Anonymous American Photographer
- Anonymous American Photographer
- CAROLINE PARKER
This daguerreotype shows Caroline Parker, an influential member of the Tonawanda band of the Seneca Nation, a preserver of traditional Seneca traditions and crafts, and a teacher, translator, and representative of her people. It is believed that the present image is of one of only two extant daguerreotype portraits of Parker.
Caroline Parker was born as Ga Hah No on the Towanda Reservation in western New York State around 1826, to a Wolf Clan family of considerable status within the Seneca community. The Parkers were descendents of the great Seneca figure, Red Jacket, and both father, William, and mother, Elizabeth, held positions of great authority among their people. The Parkers were one of the first literate families on the reservation, and they pursued every opportunity for their children to receive a formal education. Caroline's brother, Ely S. Parker, would go on to a distinguished military career, serving directly under Grant in the Civil War, and drafting the surrender that formally ended the conflict. Both Ely and Caroline had a longstanding and fruitful relationship with Lewis Henry Morgan, known as the father of American anthropology, and it is likely through Morgan's auspices that the daguerreotype offered here exists.
What had begun, for Morgan, as a general interest in the peoples of the Iroquois Nations ultimately became a consuming and increasingly rigorous inquiry into their way of life. By the mid-19th century, the culture of the Iroquois peoples had endured decades of erosion, and this lent urgency to Morgan's researches. A chance encounter with eighteen-year-old Ely Parker in an Albany bookstore led to a relationship with the Parker family that would be beneficial for all parties. Ely and Caroline provided Morgan with access to the Seneca community, acting as translators and providing him with detailed information about their traditions, family structures, and crafts. Morgan, a successful attorney and businessman, provided the Parker family with material help and furthered the education of the Parker children. Morgan's researches were initially published in The League of the Ho-de-sau-nee or Iroquois in 1851, which was filled with information gleaned largely through Ely and Caroline Parker.
In 1849, Morgan was granted a stipend to collect Iroquois artifacts and crafts for what would become the New York State Museum. Among the items that he collected are the very clothes Caroline Parker wears in the present daguerreotype, all of which were made by Parker herself, who was renowned for her skill in sewing and beadwork. The designs on her blue woolen broadcloth skirt are replete with Iroquois symbols, and incorporate 'tree of light,' 'heaven and earth,' and 'council fire' motifs. These clothes became part of the Lewis Henry Morgan Collection at the New York State Museum, Albany. The skirt and the red cotton overdress are still present in the Museum's collection (as cat. nos. 36664 and 36615, respectively) where they remain a source of continued inspiration to those wishing to replicate traditional Seneca costume.
This daguerreotype was almost certainly made at Morgan's behest, to document not just the garments, but the woman who made them. Another daguerreotype made at the same session, showing Parker standing in the same outfit, was offered at Cottone Auctions in 1998. Another currently unlocated daguerreotype is known only through a glass-plate copy negative in the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian. Morgan published a hand-drawn illustration of Caroline Parker in his The League of the Ho-de-sau-nee or Iroquois, in which she wears nearly identical clothing as in the daguerreotypes. This illustration may be based upon a now-lost fourth daguerreotype from the sitting, or may simply be an artist's conception of Parker using the daguerreotypes as source material.
Caroline Parker maintained her status within her Seneca community, even as her brother sought and found success in the affairs of the nation at large. She was accorded the name Jiconsaseh, an honorific of great significance in Seneca culture, and was highly valued as a teacher. In 1864 she married Chief John Mountpleasant, a prosperous Tuscarora farmer. She died in 1892.
Sotheby's thanks Deborah Holler of Empire State College, George R. Hamell of the Rock Foundation Collection, and Penelope Drooker and Andrea Lain of the New York State Museum, for their assistance in researching this daguerreotype.