Jacob Miles Churchill operated a popular Daguerrean and Ambrotype photographic gallery in the 1850s and early 1860s at the village of Delhi in Delaware County, New York.
Jacob Miles Churchill was born on May 10, 1799 at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His parents were Jacob Churchill and Lyllis Reed. The father Jacob had been born at Easton, Massachusetts on November 3, 1744 but later settled at Stockbridge. Jacob Miles was one of ten children in the family. The father Jacob passed away in October 1815. Jacob, the father, and his wife Lyllis are buried at the Stockbridge Cemetery in Massachusetts.
Jacob Miles is a direct descendent of John Churchill, who arrived at the seaside colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1643. Upon his arrival in the new world John quickly acquired a large land holding in the area and became a prominent farmer and freeman. John married on December 18, 1644 to Hannah Pontus, daughter of William Pontus, a landowner and a citizen of some prominence and influence in the colony, and a member of the Court 1636-1638 inclusive.” Thus began, from John and Hannah, this line of the Churchill family in the United States. For more information regarding the family lineage, see The Churchill Family in America by Gardner Asaph Churchill, Nathaniel Wiley Churchill and Rev. George M. Dodge.
Jacob Miles Churchill would eventually migrate from the town of Stockbridge near the western border of Massachusetts to the village of Delhi in Delaware County, New York. It is unclear as to the time of his actual arrival, but he was listed as a resident of Delhi on both the 1830 and 1840 United States censuses. On the 1830 census he was listed as living with one female “over twenty and under thirty” and one female “under five years of age.”
Jacob married Lucinda (Thompson) Churchill. Lucinda was born on May 30, 1800 in Washington County, New York. Together they had three children, Permelia, Charles and Helen.
Permelia C. (Churchill) Foote was born on February 18, 1826. She was first married on May 22, 1849 to Alfred J. Fitch (1823-1854). They had one child together, Helen B. Fitch (1850-1865). After Alfred’s passing at the age of 30 on September 23, 1854, Permelia remarried to Joseph H. Foote, M.D. on May 21, 1856. That ceremony was officiated by Reverend John Little. Joseph H. Foote was a doctor who practiced at North Walton for five years from 1851 to 1856 and thereafter moved to Franklin where he practiced for the remainder of his life. He also ran a popular hotel for 27 years from 1867 to 1894. Permelia and Joseph had two children together, Julia Foote (b. April 8, 1858; d. April 26, 1858); and Stella Foote (b. July 1, 1859). Permelia passed away at the age of 67 on July 24, 1893.
Charles Frederick Churchill was born on May 30, 1837 at Delhi. He was well respected in the community having served his country during the Civil War and having been a long-standing member of several community organizations. He married Harriett Frances Armstrong on June 14, 1876. She had been born on April 25, 1844 at Walton, New York. They had three children together, Nellie (b. July 29, 1871; d. January 3, 1873); Louise, (b. July 25, 1879); and William Wheeler (b. July 3, 1882). Charles Churchill passed away in January 1913. Upon his passing a lengthy newspaper obituary provided details into his notable life.
“Death came very suddenly Sunday evening to Mr. Charles F. Churchill. He had been in his usual good health and Sunday evening came up to this office about 6 o’clock and returned home about 7. He sat down to read his paper and almost immediately expired. It is supposed to be from heart difficulty or apoplexy. The end came so suddenly that he could not have suffered much.
Mr. Churchill was born in Delhi in May, 1836. He was a student in Delaware Academy when Bishop Tuttle, Rev. Dr. Nelson Millar and other men of that age were members of the school. After leaving the Academy he learned the printer’s trade in this office and has been employed for long periods in each of the printing offices here. He was also a ready writer and during his life has contributed frequently very readable articles to each of the papers.
Early in the civil war he enlisted in the country’s service. He became a member of the 144th regiment, and serving until the war closed, and was honorably discharged.
When England Post G. A. R. organized he became a member, and at the time of his death held the position of Junior Vice Commander.
He was always public spirited, and among other things was active in the first steps that were taken to establish the Delhi Fire Department. He continued with the organization until his age made it necessary to retire from most the activities, but until last year he had charge of the apparatus, and the general care of the department.
