Wonson family cycle

September 17, 2014

By Gail McCarthy Staff Writer

Two historic objects from the 19th-century Wonson family of Gloucester have been reunited at Cape Ann Museum with a recent gift from Roger Choate Wonson.

Wonson, 90, and his wife, Mary Sue, visited the museum last week to donate an 1850s daguerreotype photograph that depicts a girl with her twin brothers. The twins are immortalized in an oil portrait that is a favorite of visitors to the museum.

The daguerreotype shows Roger’s grandfather, Samuel Giles Wonson IV, with his twin brother, William Newman Sawyer Wonson, along with their younger sister, Ellen. The boys always lived on Cape Ann. William served in the Civil War with the Massachusetts 8th infantry regiment. Both men made their living working on the waterfront when hundreds of fishing schooners filled Gloucester harbor.

A daguerreotype is an early form of photography produced on a silver or a silver-covered copper plate. The process is named after one of its inventors, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. The first successful image was created in 1837.

“This is one of those very rare instances where two historical objects, separated decades ago, are happily reunited,” said museum curator Martha Oaks. “That both items will be permanently preserved here at the Cape Ann Museum and available for public viewing makes it all the more amazing.”

Roger Choate Wonson talked about his recollections of the twins, born in 1843. In the painting, the twins are about 3 or 4 years old, and the daguerreotype was taken a few years later. The painting depicts the boys in a common Victorian-era likeness, while the daguerreotype photograph provides a more boyish depiction.

When asked if grandfather was any relation to the Wonson family of the Tarr & Wonson paint factory, he replied that was another family line. The paint factory was built in 1874.

“As I understand, there are two lines, the Samuel Giles and the George Marble line,” Wonson said. 

His grandfather’s family was involved in a shop that supplied marine materials, possibly boat parts, he added.

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