MdHS Acquires Rare Daguerreotype of Baltimore Civil War Era Slave

Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore MD


For Immediate Release Contact: Marc Apter, 301-904-3690,


Acquisition of Rare Daguerreotype of Baltimore Civil War Era Slave

Will Help Historians Learn More About Urban Slavery


Baltimore MD (October 4, 2011) - Recently the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) acquired at auction an extremely rare daguerreotype of a Baltimore slave Martha Ann “Patty” Atavis Civil War Era Slave(c.1819-1874) and a tintype of the same woman holding Alice Lee Whitridge, the daughter of Dr. John Whitridge of Baltimore.   The items are from circa 1845 – 1860.  These photographs and the supporting documents acquired help illuminate the realities of urban slavery in Baltimore during the Civil War era. They will be on display in the MdHS library beginning October xxxx.

Mark Letzer, the officer of the Maryland Historical Society who acquired the images for the museum said, “This acquisition is incredibly important for the Maryland Historical Society and will further help us understand urban slavery in Baltimore.” 

Only 5% of slaves lived in urban areas at the eve of the Civil War.  In Baltimore that was about 5000 with two thirds of them being women.  Most of the women were in domestic service like Atavis.  She stayed in the service of the same family until her death a decade after the abolition of slavery.

According to photographic historian Ross Kelbaugh,” Daguerreotypes of slaves by themselves from this period are rare.  Those few that were photographed were usually recorded in group portraits along with their owners and the owner’s family.  Daguerreotypes of identified slaves are even rarer especially with accompanying documentation of their purchase which also came with Patty’s image.”

The Baltimore address of the home Atavis worked in is known, as is the location of her grave stone in the Whitridge family plot at Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. The stone reads “Martha Ann “Patty” Atavis died February 26th 1874 at the age of 58, the devoted nurse of the family of Dr. John Whitridge for over 36 years”. The bill of sale for Atavis, acquired as part of this purchase noted the price of $200.

Many male slaves in Baltimore worked in factories producing bricks and chemicals.  Both male and females could become free after a set term of years in slavery described as “term slavery” or manumission.  Before the Civil War there were about 90,000 slaves in Maryland and 10,000 free blacks.

Daguerreotypes, considered the first photographs, and invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre, are produced on a silver coated copper plate treated with iodine vapor. A tintype, invented in 1853, is a positive photograph taken directly on a thin plate of black-enameled iron coated with a sensitized emulsion. The dimensions of the acquired tintype, in inches, is 4 ¼ x 3 ½ and the daguerreotype is 3 ¾ x 3 x1/4.

The Maryland Historical Society was founded in 1844 and is the world’s largest museum and library dedicated to the history of Maryland. Occupying an entire city block in the Mount Vernon District of Baltimore, the society’s mission is to “collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland’s diverse cultural heritage.” The society is home to the original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled “Maryland Historical Magazine.” For more information please visit


Photo Cut Line:  This rare tintype of Baltimore slave Martha Ann “Patty” Atavis (c.1819-1874) and Alice Lee Whitridge, the young girl she cared for, was probably taken in 1860.  It was recently acquired by the Maryland Historical Society and is on display in their library at 201 W. Monument St. in Baltimore.

Martha Ann “Patty” Atavis Civil War Era Slave

Click for full size image


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