Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Sanitary Commission Fair and Caroline Parker

Please read the ADDENDUM at the end of the posting.

Over the past few years, an intriguing group of images from the Sanitary Commission Fair in Albany, New York have surfaced that depict a group of non-Natives who are dressed in outfits incorporating Iroquois designs along with examples of their beadwork. One dress in particular, worn by a Mrs. Clinton Ten Eyck (figure 1a), appears to be the identical dress worn by Caroline Parker, a Seneca beadworker, in a famous daguerreotype of her (figure 2).

Figure 1 – Large, albumen photograph of a group of enactors at the Sanitary Commission Fair, Albany, New York – February, 1864. No photographer indicated. 

Figure 2 – Daguerreotype of Caroline Parker, circa 1850. I reversed the image so that it can be viewed laterally correct. Daguerreotypes images are normally a reversed image, depicting the subject as if it were in a mirror. The only way the photographer could get a correct orientation was to copy the image with a second daguerreotype, or to make the original daguerreotype using a reversing prism or mirror system. Besides the complexity, another problem with a reversing mirror was if the image was taken outdoors it could be subject to movement by a breeze which would cause a blurred image. So typically people just lived with a flipped or inverted image. By reversing the orientation of this image Caroline is seen as she would have appeared to us in person and it’s easier to see how the design on her dress is identical to those on the dress in figure 1a.

Wikipedia reports that the United States Sanitary Commission was created during the Civil War to improve conditions for Union soldiers. It was a private relief agency, created by federal legislation, to support sick and wounded soldiers. It operated across the North, enlisted thousands of volunteers, and raised its own funds. Union ladies did fund-raising fairs in cities across the north, where paintings, photographs, and a host of other donated items were auctioned or sold to support the war effort.
Besides raising money and collecting donations, volunteers worked as nurses, ran kitchens in army camps, administered hospital shipssoldiers' homes, lodges, established places of rest for traveling or disabled soldiers, made uniforms, and organized Sanitary Fairs to support the Federal army with funds and supplies. It was hard work; many women had to travel great distances and at times found themselves in unpleasant situations. Some of the more prominent women involved in these fairs included Louisa May AlcottAlmira FalesEliza Emily Chappell PorterKatherine Prescott Wormeley and others.
The first Sanitary Fair occurred in Chicago, in the fall of 1863, and it included a six-mile-long parade of militiamen, bands, political leaders, delegations from various local organizations, and a contingent of farmers who donated carts full of their crops. The fairs generally involved large scale exhibitions, including displays of art, mechanical technology, and period rooms. Many of these displays were based on the history that local communities held in common. Different localities often competed with one another over their contribution to the national cause which brought a sense of pride to the community. 
Except for figure 2, the photographs in this posting originated from a Sanitary Fair that was held in Albany, New York in 1864. It was reported, in the Evening Journal of February 29, 1864, that over the duration of the Fair, the individual concession booths had raised an estimated $50,000 for the cause. There were thirty plus booths at the Albany event including the Yankee Booth, Shaker Booth, Oriental Booth, Spanish Booth, Russian Booth, Gipsy Booth, Saratoga Springs Booth, the Ice Cream Booth, and of particular interest to us, the Indian Wigwam. The image in figure 1 is of a group of enactors who were overseeing that booth. The Fulton County (NY) newspaper cited above had the following entry about it:

The Wigwam is one of the chief lions of the Bazaar. It has, probably, attracted larger crowds than any other "Shop" in the building. Its budget of curious things is peculiarly rich. A mere enumeration of the articles makes one's head swim. Moccasins, of rich texture and exquisite workmanship; Bows and Arrows; Pipes; Stuffed Birds and Animals; belts of Wampum; Scarves and head ornaments; Baskets, Reticules, Purses, Portmonnies, stacks of other curious wares too numerous to mention

In a reference to the outfits that the enactors were wearing and the individual personalities they were representing, it went on to state:
The personations are admirable. Costumes, ornaments, paint, war-whoop, are wonderfully Indianiah. So perfect is the ambulation and so life-like the acting, that one fancies, for the moment that a band of Aboriginals have actually encamped in the Bazaar. The characters of the chieftainnees, “Nokomas,” “Minnehaha,” “Wawatasa,” “Opechee,” “Pocahontas,” and “Metamora” are strikingly “done.” The names of the dramatis persona are as follows:—Mrs. J. L Johnson, Manneoka; Mrs. Clinton Ten Eyck, Miss Mount Pleasant [Caroline Parker took the surname Mountpleasant after her marriage to Tuscarora chief John Mountpleasant]; Mrs. Karalake, Hiawatha; Mr. C Thomas, Metamora; Miss Groot, Pocahontas; Miss Little, Wawatasa; Miss Swan, Owassa; Miss Netterville, Minnehaha; Miss Redfield, Winona; Miss Wilson, Opechee; Miss Steele, Nokoma; Miss Taylor, Tawashagunshee.

