My camera is three and a half pounds of image-capturing magic. Mary Jane Minor’s mouth would round in wonder at its 1295 frames. My great-great-grandma and I are alike in this regard–we collect faces, without identifying the occasion or relation or special qualities that make those eyes so admired, so treasured. Nonetheless, the portraits, now and then, are at an edge, where private lives meet public spaces, revealing a good bit about who we are, what technologies shape our present, what kinds of people add value to our days.
I can confidently put names to only a few faces. So what? This Victorian album is evidence of the sweeping movements of people and machines that transformed my ancestors’ communities in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. More than faces, these portraits are portals to history.
Sometime between 1883-1888, F. P. Morgan ushered these three people into his Uniontown (Pennsylvania) studio on Morgantown Street, and shot this cabinet card photo. Their identity is concealed by the passage of time; their relationship to the Minor family of Green County lost in a historical fog.
Their relationship to each other, however, is clearly described in the photographer’s clever posing.
The silver-haired gentleman sits relaxed in an upholstered chair, while the woman and boy stand to his right with their arms resting on his shoulder and arm. Their hands line up, smack dab in the middle of the frame, a visual statement–We are family. The tableau is vintage Victorian; the husband is seated in the only chair signifying his role as patriarch and the woman is beside him as helpmeet. Together they shelter and nurture their six(ish) year old son.
Three faces, one family. Incognito.
Sometime between 1888 and 1890, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, strolled into the photographic studio of Thomas W. Rogers (Carmichaels, PA) and struck a pose. He wore a well-ironed wool suit, the jacket buttoned so high that the full Windsor knot is all one sees of his dapper tie. His eyes belie the confident stance–Robert is on the cusp of adulthood, almost ready to marry, almost ready to manage the family farm. Almost.
Little wonder that his mother, Mary Jane Minor, included this moment in time within the pages of the Minor Family Album.
Cousinly Review Prompts a Re-view (updated 27 August 2014)
Shortly after posting this piece, I received an email from reader and cousin, Linda Bell. My colleague strongly suspected that the face was familiar, not just family-like, as if she had seen the photograph before. Perhaps, Linda suggested, this face appears in Bates’ History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (©1888) which can be read online at the Internet Archive. And yes, he was there…This post has been updated to reflect the new information. Portions of the original post have, therefore, been deleted.
I have stared at the last half of the Minor Family Album for a month now, confounded by more than one photograph. None are annotated with given names, or family names, or even a hint of a date. I look at the next cabinet card with a hand lens. I scan it into my hard drive, enhance the clarity and then look again, with the computer as hand lens. The paper photo drops crumbs of information, which I collect and line up, willing a trail to appear.
The photograph was produced by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, on ivory colored cardstock with rounded corners, and the simple, red-ink trademark on the back. The photograph, whether original or a copy, was made most likely between the late 1860s and early 1870s, early in TW Rogers photographic career.
Mr. Clean-shaven is between 50-65 years old, with thick wavy hair worn in a conservative above-the-collar fashion. The white mane sweeps from right to left above his bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows. Puffy half-moons beneath light-colored eyes cushion his intensity; this is a busy man with little patience for sleep. The gaze, the wavy hair, the Roman nose, the bushy brow…features shared with other Minor family members.
My wavy-haired gentleman is wearing a starched white shirt, with a heavily starched, detachable collar. He has tied a black silk cravat into a flat bow tie at his throat. Over this he wears a black, collarless, single-breasted vest, trimmed in braid fashionable in the late 1860s. All of the buttons are fastened, without any evidence of a watchchain. The double-breasted sack coat is also made of black wool and trimmed in braid. The buttons and button holes go very high into the lapel, which is notched quite deeply, the lower portion much wider than the upper portion at the neck. The fit is quite generous, particularly at the sleeves, which sit on the shoulder, a style worn in the late 1860s-early 1870s.
This clean-shaven man had his portrait taken at the height of his career, when he was about 55 years, between 1868-1872. Fortunately, Samuel Bates included an illustration based on this very photograph in his History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1888), which accompanied a biographical sketch of a very prominent Baptist minister–Charles W. Tilton.
Born to New Jersey residents Enoch and Elizabeth Tilton in 1815, Charles spent his childhood on the family’s farms. The youngster attended local subscription schools in western Pennsylvania and Frankfort Academy in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Tilton’s first vocation was as a teacher, but he was called to the ministry. In 1843 Teacher Tilton was ordained a Baptist preacher, and began a life of service inside the Ten Mile Baptist Association, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Reverend Tilton filled the pulpit at several Ten Mile churches, at times perhaps simultaneously, including Goshen Baptist in Garards Fort, home church to my Minor ancestors.
Pastor Charles was a reknowned revival leader during the post-war years, leading congregants to a healing place after the horrific losses and community ruptures of the Civil War. (Greene County was a Democratic Party stronghold, fiercely opposed to the concept of emancipation.) This photograph was taken during this time. As a revival preacher, Sabbath School leader, and a higher education advocate, Charles W. Tilton was famous among the Baptists of Greene County, and probably well acquainted with the Minors of Ceylon Lane.
Little wonder that the man’s photograph was sought by my great-great-grandmother, and later displayed, among family, for posterity.