Sultana Disaster Survivor

blog MATTHEWS without sleeve

I donated this tintype to the Bedford Ohio Historical Society, so that it could be united with the book, Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors by Rev. Chester D. Berry, published in 1892, which belonged to Orlo and was in their collection.

This tintype features the Mathews’ brothers: Alden H. is standing, Orlo C. is sitting on the left, and James A. on the right. The tintype is housed in a sleeve which identifies each sitter by initials on the front and by full name on the back.  I’ve included those images at the end of this post.

Orlo C. was witness to what is known as the greatest maritime disaster in American history, the explosion of the Steamboat Sultana, which happened 151 years ago today.  Read on to learn more about the Mathews’ brothers and the Sultana!

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“He chose that course in life which was most excellent and custom rendered it to him delightful.”

BLOG Gillette and Fairchild photo

I won this beautiful daguerreotype on ebay.  I bought it because I loved the image of the two men.  But, the part I love the most now is the writing I found in the case, behind the photo.  These two young men definitely had a sense of humor.

“Taken form (?) John B. Gillette & R. B. Fairchild at the ages of 25 & 23 – look as if we might be about 45 or 50 – August 30th 1859”

BLOG Gillette and Fairchild text

The sitters are John B. Gillette, born April, 1834, son of Abel Ferris and Lucy (nee Plat) Gillette, and Robert Bruce Fairchild, son of David Burton and Amy (nee Wayland) Fairchild, born June 9, 1836.

In 1840, both boys were living in Newtown, Fairfield county, Connecticut.  By 1850, John was still in Newtown, but tragedy had befallen Robert. His father was killed in 1841 by an accident while blasting rock and his mother died in 1848, leaving Robert an orphan at the age of eleven.  In 1850, he lived with the Rufus Couch family in nearby Danbury.  The boys were distantly related; John’s Great Aunt, Mary Gillette, had married Zadock Fairchild, Robert’s first Cousin three times removed.
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The Piercing Stare


I found this tintype photograph in an antique shop in Markle, Indiana.  The writing on the sleeve identifies two women; Lois (nee Hart) Robison and Lois’ daughter-in-law, Anna.  It seems the person who wrote the names was giving a family history of sorts.  How can we know which woman is the sitter?  Since I am by no means an expert in Victorian fashion, I consulted with Ann Longmore-Etheridge, a historian and expert in early photography.  Using the details of the clothing, jewelry, and hairstyle, she dated the photo to the mid-1870s with 1878 as the latest possible date. She felt that the sitter was about 13 years of age.  Anne wasn’t born until 1887, so she could not be the sitter.  However, Lois was born in 1865 and was 13 years old in 1878.  Bingo!  Click the link below to learn about Lois’ life! Continue reading