I purchased this daguerreotype from one of my favorite Etsy shops, Glassing. If you love old photos and want great deals, you should definitely check out Cathy’s shop!
The daguerreotype is the earliest commercial photography format, invented by Louis Daguerre in the 1830s. A daguerreotype is an image on a polished silver or silver-covered copper plate. Its appearance depends on the angle at which you view it. It can appear as a positive, a negative, or a mirror. They are very fragile and will tarnish if exposed to air, which is why they have to be kept sealed behind glass.
Most often I purchase a photo because I fall in love with the image, but not in this instance. Not to say it isn’t a great photo, but I was more interested in the writing inside the case “John Mudgett Great Grandmother Tenny’s brother (never married – imbibed freely).” Come on, how could I pass that up! I think about the guts it took for the person to include the fact that John was a heavy drinker. These are real-life issues that most often are never spoken of, especially after a person has passed and we are taught not to speak ill of the dead.
Without a location, and with John being such a common name, I had to search for a Miss Mudgett who married a man named Tenny and also had a brother named John. It wasn’t easy, but I found her and thus found my sitter.
Great-grandmother Tenny was born Serena Mudgett in 1801, eldest out of the nine children born to William and Polly “Mary” (nee Lufkin) Mudgett, all natives of New Hampshire. Next born was Mary, and brother John came along about 1805.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any records of John until 1860 when he was 57 years old and living in Haverhill, Massachusetts. It seems the three oldest siblings were united once more, living in the home of Serena’s son William Tenny. By that time Serena was a widow, as her husband, Ebenezer Tenny, died in 1848. Their mother, who Mary previously resided with, passed in 1855.
How I wish I knew where John was living prior to the time he moved in with his sisters. In 1860 he was working as a farm laborer. Had this always been his occupation? His attire in the photo, which I date to the 1850s, suggests a less laborious job. I would guess that the man was a merchant or a banker.
John outlived Serena and Mary, passing in 1873. There was a bit of confusion because John and Mary share the same headstone. This led the person managing John’s Find A Grave memorial to assume the two were husband and wife and to link Mary as John’s spouse. Their relationship has since been corrected.
Find A Grave