The life and death of William S. Bullard

Learning more about the life and death of William S. Bullard, the photographer, allows Janette and I to add one more piece to the century old puzzle that we are constructing.  Having spent a number of  days walking cemetery grounds in Worcester, MA in search of the final resting place for some of the people of color that we have been studying, it was a slight deviation of research today as I drove to Putnam, CT to find the grave of their photographer William S. Bullard.  William committed suicide in 1918 very shortly after the death of his mother, Ellen (Barrett) Bullard.  Records indicated that he was buried next to his mother at Putnam Heights Cemetery and that is exactly where a fellow researcher, Katie Richards, and I found him.

There  was much more to learn this day, however, as we observed a small gravestone next to his and his mother’s.  On one side of this tiny stone was the word “Georgie” and on the other  side was “George B. son of C.E. and E.M. Bullard, Died Mar. 25, 1876 aged 11 ms 16 ds”.  There it was: one critical part of William’s family puzzle.  We have one glass negative of an early tintype photo that shows William’s parents, Charles and Ellen, surrounded by six youngsters, all boys.  All our investigations, however, could only account for 5 boys about whom there was much information and here was the answer: the oldest son, George, died in infancy and never made it to the 1880 Census.  We had thought for the past year that William, born in 1876, was the eldest son.  While this may seem to be of small consequence it is another “piece of the puzzle” that allows us to look back 100+ years at an portrait that is gradually bringing into focus the life and family of this unknown itinerant white photographer who, for reasons unknown at this time, captured unique and dignified images of people of color in his community.

We have located two grandchildren of William’s brother Marcus.  A trip to visit with these two very elderly ladies is in the planning stage and will be be reported in this blog after the visit.  They may have family stories to share that could possibly give us some insight into William’s life but if not we surely have many photos of their father and grandparents that will be new to them.  These kind of visits with descendants make all the work so very meaningful.

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