N. S. Townshend and Thomas M. Easterly
The Norton Strange Townshend Family Papers are exceptionally rich in visual materials, particularly daguerreotypes. This is a result of Townshend’s familial connection with the daguerreotypist Thomas Easterly, who was his brother-in-law. The relationship was through Townshend’s wife, Margaret Bailey Townshend, whose sister, Miriam, married Easterly on June 21, 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thomas Martin Easterly was born in Guilford, Vermont, to Tunis and Philomela Easterly on October 31, 1809. He was the second of five children. Not much is known about Easterly’s youth, except that he taught calligraphy in New England before moving west to Missouri, where he lived by 1847. In St. Louis, he opened a daguerreotype studio on the corner of Fourth and Olive Streets, near where the St. Louis Arch stands today. It is unknown how Easterly learned the craft of producing daguerreotypes, but his mastery of the form is apparent even in his earliest known works.
In 1864-65, when Norton Townshend was based in St. Louis as a Medical Inspector, he often called on the Easterlys and referenced them in his diary and letters home to his wife. Townshend’s updates reveal the Easterlys’ personalities (Miriam was “enquiring,” with a love of books, and Townshend called Thomas “intelligent” and “an excellent workman”)1. Townshend also reported news of the Easterlys’ financial struggle, a result of the declining popularity of daguerreotypes and Easterly’s unwillingness to give up what he considered a “perfect and durable”2 process. On December 11, 1864, Townshend noted that:
“Mr. Easterly has not yet obtained any permanent employment neither have I been able to obtain any thing remunerative for him to do. He has just passed a circular offering to clean Daguerrotypes (sic), copy or change them into other styles. I hope he will be successful…”3
Soon after writing this, Townshend attempted to find Easterly a position with the Quartermaster’s Department, but was unsuccessful. He was, however, able to help out with monetary loans, gifts of groceries, and perhaps just as importantly, books:
“I called on Mrs. Easterly both evening[s] & made her the offer of my Library ticket while I go to Kansas. I find she has a great taste for reading… Mr. Easterly is very intelligent but sees more & reads less.”4
Financial help became even more of a necessity after a fire broke out in Easterly’s studio in January 1865. Townshend reported that it “burned up a great many of Mr. Easterly’s pictures & machines &c. He was insured $500, but that will not cover his loss. The picture of Maggie Bailey is lost & I have no copy. Mr. & Mrs. E. feel very sad about it & Mr. E. seems almost discouraged”5 Surely such a setback must have been devastating to the already-struggling couple
Easterly continued to produce his exceptional daguerreotypes through the 1870s, reportedly never working in any other format. However, the small income that the daguerreotypes brought in had to be supplemented: Thomas began selling farm equipment through newspaper ads and Miriam sold items she had sewn. In 1865, Townshend had helped her to evaluate a number of sewing machines:
“I spent the afternoon with Mrs. Easterly in a tour among sewing machines. We came to the conclusion that the Wilcox & Gibbs machines is the pleasantest & best machine… Our examinations grew out of an attempt of some one here to interest her and Mr. Easterly in some new cheap machine from the state of Maine[.] We concluded after a careful inspection that the new machine was of ‘no account.'”
In the late 1870s, Easterly suffered a “long and painful illness,” possibly mercury poisoning, from which he died in 1882. Shortly after this, Miriam came to live with the Townshends in Columbus, Ohio. It is thought that the daguerreotypes in her collection passed down to Margaret Townshend’s daugher, Harriet, and onward down the family line. Others of the Easterly daguerreotypes that accompany the Townshend items are believed to have belonged to Margaret and Miriam Bailey’s sister, Linda Cahill. They capture all four of the Bailey sisters and in some cases their families, but focus particularly on Miriam Easterly, showing her in what may be her wedding dress, with flowers, and, in another image, accompanied by her sturdy sewing basket, which was so critical to the Easterlys’ livelihood.
1 N.S. Townshend letter, December 15, 1864.
2 Easterly Daguerreotype advertisement.
3 N.S. Townshend letter, December 11, 1864.
4 N.S. Townshend letter, December 15, 1864.
5 N.S. Townshend letter, January 20, 1865.