The importance of the Fair in Albany was demonstrated by a publication called TheCanteen that was published specifically to advertise the Fair and cover events that transpired there. It contained a diagram of the floor plan of the building along with lists of advertisers, items donated, food menus available to patrons, a description of each of the booths, anecdotes from soldiers who were fighting in the war, etc. Regarding the Indian Wigwam, it had this to say:
Is one of the best regulated and most attractive places in the Bazaar. It is a life picture of Indian life. The ladies who preside there have made a decided hit. The hut itself is a curiosity as a work of art; the decorations are such as become a forest home. The managers evince a keen appreciation of the character, habits of life, sources of amusement, listless inactivity, pride and fondness for dress and display of the tribes they personate. They present the Indian character to the life. The hut is hung with trophies of war and of the chase. The canoe is drawn up waiting the opening of the streams; the snow-shoes are near the door and ready for any emergency. Bows and arrows, baskets, bead work, in all the varied forms, are here and well displayed. The wanderers from the St. Regis tribe who visit us and encamp on the island over the river annually [Starbuck Island?], never display a greater variety of their handiwork than do the fair denizens of the Wigwam, who have made their home with us for a few days. We give below the names of those who occupy the Wigwam, together with their Indian names: Mrs. J. I. Johnson, Manneoka; Mrs. Clinton Ten Eyck, Miss Mount Pleasant: Mr. S. Karslake, Hiawatha; Mr. C. Thomas, Metamora; Miss Groot, Pocahontas j Miss Little, Wawatasa; Miss Swan, Owassa; Miss Netterville, Minnehaha ; Miss Redfield, Winona; Miss Wilson, Opechee ; Miss Steele, Nokoma; Miss Taylor, Tawashagunshee.

Figure 3 – An illustration of a very similar dress that was made by Caroline Parker’s and illustrated in one of Lewis Henry Morgan’s regent’s reports to the state of New York in the mid-19th century. 

It’s interesting to note that the text above was reporting that Akwesasne [St. Regis] Mohawk were selling in Albany, around this time, and possibly on Starbuck Island.
Upon examination, the dress that Ten Eyck is wearing in figure 1a appears to be the same one that Caroline Parker is wearing in figure 2. Around 1850, Lewis Henry Morgan acquired a substantial number of beaded pieces from Caroline for the New York State Cabinet of Natural History (predecessor to the New York State Museum in Albany). So it’s possible they lent the dress to Ten Eyck for the fund raiser (figure 3). 
Figure 4 – Carte-de-visite (CDV) of a group of enactors at the Sanitary Commission Fair, Albany, New York, February, 1864. Photographer: J.H. Abbott, Albany, New York. 

Another photograph of this same group of enactors (figure 4) was likely taken at the same time figure 1 was taken as the images are nearly identical. A detail view of one of the bags in these images is illustrated in figure 5. Two similarly styled Iroquois bags are illustrated in figure 6. These bags, as well as the one in the image, are earlier than the date of the photograph (1864). Stylistically, the bags date to the 1830s. So the enactors are wearing a variety of items from different time periods such as bags from the 1830s, Caroline Parker’s dress from around 1850, and the hat of the subject in figure 1d from the 1860s.

Figure 5 – Detail view of the beaded bag in figure 1b. This same bag can also be seen in figure 4.

Figure 6 – Two beaded bags in the same style as the one in figure 5. Both of these bags date to the 1830s.

In another image from the same year, and taken by the same photographer, J. H. Abbott, of Albany, New York, has a different group of enactors from this same Fair. Two of the women (fig. 7a & 7c) have beaded bags. The young boy (fig. 7b) is wearing a multi-panel hat that has floral decorations in the Niagara style. Figure 8 is a detail view of the bag in figure 7a. A similarly styled bag is illustrated in figure 9. This style of bag is contemporary to the image. The bag in figure 7c is in the Niagara floral style.

