COLLECTION GUIDES

ca. 1861-1976

Guide to the Photograph Collection


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection consists of photographs of members of four related African American families, the Asbury, DeGrasse, Downing, and Howard families.

Biographical Sketches

John Van Surley DeGrasse (1825-1868) was born in New York in June 1825, the youngest son of George DeGrasse and Maria Van Surley. At age 15, DeGrasse enrolled at the Oneida Institute in upstate New York, then traveled to France, where he attended college for two years. He returned to New York and continued his medical training under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel R. Childs. He received his medical degree as a member of Bowdoin College Medical School’s Class of 1849. After traveling around Europe working in hospitals, he established a medical practice in Boston, where in 1854 he became the first African American elected to membership in the Massachusetts Medical Society. DeGrasse married Cordelia L. Howard on 5 August 1852 in Boston. During the Civil War, he became the first African American medical officer in the U.S. Army, serving as an assistant surgeon for the 35th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry (the First Regiment, North Carolina Colored Volunteers). He and his wife had one daughter, Georgiana Cordelia DeGrasse, born 5 December 1855. He died in Boston on 25 November 1868.

Howard DeGrasse Asbury (1907-1978) was minister of St. Paul Methodist Church in Jamaica, New York and the great-grandson of John Van Surley DeGrasse. Interested in African American history, he actively collected information and manuscripts about his ancestors, who included members of the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing, Gardner, and Asbury families. He frequently loaned materials to institutions (including the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Cultural Center, and Museum of Afro American History in Boston, Mass.) for exhibitions about African Americans. He was a member of the Negro History Associates.

Collection Description

This collection comprises portraits of Boston physician John Van Surley DeGrasse, his wife Cordelia L. Howard DeGrasse, and their daughter Georgiana Cordelia DeGrasse Asbury; and descendant Rev. Howard DeGrasse Asbury, among others. Also included is a photograph of a portrait painting of Rev. Isaiah George Howard and a carte de visite of Frederick Douglass. The collection also includes photographs of memorials to Isaiah George Howard and abolitionist George T. Downing, as well as photographs taken during exhibitions of family papers and artifacts. Photographers include James Wallace Black and John A. Heard of Boston, as well as John White Hurn of Philadelphia, Pa., among others. Includes cartes de visite and color photographs.

Arrangement Note

Portraits are arranged alphabetically by subject, followed by views and exhibit photographs.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Robert Downs, November 2012.

Custodial History

The collection was owned by Mrs. Shirley Asbury Downs and placed on deposit with the Museum of Afro American History, who in turn deposited the collection at the MHS in 1998. Mrs. Downs's son, Robert Downs, inherited the collection after Shirley's death and donated the collection to the MHS outright in November 2012.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Box 1Folder 1#36.1digitized
Asbury, Georgina Cordelia DeGrasse, ca. 1864-1865.Taken by John A. Heard, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 2#36.2digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse, ca. 1960.Taken by Cecil Layne, New York, N.Y.

Black and white photograph of Howard DeGrasse Asbury posing next to a portrait of Isaiah George DeGrasse (1813-1841).

Box 1Folder 3#36.3digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse, ca. 1972-1976.Taken by an unidentified photographer.

Color photograph of Howard DeGrasse Asbury at the corner of Downing Street in Newport, R.I.

Box 1Folder 4#36.4digitized
DeGrasse, Cordelia L. Howard (1823-1899), ca. 1864-1865.Taken by John A. Heard, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 4#36.5digitized
DeGrasse, Cordelia L. Howard (1823-1899), ca. 1864-1865.Enlargement of Photo. #36.4.
Box 1Folder 5#36.6digitized
DeGrasse, Isaiah George (1813-1841), ca. 1972-1976.

Polaroid photograph of a portrait of Isaiah George DeGrasse painted ca. 1838.

