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!

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