Lot 653    

Important Long-Lost Quarter Plate Daguerreotype of John Brown, the Abolitionist, by the African American Daguerreotype Artist, August Washington
2007, Western & Historic Americana, Dec 6th and 7th

“Augustus Washington, an artist of fine taste and perception, is numbered among the most successful Daguerreotypists in Hartford, Connecticut. His establishment is said to be visited daily by large numbers of the citizens of all classes.” --Martin Delany, 1852

“Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” --John Brown, 1837

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” --John Brown, on the day of his hanging, 1859

An oversized plate, housed in a pressed leather case, with a simple purple silk pad, stamped in black Washington Gallery. Hartford CT inside a ribbon surround, and below in block letters Washington Galery[sic]. Hartford, CT. The image framed by a heavy stippled brass, arch-topped mat; the preserver likely from a later 1860s-70s image. The plate itself marked "O" in one corner.

Provenance: Descended directly in the family of John Brown. Line of Descent: John Brown's daughter, Annie Brown; to her granddaughter Bertha; thence to her grandson, Darell Robinson, and his wife Maxine, as a wedding present in 1949.

Along with another image, likely taken during the same sitting, this plate is probably the first daguerreotype taken of abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) and was almost certainly taken during the same sitting as the now famous image of Brown curated at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery (Shumard 1999). Long-lost to history, this portrait, along with the Portrait Gallery plate, was made by the African American daguerreotypist Augustus Washington (ca. 1820/21-1875) in his Hartford, Connecticut studio in 1846-47. In the present plate, a self-assured and clean-shaven Brown stares intently and directly at the viewer with steely, blue-gray eyes and the hint of a knowing smile as the left side of his mouth upturns slightly and puffs out the cheek near his hawk-like nose. Everything about him demonstrates strong conviction, discipline, and the will to make things happen: a lean and sinewy body; close-cropped, full dark hair graying at the temples; broad, lined forehead; large, prominent ears; deep furrows between shaggy eyebrows; gaunt, wrinkled, rectangular visage; thin lips; firm, set jaw; and crossed arms. Brown had an imposing frame, just shy of six feet. Self-described as belligerent and deceitful in his youth, he grew into a deeply religious character who insisted on constant prayer in his home, although he was too nonconformist to fit well into any church group. A man of business, Brown is dressed in a high-collared, white shirt and plain dark suit. His thin black tie is knotted at the neck, the long tails tucked down into his half-unbuttoned vest. The dark background and heavy stippled brass, arch-topped mat focus our attention on the crisp details of Brown’s commanding mien, lit slightly more from the right.

In the other Washington studio portrait, Brown wears the same outfit and raises his right hand as if taking an oath while he grasps a standard in his right hand. This is the flag of the S.P.W., the “Subterranean Pass Way,” Brown’s militant counterpart to the Underground Railroad In that composition, the lower face and right hand are slightly out of focus with movement as Brown lifts his arm and nods his head forward a bit. It exhibits considerable damage; vertical and horizontal “wipes” mar the plate in numerous areas. Both daguerreotypes are house in pressed leather cases, each with a simple purple silk pad, stamped in black italics “Washington Gallery. / Hartford CT” and below in block letters “WASHINGTON GALERY [sic]/ HARTFORD, CT.”

The version offered here descended directly from the family of John Brown, passing from his daughter to her granddaughter, and to her grandson as a wedding present in 1949. It has been known to exist since at least 1978, when Pfister (1978:300-301) found mention of it while preparing his ground-breaking exhibit Facing the Light Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes. This image offered here was first reproduced in New England Magazine, N.S. 10 (May 1894): 273 and captioned “From a daguerreotype taken about 1850, in possession of Frank B. Sanborn.” It later circulated as a cabinet photo by the Brady-Handy studio; one version is reproduced in Eve Marie Inger, John Brown, His Soul Goes Marching On (New York, 1969), p. 51. Presumably, after Sanborn published the image it was returned to the Brown family and has been in their possession until the present.

