Jessie Richmond Tarbox Beals, First Female Photojournalist in the U.S., Part I

I can’t say that there are many notable persons that I’ve uncovered in my genealogical research. However, while checking eBay for possible family treasures that might be up for sale, I came across the name of Jessie Tarbox Beals, a professional photographer.

Tarbox isn’t a terribly common surname and it is quite unique, as everyone in the United States today is apparently descended from one man – immigrant John Tarbox who settled in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts in the 1630s.

Therefore, when I came across Jessie’s name, I knew she was related to me in some fashion, as my 2X great grandmother was Nellie F. Tarbox.

It turns out that she is quite a distant cousin because our common ancestor is John the immigrant, but that certainly doesn’t make her life story any less interesting.

Jessie Richmond Tarbox was born on 23 December 1870 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where her father, John Nathaniel Tarbox, worked in the sewing machine manufacturing business. Her mother was Marie Antoinette Bassett.

John N. Tarbox made and lost a fortune during his lifetime, due to poor business investments.

Jessie was the youngest of five children in the family and the only member of her family to have been born in Canada.

John Tarbox Family, 1871
South Wentworth, Ontario, Canada
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Sorting out Jessie’s siblings, though, is a bit tricky. They are listed in the above 1871 census as: Phipps W., 15, Ellen B., 11, and George B., 9.

However, no further records are found for Phipps, Ellen or George. Instead, two marriage records have been found for children of one John Tarbox and Maria Bassett. As far as I can tell, this is the only couple with these names.

First, Paul W. Tarbox, born 1856, married Lucella Gilbert, 11 January 1893, Northampton, Hampshire, Massachusetts.

Second, Edward Bassett Tarbox, born 1859, married Maude Trowbridge, 7 October 1897, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Perhaps Phipps didn’t much care for his given name and instead used Paul.

However, Ellen B. Tarbox is clearly listed as a female in 1871. Did the census enumerator really mess up or what? Both marriage records list the parents as John Tarbox and Maria Bassett.

The 1881 census doesn’t really clear things up because now there is yet another twist:

John Tarbox, 1881 Census
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Phipps is now enumerated as Paul, Ellen B. is shown as Edward, BUT George B. in 1871 is now enumerated as GRACE! Also, for whatever reason, John Tarbox’s heritage is now listed as Spanish!!!

By 1891, the Tarbox family appears to have left Canada and returned to the United States.

This took some more digging, but I wasn’t about to give up!

Paul Walter Tarbox was born 1 April 1856 in Hadley, Hampshire, Massachusetts, son as the son of John N. and Antoinette Tarbox. He died in 1935 and is buried at Village Hill Cemetery in Williamsburg, Hampshire, Massachusetts.

Edward Bassett Tarbox was born 14 July 1859, Norfold, Litchfield, Connecticut. He died in 1953 in Remsen, Plymouth, Iowa and is buried with wife, Maude, in Remsen Cemetery. He was an ordained Baptist minister and, like Jessie, a photographer. His obituary details his interesting life. It also mentions that he was the last of FIVE siblings. With the gap in births between Grace and Jessie, there easily could be a child who died young.

Grace B. Tarbox was born 2 August 1860, Buffalo, Erie, New York, according to her 1896 passport application. She was applying to go abroad to work as a missionary. She reportedly died on 15 August 1907 in Caracas, Venezuela. It appears she never married and had no children.

The Tarbox family was found in 1860 by searching for Paul. It was mis-indexed as TRBEX. On 7 June 1860, John was a machinist and the family lived in New York City:

John Tarbox, 1860 Census
Source: Ancestry

If Grace was born in Buffalo, then the family left New York City in June or July.

John Nathaniel Tarbox was born in 1831, Limerick, York, Maine, the son of Nathaniel Tarbox and his wife, Eliza Cammett. The 1850 census shows him at home with his parents, but enumerated at Nathaniel.

Whether or not John N. Tarbox invented any changes to the sewing machine isn’t known. However, while working as a machinist, he became a wealthy man. His upward mobility apparently required many moves, the first of which was leaving his home state of Maine for Massachusetts.

