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Thu, 09.21.1820

Augustus Washington pioneered photography

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*Augustus Washington’s birth in 1820 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American abolitionist and photographer specializing as a Daguerreotypist.

From Trenton, New Jersey he was the son of a former slave and a woman of South Asian decent. His mother died when he was young a stepmother, also a former slave raised him. Washington struggled to obtain schooling, first in Trenton and later at the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, and Dartmouth College. In 1843, Washington moved to Hartford and opened a daguerrean studio to help finance education. Finishing School in 1847, he returned to Hartford; opens studio for a short period of time. During this time many of his portraits were of political and social figures of the era and reflect his sentiment about slavery.

In 1851 he expressed pessimism about prospects of Blacks in American society in a letter to New York Tribune. In 1853, he immigrated to Liberia to works as schoolteacher, farmer stone operator and Daguerreotypist. One year later, he expressed enthusiasm about his adopted land in a letter, stating that, "I believe that I shall do a thousand times more good for Africa." The last reference to Washington's work as a daguerreotypist dates from 1858.

Washington never regretted his decision to immigrate to Liberia, and when he died in Monrovia on June 7, 1875, his death was mourned as “a severe loss to Western Africa.”

National Portrait Gallery
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Victor Building–Suite 8300 MRC 973
Washington, DC 20013-7012

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