Item #8775 The Little Contraband. John Henry Bufford.

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Bufford, John Henry.

The Little Contraband.

Boston: J.H. Bufford, 1862. Lithograph, 12” x 9” (sheet size 13.875” x 10.875”). CONDITION: Very good, three small tears to margins, only one barely affecting image.

A scarce print from early in the Civil War showing a prominent Union General taking an escaped slave girl under federal protection as a contraband of war.

Bearing the facsimile signature of Union Major General Nathaniel Banks, this lithograph portrays him and a fellow officer in the act of rescuing a young Black girl, who is dubbed “the little contraband” and smiles as she is lifted above a gun carriage and into freedom. The caption—a quotation implicitly attributed to Banks—reads: “And her little limbs had, perhaps, become strengthened by some vague dream of liberty, to be lost or won, in that hurried night march.” Following Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s famous “Contraband Decision” of 1861, which protected escaped slaves in Union-held territory, “contraband” became a common moniker for previously enslaved African Americans who had made their way to the Union lines.

Nathaniel P. Banks (1816–1894) was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, and became a dedicated abolitionist and a career politician, serving as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Governor of Massachusetts before the outbreak of the Civil War. President Lincoln, hoping that Banks’s political influence would draw more support to the Union cause, appointed him Major General early in the war. While his combat performance left much to be desired, Banks had an “uncanny ability to recruit soldiers,” and in late 1862 raised a force of 30,000 men from his home region of New England. He was afterward stationed in Louisiana, where he replaced Benjamin Butler as commander of the Department of the Gulf and instituted many pioneering and influential reconstruction policies. Following his failed 1864 Red River Campaign and the close of the war, Banks returned to politics, serving several more terms in the House of Representatives.

John Henry Bufford (1810–1870) was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and in 1829 began apprenticing as a lithographer with the Pendleton firm in Boston, during the period when American lithography was just starting to become a technique used in commercial printing. Remaining with Pendleton until 1835, Bufford then left to start his own firm in New York. Here he printed book illustrations, sheet music covers, city views, and copies of popular artworks. Bufford also produced prints depicting disastrous fires, and worked as an artist for the Endicott and Currier firms in New York. Upon returning to Boston in 1840, he and his brother-in-law B. W. Thayer and John E. Moody bought out Pendleton, owned by Thomas Moore since 1836. Bufford worked as the primary artist and general manager of the new company, B. W. Thayer & Co., which was one of the first color lithographers in the U.S.—producing work from several stones as early as 1843 or 1844. When Thayer left the company in 1845, the firm became J. H. Bufford & Co. Bufford was one of the most important lithographers in antebellum America—his work encompassing city views, posters, book illustrations, sheet music covers, and prints for framing. Early in their careers, both Winslow Homer and Francis D’Avignon worked for Bufford. In 1865, Bufford's sons Frank and John Henry Jr. became partners in his company. Following their father’s death in 1870, the brothers continued operating the firm until the early 1900s.

OCLC records just three examples of this print, at the AAS, the Boston Athenaeum, and UC Santa Barbara.

REFERENCES: “Nathaniel Banks,” American Battlefield Trust online; Pierce, Sally and Catharina Slautterback. Boston Lithography, 1825-1880 (Boston, 1991), pp. 130–32.

Item #8775


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