No marriage record has yet been found for John and Maria Antoinette Bassett, but they likely married about 1854 or early in 1855. Family records state that they married in Canaan, Columbia, New York and that John lived in New Hartford, Connecticut at the time of his marriage. The family lived at Hadley, Massachusetts, Norfolk, Connecticut, New York, New York, Buffalo, New York, South Wentworth and Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, Greenfield, Massachusetts and Williamsburg, Massachusetts. They might even have moved to other towns that I haven’t yet found.

From all this convoluted mess, we are provided with an interesting picture of this family, who used their considerable talents to push the boundaries of occupations.

John was a true product of the Industrial Revolution. Their children went on to become a real estate/land developer, a minister and photographer, a missionary and a teacher/professional photographer.

The longest time the family ever lived anywhere was when Jessie was growing up in Ontario, Canada. John had apparently made his mark in the business world by then and the family more or less stayed put for a while.

Jessie attended the Collegiate Institute of Ontario and, at the young age of seventeen, she received her teaching certificate. The family isn’t found in the 1891 census of Canada and had likely made their way back into life in the United States.

Based on records form the late 1890s, the family apparently moved to Massachusetts and settled in the Hampden County area.

As for the 1881 census with the reversed sexes of the children and different names, but matching ages of Paul, Edward and Grace before and after, I am leaning towards the theory that it was a teenage prank by Paul. If John was off at work and Maria either busy in the house or not at home either when the census taker came around, Paul would have been the eldest child to possibly provide information. Note that Paul became Phipps, while the younger two siblings each changed from male to female. I think the family information on that census was provided by Paul, having a bit of fun.

Therefore, from all this information about the John Nathaniel Tarbox family, we have the following family unit:

John N. Tarbox, was born c1831, Limerick, York, Maine, the son of Nathaniel Tarbox and Eliza Cammett. Maria Antoinette Bassett was born c1834, Alford, Berkshire, Massachusetts, the daughter of Elisha H. Bassett and Lucina Richmond. (Note: Maria has a proven Mayflower line.) No marriage record has been found for this couple, but they probably married about 1854/55, reportedly in Canaan, Columbia, New York.

After John lost his fortune investing in a glass works company. He began drinking heavily (his wife was a staunch temperance supporter) and eventually left his family. He mostly lived in Boston until the last years of his life, when he removed to western Massachusetts. He died of heart disease on 27 December 1899 in Greenfield, Franklin, Massachusetts.

Source: American Ancestors

Maria Antoinette died on 19 April 1899 of cancer in Williamsburg, Hampden, Massachusetts.

Source: American Ancestors

They had five children:

1. Paul Walter, born 1 April 1856, Hadley, Hampshire, Massachusetts; died 1935; married Lucella Gilbert, 11 January 1893, Northampton, Hampshire, Massachusetts. They had three children – Dorothy L. who married Maurice Clark, Grace Demma (no further information) and Paul Gilbert Davis, who married Emily L. Axt. In 1940, Paul was 41, Emily 32 with no children at home.

2. Arthur Cecil, born 26 February 1858, Connecticut; died 26 March 1860, Brooklyn, New York of scarlet fever.

1860 New York Mortality Schedule

3. Edward Bassett, born 14 July 1859, Norfolk, Litchfield, Connecticut; died 1953, Remsen, Plymouth, Iowa; married Maude Trowbridge, 7 October 1897, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They had one surviving daughter, Margarita, who married Maurice Stapley.

4. Grace Bassett, born 2 August 1860, Buffalo, Erie, New York; reportedly died 17 August 1907, Lo El Valle, Venezuela. No evidence found that she married or had children.

5. Jessie Richmond, born 23 December 1870, Ontario, Canada; died 30 May 1946, New York , New York; married Alfred Tennyson Beals, 2 September 1897, Greenfield, Franklin, Massachusetts.

On Saturday, we’ll take a closer look at Jessie Richmond Tarbox’s life and career along with her Tarbox ancestry.





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