Many professional photographers are represented in the collections of the Society, but Acton photographers were a rarity. The Society was lucky to receive a 2015 donation of a photograph whose mat was imprinted with “F. J. TAYLOR, PHOTOGRAPHER, SOUTH ACTON, MASS.” The picture is unlabeled; so far no one has identified the picture’s subjects, place, or date.
One of the techniques used to date a photograph is to research the years in which its photographer was in business. That sounds easy, but in practice, information about photographers can be scarce, particularly if they did not become well-established in an area or leave behind a substantial body of work. An excellent place to start is Chris Steele & Ronald Polito’s book A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers 1839-1900 (Picton Press, 1993). Using as their source the New England Business Directory, they list an F.J. Taylor working in Acton in 1896. They also list Forester J. Taylor in Cambridge in the 1882-1888 period doing business early as Rand & Taylor and then as Forester J. Taylor & Company. Researching Cambridge directories confirmed that Forester J. Taylor showed up by 1882 (living in Somerville and working in Cambridge) and then lived and worked in Cambridge for the rest of the 1880s. Research in vital and census records established that the Acton and Cambridge F. J. Taylors were the same person.
F. J. Taylor - The Early Years
Forester J. Taylor, living at School Street in South Acton, was naturalized in Boston on March 27, 1899. (The Naturalization Index lists his birthplace as Montreal and his birth date as May 20, 1854.) In the 1900 Census, Forester Taylor, photographer, age 45, was living in Acton with his wife Margaret, sons Frederick M. and F. Forrester, daughter Eliza A., and mother-in-law Mary Dorsey. Tracing Forester’s ancestry back to Quebec yielded a Church of England baptismal record for Forester Joseph Taylor, son of Stephen Matthew Taylor of Melbourne township and Ann Morgan. (The birth date given was May 21, 1853.) Melbourne is now part of Richmond, Quebec in the area formerly known as the Eastern Townships. The family, including Forester, was in Melbourne in the 1861 Census of Canada. The father Stephen died that year. Widow Ann Taylor married William Crook in November 1862. Forester was listed in the 1871 Melbourne census with William and Ann Crook.
Cambridge (Mass.) vital records show that on November 28, 1885, Forester J. Taylor (photographer, age 31, living in Cambridge, born in Montreal to Stephen M. and Ann) was married to Margaret F. Dorsey (age 19, living in Barre, born in Ireland to Thomas and Mary). On May 25, 1887, their son Frederick M(atthew) was born in Cambridge. Their son Friend Forester Taylor stated in World War I military documents that he was born on June 10, 1891 in either Cambridge or Somerville, Mass. (His parents were specified as Forester Joseph Taylor and Margaret T. Dorsey.) For some reason, searching individual birth records for June 1891 in both Somerville and Cambridge and the state-wide index for 1891-1895 yielded no record of his birth. Acton Vital Records include daughter Eliza Ann Taylor, born on June 23, 1894 to Acton residents Forester J. (photographer, born Montreal) and Margaret “Darcey” (born Ireland).
Extensive searching of local newspapers yielded no advertisements for Forester J. Taylor’s photography business in Cambridge in the 1880s or around Acton in the 1890s. However, South Acton news items in the Concord Enterprise shared the fact that “Mr. Taylor, the photographer” had bought a house from Mrs. Bulette on Stow Street [March 23, 1893] and then moved in [April 20, 1893]. After Eliza Ann’s 1894 birth, Acton town documents yielded no information about Forester J. Taylor and his family. He was not listed in the Assessor’s List for Acton in 1900; according to the census, the family was renting at that point, and Forester had been out of work four months of the year. (Acton records do show that Forester’s wife Margaret’s mother Mary Dorsey passed away in Acton in February 1901, and Margaret’s sister Bridget (Dorsey) Callan lived in Acton with her husband Patrick Callan until her death in 1926.)
Another Acton Photographer
A surprise came from searching newspaper articles for Forester - the discovery of a new Acton photographer. Between December 1895 and February 1896, ads appeared in the Concord Enterprise for Mrs. F. J. Taylor, South Acton Photographer, offering pictures of ladies’ boudoirs, parlors, babies (in environments they were accustomed to), pets, anniversary gifts, costumes, and evening parties, with “flash lights” a specialty. A November 21, 1895 South Acton news item mentioned that Mrs. F. J. Taylor had photographed the guests of Mrs. M.E. Lothrop’s 75th birthday party. On December 5, 1895 the Enterprise reported that "Mrs. Taylor" had photographed the Abram Jones family at their Thanksgiving gathering. So far, no other mention of or picture from Mrs. F. J. Taylor’s photography business has been found, but we will be on the lookout.
Life After Acton
Forester’s and Margaret’s time in Acton was short. A 1902 Acton directory shows no Forester or F.J. Taylor listed as a resident or as a photographer in the business section. It appears that anyone wanting to date a photograph imprinted with “F.J Taylor, South Acton, Mass.” can assign it a date of approximately 1893-1901. (As a caveat, if cardboard mats were left over after F.J. moved away from the area, 1901 may be too early a cutoff.)
Research into the later life of the family shows that after leaving Acton, Forester moved frequently. He appears as a photographer in the Norwalk, Connecticut directory of 1903 and the Northampton, Mass. directory of 1906. The 1907 Northampton directory simply states that he moved to Hartford. In the Hartford, Connecticut directories of 1908 and 1910, he is no longer listed as a photographer but is listed as residing at 100 Ann. In 1908 and 1910, sons Frederick M. and Friend F. are both listed as salesmen living in the same residence as their father. In 1910, Mrs. Margaret is also listed in the directory at 100 Ann, with rooms to rent.
An obituary in the Concord Enterprise (June 15, 1910, page 6) says that “Forester Taylor, the travelling photographer, who at one time resided in Cole’s block, died at his late home in Hartford, Conn., last month." The Hartford Courant published an obituary (May 23, 1910, page 11) that focused on his early years; his apprenticeship in Vermont, a few years in the photography business in his hometown of Melbourne, Quebec, a brief sojourn to the Midwest, two years working for Sprague & Hathaway in Somerville, Mass, and then his development of “the traveling commercial view business.” The obituary implied that he had a large-scale enterprise and had trained many photographers. Unfortunately, despite much searching, it was hard to find much documentation of Forrest J. Taylor’s business life or his “prominent place” in American photographic history. Fortunately, some of his photographs survive. In addition to the 2015 donation, the Society also has two pictures taken in Acton by F.J. Taylor of Cambridge (who we now know definitely is the South Acton photographer) and a copy of a third photo bearing his South Acton imprint.
If you have any other information about Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Taylor and their photography or more information about the F.J. Taylor pictures in our collection, please contact us.
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