for the new mourning jewelry.

JJ Kent wrote in the Jewelry Guide, “The hair at the back of the head appeared close cut; whereas, at the time of the decollation, the executioner twice adjusted the King’s hair under his cap. No doubt the piety of friends had severed the hair after death, in order to furnish rings and other memorials of the unhappy monarch.” The head was then replaced, the coffin closed and resoldered, and the vault left by all and sealed up. In 1888, it was opened again at the order of another heir to the throne, Prince Bertie, later King Edward VII, to return relics, including a piece of one of Charles’s vertebra and a tooth, which had been removed by Halford 75 years earlier. Ω

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Charles and Henrietta Maria during the happiest years of their lives. Double portrait by Daniel Mytens. Courtesy Royal 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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A Soldier’s Comfort?

“Many cultures accept the faulty nature of memory. They know even the photograph only gets it halfway right. They believe there is only one way to bring the dead back to life, story.”― Jon Chopan

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Unidentified subject, sixth-plate ambrotype. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This beautiful young woman was photographed somewhere in the antebellum United States in about 1852—a date I assign for two reasons. First, the fashions she wore, which include a distinctive corset type, ribbon choker, and an open-front bodice—all styles that were enormously popular in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Second, ambrotypes, which are produced by a wet-plate collodion process invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer, became commercially available in 1852, so the image cannot date any earlier.

The subject was surely not more than about 18 years old when photographed and she appears to wear a wedding ring, making it possible that this is a bridal image. At some point, a large curl of her thick brown hair, still as glossy as the day it was cut, was tucked behind the ambrotype packet between slips of newspaper. The text of the newsprint is largely advertising for several companies in northern states, but there is also a mention of the Union occupation of Memphis, Tennessee, which began in June 1862. Together, these facts make it likely the young woman belonged to a northern family.

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The ambrotype packet and case contents.

Could this image and lock of hair have been carried by a Civil War soldier during his military tenure? Might he have opened the case often to recall his wife as she had been decade earlier in the first heat of their attraction? This is a romantic flight of fancy, but not without tiny wings: Soldiers on both sides of the divide carried photographic images of loved ones and these pictures were frequently found with, on, or near their battlefield corpses.

In 2012, the Associated Press (AP) reported on several such images held in the collection the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. At the time, the museum released the photo below on the “admittedly remote chance someone might recognize a familial resemblance or make a connection to a battlefield where they were found,” the AP noted. The article stated of the cased image, “Private Thomas W. Timberlake of Co. G, 2nd Virginia Infantry found this child’s portrait on the battlefield of Port Republic, Virginia, between the bodies of a Confederate soldier and a Federal soldier.”

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Did this little girl’s father wear blue or grey? Photo by Steve Helber/AP.

Perhaps the most famous of familial photos found amongst the Civil War dead was the “orphans of the battlefield.” After the massive military engagement at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the first week of July 1863, a local girl recovered an ambrotype of three children that was purportedly clasped by a dead Union soldier. The Philadelphia Inquirer of 19 October, 1863, both set the scene and described the image in detail: “Wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands…was an ambrotype containing the portraits of three small children…two boys and a girl…nine, seven and five years of age, the boys being respectively the oldest and youngest of the three. The youngest boy is sitting in a high chair, and on each side of him are his brother and sister. The eldest boy’s jacket is made from the same material as his sister’s dress … [It is] desired that all papers in the country will draw attention [so] the family…may come into possession of it.”

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Philinda Humiston

The image was reproduced around the nation and carte de visite copies of the ambrotype were sold en masse to help speed the identification and for the benefit of the dead soldier’s family. It was just a matter of time before a friend showed Philinda Ensworth Humiston of Portville, New York, the October issue of the American Presbyterian. “Philinda, stunned and heartsick, read the description of the picture and realized it matched exactly the features of the ambrotype she had sent to [her husband] Amos,” wrote Mark H. Dunkelman in Gettysburg’s Unknown Soldier: The Life, Death, and Celebrity of Amos Humiston.

On 19 November, the very day President Lincoln gave his renowned address at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, the Presbyterian announced that the orphans of the battlefield had names: Franklin Goodwin, Alice Eliza, and Fredrick Roy Humiston. The dead soldier was their 33-year-old father, former sailor and harness maker Amos Humiston, a sergeant in the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry. His decomposed body was later located where it was shallowly buried on a local farm. The remains were carefully coffined and transported to the new cemetery where he was laid in Grave 14 of New York’s Section B.

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Carte de visite copies of the ambrotype and a portrait of Amos Humiston.

Dunkelman wrote in his biography of Amos Humiston that 2 January, 1864, the Reverend Isaac G. Ogden of the Portville Presbyterian Church “handed the bloodstained ambrotype to Philinda. Ogden noted, ‘her hands shook like an aspen leaf, but by a strong effort she retained her composure.’” The widow was also given all proceeds from the carte de visite sales. When, in October 1866, the orphans and widows’ National Homestead opened in Gettysburg, Philinda and her children lived there for three years until she married farmer Asa Baines and removed to Shirley, Massachusetts.

During the remainder of the war and in its aftermath, the story of Amos Humiston and the ambrotype he held during his final moments was never forgotten. Songs and poetry were writ, including one poem by a Scotsman of Dumfries, Steve Rady, that includes the lines: “A soldier lies in battle, face buried in the mud, a picture of his children there painted with his blood; Fighting for his freedom, he fought until his death; He kissed his children’s picture as the took his dying breath.” Rady read his poem aloud in Gettysburg on 5 July, 1993, at the unveiling of a monument to Humiston. Ω

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Sheet music for a patriotic lament about the Humiston ambrotype. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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