In a March 27, 1885 letter to Sanborn, John Brown, Jr. mentions both the Washington Gallery portraits:

In regard to the daguerreotypes [sic] you refer to, I have them both. The one with flag, (which appears to be only of white or light colored cloth of some kind without stars, stripes or emblems of any sort), was taken by a Colored daguereian artist at Hartford, named Washington. I doubt if you would consider it a good one. The other is no better perhaps, and is considerably defaced. It presents however the opposite side of the face which the Boston artist in Statuary wrote me he had failed to to [sic] find in any pictures of Father. I will send these pictures to you if you wish. (John Brown /Boyd B. Stutler Collection Database; part of the West Virginia Memory Project)

In addition to the Augustus Washington plates, only five other daguerreotypes of Brown are known and all but one date about a decade later. A quarter plate, unattributed but possibly from a Boston studio in 1856-57, is in the Massachusetts Historical Society, donated by Amos A. Lawrence in 1884, to whom it was given by Brown. Josiah J. Hawes made carte-de-visite derivative versions of that image. There is a sixth plate, possibly from the Whipple and Black studio in Boston from the same winter, in the Boston Athenaeum, donated by James Redpath, to whom it was given by Brown. The other three plates are not located. One unattributed portrait, possibly from the winter of 1856-57, is known via a graphic derivative reproduced in Magazine of American History, Vol. 29 (1893): 305. Another, supposedly ca. 1846-50, is known via reproduction as the frontispiece to Richard D. Webb, Life and Letters of Captain John Brown (London, 1861), and the clothing is similar to that in the former composition. Still another, by Washington, depicts the SPW standard and Brown standing with his hand on the shoulder of Thomas Thomas, an African American man.

At the time of this portrait, Brown had a wool brokerage in Springfield, Massachusetts ca. 1846-48. This venture, like all of his businesses (fifteen of them in four states by 1852) would fail because of Brown’s obsession to end slavery violently. He wanted to use the Allegheny Mountains as a base from which to launch armed attacks on slave-holding properties and take liberated slaves north to freedom. Brown was active in abolitionist circles both in Springfield and Hartford, Connecticut, where Washington’s studio was located, only about twenty-five miles away. By 1848 Brown was only intermittently in Springfield and had closed down the wool brokerage business by 1850. In 1856, at the head of a small militia that included four of his sons (he had twenty children), Brown killed five pro-slavery supports with sabers in Pottawatomie, Kansas. In Boston in the winter of 1857-58 and again in 1859 to solicit arms and funds for the defense of Kansas’s free-soil homesteads, Brown he was greeted as a military hero. He was a veteran of the Black Jack skirmish and a martyr of the fight at Osawatomie, where southern raiders had killed one of his sons. Influential men such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Theodore Parker were convinced of his virtue. Calling himself a “special angel of death,” (Oates, p. 173) Brown’s hatred of slavery led to his failed raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) in 1859 and his execution for treason that year. Lincoln declared that Brown was a “misguided fanatic.” In 1864, Brown wife Mary Ann and some of their remaining children moved to Red Bluff, California.

It was natural for Brown to be attracted to Washington, a fellow ardent abolitionist and a preeminent African American daguerreotypist. The son of a South Asian mother and a man who had been a slave in Virginia, Washington was born free in Trenton, New Jersey. As a teenager he read antislavery literature and attended abolitionist meetings, and vowed “to become a scholar, a teacher, and a useful man” (Shumard, p. 2). In the late 1830s and early 1840s Washington attended several colleges, including Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, and Dartmouth College, with some abolitionist assistance. He supported himself with daguerreotypy, taking portraits of Dartmouth faculty and many of the citizens in Hanover, New Hampshire. In 1844 Washington moved to Hartford, home to many reform activities, and taught at the North African School for two years. He then operated a daguerreotype studio there ca. 1846-48, resuming business in 1850. Among his prestigious sitters were abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and members of Hartford’s elite, such as poet Lydia Sigourney, jurist and insurance company executive Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, and his wife, son, and niece. In 1851 Washington declared in the New-York Daily Tribune that is black Americans were “ever [to] find a home on earth for the development of their manhood and intellect it [would] first be in Liberia or some other part of Africa.” Two years later he and his family immigrated to Monrovia, where he daguerreotyped Liberian senators; these images are now in the Library of Congress. By 1858 Washington seems to have abandoned daguerreotypy in favor of farming a sugar plantation.

