Just Before the Camera: the Journal of Richard Meade

This extensively documented booklet annotates the voyage of Richard Meade through Southeast Alaska, one of the first instances of Europeans in the area.  Richard Meade was the captain of a steamship that took a 4 month tour through Southeast in 1868 and 1869.  Although his visit to Southeast was marked by tremendous violence toward the native people, he left behind this journal, an incredible snapshot of Alaska’s past.  Richard Carstensen poured over the journal, adding maps, natural observations, and photographs to Meade’s writing.

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From Richard Carstensen:


Richard Meade was a Civil War veteran who commanded the steamship Saginaw on a 4-month tour through Southeast Alaska in 1868 and 1869. Best known for overseeing the destruction of villages and forts near Kake, Meade also kept a little-known journal and contributed to a magnificent nautical chart. Recently, the journal was published on Google Books as Hydrographic Notice #13-1869. At the same time, the chart, credited to him and subsequent commanders Glass and Mansfield, was made available for download from NOAA’s historical map and chart collection

This document chops and dices excerpts from Meade’s chart throughout his trip-log, adding contemporary comparison maps and sidebars detailing several discoveries or hypotheses that emerge from close reading and cartographic scrutiny.

Richard Worsam Meade (looking dapper).

Richard Worsam Meade (looking dapper).

Compared to other writers of his time such as George Emmons, Aurel Krauss and Eliza Scidmore, Meade had little if any empathy for a culture he was sent to suppress. This is not pleasant reading. In fact it’s chillingly callous and arrogant in places. But Meade—through his mapping—unwittingly bequeathed something to cultural historians which none of those other journalist-ethnographers did; geographic specificity. Only from Meade’s journal and chart (and a few other early surveying efforts) can you learn exactly where certain Tlingit villages, forts and fish camps were located.

Brace yourself for an outrageous and enlightening journey.