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16 x 20 Inch Photograph of St. Augustine, Florida, African American Cart Driver
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Canadian photographer George Barker was one of the first professional photographers to visit Florida. In the late 1880s, he documented the landscapes and people of northern and central Florida. Barker took this large-format photograph of an African American cartman at the city gate of St. Augustine.

[FLORIDA]. George Barker, Albumen Print of African American cart driver at City Gate, St. Augustine, Florida, ca. 1889. On original mount, with photographer’s Niagara Falls backstamp. 1 p., 16 x 20 in.

Inventory #24249       Price: $1,000

Historical Background
Built by residents of coquina blocks in 1808, the old city gate of St. Augustine was at one time the only entrance to the city.

On November 10, 1702, during Queen Anne’s War, English colonists from the Province of Carolina, under the command of Governor James Moore, besieged the City of St. Augustine in Spanish Florida. Governor José de Zúñiga y la Cerda withdrew his soldiers and the town’s inhabitants into the Castillo de San Marcos fortress. When a relief fleet from Havana, Cuba, arrived and landed troops on December 29, Moore burned much of the town and retreated to Charles Town.

Spanish governor José de Zúñiga began the construction of a defensive system to protect St. Augustine. The northern face of the border, completed in 1705, was known as the “Cubo Line” and consisted of earthworks topped with a tall palmetto log stockade. A moat ran parallel to the line, and a wooden gate with a drawbridge over the moat provided entrance to the town. In 1808, residents rebuilt the wooden gate with coquina, a stone created from the fossilized remains of a tiny clam. After Florida was transferred to the United States in 1821, the Cubo Line became obsolete and portions of it were dismantled by 1827. The earthwork walls gradually disappeared, replaced by modern streets and buildings, but the City Gate remained as a symbol of the city.

After the American Civil War, many freed African Americans settled in St. Augustine in an area that came to be known as “Little Africa.” In the 1880s, the neighborhood was renamed Lincolnville in honor of Abraham Lincoln.

Mules, like the one pulling this cart, became a common southern draft animal in the decades after the Civil War. The number of mules in the South increased from just over half a million in 1860 to nearly four and a half million in 1925. Mules became an almost distinctive feature of southern agriculture and life for one hundred years. Many postbellum landowners insisted that sharecroppers use mules for their draft power and resistance to abuse, while sharecroppers viewed the purchase of a mule as a way to elevate their status.

London, Upper Canada, where photographer George Barker was born and grew up, was the last stop on the Underground Railroad for many African Americans fleeing slavery in the southern United States. In London, one hundred miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan, former slaves built the Fugitive Slave Chapel around 1848. Perhaps the experience of growing up among former fugitive slaves and their families made Barker more receptive to photographing African American life in Florida, as this image illustrates.

The combination of an African American cart driver, a mule, and the coquina blocks of the city gate gave Barker’s photograph a particularly exotic quality to viewers outside of the southern United States.

George Barker (1844-1894) was born in London, Upper Canada (Ontario), and studied landscape painting. After a financial setback, he turned to photography, studying with the Canadian photographer James Egan. He opened his own studio in London in 1862. In July of that year, he made his first visit to Niagara Falls, New York, where he took a job working for photographer Platt D. Babbitt (1822-1879), best known for his photographs in the Niagara Falls area. Barker had studios in both London and Niagara Falls by the late 1860s. He became known nationwide for his large format (up to 18 x 20 in.) prints of the Falls. In 1866, he won a gold medal for landscape photography at the convention of the Photographers Association of America in St. Louis. His Niagara Falls studio was destroyed by fire in 1870, but his negatives survived. He was one of the earliest photographers to visit the state of Florida, and he spent portions of the years 1886 to 1890 documenting much of northern and central Florida. At his death, he was described as the “eminent photographer of Niagara Falls.”

Condition: Mount unevenly trimmed to photograph; moderate dampstaining on right edge, ¼ inch divot in center of image.

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