George Smith Cook, known during the Civil War as "Photographer of the Confederacy," was actually born in Stratford, Connecticut on February 23, 1819. After being orphaned at a young age, he moved to Newark, New Jersey to live with his grandparents. In 1833, the 14-year-old boldly declared he was going out in the world "to seek his fortune." After finding occasional work as a miniature artist, he settled in New Orleans, where while studying painting, it is believed he learned about the newly developed daguerreotype process. Fully embracing photography as his vocation, Mr. Cook married the former Elizabeth Smith Francisco and opened a studio in Charleston, South Carolina. The couple would later have two children, George LaGrange and Elizabeth. Mr. Cook is believed to be one of the first photographers to make daguerreotype portraits of Southern blacks. His subjects - who may have been plantation slaves posing during their rare free time - were always well dressed and portrayed respectfully.
Mr. Cook received his first big professional break when famed photographer Mathew Brady selected him to manage his studio during a prolonged absence. He subsequently opened studios in New York and Chicago in 1857 and in Philadelphia the following year. By the firing on Fort Sumter in April1861, Mr. Cook's professional reputation throughout Charleston and the South had been well established. Because of his many contacts throughout the North and in Europe, he became a successful chemical blockade runner. With the numerous chemicals he accumulated, he was able to take several impressive photographs of the Confederate action. His most famous picture was of the Union ironclads (warships) Montauk, Passaic, and Weehawken firing upon the Confederate unit at Fort Moultrie taken on September 8, 1863.
As the Civil War was drawing to a close, Mr. Cook faced a succession of personal tragedies. His wife died in 1864, and the next year, a fire destroyed Mr. Cook's earliest daguerreotypes and several important documents. His personal life improved with his marriage to his late wife's niece, Lavinia Pratt. Together, they would also have a daughter (Lavinia) and a son (Huestis). Both sons also became successful photographers. In 1880, Mr. Cook left his beloved Charleston and moved with his family to Richmond, Virginia, where he soon established himself as a successful entrepreneur, purchasing photographic businesses and buying negatives from photographers needing to liquidate their inventories. George Smith Cook worked steadily until his sudden death on November 27, 1902 at the age of 82. Although the majority of his photographs were not published during his lifetime, those that survived have been featured in several Civil War compilations including Divided We Fought and Images of War as well as in the volume Partners with the Sun, South Carolina Photographers 1840-1940 and in the biographical texts Shadows in Silver and Photographer Under Fire.
2010 George S. Cook: Connecticut’s Confederate Photographer (URL: http://www.htfdcivilwarroundtable.org/GEORGESCook/GEORGESCook.htm).
2002 The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference (New York: Simon and Schuster), p. 813.
2005 My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press), p. 249.
2005 Photographer Under Fire, The Story of George S. Cook (1819 - 1902) (Denton, TX: Historical Resources Press), p. 116.
2007 True Richmond Stories: Historic Tales from Virginia's Capital , (Charleston, SC: The History Press), p. 65-67.
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