N.C. Archives Makes Kiffin Rockwell Photo Collection Available Online

Raleigh, NC

The personal and military photograph collection of famous American World War I aviator Kiffin Rockwell has been made available online for the first time through the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina. 

Kiffin Yates Rockwell of Asheville, N.C. was a part of the American volunteer aviation unit in the French Aviation Service known as the “Lafayette Escadrille” (called “Escadrille Americaine” when Rockwell was a member) during World War I. He was the first American pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft during the war. 

This is the largest collection of original photographs documenting Kiffin Rockwell and the Lafayette Escadrille currently available online. They can be viewed via the State Archives’ Flickr page at https://bit.ly/2Mi8jIk. The photographs are part of a collection at the State Archives that includes the majority of Rockwell’s personal letters to his mother Loula from 1914 to 1916. 

Rockwell’s photographs include over 100 original images documenting his personal life and military service from 1893 to his death in 1916. The photographs were originals kept by his mother Loula, sister Agnes, and brother Paul while Rockwell was serving in the French Foreign Legion and later in the Escadrille Americaine during World War I. Most of the photographs are from a personal photo album kept by Kiffin’s mother and sister, beginning apparently just before or after Kiffin Rockwell’s death in September 1916. 

Most of the photographs were taken by or printed by Kiffin’s brother and fellow Foreign Legion soldier Paul Ayres Rockwell. Nearly all of the descriptions were taken from original identifications by Paul and Loula Rockwell on the backs of the photographs, and from the photo album’s image captions. Although a number of these photographs have been mass-produced and seen by the public over the years, many of them are one-of-a-kind prints—particularly those showing Kiffin Rockwell in his youth before the war. 

After recently reorganizing and performing preservation work on Rockwell’s papers—most of which have been held by the State Archives since around 1920—the photographs in the collection were researched to identify or confirm captions. Some of the captions were incorrect or incorrectly spelled, and were corrected in the image descriptions in the collection’s inventory. 

The photographs were the personal copies of the Rockwell family. By 1920, the family had donated to the State Archives about 30 loose photographs and a photo album from Kiffin Rockwell’s life and military service, including the last-known photograph taken of him on September 22, 1916.

These photographs were posted as part of the effort by the North Carolina WWI Centennial Commemoration Committee’s efforts to expand online access to original WWI materials documenting the role of all North Carolinians in WWI, and to commemorate the upcoming 102nd anniversary of Kiffin Rockwell’s death during aerial combat on September 23, 1916.  

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