Just about when Washington daguerreotyped Brown, Frederick Douglass visited the white abolitionist and described his dominant personality vividly:

I was not long in company with the master of this house before I discovered that he was indeed the master of it, and was likely to become mine too if I stayed long enough with him…His wife believed in him, and his children observed him with reverence. Whenever he spoke his words commanded earnest attention. His arguments…seemed to convince all; his appeals touched all, and his will impressed all. Certainly I never felt myself in the presence of a stronger religious influence than while in this man’s house. In person he was lean, strong, sinewy…built for times of trouble and fitted to grapple with the flintiest hardships…a figure straight and symmetrical as a mountain pine…His hair was coarse, strong, slightly gray and closely trimmed, and grew low on his forehead…His eyes were bluish-grey, and in conversation they were full of light and fire. --The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (New York, 1962; reprint o the 1892 edition), p. 272.

In one of the earliest known images of Brown, Washington has succeeded in capturing the evangelical character and stubborn rigidity of an independent-minded loner. Both Brown’s pious and militant nature are evident in this striking portrait. His was an anxious, restless, ferocious zealot’s soul.


Augustus Washington

Delany, Martin Robinson. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States (1852; reprint, New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1968).

Johnson, Carol. “Faces of Freedom: Portraits from the American Colonization Society Collection,” The Daguerreian Annual, 1996 (Pittsburgh: The Daguerreian Society, 1997): 266-68.

Pfister, Harold Francis. Facing the Light: Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes. Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1978.

Shumard, Ann. A Durable Memento: Portraits by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist. Washington, D.C.: National Portrait Gallery, 1999.

Washington, Augustus. “African Colonization—By a Man of Color,” New-York Daily Tribune (letter to the editors)(July 10, 1851): 7.

White, David O. “Augustus Washington, Black Daguerreotypist of Hartford,” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 39, no. 1 (January, 1974): 14-19.

John Brown
Chowder, Ken. "The Father of American Terrorism," American Heritage (2000) 51(1): 81+.

DeCaro, Jr., Louis A. John Brown--The Cost of Freedom: Selections from His Life & Letters. New York: International Publishers, 2007.

DeCaro, Louis A. Jr. "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown. New York: New YOrk University Press, 2002.

Finkelman, Paul, ed. His Soul Goes Marching On: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Goodrich, Thomas War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861. Mechanicsburg (PA): Stackpole Books, 1998.

Malin, James. John Brown & the Legend of Fifty-Six. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1942.

Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union. 2 vols. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1947.

Nudelman, Franny. John Brown's Body: Slavery, Violence, and the Culture of War. Chapel Hill (NC): University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1970.

Oates, Stephen B. Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.

Peterson, Merrill D. John Brown: The Legend Revisited. Charlottesville (VA): University of Virginia Press, 2002.

Renehan, Edward J. The Secret Six: The True Tale of the Men Who Conspired with John Brown. New YOrk: Crown Publishers, 1995.

Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

Ruchames, Louis, ed. A John Brown Reader: The Story of John Brown in His Own Words, in the Words of Those who Knew Him. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1959.

Sanborn, Franklin. The Life and Letters of John Brown Cedar Rapids: Iowa Torch Press, 1910.

Scott, Otto. The Secret Six: John Brown and The Abolitionist Movement. New York: New York Times Books, 1979.

Thoreau, Henry David. A Plea for Captain John Brown. New York: North Point Press, 2002.

Villard, Oswald Garrison. John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910.

Theresa Leininger-Miller, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Art History
University of Cincinnati

Plate not sealed when consigned, though about three quarters of the original newsprint seal were present in the rear of the case; the preserver has likely been replaced; it does not match The cover glass was washed, and the mat and plate were then temporarily resealed with filmoplast. The plate with a widely space "wipe" across Brown's face, and with scattered spotting, and mold spidering. Case split at hinge.
Sold: $97,750.00
Price includes
Buyer's Premium
      Ask a Question

All Images

don't miss

an opportunity to bid. You can't win if you're not in.

sign up to bid

what's it worth?

