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Thomas Martin Easterly daguerreotypes

Identifier: Ayer-Photographs-3648-3662

Scope and Content of the Collection

Fifteen daguerreotypes depicting images of Sauk, Fox, and Iowa Native Americans, as well as two non-native men. A few daguerreotypes have accompanying text etched onto the surface or on the back of the daguerreotype describing the subject in the photograph. Possibly added by Thomas Easterly, these are listed in quotations next to the title for each daguerreotype when known.

These include images of prominent Sauk and Iowa leaders such as Chief Keokuk (Watchful Fox), Opponoos (Children’s chief), and Nacheninga (No Heart). There are also images of merchant James Kirker and frontiersman J.M. White.

Keokuk (circa 1780–June 1848) was a chief of the Sauk or Sac tribe in central North America, and for decades was one of the most recognized Native American leaders and noted for his accommodation with the U.S. government. Keokuk moved his tribe several times and always acted as an ardent friend to non-natives. His policies were contrary to fellow Sauk chief Black Hawk, who led part of their band to defeat in the Black Hawk War, was later returned by U.S. forces to Keokuk's custody, and who died a decade before Keokuk.


  • Creation: approximately 1845-1849



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Thomas Martin Easterly Daguerreotypes are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Thomas Martin Easterly Daguerreotypes are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Thomas Martin Easterly

Thomas Martin Easterly (October 3, 1809 – March 12, 1882) was a 19th-century American daguerreotypist and photographer. One of the more prominent and well-known daguerreotypists in the Midwest United States during the 1850s.

Born in Guilford, Vermont, he was the second of five children born to Tunis Easterly and Philomena Richardson. He reportedly came from a poor background, his father being a farmer and part-time shoemaker, and was living away from home at age 11. Around 1830, he was living in St. Lawrence County, New York although little is known of his early years. He began practicing photography in 1844 taking outdoor photographs of architectural landmarks and scenic sites in Vermont. He was also the first and only daguerreotypist to identify his work using engraved signatures and descriptive captions.

In the fall of 1845, Easterly traveled to the Midwest United States and toured the Mississippi River with Frederick F. Webb as representatives of the Daguerreotype Art Union. The two gained some notoriety from their photography of the criminals convicted of the murder of George Davenport in October of that year. The following spring, Easterly and Webb went their separate ways with Easterly traveling on his own to St. Louis. He soon became popular for his portraits of prominent residents and visiting celebrities which were displayed in a temporary gallery on Glasgow Row. One of these portraits was that of Chief Keokuk taken March 1847. He also took a daguerreotype of a lightning bolt, one of the first recorded "instantaneous" photographic images, while in St. Louis. The only known photograph of the first St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans, built to be the world’s finest, was taken by Easterly ca. 1847.

Easterly was brought back to Missouri by John Ostrander, founder of the first daguerreotype gallery in St. Louis, in early 1848. Preparing for an extended "tour of the south", Ostringer asked Easterly to manage his portrait gallery. Easterly would continue running the gallery when Ostringer died a short time later. In June 1850, he married schoolteacher Anna Miriam Bailey and settled in St. Louis permanently.

During the 1860s, improvements in photographic development caused daguerreotypes to become out of fashion. Easterly refused to acknowledge these changes believing the highly detailed daguerreotypes were far superior in terms of beauty or permanence urging the public to "save your old daguerreotypes for you will never see their like again". During the next decade, both his health and financial situation worsened. Despite the declining interest for pictures on silver, he was able to maintain his gallery until it burned in a fire in 1865. He was forced to move to a smaller location and continued working in near obscurity until his death in St. Louis on March 12, 1882. He had suffered from a long illness and partial paralysis in his final years and is thought to have been caused by prolonged exposure to mercury, one of the key ingredients used in the daguerreotype process. After his death, his wife sold most of his personal collection to John Scholton, another noted St. Louis photographer. The Scholton family eventually donated the plates to the Missouri Historical Society where they remained for nearly a century before being rediscovered during the 1980s by art scholars studying pre-American Civil War photography.


2 Linear Feet (15 small boxes)


Fifteen daguerreotypes depicting images of Sauk, Fox, and Iowa Native Americans, as well as two non-native men.


Materials arranged chronologically.

Collection Stack Location

Vault 50 7

Ownership and Custodial History

Forms part of the Edward E. Ayer Photograph Collection (Newberry Library)


Gift of Edward E. Ayer, 1911

Processed by

Analú López, 2019.

Inventory of the Thomas Martin Easterly daguerreotypes, approximately 1845-1849
Analú López
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States