Saturday, August 13, 2011


I’ve been curious about this, which I presume was copied from a family bible at some time, and passed on to Winning Pendergast who included it in her family history of the Sutherlands:

“John Sutherland Sr.... died on his way home from Black River, Jamaica, W. I. on Board the ship Williams, Captain Wheatley off the Island of Cuba, June 21, 1765 in the 59th year of his age which would place the year of his birth 1706.”

I have found references to a Captain Wheatley, in charge of the ship Williams in the 1770s, which seemed to be doing the Jamaica to Bristol run. Jamaica depended on enslaved labour to produce sugar; England increasingly relied on sugar as it became more available and less costly. Once the Williams emptied its hold, it would have returned to Jamaica with the trade goods produced in England by its increasingly underpaid workers. While some ships also included a third stop at one of the slave forts on Africa’s coast, research by Kenneth Morgan of Brunel University demonstrates that by mid-century Bristol merchants “increasingly favored regular, direct routes instead of multilateral voyage patterns” (4). Black River, Jamaica would have been a likely destination as it was the principal British settlement in the region. I am intrigued that it was also known for producing: “cocoa, ginger, pimento, or as it is called Jamaica pepper, and vulgarly allspice; the wild cinnamon, the machineel, whose fruit though uncommonly delightful to the eye contains one of the worst poisons in nature; the cabbage tree” and other various items. However, Black River was not uncontested, and tensions with Spain in particular would have been a source of some anxiety for travelers and merchants alike.

I’ve generated a list of possible Captain Wheatleys. It wasn’t an uncommon name at the time, and there were a number of seafaring Wheatley families, which complicates matters a bit. I have been able to rule out the Captain John Wheatley who purchased a young enslaved woman who would come to be known as the poet Phillis Wheatley (coincidentally I’ve just published about her). Additional possibilities exist, but I’d have to go into archives on other continents. Unfortunately, as Morgan points out, Bristol‘s in-and-out letter books were destroyed in 1814, and the Bristol customs records in the Reform Bill riots of 1831. Strangely, the best records for eighteenth-century Bristol shipping are apparently in Melbourne. Since I’m not going to Melbourne, I’ve accepted that I’m not going to resolve this one.

That said, given all that I’ve read, it is interesting to imagine John Sutherland in Black River, a world so radically different from Sunbury on Thames. Was it his first trip? I don’t know; if not, he would have brought back tales that might have been passed down in the family of what was understood as the new world. Such a precedent might even explain the willingness of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) to relocate multiple times in his life, from England, to Edinburgh, to Canada.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I have to admit, when I began, I had no idea that I would find any accounts of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) as an individual. But here a family member provides some insight into Sutherland’s motivation for emigration:

“He was a man of some originality and force of character. He was much dissatisfied with the then unprogressive character of political affairs in this country, and having resolved to try his fortune in newer and less conventional fields, he emigrated to Canada West during the first quarter of the century, and he there founded a district and colony now known as the district of Sutherland on the St. Clair river.”

As this relative remained in Scotland, this note is additionally intriguing: he’d never met Thomas Sutherland, who was long dead when he wrote this, and yet the stories about TS must have been tremendously compelling. In regards to his politics, I’m assuming this is in reference to the radical reforms of the 1820s. (Otherwise, the only thing I’ve encountered is the possibility that he actively identified as a Jacobite.)

Surprisingly, another record of TS’s emigration survives. According to one who had read his letters home to Edinburgh, “he took a large lot of miscellaneous goods with him, the greater part of which he advantageously sold at Toronto; but he does not recommend emigrants to follow his example in attempting this kind of trading speculation. From Toronto he removed to a fine tract of land, consisting of about 1500 acres, lying on the river St. Clair, which is at the extreme west of the settlements. This land he purchased a great bargain, and he mentions that he could already sell it for double what it cost. He describes the climate, even during the winter, as agreeable, and speaks with a great degree of gratification of his removal to and settlement in this delightful portion of the province.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sutherland’s: A “Truly Happy Community”