ask the experts

sell your item

start selling
George W. Scott Boudoir Photograph of <i>Issue Day - 740 Cattle - Standing Rock</i>,
Lot # 404 - George W. Scott Boudoir Photograph of Issue Day - 740 Cattle - Standing Rock,
a dramatic scene showing the slaughtered cattle prior to butchering by Sioux families; manuscript caption on verso, Made during the "Ghost Dance" outbreak of the Upper Brule Sioux in the winter of 1890-91 at Ft. Yates N.D. (Standing Rock Agency). > Item Details
P. B. Gaylord Stereoview of  a Chippewa Indian Elder,
Lot # 51 - P. B. Gaylord Stereoview of a Chippewa Indian Elder,
with his Duluth, Minnesota, imprint, on regular-size orange mount. He wears a Hudson Bay style blanket. A fine image of a Chippewa elder. > Item Details
Stanley Morrow Stereoview of <i>Signing Treaty of Peace July 11th 1870, Sisseton (Sioux) and the Arikarees, Gros Ventres, and Mandans of Ft. Bethold, D.T.</i>,
Lot # 157 - Stanley Morrow Stereoview of Signing Treaty of Peace July 11th 1870, Sisseton (Sioux) and the Arikarees, Gros Ventres, and Mandans of Ft. Bethold, D.T.,
on regular-sized mount with his Yankton, D.T., and manuscript title in Morrow’s hand on recto. Morrow arrived in Yankton, the new capitol of Dakota Territory, in 1869. His first trip up the Missouri occurred the same year and little is definitely known about his itinerary or how far upriver he ... > Item Details
Scarce 1878 Wall Map of Columbus, Ohio,
Lot # 993 - Scarce 1878 Wall Map of Columbus, Ohio,
68.5 x 82" with original black painted wood mounts at top and bottom, full title being Graham's Map of the City of Columbus, Ohio 1876 printed by Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hand-colored and laid on new canvas. > Item Details
Chromolithographed <i>Texide Condom Box</i>,
Lot # 3058 - Chromolithographed Texide Condom Box,
a 2.75 x 4.3" chromolithograph case stock lidded box with top having image of rubber tappers and Texide/Guaranteed Five Years/1931 Made in U.S.A., interior of lid with printed label, bottom of box with art deco label with Genuine/Texide/The Original/Liquid latex/Water Cured/Prophylactic.... > Item Details
Three Cabinet Cards of Comanche Indians,
Lot # 241 - Three Cabinet Cards of Comanche Indians,
the first depicts a couple with their infant daughter. The woman is holding a loose feather fan, typically used in ceremonies of the Native American Church; the second depicts a couple seated behind their two young children; and the third a group of four men. None of the individuals or the photograp... > Item Details
Vernacular North Carolina Photograph Album, All Kodak No. 2,
Lot # 3337 - Vernacular North Carolina Photograph Album, All Kodak No. 2,
an assortment of images pertaining to "A family's Journey through the Black Mountains of North Carolina." Included is a brief synopsis and several images of the famous bear hunter "Big Tom Wilson" and his home and the story of the surveyor Elisha Mitchell whom later fell to his death, and subsequent... > Item Details
Group of Four William Henry Harrison Silk Campaign Ribbons,
Lot # 3370 - Group of Four William Henry Harrison Silk Campaign Ribbons,
First ribbon (WHH-14) with an oval mounted bust of Harrison surrounded by the seals of six New England states. Above, an eagle is perched with above insignia: New England Convention Bunker Hill. September 10th 1840. Second ribbon (similar to WHH-21) contains a framed oval bust of Harrison with a co... > Item Details
Double Armed Union Corporal, Cased Sixth Plate Tintype,
Lot # 3098 - Double Armed Union Corporal, Cased Sixth Plate Tintype,
of a soldier posed in an orderly manner. In a forward march position, he clenches his weapon in one hand and carries a dagger to his waist. > Item Details
CDV of Apache Warrior,
Lot # 427 - CDV of Apache Warrior,
the subject, possibly a scout with the U.S. Army, is posed holding a Model 1879 Springfield trapdoor rifle and wearing traditional boot moccasins and circular hide cap. The elaborate painted backdrop provides an odd contrast to the purposeful warrior. > Item Details
[NEWSPAPER] Continental Journal and Weekly Adviser, August 2, 1781,
Lot # 955 - [NEWSPAPER] Continental Journal and Weekly Adviser, August 2, 1781,
