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Reliving the Revolution: An Image at a Time

After being lucky enough to snag the last two tickets for a London performance of Hamilton, I feel fired up to work on volume 3 of my Last Muster series of books that features images of men and women who lived during the revolution and into the age of photography. For the past fifteen years, I’ve been accumulating photographs of America’s first generation.

You can help!

Do you have mid-19th-century photographs among your collection that portray older men and women?

Early on, I decided to expand my search from just images of soldiers to include a broader view of Revolutionary times. I thought, “What would happen if I told the story of the American Revolution through pictures of a variety of its participants: veterans, loyalists, and wives? Could we through photographic and documentary evidence recreate the United States’ first generation –those men and women bound together by living during Revolutionary times? “

If an image in your photo collection fits the criteria listed below, it might qualify for further investigation and inclusion in my book on the Revolutionary War generation. Contributors will be given full credit in the book, as well as any additional information that is discovered during research. I begin by verifying that an image depicts an individual with links to the project criteria then document each one by examining details in the pictures and citing supplementary evidence such as pension files, personal papers, local histories, newspapers and personal reminiscences.

To learn more about this project, visit the project page on my website.

The Subjects

  • Patriots, soldiers and loyalist adults: I’ve identified over a thousand men who lived after 1839 and into the age of photography. Anyone who was a young adult during the American Revolution would have been at least 80 years old by the advent of photography. Several veterans appeared in Reverend Elias Hillard’s Last Men of the Revolution in the 1860s, but thousands of men applied for pensions after the War. Hillard sought out the last men and compiled their stories in his book. There were only seven left by the time that he began his project. He described his task as a preservation effort, “Our own are the last eyes that will look on men who looked on Washington; our ears the last that will hear the living voices of those who heard his words. Henceforth the American Revolution will be known among men by the silent record of history alone.”

Let’s not leave out the women:

  • Wives and widows: As surprising as it may seem, the last surviving widow of a Revolutionary soldier died in 1906! Esther Sumner married Noah Damon when she was 21 and he was 75. Finding pictures of wives and widows means looking at pictures taken anywhere from 1840 to the early 1900s. The birth dates of these women range from the 1760s into the early 1800s, depending on their age when they married the veteran.

 

Ideally, I’d still like to include pictures of men and women from each of the original thirteen colonies, officers and enlisted men, as well as the brave women who kept the home front functioning in their husband’s absence.

 

Types of Photographs

Since my search covers a wide range of time, I’m looking for a variety of photographs from the earliest daguerreotypes to paper photos. These descriptions will help you identify the type of picture in your collection.

  • Daguerreotypes (1839 to 1860s): The first photographs, daguerreotypes have reflective surfaces; you must hold the photos at an angle to see their images. Daguerreotypes are often found in cases.
  • Ambrotypes (patented in 1854): Often placed in cases because of their fragility, these glass images are backed with dark material.
  • Tintypes or ferrotypes (patented in 1856): This third type of cased image is produced on thin sheets of iron.
  • Carte des visite (CDVs) (introduced in 1854): Inspired by 19th-century visiting cards, these small paper prints usually measured 2×4 inches.

If you have an image to contribute to the project please email me details about the person and the image using the subject line: Revolutionary War Generation. My submission guidelines are as follows:

  • 300 dpi tiff color images scanned at 100% scale
  • Email images for consideration to photodetective@maureentaylor.com.

You can purchase the first two volumes of this series in my bookstore.