Upper Canada Militiaman 1837-1838

The Upper Canada rebellion had consequences for Thomas Sutherland and his community. While it was a time of significant stress, he also profited financially, renting at least two properties to Her Majesty’s Troops (who later had to pay repairs to the tune of 14 pounds, 5 shillings). It also seems likely he made money feeding and watering (or wining) the troops. In exchange, they enhanced the community’s lively social life. From a letter dated Sutherland, Moore, River St. Clair, 5th March, 1839:

…I was told, in Toronto, “you are going to the land of Swamps and Indians”—I found it that of smiling Farms, good old English faces, and good old English hospitality….. The River St. Clair with a rapid current and clear green waters, winds through high and picturesque banks from Port Sarnia to its entrance into the Lake. The whole distance, with the exception of a reserve of 4 miles for the Indians, consists of flourishing farms, with here and there a pretty English cottage, breaking the uniformity of the rude but comfortable log house…..

….Most truly does the motto of the Albion, “caelum, non animum mutant,” &c. [those who run across the sea change their sky but not their state of mind] apply to the English part of Canada; loyalty burns in every heart, hospitality reigns in every family, and now that little temporary quiet has again revisited it, happiness beams in every face.

The officers of the Volunteer Corps assembled under Col. Wright, hastened to take advantage of the opportunity to give a Ball and supper. I was really surprized [sic] on entering the room to find it tastefully decorated with evergreens, and with the Union Jack and the Ensign of Old England hanging in graceful folds around it; much less did I expect to see such a numerous assembly of pretty and well dressed women; I had seen nothing of the kind since I had left home and fancied myself once more in merry old England, enjoying her winter revels. The dance was gaily kept up till daylight, when we all entered our sleighs and drove home.

The week after, a wedding took place near us, and after the pretty blushing bride had received the nuptial benediction, we sat down to an excellent dinner where, as on similar occasions, the glass and joke passed merrily round, until we were summoned to the ballroom, where we were soon engaged in threading the mazes of the gay quadrille; then came the supper—that glorious termination of a well spent day—and with it the song and blessings on the twain that day made one, and then the heartfelt “Hip, hip hurrah,” and then to bed and they to bliss.

Hardly had we resented from our previous pleasures when the gallant Colonel who commands the frontier gave a dinner party to the officers of his corps, followed in the evening by a ball; and here let me pause to expatiate on the feed; the cooking was worthy of an artiste; and long shall I revel in memory on the inimitable curry, the fish and venison.—The ball was delightful; the music good; all gay and goo humored; and until three o’clock, with the pleasing interruption of an excellent supper, we danced and sang and sang and danced.

Capt. Fisher, the worthy adjutant of the regiment, then took up the ball; and as he excels in the field, so was he found a “trump” in the ball-room. All his anxiety was to promote the hilarity of the evening, and what with his good music, good wine, and hearty welcome, not to omit excellent supper, he amply succeeded. At three o’clock we separated, to wish to return again.

Several more parties are, I understand, talked of, though not yet decided upon; and thus, in enjoying themselves in causing enjoyment to others, does this truly happy community pass its winter. There is none of the cold formality or starched ceremony of would-be great people; a hearty welcome a spare bed, and a set at the mahogany, or, rather, black walnut, await you wherever you go: and for myself, I can only say, that I came here a stranger, and was received as a friend.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Heather Club

I’ve come across a reference to Thomas Sutherland’s involvement in local civic life. Namely, in 1823, “Thomas Sutherland, a merchant tailor […] was the founder of a club still existing in the city, known as the ‘Heather Club’…. The Heather Club was instituted by him to foster a taste for rustic sports and good fellowship, and it still exists on the lines of its original constitution.” The history of the Heather Club supports Sutherland’s role, though it does get his name slightly wrong:

“It fell to the lot of a Mr. Joseph Sutherland, a merchant in Edinburgh, to conceive the idea of founding an association, which, then its embryo state, ultimately became in the year 1823 the ‘Edinburgh Heather Club’. At a later date we find from authenticated data that this Mr Sutherland emigrated to Upper Canada and there formed a colony, which was named after him – viz the district of Sutherland, on the river St. Clair.”

