The entirety of John Brown's life was lived before photography became common place. It wasn't until during the Civil War that new techniques of creating images made photographing anyone, or anyplace, fairly routine. So it is somewhat remarkable that there are so many photos of John Brown. In his lifetime, he truly must have been considered a most important American for so many photographers to have made the extremely difficult effort to preserve his image.
The likeness of John Brown in front of the "cabin" is titled, "John Brown Reading His Bible". It is unknown when it was drawn. He lived in three houses when in Richfield. The one pictured could be the second one, which was located behind his tannery.
In the picture where his hand is raised and he is holding a flag, the flag has the letters S.P.W. on it. S.P.W. stands for Subterranean Pass Way, the original name for the Underground Railroad. The photo was taken 1847, just after Brown left Richfield. The daguerreotype photograph was taken by Augustus Washington, who was the son of a former slave. He was one of the few negro photographers of the time. Of note in the photo: John Brown's right hand is white, his left hand "black". Whether his left hand was colored by Brown, or by the photographer, or is an artifact of lighting, is unknown.
~~About these posed pictures: Ralph Waldo Emerson was a long time friend of John Brown. He once wrote about the difficultly of posing for Daguerreotypes.
". . . Were you ever Daguerreotyped, O immortal man? And did you look with all vigor at the lens of the camera or rather by the direction of the operator at the brass peg a little below it to give the picture the full benefit of your expanded & flashing eye? And in your zeal not to blur the image, did you keep every finger in its place with such energy that your hands became clenched as for fight or despair, & in your resolution to keep your face still, did you feel every muscle becoming every moment more rigid: the brows contracted into a Tartarean frown, and the eyes fixed as they are fixed in a fit, in madness, or in death; and when at last you are relieved of your dismal duties, did you find the curtain drawn perfectly, and the coat perfectly, & the hands true, clenched for combat, and the shape of the face & head? But unhappily the total expression escaped from the face and you held the portrait of a mask instead of a man."
Perhaps the oft commented upon sternness of his look was more in the nature of how he had to pose for a daguerreotype picture, than it was the nature of John Brown himself.
Copyright © Jim Fry 2018