This daguerreotype, probably made in 1846 or 1847, is the earliest
known portrait of the insurgent abolitionist John Brown.
The artist, Augustus Washington, was the son of a former
slave. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, he vowed while still
a teenager to become a scholar, a teacher, and a
useful man. He took up the camera to help pay his
bills while studying at Dartmouth College and taught at
a school for black students in Hartford, Connecticut,
before establishing a daguerrean studio in that city.
Both Brown and Washington were deeply committed to
the abolition of slavery, but in time Washington
came to believe that emancipation alone would
not remove the long-standing barriers to opportunity
that kept many African Americans from improving
their lives and economic circumstances. In 1853
he sailed to the coast of West Africa to make
a new life for himself and his family in the fledgling
nation of Liberia.
Augustus Washington (1820/211875)
Daguerreotype, circa 1846/47
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Purchased with major acquisition funds and with funds donated by Betty Adler Schermer in honor of her great-grandfather, August M. Bondi.