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A fine pair of daguerreotypes, one a Black caregiver holding a white baby, the other the white parents

SLAVERY, AMERICAN. Important Pair of Daguerreotypes: Black Caregiver with White Baby and the Child’s Parents

Talbot County, Maryland or Texas, c. 1853

Two sixth-plate daguerreotypes, cased together, separated at hinge. Left: nurse and child (“Bradford & Ellen Sherwood his nurse”), right: parents (“Jonathan P. Harrison & his wife Caroline Denny Harrison”). White family’s cheeks are hand-tinted and the baby’s dress is hand-colored. Some spots, edges tarnished.

A tremendous pair. Jonathan P. Harrison (born 23 December 1829) and his wife Caroline Denny Harrison (born c. 1834) are in one portrait, while their son Bradford (born c. 1853) and his Black caregiver Ellen Sherwood are in the other.

The Harrison family moved from Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Texas in the 1850s to pursue ranching and farming opportunities. According to the U.S. Census, in 1860 the family lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, with Jonathan reported as 29 years old, Caroline 26, and Bradford 7, indicating a date of 1853 for this photograph.

The Harrisons and Dennys were prominent Maryland and Texas families. Jonathan served with the 1st Texas Cavalry during the Civil War. Identified daguerreotype portraits of slaves are rare, and linked pairs such as this set are very rare. Given the status of the Harrison and Denny families and the ca. 1853 date, it seems probable that Ellen Sherwood was enslaved.

This striking pair of daguerreotypes evokes the complex relationships between enslaved people and their enslavers in the American South, especially between white families and the trusted women who cared for their children.

Provenance: “Jonathan P. Harrison & his wife Caroline Denny Harrison / Their child Bradford & Ellen Sherwood his nurse,” identified in a manuscript note, beneath the right daguerreotype, in the hand of Jonathan’s niece Patty Belle Tilghman (1851-1931). See Hanson, Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland, p. 96.

the pair: $18,500