Another writer claimed it was intended to “encourage traditional Scottish games,” and certainly they were known for an annual excursion to the Pentlands accompanied by a piper. The rest of the time they appeared to have functioned as a dinner club for Jacobites.

Of everything I have read, however, it is the fact that a young Muriel Spark once won their poetry prize that amuses me most. By her own account:

“A poetry competition was launched among the schools of Edinburgh by the Heather Club, a men's club founded in 1823 (for what purpose I do not know, except that it was very Scottish). I won first prize with my poem about Sir Walter Scott, and another girl at Gillespie's got third prize. The school was doubly jubilant; everyone was delighted. So delighted that I hadn't the heart, I couldn't possibly explain how I felt about the prize itself. Partly, it was a number of books, and that pleased me. But partly it was a coronet, with which I was to be crowned Queen of Poetry at some public Scott-centenary celebration. My mother was overjoyed, as was nearly everyone else, in school and out of school. I felt like the Dairy Queen of Dumfries, but I endured the experience and survived it. A star actress, Esther Ralston, did the crowning. It was a mystery to me what she had to do with poetry or Sir Walter Scott. The coronet itself was cheap-looking, I thought. The only person who openly agreed with my point of view was our reserved and usually silent headmaster, T J Burnett. He knew I had to go through with it now that I had won the prize, but he showed a sense of the unsuitable nature of this coronet affair. He was essentially an administrator, a man of very few words. '’Tinsel,’' he said quietly to me, and then made a congratulatory speech in front of the school. According to his daughter, Maida, he remarked at home, '’That lassie can write.'”

…thus extending Sutherland’s literary associations in ways not previously anticipated.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Sutherland

In a previous post I discussed a story passed down among Thomas Sutherland’s descendants in North America, namely that Sir Walter Scott was a client in Edinburgh. And yet, I was cautious in endorsing it, as other stories about Sutherland’s relationship with authors appeared somewhat suspect. But now I have a corroborating account from a grand-nephew, whose father served his apprenticeship with Sutherland. He writes:

"It was with this Thomas Sutherland that my father served his apprenticeship. I have on many occasions heard my father allude to the fact that his uncle numbered Sir Walter Scott as one of his customers, and in his capacity of apprentice and messenger my father had frequent opportunities of seeing Sir Walter in his daily life long before he had become known to the world as the famous author of the Waverly novels."

Ultimately it doesn’t tell us anything new or momentous about Sutherland. But it does testify to the reliability of some of the family narratives passed down. Not to mention we can now look at a neatly-turned out Scott, and get a sense of the kind of tailoring Sutherland did.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sutherland Tradition: New Year’s Egg-Flip

It is in the writing of one of Thomas Sutherland’s (1772-1850) great-nephews that I found the account of this family tradition, which the great-nephew maintains was practiced by all Sutherland men going back several generations, including Thomas. Here he describes his own father’s version:

As the midnight hour of the last day of the year approached he proceeded to prepare a decoction known as the Egg-Flip. He had a large pot brought from the kitchen to the dining-room fire and into this he poured the contents of several bottles of beer, a bottle of stout, and a half-a-dozen eggs, which he had beaten up. After simmering for a while, and being allowed to reach almost to the boiling point, a few glasses of whisky were added, then the whole was poured into large jugs and ready for consumption by those who cared for it. We boys hated it, which is not surprising; and our guests—for a few neighbours always popped in—while professing to think it excellent, never partook freely of it. The result was that almost all the stuff had to be thrown out, but this fact did not deter my father from repeating the process year after year, with the same invariable result. Even the additional fact that in the process of manufacture the hearth rug was almost always, much to the distress of my mother, seriously damaged, did not suffice to stop the custom, which was certainly one to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

As a beverage, the Egg Flip can be dated back to the late 1690s apparently, and enjoyed some popularity in the Victorian era. More reliable recipes are available online, if anyone is interested. But as far as family traditions go, this does seem to be in keeping with earlier descriptions of Sutherland and his well-stocked cellar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

“A Note on Tights”; or, Anne Sutherland, part II

While researching Anne Sutherland, I discovered that at some point in the late 1880s or early 1890s she was one of many actresses who posed for photographs which were given away in packages of Newsboy tobacco. The photos were usually somewhat racy by contemporary standards, with the theatricality of the costumes and poses serving to excuse the impropriety.

