Dr. Samuel G. Boyden – Gold Hill, North Carolina

As many of you know I am fascinated by early photography, and collect images primarily from the 1850s-60s period, comprising daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Most of these are from North Carolina, where I have deep family roots. Although my focus for the last few years has been telling the history of soldiers, I am always interested in a good story, and that is where this one begins.

By way of background, finding an identified image from this period is always a challenge. You are lucky if someone wrote an inscription or left a note identifying the subject. Likewise, most images you see from the period are of individuals, usually taken in a photographer’s gallery or in a make-shift “studio” by an itinerant. Rarely do you see an outdoor image. So when I came across the image posted here, the rare outdoor scene, I was intrigued. But when I learned it was identified to North Carolina, I was in awe.

The image itself is a ¼ plate ambrotype taken on clear glass, and inside was the following writing on a piece of paper as follows:

“Picture of Dr. Saml Boyden at his home in Gold Hill.”

With these details, the research hunt began!

Samuel G. Boyden was not a native “Tar Heel,” but was actually born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, about 1815. He moved to North Carolina at the age of eighteen, likely following in the footsteps of another local kinsmen, Nathaniel Boyden (lawyer, member of Congress, and NC Supreme Court justice). After reaching the age of majority, Samuel began studying medicine, and is said to have graduated with honors. He ultimately settled in Salisbury as a Doctor. I find the first mention of him in 1841 under the practice of “Henderson & Boyden.” In 1847, he moved to the nearby Town of Gold Hill, where he formed “Drs. Rice & Boyden.”

I cannot lose the opportunity here to talk about Gold Hill. Organized as a Town in 1843, Gold Hill was a bustling gold mining town, years before the rush began in California. In fact, Gold Hill was the most significant mining area in the state of North Carolina, and one of the most prosperous in the South.

Dr. Boyden capitalized on this opportunity in Gold Hill, not only moving his medical practice there, but also investing in one of the local mines. Unfortunately, gold or should I say greed can bring out the worst in people, and Dr. Boyden found himself in the middle of a nasty dispute in 1851. After having been invited to join a friend at his local gold mining office, another principle in the business – Joseph A. Worth – ordered him out of the same building. Apparently Dr. Boyden and Worth had a running dispute, and this only brought it to a head. As their discussion turned heated, Worth called Dr. Boyden a liar, to which Dr. Boyden responded that he was a “damned liar” and drew his Colt revolver. Escalating the situation, Worth sprung toward Dr. Boyden, and fisticuffs ensued. Dr. Boyden fired off three shots, one grazing Worth’s finger. Once the dust settled, Dr. Boyden was criminally charged with assault and assault with intent to murder. Following a jury trial, Dr. Boyden was convicted on both counts, and given a fine and imprisonment. At the time, however, such a charge was only a misdemeanor, and it appears Dr. Boyden spent little time incarcerated. His case was ultimately appealed – and conviction upheld – by the North Carolina Supreme Court (if you want to read more about this, check out State v. Boyden, August Term 1852.)

The conviction apparently had little affect on his life or activities though, as Dr. Boyden continued to practice medicine and was very active in Whig politics throughout the 1850s. He also was married to Letitia Bruner, his bride fourteen years his junior.

But the bright times soon came to an end. On November 25, 1862, the local newspaper The Carolina Watchman, reported that Dr. Boyden had passed away from “hypertrophy” at his residence at Gold Hill in the 46th year of his age. The newspaper detailed:

“Having a practical knowledge of his own disease and its fatality – he was influenced, several months prior to his death, to view the vanity of earthly things and the necessity of making preparation for the realities of the future, leaving his friends to hope that he now reposes in the bosom of heavenly rest.”

In conclusion, shown here are several versions of the image, one of which I have edited to bring out some details. Taking outdoor images at this time was very difficult, and this image was underexposed which is why it is so dark. There are some interesting things to point out, however. For one, Dr. Boyden is shown on a gig or sulky – a carriage designed to be pulled by one horse, and usually made for one rider. Also, if you look at the details of the house, you will see that it has gutters/downspouts visible. There may be some other things you will see, I pick up some new detail each time I look at it. Enjoy!

Remembering Sharpsburg

It has been a while since I have made a history-related post, and I was reminded that today is the anniversary of the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland. 159 years ago.

While many look at the battle of Gettysburg as the deadliest of the Civil War – and it was – it also lasted over a course of several days. Sharpsburg, on the other hand, was a one day battle and due to that, is recognized as the single deadliest day in American military history.

I have always been intrigued by this battle. And not just because I have walked the fields of conflict. My own family participated in the battle, and witnessed the carnage that day. In a 1905 letter to his daughter, one of my kinsmen – Sergeant Major Newsom Edward Jenkins of the 14th North Carolina – wrote of the battle. At the time, he was serving as an Orderly Sergeant and the acting Commissary. His old Company – A, the Roanoke Minute Men – on the eve of battle had no commissioned officers in the field. He recalled:

Newsom E. Jenkins

“The men had a premonition of an engagement, something you feel, but cannot explain, and my old company… wanted to know who would take them in if we had a fight. I promised I would stay and go with them – we were soon ordered to change our position. We were moved to a position in a lane known (now) as “Bloody Lane,” fronting up the creek. Our position was on the left center of the Brigade [Anderson’s Brigade, comprising the 2nd, 4th, 14th & 30th NC]… Soon after we had taken this position, we saw the columns of enemy moving towards us. Col. R.T. Bennett commanding the regiment… told me to take the Company out and deploy them as skirmishers, and go out to meet the enemy… we fired on them when they got in range. They then fired a volley into us. I ordered a retreat, we fell back to our position… but we had one of our best men killed [Bob Shearin] before we got back and several wounded. The lines of the enemy came up and charged our position a half dozen times or more, but we drove them back, and held our position for three hours under a terrific fire from the infantry line while shells were plowing the fields around us and clearing every thing in its sweep.”

Ultimately, the lines of Anderson’s Brigade were overwhelmed, flanked, and captured. What was left of the 14th Regiment in the Lane surrendered about 80 men. Of the twenty-eight from Company A who began the battle, nine were killed, and eighteen wounded and/or captured.

Amazingly, when Jenkins wrote this account some forty plus years later, he particularly recalled his capture by the command of Charles Augustus Fuller of the 61st New York Infantry, and asked his daughter to try to locate him. Fuller was also a Sergeant at the time of the battle, and ultimately rose to the rank of Lieutenant before his discharge due to wounds. His account, “Personal Recollections of the War of 1861,” is an excellent biography of his service and the history of his regiment.

Charles Augustus Fuller

To take the story a step further, I went on a tour of Sharpsburg in the late 1990s. As we walked the Bloody Lane, our tour guide began to recite the story of his own great-grandfather who had been on the field that day. Who was that man? Sgt. Charles A. Fuller. And there we all were, some one hundred and thirty years later the descendants of those same men, meeting under much different circumstances.

It doesn’t get much more close to history than that. “The past is never dead. It is not even the past.” – William Faulkner

Images: (1) Post war cabinet card of Newsom Edward Jenkins, donated by my family to Duke University; (2) the carnage of the Bloody Lane, photograph likely taken by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress; (3) Charles Augustus Fuller of the 61st New York, image from Antietam on the Web (https://antietam.aotw.org/index.php)