What follows is an unique collection of visual imagery related to the life and career of one of the most popular blackface minstrels during the 19th century: Ben Cotton. The photographs offer a rare look at the world of blackface minstrelsy - from within the Cotton family. Tintypes and cabinet cards of the Cotton performers are set side-by-side images of cousins and aunts, showmen and celebrities, children and friends.
Most of the images gathered here were taken in a twenty-five year period between 1855 and 1880. Of the more than 150 images the majority were taken by photographers in the principal cities of New England. Rhode Island studios in Providence and Pawtucket are well represented.