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September 28, 2021

Amazing Daguerreotypes Taken by Augustus Washington in the Mid-19th Century

Born 1920 in Trenton, New Jersey as a free person of color and immigrated to Liberia in 1852, American photographer and daguerreotypist Augustus Washington is one of the few African-American daguerreotypists whose career has been documented.

Daguerreotypes taken by Augustus Washington from the 1840s and 1850s

Washington moved to Hartford, Connecticut, teaching black students at a local school and opening a daguerrean studio in 1846. He made the decision in 1852 to leave his home in Hartford, Connecticut, to emigrate to Liberia, and opened a daguerrean studio in the Liberian capital Monrovia in 1853 and also traveled to the neighboring countries Sierra Leone, Gambia and Senegal.

His daguerreotypes came at a vital moment for the Liberian nation as they were a visible way to document the progress of the colony not only for the Liberians but also to create an image of the colony for Western audiences. Washington’s Liberian portraits are of meticulously-posed elite members of the Liberian colony and focus on showing off the grooming, clothing, decoration and self-possession of his upper- and middle-class subjects.

In addition to photographing members of the Liberian upper and middle classes, Washington also photographed many of Liberia's political leaders. These include likenesses of President Stephen Allen Benson, Vice President Beverly Page Yates, Senate chaplain Reverend Philip Coker, a number of senators, as well as the secretary, clerk, and sergeant-at-arms of the Senate.

Washington later gave up his photographic work and became a sugarcane grower on the shores of the Saint Paul River. In 1858, he began a political career, serving in both the House of Representatives and the Senate of Liberia. He served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1865 to 1869. He died in Monrovia in 1875.

Take a look at these amazing daguerreotypes to see his work from the 1840s and 1850s.

John Brown, 1846-47. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Chauncy H. Hicks, Liberian colonist, circa 1858. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

James B. Yates, Liberian politician, 1958. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Chancy Brown, Sargeant at Arms of the Liberian Senate, 1860. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Edward James Roye, who owned a successful shipping business. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

James Mux Priest, the first Presbyterian African American missionary sent to Liberia. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first and seventh president of Liberia, 1851. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Liberian Senator John Hanson. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Philip Coker, clergyman and missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of a woman, circa 1850. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of a young woman holding a union case in her lap, circa 1850. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of a young woman, circa 1850. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of an unidentified man with his child, circa 1847. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of an unidentified man, circa 1850. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of an unidentified Man. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Portrait of an unidentified woman, presumed member of the Urias McGill family. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Radical abolitionist, John Brown, who believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the slavery in the United States. (Photo by Augustus Washington)

Urias Africannus McGill, an American immigrant to Liberia. (Photo by Augustus Washington)


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