Box 1Folder 6#36.7digitized
DeGrasse, John Van Surley (1825-1868). ca. 1864-1865.Taken by James W. Black, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 6#36.8digitized
DeGrasse, John Van Surley (1825-1868), ca. 1864-1865.Taken by James W. Black, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 6#36.9digitized
DeGrasse, John Van Surley (1825-1868), ca. 1864-1865.Black and white enlargement of Photo. #36.8.
Box 1Folder 7#36.10digitized
DeGrasse, John Van Surley (1825-1868), ca. 1863-1864.Taken by E. M. Bannister, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 8#36.11digitized
DeGrasse, John Van Surley (1825-1868), ca. 1865-1867.Taken by Black & Case, Boston. Carte de visite.
Box 1Folder 9#36.12digitized
Douglass, Frederick (1818-1895), ca. 1864-1865.Taken by J. W. Hurn, Philadelphia. Carte de visite.

Carte de visite accompanied by a cut-slip autograph, "Yours truly Fredk Douglass."

Box 1Folder 10#36.13digitized
Downing, George T. [and family?], ca. 1885-1895.Copy photograph.
Box 1Folder 11#36.14digitized
J. Imogen Howard Club of Mercy Hospital, ca. 1925-1930.Group photograph.
Box 1Folder 12#36.15digitized
Tablet in vestibule of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in honor of Isaiah George Degrasse, ca. 1950-1960.Taken by Cecil Layne, New York, N.Y.
Box 1Folder 13#36.16digitized
Memorial tablet in Touro Park, Newport, R.I., bearing George T. Downing's name, ca. 1972-1976.Color photograph.
Box 1Folder 14#36.17digitized
The Great Fire of the City of New York, 16 December 1835, ca. 1960.Taken by the Museum of the City of New York. Black & white photograph of a lithograph by John T. Bowen, published in 1836. Print shows the building owned by Thomas Downing.
Box 1Folder 15#36.18digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse and others, ca. 1966.Black and white snapshot. Stamped on verso: North Manhattan Project, New York Public Library.
Box 1Folder 15#36.19digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse and others, ca. 1966.Black and white snapshot. Stamped on verso: North Manhattan Project, New York Public Library.
Box 1Folder 15#36.20digitized
Portrait of John Van Surley DeGrasse and other items on exhibit, undated.Black and white snapshot.
Box 1Folder 15#36.21digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse and two unidentified women, ca. 1960.Black and white snapshot.
Box 1Folder 15#36.22digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse, Charles T. Rice, and Rabbi G. Stanley Dreyfus at the Ingersoll Branch Library, Brooklyn, 12 February 1968.Taken by Lloyd Douglas, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Box 1Folder 15#36.23digitized
Contributions to Medicine and Science by Black Physicians and Scientists Exhibit, February-March 1970.
Box 1Folder 15#36.24digitized
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse, Shirley Chisholm, and two unidentified men, 19 December 1968.Taken by Lloyd Douglas, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Taken at the U.S. Custom House unveiling of a tablet "To an Unknown Hero."

Preferred Citation

DeGrasse-Howard photographs, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

Asbury, Georginia Cordelia DeGrasse--Photographs.
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse--Photographs.
DeGrasse, John Van Surley, 1825-1868--Photographs.
DeGrasse, Cordelia Howard, 1823-1899--Photographs.
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895--Photographs.
Downing, George T. (George Thomas), 1813-1903--Photographs.
Howard, Isaiah George, 1813-1841--Pictorial works.
Asbury family--Photographs.
DeGrasse family--Photographs.
Downing family--Photographs.
Bannister, Edward Mitchell, 1828-1901, photographer.
Black, James Wallace, 1825-1896, photographer.
Heard, John A., photographer.
Hurn, John White, -1887, photographer.

Organizations:

United States. Army. Colored Infantry Regiment, 35th (1864-1866)--Photographs.

Subjects:

African American abolitionists--Photographs.
African American families--Photographs.
African American physicians--Photographs.
African American soldiers--Photographs.
Physicians--Massachusetts--Boston--Photographs.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Photographs.
Cartes de visite.