Archive Fever: Black History

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday February 16, 2017

When looking for photos of Mastadon in the American Museum of Natural History online archive, I stumbled upon a collection of photographs of African Americans in the South. The photographer, Julian A. Dimock, was a New York financier who left his job at age 31 and with his 62-year-old father, Anthony Weston Dimock, traveled to Florida and the Carolinas in order to photograph and study rural life. Starting in 1904, they traveled around South Florida by boat, canoe, and ox cart. Julian took photographs and both he and his father wrote several books and nearly 80 magazine and newspaper articles about the people and the unique, then unspoiled, natural setting. Some of the most interesting pictures were of plantation life in South Carolina. Not a professional photographer, nevertheless Dimock had a good eye and a keen sense of place. More 


Left: Drayton Hall entrance with plantation staff, November 1905. Right: Oak tree with sheep grazing, Drayton Hall, South Carolina, 1905.

His photographs of Drayton Hall, north of Charleston, it’s working staff, and the grounds offer a glimpse of what plantation life must have been like from its inception, in the early 1750s. My next step was a visit to the website for Drayton Hall, which remained in the family until 1974 and is now a historical site open to the public and managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition to preserving the plantation, its outbuildings and landscape, the Trust has also preserved its view shed through the purchase of adjacent land that had been zoned for high density commercial use. The history of the plantation, its founder, his enslaved workers and his offspring, is there to read. Info

Left: African American woman standing in cabin doorway, South Carolina, 1905.  Right: Two boys with wagons and mules, South Carolina, 1904.

Dimock remained in the South until 1910; during those six years he also photographed the Seminole Indians of Florida on an AMNH expeditions, and farm and fishing work in black communities. Dimock wrote many articles about his findings for the museum, and in Natural History Magazine. His father died in 1918; two years later Dimock donated his entire collection of glass plate negatives to AMNH. More

The American Museum of Natural History online archive is available for research at no cost, with arrangements for permission to publish images. Info


Left: House servant, South Carolina, 1905.  Right: Portrait of African American woman, South Carolina, 1905. 


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