A mystery image–a slave at Chatham?

From John Hennessy:

The unretouched image

We are constantly amazed at the steady stream of images and source material that come to us. The image above is a tintype, shown to us recently by local antique maven Bill Beck. According to Bill, this image has been in the community some time, and its traditional label suggests that it is an image of a slave at Chatham.  To our knowledge, this is the first time the image has been seen publicly.

 If this is indeed a slave at Chatham, it would constitute a major discovery–there are precious few images of slaves in slavery anywhere in Virginia, much less in the Fredericksburg region. With Bill’s permission, Noel Harrison generated at high-resolution scan of the image, which, as you can see, in its original form is quite dark.  We have modified it here for easier viewing.
There is nothing in the image itself that either supports or denies the setting at Chatham. But we do think there are clues in the man’s dress and the tack on the horse.  But, we are not material culture sorts, and so we throw the image out to people who know far more about boots, tack, and dress than we do. 
Are the man’s boots postwar?  From what I can discover, these sorts of “cowboy boots” didn’t hit the market until the 1870s.
What of the chain lead on the horse?  When did these come into common use?  And the pants–are the pockets here a bit more stylish than those that would typically be worn by a slave?
We ask these as honest questions, with hope that some of you can help narrow down the date of the photograph and help resolve the question: is this a slave at Chatham?

3 thoughts on “A mystery image–a slave at Chatham?

  1. I am not an expert on footwear, but what I can point out is that this style boot is similar to what is called during the Civil War an “artillery boot”, a pattern readily available in the 1860s. The taller front flap is designed to allow the pant cuffs to be tucked in and protected from mud and muck. This is most likely a popular pattern with handlers of horses and would have been quite utilitarian. Interestingly, it looks to me that it is only his right pant leg (when flipped, because it is a tintype, and thus a mirror image) that is tucked in the boot.
    As for the pants themselves, they seem to be of the common pattern of the period and nothing “stylish” about them. That’s my opinion at least.
    Regarding the chain lead, from what I find, they are used in handling rougher horses but as to when they were introduced, especially with twisted link chain, I do not know.
    Is there any known history of the horses at Chatham? Any noteworthy horse that would have compelled the owners to have his image struck? Any race winners?

  2. John C.,

    I actually think both pant legs are tucked in. If you look really closely at the third image from the top, there is a U shaped shadow on the leg facing the camera at the same spot as the top of the boot on the leg facing 90 away from the camera. I think it’s an optical illusion that his pant leg isn’t tucked in. Both boots fold around the ankles.

    Do folks think the leg/boot in question is missing the toe or is that an illusion created by the chain?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s