A side trip to Mississippi

After learning about George Smith Harrington’s interesting story of marrying two of John Smith’s daughters, I tried to fill in some of the rest of his history by looking for him in the 1860 census. I eventually located him in Killingly, but not before taking a side trip to Mississippi.

When I searched the index for a George Harrington, born in Connecticut in about 1824, the only match was a resident of Columbus, Mississippi, whose occupation was given as “ambrotypist”. An ambrotype was an early form of photograph, similar to a daguerreotype- the difference being that the ambrotype produced a positive image rather than a negative.

I had no reason to think that George Smith Harrington had spent time in Mississippi, but out of curiosity I searched for more information about this Connecticut photographer working in the South just before the start of the Civil War. What I found was a mention in Herbert Aptheker’s “American Negro Slave Revolts”, published in 1939. Aptheker’s book sought to dispel the myth of slaves as happy, willing participants in the South’s “peculiar institution”. That was apparently still a controversial view to hold in the 1930’s.

Describing slave revolts in 1860, Aptheker writes:

A slave girl betrayed a conspiracy the next month in Winston County, Mississippi. Approximately thirty-five slaves were arrested, and once again it was asserted that whites were involved. At least one slave was hanged as well as one white man, described as “an ambrotypist named G. Harrington”.

Our George Smith Harrington, meanwhile, was working as a machinist back in Killingly- the reason I couldn’t find him right away was that the person who indexed the 1860 census in Killingly misread “Harrington” as “Warrington”.