Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Belle's Family

October is Family History Month, so let's look at Belle's Family.

Belle Tisdale,
Arabella Maria Tisdale c1859
Belle's parents, B. F. Tisdale and Eliza Helen Pratt, married on 29 July 1851. Their first child, Belle's sister Mary Bernice, was born 15 March 1853. 

That was the year of the worst yellow fever epidemic in Louisiana history. 7,849 people died in New Orleans. Belle's Grandmother and Grandfather Pratt moved out of the city of Baton Rouge to their plantation, Oakland, about 5 miles east. The Baton Rouge Weekly Comet reported on 2 October 1853 that there were 1,600 cases of yellow fever in Baton Rouge. This was at a time when the population of the city was about 4,000. There was another lesser epidemic in 1854, with 2,425 dead in New Orleans alone. (Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library,, and George Augustin's History of Yellow Fever (N.O., 1909)

Arabella Maria “Belle” Tisdale was born on the third of January 1855. That summer and fall there was another yellow fever epidemic with 2,670 dead in New Orleans. In 1855 the State Board of Health was formed. The Picayune called it the Board of Death.

Belle's family was living in New Orleans by 1854. B. F. Tisdale is listed in the 1854 city directory at "S. Customhouse."  In  1855, 1856, and 1857, he is listed as an accountant at 26 Old Levee St. and in 1859 he is with the John B. Murison firm, Commission Agents, and living at 2 Bienville Street. His oldest brother, Joseph Wade Tisdale, had been living in New Orleans since 1842 and brother Nathan O. J. Tisdale had lived there since 1850.

On 8 May 1857 a third daughter, Florence Helen, was born. Little Florrie, not yet 18 months old, died on 3 December 1858 in New Orleans and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge. We have no record of her cause of death, but there was another yellow fever epidemic that year, “exceeded only by 1853,” with 4,845 deaths in New Orleans “by mid-November.” (Louisiana State Board of Health, The Formative Years (1855-1884) Gordon E. Gillson, Professor of History, Adams State College of Colorado, 1966. Gillson was a graduate student at LSU and this was his doctoral dissertation.)

Belle's mother and grandmother may have taken her to A. D. Lytle's photography studio in Baton Rouge to have this carte de visite made. She appears to be about 3 or 4 years old and is wearing a crinoline or hoop skirt, typical of the 1850s. The photo must have been made about 1859 soon after A. D. Lytle opened his studio. There is no photographer's imprint on the back which tells us it was an early use of this new system for making images.

Previous Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Tintypes were one of a kind images. In all three processes the image was formed directly on a coated plate by exposure in the camera. The carte de visite camera had four lenses and the interior was divided into four compartments. By using a sliding plate holder and exposing first one half and then the other, eight small portraits could be taken on an 8” x 10” glass plate. By uncapping each lens separately, eight separate poses could be taken on one plate. The resulting contact print was cut into eight 2 1/4” x 3 1/2” portraits which were pasted onto 2 1/2” x 4” cards, the common visiting card size. This made photography much cheaper. (A Concise History of Photography, Helmut Gernsheim, Third Revised Edition, Dover Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 1986.)

Marion Franklin Pratt,
Marion Franklin Pratt c1857

Ambrotype plate
Ambrotypes were first made in 1854 and their peak years were 1857 to 1859. The embossed design in this case was patented in 1855. That fact and his hair and beard style date this image to the late 1850s. The Ambrotype, developed by James Ambrose Cutting, is a silver image on a glass plate with a black cloth or cardboard backing. The image appears negative against a white background but positive against a black background. To coat the plate the photographer used collodion, a thick, sticky mixture of guncotton, alcohol, and ether invented in 1847 and used by military physicians as a liquid bandage. One of the drawbacks of the Ambrotype was its fragility. You can see that this glass plate is broken. 

Marion Pratt, Eliza's brother, may have been living in New Orleans when this image was made. The cardboard backing behind the plate has an advertisement for a New Orleans blacksmith.

Post a Comment