For several years he and his brother-in-law C. F. Armstrong conducted the grocery business in the England store on the corner of Main and Meredith streets, and after the death of Mr. Armstrong with Mr. John Ferguson, until he sold his interest to Mr. J. E. W. Thompson. He again took up the work of printing and was a compositor in the Gazette office until his eyesight failed a few years ago.
Mr. Churchill was a very companionable man, and he made a host of friends not only here but throughout the county.
The funeral was from his residence Tuesday, at 2 P. M., the Rev. Mr. Kittridge officiating. He is survived by his wife, one son and on daughter, both of Delhi.”
(Delaware Gazette. January 22, 1913.)
Helen Churchill was born on October 1, 1844. She died without reaching her first birthday, passing away on May 15, 1845. The three children of Jacob Churchill, Permelia, Charles and Helen, are buried at Woodland Cemetery in Delhi.
On the 1850 United States census Jacob Churchill was living at the village of Delhi. Living in the household was his wife Lucinda, age 49; and their son, Charles, age 13. Jacob was not yet in the photography industry, being listed with a trade occupation. The census writing is challenging to read but the profession ends with “maker.”
Jacob Churchill, now in his early 50s, sought to begin a new career. He announced his photographic services at Delhi in 1852 with the following newspaper advertisement in the Delaware Gazette. “Daguerrean Gallery. The inhabitants of Delhi and neighboring towns, are respectfully informed that the subscriber has rooms over the store of A. J. Fitch, where he is preparing to take Daguerreotype Likenesses in the latest improvements of the art. The public are invited to call and examine his pictures for themselves. JACOB CHURCHILL.” (Delaware Gazette. April 7, 1852.)
For the next several years after 1852 Churchill worked as a travelling Daguerrean, taking his photographic “car” to various towns. Given that many small, agrarian towns of the region (and across the country) could not support a permanent gallery, itinerant photographers, such as Churchill, would travel from one town to the next in search of business. The car would carry the required equipment such as the camera, tripod and some form of “dark room” where the negative could be processed. The itinerant photographer would likely remain at each location for only a few days but possibly up to a few weeks, depending on demand. Over time formal studios were established in the larger towns and population centers.
By 1854 Churchill was back at the village of Delhi, where he established a permanent gallery. The following advertisement was published in the June 21, 1854 issue of the Delaware Gazette. Churchill was working at rooms over H. England’s Store.
Attend, ye dwellers ‘neath the sun,
Behold the wonders Art hath done,
We talk by lightning, ride by steam,
And point the Sol’s eternal beam.
J. Churchill having taken the rooms formerly occupied by M. R. Wilcox, over H. England’s Store, where he intends establishing a PERMANENT DAGUERREAN GALLERY, would respectfully invite the inhabitants of the village of Delhi and vicinity, to call and examine the superior Daguerreotype Portraits taken by him. Having been a travelling Daguerrean for two years, his experience in the art, combined with great improvements recently adopted by the most celebrated Artists in this country and Europe, is confident that he can render to his patrons such pictures as are unsurpassed for richness and accuracy of likeness.
He uses none but the very best materials and has obtained and is now using the
London Patent Gilding Process,
by which a transparent coating is secured over the entire picture, preserving it all in its original beauty, unaffected by light, air or age.
He warrants entire satisfaction in every Picture; no Portrait being allowed to leave which is not artistically correct.
Likenesses taken equally well in clear or cloudy weather. Price vary according to the size of the Plate and the richness of the Case.
Paintings, Statuary and Pictures copied.”
(Delaware Gazette. June 21, 1854.)
In January, 1855 Churchill advertised his services in the Delaware Gazette, the local newspaper. “Daguerreotypes – For a fine and perfect likeness, call at Churchill’s gallery, over Griswold’s hardware store, next to Delaware Bank.” (Delaware Gazette. January 24, 1855.)
Churchill published another, longer advertisement in February, 1855. “DAGUERREAN ROOM. The subscriber has returned once more to the village of Delhi, where he is practicing the art of Daguerreotype, over the store of Griswold & Wright. He flatters himself from his long experience in the business that he can insure to the patrons Pictures which for richness of beauty and clearness, cannot be surpassed. Gentlemen and Ladies and the public in general, are invited to call. Satisfaction given in all cases, or no charge. Instruction given in the art. J. CHURCHILL.” (Delaware Gazette. February 7, 1855.)
