Joe Hammersla and the Pryor Boys, King Studio, Hagerstown

This cabinet card photograph of a group of men drew me with its appealing sense of playful, relaxed spontaneity and emotional expressiveness, rare qualities in nineteenth century photographs.

Taken at the studio of William Brown King in Hagerstown, Maryland, this portrait also attracted me because of the identifications on the back: Scott Pryor, James Pryor, Clinton Draper, John Pryor, and, mysteriously, the name “Hammerslea.”

Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 dates King photos marked 46 & 48 W. Washington Street, Hagerstown, to the period 1891-1901. This gave me a rough way to gauge the birth dates of the men. The younger men had to be in their early to mid-twenties, so they would have been born in the 1860s-1870s, and the elderly central figure couldn’t have been born much later than  the 1840s.

So, off to ancestry.com I went to start researching possible candidates. I ended up creating a tree for the Pryor family, eventually focusing on the descendants of Jacob Pryor (1805-1889), a Frederick County farm laborer and stave-maker.

His son, John Emmanuel Pryor, had in turn three sons who are good candidates for the three young Pryors in this photo.

John Emmanuel Pryor was a shoemaker who lived in the Hauvers district of Frederick County, Md. His sons, Millard Scott Pryor (1860-1937), John Tracy Pryor (1862-1944), and James Albert Pryor (1872-1919), fit the bill.

Millard, who sometimes went by Scott M. Pryor, married Carrie Redman, and worked as a laborer in the Catoctin district of Frederick County. He eventually got work as a track sweeper, but on these modest means raised seven children.

Brother John Tracy Pryor scraped by as a day laborer. He lost his wife, Alice Swope, before 1900 and was left with two children, romantically named Commodore Perry Pryor and Beatrice Pryor. No doubt John’s mother, with whom they lived, helped to raise them. Their situation improved after 1920: He owned his own farm, and his son Commodore Perry had a good job as a mail carrier.

James Albert Pryor, who worked as a molder in a machine shop, raised six children on Ringgold Road with his wife Carrie Winters Pryor.

Young Clinton Albert Draper (1872-1960) related via marriage to the Pryors via his aunt Urillia E. Draper’s marriage to Robert E. Pryor, turned out to be the adventurer of the group: With his wife, Irene Toms Draper, he lived in Iowa and North Dakota before emigrating to Saskatchewan, Canada in 1916 with their three children, Franklin, Emeline, and John.

Clinton Albert Draper appears on Canadian voter lists as a farmer in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in 1935 and 1945, and then in Midale, Saskatchewan in the 1950s; he died in Midale, and may be buried there.

But the star of the show is clearly Joseph Absalom Hammersla (1832-1912). Looking away to the left of the camera, he relaxes in the center of all this crowding, boyish energy like a man who knows where he belongs in the world and rests content.

I’m confident in my identification because another researcher on ancestry.com posted a different portrait that matches mine unmistakably.

A prosperous miller, he was born in Frederick, Maryland and died in Berkeley County, West Virginia. During the Civil War, he served on the Union side with the 1st Maryland Cavalry Potomac Home Brigade. According to an article on old mills in the Martinsburg, West Virginia Journal, Joseph Hammersla bought the Eversole mill on Tullis’s Branch in 1891, and descendants operated it to grind grain and cut lumber into the 1920s.

I also found an advertisement in the Hagerstown, Md. Herald and Torchlight for “Old Uncle Joe Hammersla’s Saloon,” dated 27 September 1876. The saloon offered “frogs, pigs feet, tripe,” and “Genuine Milwaukee Lager,” among other delights, “under the Lyceum,” a lecture and performance hall located near the Washington County Courthouse on West Washington Street.

He was appointed postmaster of Littletown, Berkeley County, West Virginia in 1895. He and his  second wife Indiana Morris Hammersla (1848-1929) are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Hagerstown, Md.

Hammersla moved to Hedgesville, Berkeley County, West Virginia, between 1870 and 1880, so this photograph may have been taken on a visit back to Hagerstown.

My authority on the life and career of William Brown King is Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them.

Brown trained in the Baltimore studio of James S. Cummins. Brown came to Hagerstown with his wife, Lelia Hall King, and their son William F. King, in the late 1880s.

Both King and his wife had fathers who’d served in the Civil War: King’s on the Union side and Hall’s on the Confederate.  King’s father, Robert G. King (1834-1886), was a major in Co. C, Purnell’s Legion, Maryland Infantry. Lelia’s father, James Reid Hall (1830-1904), was a sergeant with Co. A, 40th Virginia Infantry. The two had faced each other in some of the same battles, including the Seige of Petersburg.

All of the subjects in King’s portrait are dressed in rough work clothes and scuffed boots, perhaps reflecting the spontaneous nature of the photograph. They lean together and on one another, affectionate and informal and filled with life. While we may never know what brought these five men together on that day, we still feel the glow of their vigorous humanity.

