Conrad Heyer, earliest-born person ever to be photographed

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posted Monday, May 19, 2014 at 12:41 PM EST

 
 

Born in 1749, New Englander Conrad Heyer was a veteran of the American Revolution. He was there in Trenton during the terrible winter of 1776 and crossed the Delaware River with General George Washington and his rag-tag Continental Army. In fact, the Maine Historical Society believes him to be the earliest born human ever photographed.

This photograph of Heyer is thought to have been taken in 1852. As such, it’s hardly the first American portrait photograph, but given the date of his birth he could well be the oldest human photographed. He is also the only photographed Revolutionary War veteran who served with Washington.

The photograph was taken using the daguerreotype technique, which first debuted in 1839. Within a few years portrait studios employing the technique had proliferated all over the young American landscape. The few remaining photos we have from the first half of the 19th century provide a window into a world otherwise accessible only through the written word.

And this is a magnificent portrait, both in its content and its composition. Heyer's body faces to the left while the light coming from behind his right shoulder adds drama. His head, turned towards the camera, adds a sense of confrontation. And take a close look at that face. At 103, Heyer looks into the camera, steady, stern and still defiant.

 
 

Sources:

Maine Memory
New Market Press Vermont
Find a Grave