George P. Critcherson


William Bradford employed two photographers, George P. Critcherson and John L. Dunmore, to travel with him to Greenland and make photographs of the scene along the way. Those images were included in The Arctic Regions. Each of the photographers had been part of a previous Bradford voyage to Labrador: Critcherson in 1863 and Dunmore in 1867, but little else was known about these two men.

George Pittman Critcherson was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on August 9, 1833, the second of the six children of John Osborn and Elizabeth Howe (Pittman) Critcherson. His father was a farmer, machinist and inventor. The family was from Lee, New Hampshire, but appears to have moved a great deal during George’s childhood, residing at various times in Lee, Portland Maine, and Dorchester and Boston, Massachusetts. George’s younger brother also became a photographer.

George P. Critcherson’s first job was driving the omnibus, an elongated stagecoach, from Norfolk House in Dorchester to Boston. On March 26, 1858 he was on the box when the fire from the cigar he was smoking fell inside his coat and began scorching his shirt sleeve. Upon removing the coat, the smoldering fire flared up. His arm was burned, and one of his whiskers and his eyebrows were scorched, but he otherwise escaped serious injury.

He took up photography soon after that incident, joining the firm of J. W. Black before the middle of 1860.

On November 26, 1862 he married Lucy Pierce Stone. Less than a year later he accepted the assignment to spend two months on the schooner Nelly Baker, taking photographs under the direction of William Bradford. The Boston Traveler reported on September 18, 1863 that:

“They succeeded in taking, with great success, a number of views of [Innu] people; also scenes descriptive of their mode of living. Mr. Bradford and Mr. Critcherson were peculiarly fortunate in their endeavors to secure good copies of the icebergs and northern lights. Their photographic apparatus worked to a charm, and fine impressions were obtained by Mr. Critcherson…. The weather was unusually favorable for their purposes, and the artists made the most of every auspicious hour.”

George Critcherson relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts and set up his own studio sometime before 1868. It is not known whether Bradford asked for him specifically based on his earlier relationship, or if he was still in the employ of or performing contract work for J. W. Black, or if he was recruited by John L. Dunmore. In his article November 10, 1869 “The Camera among the Icebergs” in The Philadelphia Photographer, Dunmore referred to him as “my friend, Mr. Critcherson, of Worcester.”

Critcherson traveled to London in the middle of September, 1871. The reason for his trip is not known; Bradford had recently concluded his several-months long visit there so Critcherson’s trip was almost certainly unrelated. His passport application, dated July 28, 1871, contains the only known description.

description from passport 1871

His photography studio in Worcester was on Main Street, across from Mechanics Hall. He was a prolific photographer of carte-de-visite portraits, but he also left the studio for assignments such as photographing all of the city’s educational institutions and floor plans for a collection to be sent to the World’s Exposition in Vienna in 1873, and to photograph important events in the area, such as the flood following the failure of the Lynde Brook Dam on March 30, 1876.

Critcherson and his growing family remained in greater Worcester for at least thirty years. For a few years he worked at least part of the time in Boston at the firm of Cronin & Critcherson, solar printers, while still living in Worcester. Around the time his family relocated to greater Boston, he had established a different partnership with S. W. Humphrey. In the final few years of the nineteenth century, he established a new firm, G. P. Critcherson & Co., but soon, while still listed as a photographer, he ceased to have a separate business address.

On April 2, 1900 the then 67 year old Critcherson was arrested for arson and attempted insurance fraud, along with Fred E. Roberts and Charles E. Hammond. The fire they were accused of setting had occurred September 19, 1899 at a photographer’s studio on Main Street in Marlboro. The fire had been quickly extinguished and the damage done did not destroy the evidence that the insured contents were of little value. Critcherson confessed to the plan and turned state’s evidence. On October 31st Roberts and Hammond were each sentenced to five to eight years; Critcherson was not sentenced at that time and the newspapers were silent about any punishment.

Less than two years later, on July 11, 1902, George P. Critcherson died at his home in Somerville. His brief obituary in the Boston Journal the next day mentioned his early career as a stage driver, his profession as a photographer who had had a studio in Worcester and his two trips to the Arctic. He was buried with other members of his family in Codman Cemetery, Dorchester, Massachusetts.

2 thoughts on “George P. Critcherson

  1. Thank you for this informative post about George Critcherson and his photographic accomplishments, including his Arctic work with William Bradford. What I found interesting is how frequently Critcherson’s family moved. I wonder if this was a trend during antebellum New England or an isolated situation for this family? The post also provided a glimpse of how the photographic industry was advancing and found wide utility, including documenting the Lynde Brook Dam failure. Those photographs would be interesting to see. Regards, Fran Hennessey

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