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Augustus Washington

One of the first African-American daguerreotypists, Augustus Washington was born in Trenton, New Jersey in either 1820 or 1821 to a one-time slave father and a South Asian mother. Christian Washington was the proprietor of a Trenton oyster eatery, and after the death of his wife shortly after his son's birth, he remarried. Young Augustus was an activist at an early age, attending New York's Oneida Institute, which was operated by antislavery and anti-colonialist Beriah Green. He was also active in various abolitionist and temperance movements in Brooklyn, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, and wrote for an early African-American newspaper, the Colored American, from 1837 to 1841.

Mr. Washington's career as a daguerreotypist was motivated more by financial desperation than artistic passion as he was seeking to generate some quick income to pay for his Dartmouth College tuition in 1843. Unfortunately, his photography did not allow him to continue his Dartmouth education beyond his freshman year. However, after a brief stint as a teacher, he opened a daguerreotype studio in Hartford in 1846 to much greater success. Initially, his clientele consisted of the Hartford white elite, but in 1847, he would make a daguerreotype that would reflect his personal ideology. At the time, abolitionist John Brown was a polarizing figure. He was either revered or despised, depending upon one's views on slavery. Mr. Washington's daguerreotype provided little psychological insight into this enigmatic man, but the portrait did serve to humanize the man and his passion for his cause. His haunting stare, the worry lines above his brow and his raised hand suggest he is pledging allegiance to the abolition of slavery. This remains Mr. Washington's most famous daguerreotype.


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2012-06-23 04:44:28
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