John F. Wiley, Printer: “In his job, very skillful”

Official printer for the State of Maryland, member of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Board of Directors and the Maryland House of Delegates . . . These are just a few of the accomplishments that made John Francis Wiley (1822-1877) a valued, if forgotten, citizen of Baltimore.

Despite a rather long obituary in the Baltimore Sun, John Wiley’s origins are obscure. He was born in Baltimore, apprenticed to the Philadelphia Ledger as a printer’s devil in 1834, became foreman of that paper’s job printing operations, then returned to Baltimore to fill the same position for the Sun in 1852, later going into business on his own account.

In the mid-1870s he was appointed State Printer, in charge of producing all of Maryland state government’s official publications.  He was twice elected to the Maryland House of Delegates for Baltimore, but died before he could serve his second term.

According to his memorialists, Wiley was a thoughtful and well-read man, as well as a successful printer and public servant. He self-published a travel narrative documenting his observations on his and his wife’s one trip abroad.

Printed privately, his Letters from Europe in the year 1869 is so obscure that it has not been cataloged. The Maryland Historical Society’s H. Furlong Baldwin Library owns a copy, and one copy has surfaced on the web for sale by a purveyor of rare books.

When Wiley died at the age of 55, multiple newspapers published obituaries honoring his enterprise and character. The New York Herald called him “a purely self-made man” (New York Herald, 19 November 1877).

The Baltimore Sun‘s obituary was, naturally, the longest. The anonymous writer remembered him thus:

“He was a ready writer, and though he only made occasional efforts with the pen his writings from time to time displayed culture and observation. He had many warm personal friends. As a businessman he was prompt and intelligent, and in his job, very skillful” (Baltimore Sun, 21 November 1877).

He and his wife, Sally Forman Wiley, had no children. After his death, Mrs. Wiley moved to Philadelphia to live with her brother, William Wiley Forman, his wife Mary, and their daughters, Lillie, Sarah Wiley Forman and Elizabeth Forman.

There is a sad coda to his life story.

Because his wife made no will before her  death in 1897, her brother attempted to have her dying words accepted in lieu of a written statement of intentions. “Rheumatism,” said William Wiley’s attorney, “had affected . . . her hands to such an extent that she was able to write only with great pain and labor.”

But “everything is to go to Willie,” she had said, “Mary, don’t you or the children worry about anything. I want Willie–brother Willie–to have everything” (Pennsylvania State Reports, v. 187, p. 82 ff).

The Pennsylvania courts declined to recognize Mrs. Wiley’s words as a will, and in 1898, the unnamed opponents of William Forman’s case successfully defended against his appeal.

The card mount of this carte de visite portrait bears the blind emboss mark of daguerreotypist and photographer Jesse Harrison Whitehurst (1823-1875). According to Maryland photography historian Ross Kelbaugh, Whitehurst’s photographic studio was at 123 Baltimore Street from 1860 to 1864. Photographs taken between 1864 and 1866 were taxed by means of a  revenue stamp on the reverse. Since this carte lacks a revenue stamp, Wiley’s portrait might might well have been taken between 1860 and 1864.

Whitehurst was one of the most successful of the early daguerreans and photographers, operating galleries in multiple cities, including Washington, DC and New York.  According to what is known of him, he took up the daguerreotypy almost as soon as it was introduced in the United States, traveling from Virginia to New York to study the new technology.

“Mr. Whitehurst,” said his brief obituary in the journal Photographic Mosaics, “was celebrated for securing sittings from distinguished characters, of which he was supposed to have had the largest collection of negatives in this or any other country.”

Whitehurst’s highly-prized portraits of the famous include General J. E. B. Stuart, General Sam Houston, and the actor Edwin Booth.

Whitehurst daguerreotypes and photographs can be found in the collections of noted archives, historical societies and museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Congress.

John Francis Wiley is buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

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