This is a photo taken in 1862 of slaves in South Carolina. The Library of Congress database doesn’t give a lot of context for the photo – here’s the small caption:
“Five generations on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina.”
The only other information the catalogue entry gives is that this is a slave family, that this was taken during the American Civil War, and that the photographer is Timothy H. O’Sullivan (a photographer known for his American Civil War photography, famous for his photo of casualties at Gettysburg).
It’s an interesting glimpse into American history. You can’t help but wonder how young these slaves had their children in order to have five generations alive at the same time. In a world where owners could sell slave family members away with impunity, how did this family fare? Only 10 people are in this photo of a five-generation family: are they not present because they’re working or because they were sold away? There are five children in the picture: what was childhood like for a slave? How do five adults take care of five children and perform their work as slaves? What happened to this family when the American Civil War ended three years later?
Photo source [Library of Congress]