Conrad Heyer: Oldest American ever photographed


Conrad Heyer was 103-years old when he had his photograph taken for the first time. Heyer wasn’t so much camera-shy as a man on the cusp of a technological revolution, which accounts for the reason why he was so old when he posed for his initial photo, taken in 1852.

Heyer, a Revolutionary War veteran who crossed the Delaware River along with Gen. George Washington and Capt. James Monroe in December 1776, is acclaimed as the person with the earliest birthdate ever captured in a photograph.

Heyer not only lived a long life, but remained surprising active practically until his death.

In 1852, the Portland (Maine) Advertiser reported that Heyer, despite being a centenarian, travelled six miles through a severe storm to cast a vote for presidential candidate Gen. Winfield Scott.

Heyer had voted in every presidential election to that point, “and had always been a Whig,” according to the publication.

Heyer was born in April 1749 in Waldoboro, Maine, which was then part of the colony of Massachusetts. He died nearly 107 years later, also in Waldoboro.

He enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment in December 1775 and not only served in the Continental Army under Washington during the Revolutionary War and crossed the Delaware with the Patriot commander-in-chief but fought in several major battles.

Records indicate that Heyer served for a time as one of Washington’s bodyguards, according to information found in the National Archives.

Revolutionary War pension form for Conrad Heyer (spelled Hyer), 1818.

Revolutionary War pension form for Conrad Heyer (spelled Hyer), 1818.

He served three years in the Patriot cause, facing the British at Ticonderoga, and at the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

He spent the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, where he became a Mason.

He is said to have “later enjoyed fraternal intercourse” with the likes of Lafayette, Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Gen. Henry Knox, Gen. Nathanael Greene, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln and Col. Henry Dearborn, according to a 1910 edition of a publication called The Pennsylvania-German.

He applied for and began receiving a Revolutionary War pension in 1818.

Heyer was reputed to be the first white child born in Waldoboro, which was initially a German immigrant community, according to the Maine Historical Society, which owns the 160-plus-year-old Daguerreotype of Heyer shown up top.

He is buried in the German Protestant Cemetery in Waldoboro, which is located in Lincoln County, in south-central Maine, along the Atlantic coast.

6 thoughts on “Conrad Heyer: Oldest American ever photographed

    • He looks about 70, doesn’t he? And I bet he could have whipped a man half his age up until the end, too. They don’t make them like that anymore. He definitely looks better than I feel many days.

    • No, searching through online newspapers from that era didn’t turn up anything after around 1853, other than he continued to sing in his church choir and that even after age 100 he was belting out the words to hymns with as much gusto as a man one-third his age. He must have been a force of nature. Talk about a tough act to follow.

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