Churchill began his career by offering daguerreotypes but later expanded, as the technology advanced, to offer ambrotypes. The development of the Ambrotype photographic process is often credited to James A. Cutting (1814-1867), an American photographer and inventor. Cutting patented his improvements on the ambrotype process in 1854, and thus attached his name to the process. Ambrotypes would reach their height of popularity in the mid-1850s to the mid-1860s. Ambrotypes were eventually replaced with Cartes de visite and other paper print photographs, both of which were easily available in multiple copies.
As per the Library of Congress “An ambrotype is comprised of an underexposed glass negative placed against a dark background. The dark backing material creates a positive image . . . The invention of wet collodion photography processes in the 1850s allowed the development of two new kinds of photographs--ambrotypes and tintypes. These new formats shared many characteristics with the earlier daguerreotypes but were quicker and cheaper to produce. Primarily used for portraiture, each photo is a unique camera-exposed image and was available in the following standard-sizes. The most common size was the sixth plate.
On the 1855 New York State census, Jacob, age 55, was living with his wife Lucinda, age 54; his daughter, Permelia, age 29; his son Charles, age 18; and his grand-daughter, Helen Fitch, age 5. Permelia’s first husband, Alfred J. Fitch, had passed away in 1854. Jacob’s occupation was listed as “Daguerrean.” The family resided in a “framed” house with a value of $700.
In 1856 Churchill advertised the availability of both daguerreotypes as well as ambrotypes at his gallery. He was now operating at rooms over Dr. Fitch’s office.
“Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes. The subscriber takes this method of informing his friends and inhabitants of this county, that he is now taking Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes in all the beauty of the art. His long experience and practice enables him to offer to the public, pictures which, for richness, beauty and accuracy, cannot be surpassed by any other artist in this county.
As to the Patented Ambrotype Pictures, he has nothing to say here, but if any Gentleman or Lady will call at his rooms, over Dr. Fitch’s Office, he will soon convince them that they are of short duration. And the gentleman who offers them to the public must be either ignorant of common Philosophy, or that he means to draw from the public funds which he has foolishly spent, (if spent at all.) That Pictures taken on glass can be made to stand is beyond contradiction, and those favoring him with their patronage shall not go away dissatisfied.
Pictures will be taken at my rooms for a short time, much cheaper than they ever have been before in this county.
Pictures which have heretofore been sold for $1, will now be sold for 50 cts; $1.25 for 75 cts; $1.50 for $1.
The public are respectfully invited to call and examine his specimens, as he will exhibit none but those of his own taking.
(Delaware Gazette. December 24, 1856.)
In 1856 Jay Gould (1836-1892) published a comprehensive map of Delaware County, including insets with the details of the county’s larger villages. This map listed, amongst the business district, three Daguerreian Artists working at Delhi. In addition to J. Churchill, there was H. England, Jr. and Wm. H. Johnson. This historic map included a prominent logo for J. Churchill. It appears as if the logo may have been an advertisement to be included as part of Churchill’s sponsorship of the map.
In addition to the artists of England and Johnson, another early Delhi photographer operating at the same time as Jacob Churchill was E. C. Riggs, “Ambrotype Artist.” Riggs worked out of rooms over the Post Office and later in rooms over Elwood’s Store. Riggs began his business in 1856, noted by several advertisements in local newspapers that can be found for his business.
Two talented photographers working in one small town led to some intense competition between E. C. Riggs and J. Churchill. They would occasionally battle in the local newspapers about each other’s motivations, quality and pricing. In one notable back-and-forth letter / advertisement published in December 1856 in the Delaware Gazette, a local newspaper, E. C. Riggs first wrote:
“IMMENSE EXCITEMENT! Ambrotypes at Reduced Prices!!
The subscriber would say to the public that, notwithstanding the TREMENDOUS EXERTIONS of our “up town” Philosopher to the contrary, he is alive and attending to business as usual. And his “ignorance of common philosophy” does not prevent him from selling the most beautiful pictures taken in this county, and at lower prices than they have ever been sold before.
