James B. Beach of Litchfield, Connecticut

Augustus Washington, American, 1820/21 - 1875


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before 1853

Sixth plate Daguerreotype

Overall: 3 11/16 × 3 3/16 × 7/16 in. (9.3 × 8.1 × 1.1 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through the Katharine T. and Merrill G. Beede 1929 Fund and a gift in memory of Angus Russell, Class of 1952, and in honor of his classmates



Place Made: United States, North America


19th century

Object Name


Research Area


Not on view


This daguerreotype was taken in the Hartford, Connecticut, studio of Augustus Washington, the son of a former slave from Virginia. Washington overcame formidable financial and social obstacles to enroll in Dartmouth College briefly in 1843 and 1844. Because of mounting debts, he left the College prematurely and went on to became an accomplished daguerreotypist during a period in which the relatively new process dominated photographic portraiture. Convinced that newly established Liberia was “the only land in which we [as African Americans] can feel ourselves truly free,” he emigrated there in 1853 and became one of the young nation’s leading citizens.

Washington’s sitter, James B. Beach, is dressed and posed to impress. Adorned with top hat and silk cravat, he looks assuredly at the camera and holds his hand toward his chest in a quasi-Napoleonic stance—a gesture associated with ease. Might he have presented himself thus with the thought of giving this daguerreotype as a keepsake for Virginia Wheeler, whom he married in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1851? According to an 1860 census, Beach was a clockmaker in Derby, Connecticut. He died three years later, shortly after having been wounded in the Civil War battle of LaFourche Crossing, Louisiana.

From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art

Course History

ARTH 41.04, European Art 1850-1900, Allan Doyle, Spring 2019

ARTH 41.04, European Art 1850-1900, Allan Doyle, Spring 2019

ARTH 48.02, History of Photography, Katie Hornstein, Winter 2020

HIST 7.32, Civil War Photographs, Robert Bonner, Winter 2022

Exhibition History

American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-July 21, 2019.

Publication History

John R. Stomberg, The Hood Now: Art and Inquiry at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2019, p. 119, ill. plate no. 50.


Greg French Early Photography, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts; sold to present collection, 2013.

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