[Slaves, J. J. Smith's Plantation, near Beaufort, South Carolina]

Object Details


[Slaves, J. J. Smith's Plantation, near Beaufort, South Carolina]


Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, about 1840 - 1882)






Albumen silver print


21.4 × 27.3 cm (8 7/16 × 10 3/4 in.)

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On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and instructed his armies to implement the order as they advanced into Confederate states. Among the first slaves to be liberated were those on J. J. Smith's cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina, which had been occupied by the Union army since late 1861.

Newly freed men, women, and children are recorded at the historic moment as they assembled for their departure. Timothy O'Sullivan made this view of more than a hundred individuals standing in front of their former quarters, their meager belongings packed in burlap bundles as they begin their lives of freedom. The numerous blurred figures indicate the moment's transitory nature. Even though many in the group look up toward the camera to be photographed for the first time in their lives, the act of being recorded was clearly subordinate to the emancipation at hand.

1984 -

Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987

Grave Testimony: Photographs of the Civil War (January 14 to March 29, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), January 14 to March 29, 1992
Hidden Witness: African Americans in Early Photography (February 28 to June 18, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), February 28 to June 18, 1995
Photographers of Genius (March 16 to July 25, 2004)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 16 to July 25, 2004