[The Great Man Has Fallen]

Robert H. Vance American

Not on view

Robert Vance was the premier daguerreotypist of California and the mining communities near San Francisco, where gold was first discovered in 1848. In 1851 he exhibited in New York City more than three hundred views of the nation's newest state. Unfortunately these photographs, acquired first by Jeremiah Gurney and later by John Fitzgibbon, have been lost since the early years of this century.
This whole plate daguerreotype is a fascinating document of frontier history. It memorializes the cruel death of James King of William, the editor of the San Francisco "Evening Bulletin," and the public lynching of his murderer, James P. Casey. On the evening of May 14, 1856, King of William (he had legally added "of William" to distinguish himself from other James Kings), a muckraking journalist who fought local vice and corruption, was shot outside his office by Casey, a local politician and rival editor of the "Sunday Times." In that day's editorial King of William had accused Casey of election fraud and of being an ex-convict who had served time in New York at Sing Sing for robbing his mistress. The city rose up in arms, and several days later, when King of William died, a mob of vigilantes removed Casey from the sheriff's office and lynched him from gallows erected on an abandoned liquor warehouse.
The photograph thus documents the success of the city's second Committee of Vigilance (the first dated to 1851). In the early years of westward expansion it was customary for reputable men to organize vigilance committees to aid in the suppression of crime. Lynching was the typical penalty for transgressions that called for the most extreme form of punishment. In both 1851 and 1856, periods of wild disorder in San Francisco were ultimately terminated by the action of such groups. Smiley, Yerkes & Company, auctioneers and commission merchants, was located at the corner of Sacramento and Sansome Streets, just one block from Vance's Sacramento and Montgomery Street studio. T. J. L. Smiley was a charter member of the 1851 Committee of Vigilance.

[The Great Man Has Fallen], Robert H. Vance (American, died 1876), Daguerreotype

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.