If this was not enough, I then stumbled across an article in H. L. Menken’s groundbreaking American Mercury titled “A Note on Tights” in which the author revisits these postcards from his youth. Included is his assessment of Anne Bland Sutherland’s portrait. If this was not sufficient, when I realized the author was Carl Van Vechten—an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, and a photographer in his own right—I was hooked, and knew I would be excerpting the passage on Sutherland in full, rather than simply relying on it for information. Van Vechten writes:

“I picked up Anne Sutherland, garbed in martial costume, with helmet, velvet armor and trappings, tights fitting close to the full but symmetrical legs, and high boots. She was about to draw her sword, and her expression was as vigilant and as dauntless as that of Carpentier in the second round. Anne Sutherland, who now lives such a quiet life in the country, returning to New York occasionally to play the part of a middle-aged adventuress in some melodrama! Memory stood by my side and whispered that Miss Sutherland had begun her career with operatic aspirations: she went, indeed, to Germany to study Brünnhilde. Dreams and circumstances once more came into conflict, however, and it was not long before she found herself playing principal boy in the burlesque companies of E. E. Rice, who will be remembered as the entrepreneur of “Evangeline” and “1492”: this was the period of the cigarette pictures. Still later she elected to become an emotional actress and broke china in the third act with great sweeps of elemental passion. A extraordinary career, and it will soon be forgotten, I muttered, unless somebody puts it into a novel, and I fell to musing as to who should do this now that James Huneker was dead.”

Later Van Vechten mused on another actress that “Like Anne Sutherland, she is not forgotten.” Anne Bland Sutherland appears to have posed for more than one of these images; presumably they paid quite well. In an earlier image for Lone Jack tobacco she is equally exposed, though her outfit makes her seem less majestic than the one above. But if I had to pick a second favorite, it would be this one:
There are other surviving photos of Anne on stage, in costume, and a copy of at least one other absolutely lovely promotional photo, which she has autographed. As of yet, I have found none of Josie (though a skipping rope artist who appeared on Vaudeville, with the same name shows up) or of the other siblings.

A Sutherland Pin-up Girl; or, Anne Sutherland, part I

In 1937 Winning Pendergast wrote of her distant Sutherland cousins, actors, describing “Edward, Anne and Josie” as “charming stage folk, whom Eliza knew in Boston.” It is a tantalizing line. But it wasn’t Boston they resided in; born for the most part in Washington, D.C., the siblings were raised in Chicago, Illinois. It was there they first took to the stage, later joining touring companies, appearing in New York, etc. While Winning recalls them as “charming”—and they may have been—in reality they were also remarkably scandalous, and perhaps “colorful” would have been a more appropriate appellation. One only has to recall Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) to understand just what attitudes were towards the profession and its practitioners, both deemed morally suspect at best—more so the women. (That the novel is set in Chicago is even more fitting in this instance.) The great-grand nieces and nephews of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) were anything but conventional.

Thus brother Edward A. W. Sutherland (1872-1931) might have been amused or mortified to be remembered as an actor, depending on his perspective. In reality, he wasn’t a performer, but a mechanical engineer. That honor went to his brother, James L. Sutherland (1870-1904), a baritone whose wife (Georgia Ione Dewey) was also on the stage. Sister Josie Sutherland (1868-1897) was a secondary but noted player, often touring in operas and comedies, and generally described as very good, though in 1891 The Galveston News opined “Miss Josie Sutherland, the soubrette, dances fairly well, but her singing is nothing extra.” Nevertheless, she was of sufficient import that the Sunday Globe, of St. Paul, Illinois, informed its readers in 1884 that “Josie Sutherland and Will H. Mayo were married as long ago as Nov. 6 at Trinity Church, Chicago, Ill.” Likewise, The New York Clipper Annual would later report: “Josie Sutherland divorced from Will H. Mayo, Chicago on May 8, 1892.” Of course, tracing Josie Sutherland and Will Mayo in the records is complicated by the fact that both used stage names. Josie was baptized “Frances Josephine” and Will H. Mayo was really William H. Austin—or at least that’s the name he used for the wedding ceremony.

