Augustus Washington


Augustus Washington, Unidentified Woman, Probably a Member of the Urias McGill Family, 1855

In the 1850s, the impressively named Augustus Washington was a Dageurreotype photographer in Connecticut. There would have been many competitors in this line of business but Washington had an advantage, he was black. In the years before the Civil War, free black people could survive and even prosper in some Northern states, and Washington did well.

He was a spirited and well-read man, going by the remarkable letter to the Tribune he wrote, promoting the idea of black Americans returning to Africa, to the newly established free state of Liberia (the word liberia means “free”).

Washington followed his own advice and took his family there in 1853, before the American Civil War, continuing his Dageurreotype business but later becoming a successful businessman, landowner and politician. The Library of Congress has the full story, though I doubt any amount of history could do justice to a life lived so fully.