As to my Ambrotypes fading, it is false; and I defy the gentleman (?) who takes so much pains to injure me and make himself appear ridiculous, to produce one that has faded in the least. And I would like to have him give satisfaction to his customers, whose pictures I have taken over and finished off after passing through his philosophic hands. I will warrant my work and am willing it shall stand upon its own merits. I respectfully invite the public to examine both sides – they shall be the judges.
Call in ladies and gentleman, and see who takes the cheapest and best pictures. A poor picture is dear at any price.
My Rooms are over Elwood’s Store.
Office hours are 9 A.M. to 3 ½ P. M.
E. C. Riggs.”
(Delaware Gazette. December 17, 1856.)
In response Churchill wrote:
“Pictures on Glass. The subscriber invites the attention of the public to his advertisement in another column, and his assertations therein contained, are in every respect true and correct. But it is not his intention to publish here, but to correct some misrepresentations which I see in an advertisement signed E. C. Riggs, in which he states as follows “As to my Ambrotypes fading, it is false, and I defy the gentleman to produce one that has faded in the least.” If I am the man to whom he alludes as the “up town philosopher,” and the man who took so much pains to injure him, then I say the gentleman has stated a wicked falsehood, and he could not be ignorant of it. I never said a word about his Ambroytpes fading, for there is not one to be found, probably, that is more than three or four months old. And how does he know whether he asserts the truth or not?
I did say they were of short duration, and this I am able to maintain.
He further says “I warrant my work and am willing it shall stand upon its own merits.” With what degree of propriety does he warrant his work, and what assurance can he give the public of its duration? Will the few months he has been in business be a sufficient time to test their durability? Let the public judge. Yet he is willing to warrant his work, but is careful not to say how long; he is then willing it shall stand upon its own merits. So am I, but it will not upon its own merits or any other.
If the Patented Ambrotype was of such durability, why did Brady and others of New York give them up? Because they were worthless, and his information is from one of the best men in this town, taken from his own lips.
I now come to is last italicized sentence. “A poor picture is dear at any price.” This is my sentiments exactly; and those who have been so unfortunate as to get one of your Patented Ambrotypes, will probably find out in a short time the truth of this assertion to their sorrow.
Gentlemen and ladies, call at my office and get you a fifty cent picture, and I will make it as durable as the rock of Gibraltar.
Yes, when your flesh in dust shall lie,
When death’s grey film o’er spread your beaming eye,
My life-like mocking at decay,
Will still be fresh and vivid as to-day.
A Splendid Stock just received.
J. CHURCHILL.” (Delaware Gazette. December 24, 1856.)
Churchill advertised his low rates in an 1858 newspaper advertisement. “Ambrotypes for Twenty-Five Cents, Put up in splendid cases and equal to any ever sold in Delaware County. At Churchill’s Gallery.” (Delaware Gazette. September 8, 1858.”
In an 1859 newspaper advertisement Churchill promoted his low prices for Ambrotypes. “Look Here. If you will call at Churchill’s Gallery, One door north of the Post Office, you can get a 1-16 size AMBROTYPE PICTURE for 10 cents! And larger sizes, up to ½, in proportion.” (Delaware Gazette. June 15, 1859.)
“Ever since Daguerre first invented the art of preserving likenesses, it has been undergoing almost endless improvements, until, at last, it seems as if the inventive genius of man had reached the very acme of perfection in this wonderful art. There is probably nothing which calls to mind early associations so vividly as to look upon the likeness of an absent parent, brother, sister, or friend – nothing more necessary to leave behind us when we shall leave this world for another. Reader, delay not till Death shall have changed your living body into a mass of mouldering clay, but go to Churchill’s gallery, over Yeomann’s Office, and preserve the likeness of your face in all its loveliness and beauty for those who shall come after you.” (Delaware Gazette. September 28, 1859.)
In an 1860 advertisement Churchill promoted his exhibition of “most beautiful and life-like Pictures.” “GRAND EXHIBITION. THE DUSSELDORF GALLERY OF PAINTINGS in New York has for several years been the resort of all admirers of art, but public attention is now being drawn in another direction. CHURCHILL’S GALLERY, over Yeomans’ Office, abounds with the most beautiful and life-like Pictures, and is daily visited by numbers, who take the opportunity to procure one of his incomparable AMBROTYPES. By means of his SKY-LIGHT he is enabled to produce a better Picture than can be furnished elsewhere. CALL AND SEE.” (Delaware Gazette. April 18, 1860.)