Ultimately, James and Josie had short careers; as the Chicago Tribune noted in 1893, it “was in error in the announcement that Miss Josie Sutherland, the soubrette, had recovered sufficiently to renter the theatrical profession, It is probable ill-health will keep her in Chicago at least three months longer.” She died four years later. James, who was at the time stage manager of The Wizard of Oz company, died from appendicitis in 1904 at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind a daughter, Margaret Mary.

By comparison, their sister Anne Bland Sutherland (1866-1942), known as “Annie Sutherland” for the duration of her time on stage—despite her three marriages, four if you count the fellow who repeated—had a longer and far more interesting career. A contralto, Anne began singing in the choir of the Church of the Messiah, making her professional debut as Little Buttercup in the Chicago Church Choir Pinafore Company’s juvenile production of H.M.S. Pinafore at Haverley’s Theatre in 1881. By that time, the Haverley juvenile company was an institution, though of uneven quality. Shortly before she joined, The Canadian Monthly Magazine had written of the production:

“The success attending the visit of Haverley’s Juvenile Pinafore Company was attributable rather to the ‘infant phenomenon’ craze by which astute managers like Mr. Haverley know so large a part of the public to be possessed, than to much intrinsic merit in the performance itself. The singing, especially in the choruses, was often shrill and hopelessly out of tune, while in some cases, especially in that of the Josephine (Annie Walker), it was rather pitiable than enjoyable to witness the unsuccessful attempts of the child to render music entirely beyond the compass of her voice.”

Presumably Anne was a superior performer to poor Miss Walker. Indeed, the shape of her career suggests as much. A later commentator would note of Anne that “Her professional experience has covered all lines of work, and she is a hard working and thorough actress and a general favorite.” The Chicago Tribune remembered her kindly: “Miss Sutherland had appeared with many of the greatest stars of her generation.” Her profession took her to England and the Savoy Hotel, London, as well, and led her to appear in at least seven movies between 1915 and 1931 with such wonderful titles as A Woman’s Resurrection (1915), My Sin (1931) with Tallulah Bankhead, and It Happened in Paris (1932). (My Sin can be purchased online—though there’s no way I can phrase that without sounding somewhat salacious, I tried.)

The plays and people Anne was associated with are now long forgotten, but it is clear that she had considerable cachet. In part we can determine this by the degree to which events in her life were reported on in the public press. Her marriage to the well-known comedian/dancer Richard Field Carroll in New York in 1886 appeared in print, as did their subsequent marital woes. Namely, in March of 1891, a headline appeared in the Philadelphia Record: “Anne Sutherland Wants to be Freed from Her Husband.” Identifying Isabella Urquhart (also an actress) as co-respondent, the press reported “The serenity of the first two years of Mrs. Carroll’s married life was dissipated by the discovery that her husband was finding more solace in the company of another woman.” Even the New York Times found the suit worthy of note.

Their divorce was covered in newspapers, as was their later remarriage that same year, and the inevitable second parting of ways shortly thereafter. Another spouse followed, and then a third, Charles H. Harding, a commercial traveler for a cotton mill (shades of Sister Carrie again). By 1920 they were over, as that year Anne identified herself as single and by her maiden name in the census, heading a household that included her mother, a sister (Margaret, another actress, also possibly divorced), and a niece. 1930 found her alone, describing herself as a widow—perhaps because her former husband Richard F. Carroll was now deceased.

Anne Bland Sutherland died after a long illness at the age of 75, in the Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, New York. Her daughter Anne Carroll—who died quite young—was not mentioned in any of the obituaries printed, nor were her husbands, movies, career as a pin-up girl (more on that in part II), or even surviving family members. Instead she was eulogized in the theatre’s most respectful terms, as a “veteran trouper.”