Figure 7 – CDV of a different group of enactors at the Sanitary Commission Fair, Albany, New York, February, 1864. Photographer: J.H. Abbott, Albany, New York. 

Figure 8 – Detail of the beaded bag in figure 7a.

Figure 9 – A similar beaded bag to the one in figure 8. This bag is totally embellished in crystal beads and two strings of white beads and the one in figure 8 may have been as well. Bags in this style that were decorated with crystal beads and occasionally in a combination of both crystal band white beads were popular from the 1850s through the 1880s.

Another interesting image from this group is figure 10. These same three individuals are also part of the group in figure 7. This image affords us a better view of the boy’s Niagara style hat and beaded bag. Some of the elements in the woman’s outfit, such as the large flower on her headband and the one on her dress, above her bust line, appear to be beaded and this may be a Mohawk diagnostic (See: A Cherished Curiosity for more info on this).Yet the designs on her dress, although unusual, look Seneca. High magnification reveals that most of the decorations on her outfit are done in fabric appliqué and are not beaded. The wide band on her dress, with the diamond motifs, is bordered with a twisted cord. Even the large diamond with double-curves and semi-floral motif to the right of it appears to be made up from some kind of braided band. This could have been done for efficiency as her outfit may have been made specifically for the Sanitary Fair.

Figure 10 – A cabinet card of what might be a mother and her children. The same boy is depicted in both figures 11 and 12 although he is wearing a different bag in those images. This same group is also depicted in figure 7. No photographer or location indicated but likely taken in February, 1864 at the time of the Sanitary Commission Fair in Albany, New York.

Figure 11 is of the same young boy in figure 10; figure 12 depicts the same man pictured on the far left in figure 7. In figure 12, we have a much better view of his bandolier bag.

Figure 11 – CDV of the young boy depicted in figures 7, 10 and 12. He has a late Niagara floral style beaded bag attached to his belt and a multi-panel Iroquois beaded hat, also in the Niagara floral style. Photographer: S. J. Thompson, Albany, New York.

Figure 12 – CDV of the same young boy depicted in figure 11 and what is presumably his father. The father is wearing a large bandolier bag at his side (a better view of his bag can be seen in figure 7). Both the father and son are wearing Haudenosaunee moccasins decorated in the Niagara floral style.

It’s especially of interest that Caroline Parker, the Seneca beadworker, was included in the list of historical characters that these enactors were representing. The year of the Fair is the same year that she was married to Tuscarora chief John Mountpleasant. During this period, her celebrated brother, General Eli Parker, was an officer on then General Grant’s Civil War staff.  Deborah Holler writes that

…historians and scholars of the Iroquois have speculated on her role in the political upheavals surrounding the Seneca land battles of the 19th century and wondered about her friendship with the renowned ethnographer Lewis Henry Morgan. In addition, a recent revival of interest in Iroquois beadwork by connoisseurs and art historians has shed new light on Caroline Parker’s artistry in clothing and textiles, widely acknowledged to be pivotal in the 19th century cultural exchange between the Native aesthetic and European influences. This developing aesthetic in clothing and textiles became an inspiration for generation of Iroquois artists, as well as the prototype for Seneca women’s “traditional” clothing styles. Thus Carrie Parker, it can be argued, became an arbiter of change who walked in two worlds; that of her traditional Tonawanda Seneca and Tuscarora communities, and that of the highest social and political realms of white society (Holler 2011:9).

She was certainly a well know and a recognized figure in Albany society, not a small undertaking for an Indian woman in that day and age.

References Cited

Biron, Gerry
2012   A Cherished Curiosity: The Souvenir Beaded Bag in Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art. Published by the author.

Holler, Deborah
2011   The Remarkable Caroline G. Parker Mountpleasant, Seneca Wolf Clan in Western New York Heritage magazine. Volume 14, Number 1, Spring 2011.


In looking over the photographs, after posting them online of course, I noticed a small detail that I overlooked and as small as it is, it changes everything. The floral motif on Ten Eyck’s dress (figure 4), (she is the lady standing in profile on the far right), should have five round flowers but it has only four and one stem can be seen ending abruptly, with the flower missing. That same floral arrangement on the dress in figures 1 through 3 has five flowers. So the dress that Ten Eyck is wearing might be a reproduction. The question is: was the beadwork on the dress under construction at the time the photo was taken, (likely using the original dress as their model) or, was she wearing the actual dress but by the time this image was taken, it had become damaged and somehow the flower fell off or was removed. Any thoughts?