From Susan Bear’s Album: Martin L. Hightman

It’s tricky, trying to glue the fragments  of a family back together through photographs.

This carte de visite by an unidentified photographer is one of only 11 in the Susan Bear album that has some identifying text. In the Washington County, Maryland Bear/Baer family tree I’ve constructed so far, the surname Heightman had not come up. Only when I searched ancestry.com records with a different spelling, Hightman, and without the initials M. L., did something slip into place.

A Martin L. Hightman was born into a Burkittsville, Frederick County family of dry goods merchants about 1852.  Burial records for other Burkittsville Hightmans brought up the grave records of his parents: John Hightman (1825-1891) and M. Elizabeth (Bear) Hightman (1825-1913).

One of Susan Bear’s sisters was named Mary Elizabeth, and her birth year, about 1826, fit. Was there a record of a marriage between a Mary Elizabeth Bear and a John Hightman that fit the time frame?

There was. Mary Elizabeth Bear and John Hightman married in Frederick County on 2 October 1851.

This photograph had to be of Mary Elizabeth Bear Hightman’s eldest son, Martin Luther  Hightman (1852-1891). It was, judging by the subject’s age and the style of the carte, probably taken in the early to mid-1860s.

Why it lacks a photographer’s imprint is hard to say. Certainly the photographers of Hagerstown and Frederick of the era–E. M. Recher, Jacob Byerly and others–promoted their work vigorously with a variety of advertising backmarks. The photographer may have been one of the many itinerants who worked during the Civil War. Or it could have been a copy.

Like his father, Martin L. Hightman became a Burkittsville dry goods merchant. He was also the village’s postmaster. He and his wife Lovetta Arnold had five children: Frederick Arnold, Cora, John Roy, Harrison Martin, and Mabell E. Hightman.

Frederick obtained a bachelor’s degree at Gettysburg College in 1902 and graduated from Gettysburg Theological Seminary in 1905.  In 1908, Rev. Frederick Arnold Hightman  (1876-1967) founded the northeast Baltimore congregation that became Ephiphany Evangelical Lutheran Church. The stone church in the Gothic Revival style still flourishes on Raspe Avenue just south of Belair Road.

Martin and Lovetta Hightman are buried in Burkittsville Union Cemetery in Frederick County. Rev. Hightman is buried in Moreland Memoral Park, Parkville, Maryland, a few miles from his church.

From Susan Bear’s Album: Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bear

Taken at the Hagerstown, Maryland studio of Elias Marken Recher, this carte de visite photograph was found in an album that belonged to their daughter, Susan Bear (1836-1909) of Hagerstown.

On the reverse is written “Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bear’s pictures taken from a Ferrotype [aka tintype] June 18th 1872”.

Well-to-do Maryland-born  farmer Martin Bear or Baer (1799-1872) and Elizabeth (Stahl) Bear (1795-1875) had seven daughters: Christianna (b. 1824), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1825), Lydia (1828-1865), Sarah Catherine (b. 1831), Louisa (1834-1888), Susan and Anna (1839-1927) .

Only four of the seven Bear girls married that I can determine: Lydia married Washington County farmer William Wisherd, Louisa married a TroupMary Elizabeth married Burkittsville, Maryland dry goods merchant John Hightman or Heightman, and Sarah married Williamsport grocer Caleb F. Eakle.

According to the 1878 advertisement of the trustees’ sale of Martin Bear’s estate, Bear owned at his death 208 acres about five miles from Hagerstown, where the Williamsport and Greencastle Turnpike crossed the Western Turnpike. The estate included a stone house, orchards, a well, a stream, a barn, etc.

Although I have not yet been able to determine Martin Bear’s parentage, I am guessing that two others who lived close to him–Isaac Bear (b. abt. 1790, Md.) and John Bear (b. abt. 1796, Md.) were his brothers or close relations.

Another Bear/Baer named John M. Bear (1822-1878), who was probably a close relation, emigrated quite early to Pine Creek Township, Ogle County, Illinois. The evidence for the connection is the presence in Susan Bear’s album of six tintype portraits of John M. Bear’s children: Isaac Martin Bear, John Buchman Bear, Levi Rowland Bear, Rose Miranda Bear, Lilly Almira or Elmira Bear, and Mary Kate Bear (more about this family in future posts).

Susan’s jewel-like album, studded with white beads and held by metal clasps, measures about 4-1/2″ x 6″. It is inscribed on the flyleaf “Christmas gift / Presented to Susan Bear / Dec 25th 1869 by / Mr. L . . . R . . . . . “

The Bear family may have scattered to Ogle County and beyond, but the affection Martin Bear felt for his wife, even after a long and arduous life together, still feels fresh in this wonderful image.

Martin Bear and Elizabeth (Stahl) Bear are both buried in Riverview Cemetery, Williamsport, Washington County, Maryland.