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Relic Room presents something amazing – photos of Revolutionary War soldiers

Have you ever seen photographs of Revolutionary War soldiers? Well, you can do just that at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum starting June 30, when a new exhibit opens featuring an extraordinary collection of daguerreotypes.

Now you’re thinking, “Are you nuts? The American Revolution ended in 1783, and no one was making daguerreotypes in this country until the 1840s! The word ‘photograph’ wasn’t even coined until 1839!”

You are right, of course. But these are photos of Patriot veterans as old men, and this chance to see actual photos of them is the next best thing to taking a ride on a time machine. “The Twilight of Revolutionaries and the Dawn of Photography” features 15 rare daguerreotypes of Revolutionary War veterans. 

Each portrait is a high-quality scan of the original daguerreotype. Below each portrait will be a label detailing the service of the veteran. The details for most veterans come from their applications for government assistance through the Pension Act of 1832.

This collection is the fruition of a 30-year project begun by W.C. Smith III – a board member of the Palmetto State Military History Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the museum – who meticulously gathered each photograph from various sources. His is one of the largest, if not the largest, such collection in existence.

After an initial display in the Gist Gallery at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum, the exhibit will travel to other interested public institutions. The grant from the South Carolina American Revolution Sestercentennial Commission supporting this project requires that it be made available to the public until at least 2033. It is also supported by South Carolina Humanities.

The portraits in this exhibit are of veterans who served primarily in the Southern Theater of the Revolution. Most were either born in South Carolina or spent the rest of their lives here. All but one fought here for our independence. Some were in the Continental Army, but most served in the militia.

Of course, few veterans of that war lived long enough to be photographed. Those who did had been young, often teenagers, during their military service, and as a result served in the lowest ranks. Some of those you will see in this exhibit:

  • Nathaniel Whittington – Born in 1762, in Cheraw, he joined the South Carolina militia in 1778. At various points in the war, he served under Brig. Gen. Francis Marion – the Swamp Fox himself. In at least one battle, he fought against the most infamous British commander, Banastre Tarleton. He died on April 4, 1851, in Marion.
  • Theophilus Wilson – Born on Dec. 15, 1765, in Fairfield District, S.C., his was a staunchly Patriot family. Not only did his four brothers serve in the military, but so did his father. Theophilus, the youngest, enlisted at age 16 as a substitute for his father, John. He served as a wagoner, overseeing the secure movement of critical supplies, and caring for the horses and wagon. The army was desperate for wagoners because it could not pay them as well as private merchants could. He died in Fairfield in 1853.
  • Darby Reagan – A native of Georgia, he served in the Georgia militia as a private in the spring of 1781. He joined the Siege of Augusta between April and May, and was wounded there at least twice – suffering a “wound in the head from a sword” and “in a leg from a bayonet.” He died in 1851 in Spartanburg.

Come see them, and the other 12. You have probably never seen anything like these images.