One of the most intriguing characters in my family tree is my great-great-grandfather Samuel Davis Agin. He was born in 1841 in East Amwell, New Jersey, the youngest child of John Agin, a carpenter, and his wife Catherine Durling Agin.
In September 1862, at the age of 21, Davis enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 21st New Jersey Infantry Regiment for a nine-month tour of duty that began on the battlefield at Antietam (arriving the day after the bloodiest battle in U.S. history) and moving on to other significant battles in Virginia. After serving a second tour of duty with the 38th New Jersey Regiment, Davis returned home to New Jersey in the summer of 1865.
On New Year’s Eve that same year, Davis married Rhoda Wyckoff – literally the girl next door – at the First Baptist Church in Hopewell. Rhoda was the seventh of thirteen children raised by James H. Wyckoff, a farmer, and his wife Charlotte Matilda Voorhees Wyckoff. She was 15 years old. Over the years, they had six children. Their oldest son Jacob Sylvester Agin was my great-grandfather.
Davis worked as a farm laborer, moving his family to different towns in central New Jersey. The family eventually settled in Princeton. After Rhoda died in 1907, Davis moved in with his youngest daughter Daisy and her husband Robert Jackson, who lived in the nearby town of Rocky Hill. In 1915, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Davis died. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery, and his death was noted in a number of newspaper obituaries citing his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, a prominent Civil War veterans’ organization.
It was so amazing to learn I had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. But why didn’t his story pass down in our family’s oral history? And why was there no photo of him? Surely, a Civil War veteran who lived to see the 50th anniversary of the war’s end and a father of six would have had his picture taken!
My theory is that one or two of his children may have inherited his photos and personal effects (his Civil War pension application mentions a family Bible) and that these would have been passed down to subsequent generations. Among other reasons, I started this blog to find those people – or, more accurately, to allow them to find me.
This strategy may be beginning to pay off. Recently, I received an e-mail from a woman named Jacki Bolton. She’s my second cousin once removed. Her mother Hermina Agin was the daughter of Charles Augustus Agin, my great-grandfather’s younger brother. Jacki had been researching her Agin roots and came across my blog.
She told me she had a photo, passed down to her, that was either a photo of her grandfather Charles Augustus Agin or possibly her great-grandfather Samuel Davis Agin (probably the former). It is a silver nitrate print made by Princeton Studios, which operated in Princeton and Trenton.
At first glance, this would appear to be a picture taken somewhere between 1900 and 1915. The facial hair reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt or William Howard Taft. And the bowler hat also seems to fit that period.
So could this be Charles Augustus Agin (he went by August or Gus), who was born in 1872 and died in 1930? I doubt it.
I have learned a fair amount about August Agin, who left a remarkable trail of newspaper clippings in the Trenton Evening Times, which is searchable online. The articles paint a sad picture. In 1919, when August was 47 years old, he apparently abandoned his family in Princeton and moved to Trenton. Once there, he developed the habit of getting arrested for public drunkenness and fighting. In 1920, he was ordered to pay child support to a Mrs. Margaret Park, and two years after that, in September 1922, August and his mistress pleaded guilty to criminal adultery and were sent to prison. After that, August had periodic bouts with the law, memorialized in articles that describe him as “without a home.” He was found dead in 1930 at the age of 58.
Knowing this history, is it logical to conclude that this is a portrait of August Agin in his later years? It’s hard to guess the age of the subject – and it’s easy to imagine that people aged more quickly in those days. But August vanished at the age of 47. Would he have posed for this photo toward the end of his life and then gotten it into the hands of his estranged family? That doesn’t make sense. We also know, from another Agin relative, that August was “on the thin side.”
So could this be the portrait of Samuel Davis Agin? Davis would have been 59 in 1900 and 69 in 1910. That seems about right. Remember, too, that Rhoda died in 1907. Could Davis have posed for this photo after her death, realizing that he was also nearing the end of his life?
The photo offers one intriguing clue. Davis is wearing a stick pin in his lapel in the shape of an upside down leaf, possibly a maple leaf. Does this have any particular meaning? Would it relate to his service in the war or his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic?
My next step will be to send this photo to a cool blog called Photo Detective, connected with Family Tree magazine. The blog, written by photo historian Maureen A. Taylor, helps people date old photos based on various clues (clothing, hairstyle, facial hair, photo print technique, etc.). And perhaps some future reader of this blog might help us solve this mystery.