4pp folded 10 x 15” on laid paper The Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser. Thursday, August 2, 1781 Numb. [CCLXXXIV.] Boston; Printed by John Gill, In Court-Street, with illustrated ad from Isaac Greenwood, 1st American-born dentist. > Item Details
Charles Milton Bell Boudoir Photograph of Manuelito,
Lot # 428 - Charles Milton Bell Boudoir Photograph of Manuelito,
a Navaho, taken between December 2, 1874-January 14, 1875, during a delegation in Washington, D.C. Identified in the negative and in ink on the mount, Manulito War Chief of the Navajos, and verso, Manulito the great war chief of the Navajos. Was in command at the siege of Fort Defiance, the last co... > Item Details
83rd  Indiana GAR Reunion Photograph,
Lot # 3331 - 83rd Indiana GAR Reunion Photograph,
anonymous silver gelatin print showing a group of aged vets seated on the stone steps of a public building, two at top hold the Regimental battle flag. All wear ribbons and some with GAR medals, 7.5 x 9.5" on larger card stock and framed, 12.75 x 15.75". > Item Details
Lenny and Sawyers Boudoir Photograph of <i>Caddo Dancing Chiefs</i>,
Lot # 229 - Lenny and Sawyers Boudoir Photograph of Caddo Dancing Chiefs,
imprint of Lenny & Sawyers Purcell, Indian Territory. The Caddo are a Southern Plains tribe related to the Wichita and Pawnee, formerly located in north central Texas along the Red River; in 1874 they were relocated to their present reservation in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. Fifteen years later,... > Item Details
<i>Baby Lindy</i> Sheet Music,
Lot # 3423 - Baby Lindy Sheet Music,
3pp with three-color cover, by Clarence Gaskill and Irving Mills, New York: Mills Music, Inc., 1930. "Baby Lindy" in plane holding reins pulled by stork as they dive through the clouds. Inside cover, rear cover and margins have ads for other Mills music. Interestingly, the music is written for piano... > Item Details
Cabinet Card of Tandem Bicycle with Letter,
Lot # 3309 - Cabinet Card of Tandem Bicycle with Letter,
lot of two, includes cabinet card of Leroy P. Guion and Charles Hubbell on a tandem bicycle with imprint of W.W. Cowles, AND a TLS from the Office of Superintendent of Public Works, Albany dated July 23, 1896, granting the above two cyclists Permission…to ride a tandem bicycle on the tow-paths of th... > Item Details
[CIVIL WAR.] Gen. M.F. Wright's <i>Battles and Commanders of the Civil War</i>,
Lot # 3188 - [CIVIL WAR.] Gen. M.F. Wright's Battles and Commanders of the Civil War,
another of those incredible run-on titles extending to nearly 100 words or more, but basically the war drawings done by the artists working for Frank Leslie’s periodical during the war, edited by Marcus F. Wright, Washington, n.d., folio in red buckram boards, 584pp. > Item Details
Civil War and Later Archive of Jesse D. Jennings and  Brothers,
Lot # 3184 - Civil War and Later Archive of Jesse D. Jennings and Brothers,
includes the following original documents, framed civil War discharges for both brothers Noah and ?William, 59th and 35th Ill. Infantry, dated December 8, 1865, and September 27, 1864, both 8.5 x 11", matted and framed, 11.75 x 14.75"; PLUS a 5 x 8" photograph on card stock of William Jenning's home... > Item Details
San Francisco Earthquake Real Photo Postcards and Rare Military Pass for Earthquake Zone,
Lot # 3046 - San Francisco Earthquake Real Photo Postcards and Rare Military Pass for Earthquake Zone,
pass issued to Karl Buck for "Relief" on April 20, 1906 for three days. Six postcards in color, one from 1908. Two are photos of drawings of the fire, but issued in a series that also included photographs of the destruction. Two others are of reconstructed buildings. One duplicate of the altar of Me... > Item Details
F. J. Haynes Stereoview of Gros Ventres Indians at the Fort Berthold Trading Post,
Lot # 197 - F. J. Haynes Stereoview of Gros Ventres Indians at the Fort Berthold Trading Post,
on regular-sized mount, with imprint of Gardner but pirated from a Haynes negative. The seated man is wearing hair bows and holding an eagle feather fan. The man standing is holding a fine pipe tomahawk. These men are Hidatsa, the "Gros Ventres of the Missouri." With the photographer's studio imprin... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20