Monday, December 31, 2018

Amy Post visits John W. Hurn

NOTE: This post has been updated in the June 5, 2019, post "The Chair in the Photographs."

First of all, now that I have read the entire book, let me recommend Nancy Hewitt's fantastic biography of Amy Post, Radical Friend. The full review will be out whenever it gets published within the year; but just know that Post is lovely and this is a biography that she deserves.

Second, Hewitt threw in an interesting detail on page 241, mentioning that Post wrote a letter to her husband from John and Sarah Hurn's photography studio. Here is the letter from the Isaac and Amy Kirby Post Family Papers Project at the University of Rochester, written by Amy Post to her husband, Isaac, on 8 Dec 1863, from Philadelphia.:

…and now I am standing at John & Sarah Hurns shoe case surrounded by constant comers and goers, and bargain makers for pictures.

John W. Hurn was an African-American photographer and the telegraph operator who helped Frederick Douglass flee Philadelphia when news of the Harpers Ferry raid broke. Hurn received the message and, instead of bringing the news straight to the authorities, he went to Thomas and Louisa Dorsey's home, where Douglass was staying, and told them, first. "You, no doubt, saved my life," Douglass later wrote to Hurn.

Hurn also took this quite famous photograph of Douglass in about 1862.:

Head and Shoulders of Frederick Douglass

Incidentally, that picture is dated to January 1862 because that was when he was in Philadelphia giving a speech and would have had the opportunity to visit Hurn's studio. You know what else he was doing in Philadelphia then? Dropping Rosetta off with the Dorseys -- the same Thomas and Louisa Dorsey -- to stay while she searched for a teaching job. (She did not enjoy her time with the Dorseys, but that is Chapter 7.)

That got me thinking about these three pictures of Amy Post, Rosetta Douglass, and Anna Douglass.:

Note the chair, its carving, the upholstery, the finials. That's the same chair, right? These three photographs were clearly taken in the same studio. That's not a stretch to say so, don't you think? No photographer has been attached to these images, and the most reasonable guess would be a photographer in Rochester. A good flip through a Rochester City Directory wouldn't hurt, but I confess to having not gone that far just yet. (This is only a blog post.) 

Still, if Douglass was at the Hurn studio in 1862, and Rosetta was with him, it is within the realm of possibility that she also had her picture made. Then, later Amy Post passed through and sat for her own portrait. As for Anna, she's a cipher, but if they were dropping off Rosetta for an indeterminate amount of time, could she perhaps have gone down with them and also been persuaded to sit? 

Of course, all of the question marks put this well within the realm of speculation, one for further research. Nevertheless, wouldn't that be cool if the Hurns also photographed the two Douglass women and Post? It's certainly fun to think so.

Also, note how Post says that the studio belongs to both John and Sarah?


  1. John W Hurn was not African American. He was a newspaper editor, a telegraph operator and a photographer. He was also brother-in-law of Asa Anthony, who worked with Frederick Douglass & Isaac Post as partnered UGRR Stationmasters in Rochester. Another brother-in-law, Lorenzo Mabbett was active in UGRR.

  2. Ah, yes, thank you. I've been straightened out on this, and that he did not take the pictures with the chair. I confess that I have no idea the reason that I assumed he was black. Still, thank you for adding all of the connections here. The networks are so fascinating!

  3. Send me an email to me at I can send a 14 page listing of about 160 noted people in my main file full of info on quick history references out of 14,000 people in my Main Family Tree genealogical software. Have a look and read and/or use as it suits you. Mostly western NY historical people, started with Lucretia Coffin Mott's genealogical book and connected.

  4. Sources of material - how about RLASS Agent - Julia A Wilbur's on line C W diaries (for easier access) and her not on line Diaries which overall cover 1844 to 1894 from Rochester, NY to Washington DC And could she be listed as being one of Frederick Douglass's circle of women? She taught Douglass's children for a period of time and she was quite appreciative of Frederick DOuglass's stature as a leader which her diaries illuminate.