During the years 1860-1862 the following advertisement was routinely published in the local newspapers:
“PHOTOGRAPHS! The subscriber has recently returned from New York with a magnificent SOLAR CAMERA, which, in connexion with his superior side and skylights, renders his Gallery one of the most perfect institutions of the kind in the country.
Photographs, Ambrotypes, Melanotypes, and every desirable style of picture known to the art may be obtained at this Gallery, executed in the most durable and artistic manner.
The subscriber, after an experience of nearly twelve years in the business, feels confident of giving perfect satisfaction to every patron, and at prices which defy competition.
OLD PICTURES faithfully copied and enlarged to life-size if desired.
Call and examine specimens at my rooms over Yeomans’ Office.”
For 1860 United States census Jacob, age 62, was living his wife, Lucinda, age 60; his son, Charles, age 23, who had an occupation of “Job Printer;” and Amos Walters, age 17, from Pennsylvania. Jacob’s occupation was “Artist.” The family’s real estate was valued at $600 and their personal estate was valued at $200.
In 1862 Churchill moved his Ambrotype Gallery to “a new edifice he has erected between Belcher’s grocery and McCourtie’s shoe-shop.” (Delaware Republican. May 24, 1862.)
For the 1865 New York State census Jacob, age 66, was living with wife, Lucinda, age 64; and his son, Charles, age 26. The family resided in a “framed” house valued at $1,000. Jacob’s occupation remained as “Artist.”
By circa 1866 Jacob Churchill had left the photography industry and began work as a shoe maker. That year, in February, 1866, a devastating fire broke out at the village of Delhi. Several buildings were destroyed. The fire broke out at the grocery store of Alva Becher, located on the corner of Main Street and the court house square. The fire moved down the street and approached the shoe shop of Jacob Churchill, who was operating out of his old Daguerreian car. The old photographic car was located between the grocery and the Delaware Republican printing office. Given its temporary nature, the car was pulled down in order to save other buildings. In addition to Becher’s store, the buildings occupied by Mrs. Julia Patterson and James Cormack, Jr. were also destroyed. The offices of the Delaware Republican and the Methodist Church were narrowly saved. Jacob Churchill estimated his losses at $100.
For the 1870 United States census, Jacob, age 72, was living with his wife Lucinda, age 70; his son, Charles, who had an occupation of “Printer;” Charles’ wife, Hattie Churchill, age 23, with an occupation of “Keeping House;” and Hector St. Clair, age 24, with an occupation of “Stone Cutter.” Jacob’s official occupation was now listed as “Shoe Maker.” The family’s real estate was valued at $2,000, with his personal estate worth $300.
For the 1875 New York State census, Jacob, age 77, was living with his wife Lucinda, age 75; his son, Charles, age 37, with an occupation of “Printer;” and Charles’ wife, Harriett, age 29. Jacob’s occupation was “Shoe Maker.” The family resided in a “framed” house valued at $900.
Jacob Churchill passed away at the age of 76 in Delhi on January 14, 1876. Upon his passing it was written that “Mr. Churchill has been for many years a resident of this village, was well known and esteemed by all our citizens as possessed of a kind, cheerful and friendly disposition, as an intelligent, upright and worthy citizen, and as a devout and as devout and consistent christian.” (Delaware Gazette. January 19, 1876.)
Lucinda Churchill, Jacob’s wife, passed away in Delhi on October 15, 1880. Upon her passing it was written that “She needs no eulogy. In this community where she has been so long and well known, she was universally esteemed and loved. By here genial nature, her kind heart, and her broad Christian charity, she gathered around her a large circle of friends, who mourn her loss, and who it is hoped will imitate her virtues. Having lived a pure, devoted Christian life, she died a calm, peaceful, triumphant death.” (Delaware Republican. October 23, 1880.)
Both Jacob and Lucinda are both buried at Woodland Cemetery in Delhi.
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