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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley


Images offer a unique glimpse into the daily activities of their subjects, as they can be read for a great deal of information, from choices in apparel to family groupings. In the middle decades of the ninteenth century, images could include paintings and drawings, tintypes, daguerreotypes, and cartes de visite.  In the Valley, photographers who took studio portraits of African American subjects include Springfield businessmen A.E. Alden and E.C. Goldsmith.

Memorial Libraries, Deerfield

Fuller, George (1822-1884): Fuller, a painter from Deerfield, traveled in the South during the 1850s. From his travels, he painted and drew many scenes of slavery and African Americans. The collections of Deerfield's Memorial Hall contain some of these drawings. Among his papers, is a letter
he wrote to his father Aaron Fuller, after witnessing a slave auction. See Memorial Libraries, Fuller-Higginson Family Papers, Box 2, Folder 1

Stebbins, Charles (1813-1900): Charles was a merchant in New York and in New Orleans. Among his papers are five bills of sale for enslaved people (three for purchases, two for sales), and a daguerreotype and business card of Frank Smith, a former enslaved person once owned by Charles Stebbins. The bills of sale date to the 1860s in Louisiana. See Memorial Libraries, Stebbins Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 5

Wood Museum of Springfield History

Grand Army of the Republic. "Photo Album of the E. K. Wilcox Post, No. 16," of the Grand Army of the Republic, Springfield, Mass. contains images of four men of color.

Selected Materials in the W.E.B. DuBois Library Collection

Howes Brothers Photographic Collection

Possibly one of the largest and most aesthetically pleasing collections of turn-of-the-century glass dry-plate negatives from a single photographic concern in the United States exists today in the Ashfield Historical Society of Ashfield, MA. Ashfield natives Alvah, George, and Walter Howes worked as itinerant photographers from 1882-1907. The Howes brothers traveled through the Berkshire Hills, the Connecticut Valley of Western Massachusetts, the Connecticut River Valley from the Vermont border south to Hartford, and "occasionally as far as Waltham, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; Woonsocket, Rhode Island; and Eastern New York."

The surviving 23,000 glass negatives document "social and economic conditions in Western New England during the late nineteenth century." The collection is also significant for the record it provides of the United States' industrial and social landscape at that time. Entire families of various economic classes posed in front of their homes, often displaying their prized possessions and their pets. Merchants stood in front of their shops and groups of schoolchildren posed by their schools. The Howes brothers photographs feature consistently superior photographic technique.

Microfilm Collection

The Howes brothers photographic collection, ca 1882-1907.

Call Number: Microfilm 5121 29 reels
Reproduces 21,889 Howes brothers glass plate negatives. The brothers numbered their negatives consecutively each year as they developed them. The microfilm images are arranged by those numbers. Arbitrary letter suffixes distinguish plates with the same number taken in different years. Sequential numbers alone do not reflect chronology. The first reel offers an introductory synopsis of 650 images selected as broadly representative of the entire set, both in subject matter, geography, and photographic technique and quality.

The Howes brothers photographic collection ca. 1882-1907: Howes supplement - A.W. & G.E. Howes, Photographers.
Call Number Microfilm 5121a 3 reels
Supplement to Microfilm 5121 consisting of reproductions of images acquired in 1982. Reel 2 and part of Reel 3 contain the collection of Edith La Francis of Agawam, MA.


The Howes brothers photographic collection, a guide to the computer-produced finding aids and to the microfilm.
Call Number: Microforms Area
Offers a detailed description of each computer-produced finding aid. Also contains a reel guide and instructions for locating images on the microfilm. The appropriate section of this guide appears at the beginning of each index. Note: "Plates on Supplement Reels 2 and 3 are as yet not described in these finding aids at all... A comprehensive search of the collection, therefore, will require a direct examination of those reels."

Howes collection [index]. [Ashfield, MA? 1982?].
Call Number: Microforms Guides TR 652 H6 Sections 1 and 2
Provides a computerized cross-reference system for a name or a town, and the corresponding Howes brothers plate numbers. Cities and towns, ranging from Agawam (AG) to Worthington (WO) are arranged alphabetically by two-letter codes. Researchers identified 6,100 plates by location. The Name Index lists names for the few plates which were identified by persons, precise street addresses, and painted signs pictured in the photographs.

KWIC (Key Word In Context) Indexes
Call Number: Microforms Guides
This 13-volume computer printout provides access to individual images through the words in the catalog content descriptions. The KWIC Indexes list, "alphabetically by keyword, the contents of the 'Specific' and 'Detail' fields which are part of the catalog descriptions of the plates."A KWIC Index exists for each of the 14 general categories ( "Occupation," "Industrial site," "Portrait," "Structure," etc.) For example, under the general category of "Structure," researchers can locate photographs by using the terms, "Doric columns," "porch," and "triangle window." A subject or word may appear in more than one file ("Tobacco" is in both the "Occupation" and "Structure" categories).

Call Number: Microforms Guides
This 5-volume computer printout arranges and describes, by plate number, all 21,889 negatives. It identifies a location by town code, such as "BL" for Belchertown. The date, if available, appears in a four-character field. For example, "86" represents 1886 and "S" spring or summer. The style, most frequently exterior, is noted only if the view is an interior one ("I"). The second header line refers to broad categories ( "Structure," "Portrait," "Occupation," "Animal," etc.) from the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House. "This scheme permits identification of the [sic] major category as well as architectural details, objects in the photographs, persons, places, firms, etc." A reference in this list might, for example, describe a "structure" as a "two-story Greek-revival house" with "Doric columns, two-story portico, roof pediment, porch, triangle window." (Plate 4537).

Study Prints

The Special Collections and University Archives Department in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library maintains a set of 200 study prints produced from the Howes brothers glass negatives. The images are printed on 8 x 10 sheets, stored in print file preservers, and arranged by the Howes plate numbers.


Also of interest    

New England reflections, 1882-1907: photographs/by the Howes brothers; edited by Alan B.Newman, from the collection of the Ashfield Historical Societyand the Howes Family.
Call Number: TR 652 N47
                   Special Collections TR 652 N47 1981
Provides an introduction to the collection and reproduces nearly 200 Howes brothers photographs.


Find More

Search the Five College Catalog by Subject to find additional photographic materials. Use the area followed by ''Pictorial Works." Examples of subject searches follow.

  • New England - Pictorial works
  • Northampton (Mass.) - Pictorial works

Recommended Readings

Foster, Helen Bradley. 'New Raiments of Self': African American Clothing in the Antebellum South. Berg, 1997.

Lugo-Ortiz, Agnes and Rosenthal, Angela (eds). Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World. New  York: Cambridge University Press, 2013

Severa, Joan. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. Kent State University Press, 1995.

Troutman, Phillip and Jennifer Van Horn, “Seeing Flora’s Profile as Portrait,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022),

Van Horn, Jennifer. Portraits of Resistance : Activating Art during Slavery. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022.

Wallace, Maurice O., and Shawn Michelle Smith, eds. Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity. Duke University Press, 2012.

Willis, Deborah and Barbara Krauthamer.  Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery.  Temple University Press, 2017.