Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Burning down the house

I’ll admit to being surprised by what has survived of the Sutherlands, versus what hasn’t. Thomas Sutherland seemed determined to pass on his legacy. His son and namesake appears to have also possessed a certain sense of self-importance. Which is why I was curious as to why so few family papers have shown up in my searches of archives and repositories—at the very least I would have expected to find some of Thomas Sutherland, Jr.’s notebooks, correspondence, etc., had been preserved. His published writings suggest he was a devoted record keeper, able to give the exact date he first visited a place thirty or more years before. My curiosity was finally satisfied when I encountered this comment by Sutherland, Jr: “We were ‘scattered and peeled’ by the cremation of our abode on the 24th of October” [1877]. Apparently his wife was alone at their Moore home at the time, and all was lost.

Thus it makes sense that the kinds of things we might expect Thomas Sutherland, Jr. to have inherited—including papers relating to business and the like—has not turned up. This is not to say Sutherland did not have other sons, but Thomas was his namesake. Moreover, his son Alexander predeceased him, and it is doubtful anything went to George, who lived some distance from the others, and whose house was described as a “wild and lawless” place.

Correspondingly, in addition to the paintings, what has survived are the items traditionally inherited by daughters, such as china, a sewing basket, a few decorative items, and the like. And every time something else turns up, I get excited for what it might contribute to any understanding of this settler. For instance, that Thomas Sutherland economized when purchasing the communion set for his church tells us he was not unnecessarily extravagant. This, in turn, gives us a basis for evaluating the kinds of items he did buy, which then helps us determine us how he wanted to be seen by those he entertained in his home—not to mention how much he was willing to spend to create that impression. It’s all too much fun.

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