Americans Of Jewish Descent
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Solomon Nunes Carvalho

Solomon Nunes Carvalho[1]

Male 1815 - 1897  (82 years)

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  • Name Solomon Nunes Carvalho  [2
    Born 27 Apr 1815  Charleston, SC Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Gender Male 
    Reference Number 4011 
    Died 21 May 1897  New York Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Person ID I4011  aojd
    Last Modified 11 Nov 2011 

    Family ID F8090  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • (Research):AJLLJ Portrait Database 5 Aug 2011

      Pioneering daguerreotypist, "the Pathfinder's photographer," memoirist, presidential portraitist, and active in Jewish communities as far a field as Bridgetown, Barbados and Los Angeles, the life of Solomon Nunes Carvalho contained equal parts ambition and wanderlust.
           Born in Charleston, Solomon was the eldest child of David Nunes Carvalho and Sarah D'Azevedo Carvalho, both English-born from Sephardic families with merchant ties through the Caribbean and North America. His father worked in marble paper manufacturing and helped defend Charleston during the War of 1812. In 1829 the family moved north to Baltimore, though they maintained connections with Charleston. Indeed, the family moved freely between these two cities, Philadelphia and Barbados.
           It is unclear where Carvalho studied painting, however his earliest known works date from his early twenties— a portrait of David Camden DeLeon, and a painting of the interior of congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim of Charleston, that Carvalho painted from memory after the building had burned down.
           It was also around this time that we find one of the principal Carvalho legends, a story of selfless bravery that is supported in his obituary years later in American Hebrew. Having taken a post working for an uncle involved in shipping, Carvalho got caught in a sea storm on a merchant vessel carrying numerous passengers. Carvalho was the one to dive into the water, swim ashore, and set up a safety line for the other passengers, who made it to safety before the ship sank. Then, according to the obituary, "All were cast ashore without money. It was here his knowledge of art came in good stead, and by drawing crayon portraits of people in the village where he was cast away he raised enough money to return to his home."
           At thirty Solomon fell in love with Sarah Solis of New York. At twenty both of her parents had already died, and so Carvalho addressed the following letter to her brother:

      "For your esteemed sister, Sarah, I have conceived other than mere commonplace feelings. Her amiability, sweetness of temper, together with a congeniality of disposition and I dare hope a reciprocity of sentiment, have awakened in my bosom feelings of a deep and ardent affection and as her guardian and Elder Brother, I deem it a duty I owe you, to acquaint you with my pretensions, and to obtain your sanction, that I may make her Honorable proposals of Marriage, the consummation of which would render me most happy.
           To my family connections, you can make no reasonable objections. My personal character, altho not entirely free from all the little piccadeleos of youth still I hope displays some remains of those honorable feelings which have won for myself an honorable standing in Society… Should I be so fortunate as to receive your sanction to my suit, I need hardly say I will cherish for your Sister those feelings which I should wish a Husband to have for my own sisters."

           They were married on October 15th of that year, and the young couple made Philadelphia, the center of the arts in America, their home. While he continued painting oil portraits and miniatures, displaying work in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art's annual exhibition in 1849, Carvalho also began experimenting with daguerreotypes.
           Carvalho was deeply invested in questions of Jewish life and practice, and brought this sense of participation with him when he moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore to Charleston and back. He served on the Philadelphia Hebrew Education Society in 1850, while his wife studied the teaching methods and Hebrew pedagogy of Rebecca Gratz. In Baltimore, along with Samuel Etting, he established a short-lived Sephardic synagogue. In Charleston he became embroiled in the struggle over questions of reform that divided the Jewish community there. Carvalho was very close with Issac Leeser, of whom he painted one of his most famous portraits, and frequently contributed to his publication the Occident.
           In 1853, now living in New York, Carvalho was approached by John Charles Fremont, the celebrated general who had led four expeditions across the Rockies. Fremont hired Carvalho to serve as the daguerreotypist for his fifth and final westward voyage, as he sought to track a path that could serve as the route of the transcontinental railroad. With photography such a new medium, and field photography even less certain, there arose significant doubt as to Carvalho's chances of successfully producing daguerreotypes in the Rocky Mountains in winter. Although in the end, Carvalho proved wrong his detractors, all of the images from the trip were subsequently lost.     
           He left his wife and three children for what would prove a significantly longer journey than anyone had planned. Serious difficulties beset the party and in the Utah territory they found themselves isolated and on the verge of starvation. They were rescued by a group of Mormons, but Carvalho had to remain in Salt Lake City after the rest of his party had moved on because he had become so ill. During this period of recuperation he painted Brigham Young's portrait.
           When finally revitalized, he continued alone on the same route his party traveled to California, all the way taking pictures. Once he reached Los Angeles, Carvalho ended up spending several months in the city, painting portraits of notable Californians and helping to found the Hebrew Benevolent Society there.
           When he returned east, he campaigned for Fremont, an 1856 presidential candidate. In 1858 he published Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, a work that not only describes his experiences with Fremont and gave America an important early portrait of the life and practices of Mormons, but serves still as a valuable document of the West in the mid-nineteenth century.
           Carvalho would write other smaller travel pieces. He continued to work as a photographer and painter, most famously painting a portrait of Lincoln. He supported his family largely through inventions and patents. He painted the portraits of many of the leading figures in American Jewry of his day, including Frances Tobias and Uriah Hendricks, and Judah Touro. [3]

  • Sources 
    1. [S285] .

    2. [S4] PG. 30 CARVALHO (Reliability: 3).

    3. [S294] CARVALHO, SOLOMON NUNES (Reliability: 3).