Taissumani, March 1
Jeannie and Abbott – Early Photographs of Inuit
The setting is the same in each picture, indicating that there was only one session. A chair serves as a prop and the Inuit are shown leaning against it, in the photograph of the man, or with an arm resting on it, in the woman’s case. Furs are draped over the chair for some photographs, or laid on the floor for others. A curtain is seen on the left.
The Inuit are dressed in skin clothing and both wear kamiks. In one photograph, they are seen together, the woman sitting on a pile of furs, the man seated on the floor, his hand against his cheek, his elbow resting on his wife’s knee.
The man is tall and thin, a cocky expression on his face. The woman has long hair and a plump face. Both stare directly at the camera. They appear to be in their late twenties.
These are photographs from my personal collection. There are three on stereo cards and one on a glass lantern slide. They are among the very earliest photographs of Canadian Inuit. Ironically, the photographs were not taken in the North, but in a photographer’s studio in the United States.
Who were these people and what was their story? Fortunately, there is an answer to both questions, but it is not a detailed one.
The stereo cards I acquired are unidentified except for the brief notations on the reverse: “Esquimaux from Baffin’s Bay” in the case of the woman, and “Esquimaux Chief, from Baffin’s Bay”, for the man. The glass slide bears no information.
But these images were reproduced in a book, “Narrative of the Second Arctic Expedition made by Charles F. Hall,” published in 1879. And there is a copy of the man’s picture in the Indian and Colonial Research Center in Old Mystic, Connecticut. From these sources we learn their names, and precious little else.
Whalers were notoriously inadequate at pronouncing and writing Inuit names. To make things easier, they usually gave them nicknames in English. Often the Inuit name is recorded, but in an orthography that leaves it unclear how it should be pronounced. This is the case with the couple who visited Groton in that year.
The man’s name is written as Kud-lup-pa-mune, but the whalers called him Abbott. He was a cousin of the famous Ipiirvik, also known as Joe, who was the wife of Hannah. Hannah and Joe were the most widely-travelled Inuit of their time and were with Charles Francis Hall on all three of his northern expeditions.
The woman was Abbott’s wife. Her name was recorded as Ou-se-gong; the whalers called her Jeannie.
By the mid-1800s, Inuit were no longer being kidnapped by qallunaat and taken south. But occasionally a whaling captain would take willing men, or rarely a married couple, back to the United States with him, as a reward for their service to the whalers. These Inuit volunteered to make such trips. Some whaling captains were happy to oblige.
Captain Sidney O. Budington was one of those obliging whalers. Over the years a number of Inuit from Cumberland Sound and the mouth of Frobisher Bay visited his home on Toll Road in Groton, Connecticut, usually spending a winter with the captain and his family.
In 1866, Budington took Abbott and Jeannie to Groton.
We know nothing of their year with Budington, but we can guess that they were well-treated by the townsfolk, because Budington was a well-respected member of his community.
Sidney Budington was 40 years old, a veteran whaler. He and his wife Sarah had been married for 16 years. They lived about a mile inland from the ferry that connected Groton to New London, “where a profusion of wild roses grew, in a plain, unpretentious dwelling, painted white, on a hill adjoining a pasture,” in the words of Charles Francis Hall.
Sarah was four years older than her husband, and had been a school teacher. They had two daughters, Victoria and Florence, both in their early teens.
Sarah and her children were known to have liked having Inuit visitors in their home, and Sarah usually sent gifts back north for the families of Inuit visitors. The captain may even have taken them on a visit to New York, as he is known to have done with at least one previous visitor.
When their vacation with the Budington’s was at an end, Abbott and Jeannie left with the captain on the long journey back to Baffin Island. We don’t know the date of their departure, only that it was in late spring. We know this because Jeannie never made it home.
She died on the voyage and the date of her death is recorded on a memorial tombstone in the cemetery at Groton. “Oe-so-gong (Jeannie),” it reads, “Died July 1st, 1867. Aged 28 years.”
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, one can assume that Abbott made it safely home to Cumberland Sound.