News
4:16 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

“AN ADMIRABLE PORTRAIT” OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS

 “S. H. Waite, No. 271 Main Street, has taken an admirable photograph of Frederick Douglass, which may be seen in the store window of Geer & Pond’s, where copies (carte de visites) can be purchased.”

This advertisement for a new photograph of the African American orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, taken by local photographer Stephen H. Waite, appeared in the Hartford Daily Courant on April 16, 1864.  Cartes-de-visite (small photographs about the size of a visiting card) depicting famous people were avidly collected during the 1860s, and the fact that Douglass’s portrait received special mention in the Courant is some measure of Douglass’s popularity in Hartford.

The same evening Waite’s portrait was advertised for sale, Douglass delivered a speech on “The National Crisis” at Hartford’s Allyn Hall in which he discussed the rights of African Americans, especially African American soldiers, who were being paid less than their white counterparts for their Civil War service.  Douglass had been active recruiting young men to serve in the so-called “colored” regiments, including Connecticut’s Twenty-Ninth Regiment.  In January 1864, Douglass had addressed the men of the Twenty-Ninth encamped in New Haven, waiting to be mustered in.  Congress finally granted equal pay to colored troops in June 1864, and made the pay increase retroactive.

Waite’s portrait is just one of over 100 photographs of Frederick Douglass taken during his lifetime, documenting Douglass’s appearance from his early years as an ardent young ex-slave and abolitionist through his later years as a distinguished orator, writer, and elder statesman.  To see more portraits from the CHS photograph collection, go to http://emuseum.chs.org:8080/emuseum/and search for “Portraits”.

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