Tuesday, March 03, 2009


ORIGINAL RUGGED INDIVIDUALIST FOUND RECENTLY

My parents came to visit this past weekend and my father brought an interesting surprise. He was rummaging through my Grandfather Bartow Saunders' old filing cabinet and he found a leather framed, original tin negative plate. It was in an old envelope with some paper wrapped around it. In my Grandfather's handwriting was written, "Grandfather, James Thomas Saunders." I knew the name well from my family genealogy research but didn't know any photos still existed of him. James Thomas was born in 1847 in Isle of Wight, Virgina. A quick Internet search revealed that in 1847 the Donut was invented, the Mexican-American war began, the rubber tire was patented, and Alexander Graham Bell was born the same year. James Saunders sired 8 daughters and one son, John Thomas Saunders (the seventh child) who was born in 1869, and is Bartow's father. Sometime in the 1890's, John brought James down to Decatur County, Georgia (now Seminole County) and built our second family plantation (much of which we still own today except for the original house which is gone now). James was declining in health and needed a warmer climate. James lived with his son and helped him until his death in 1900 at the ripe old age of 53 when he died of the flu. The first plantation in Virgina was inherited by the "Holland" side of my grandfathers family (through James' wife, Olethia Holland Saunders). I have pictures of that Plantation house that is still standing and was formerly the site of many family reunions in the 1950's and 1960's. John Thomas went on to sire three sons and one daughter. One son, called JT, died of appendicitis at 18 years old (only a month after getting a Scholarship to the University of Georgia to play Football). Alva the oldest son, lived a full life and had a successful career as a theatre chain owner throughout the Florida panhandle, as well as south Georgia, and south Alabama. Bartow out lived everyone in his family of origin except his beloved wife, Syble who as you know passed away last year. He followed in his Grandfather and Father's footsteps of turpentine distillation, farming, and timber harvesting for 30 years until he became a Banker in 1950.

When my Dad gave me this framed plate it was very faded and I wasn't very optimistic as to what I could get from it. By the naked eye, it was nearly gone. I scanned it 1200 dpi, and flipped the negative to positive in photoshop, and low and behold the image came to life. Still faded but much clearer. A closer inspection revealed this "crook" in his ear that is a dominant Y chromosome trait in my family, every Saunders male has had it, apparently back further than we thought. He's holding a percussion-cap double barrel shotgun first manufactured in the 1830's. There is not a date on the photo but he likely took this portrait as a young man, likely in his late 20's or early 30's. He's wearing "fancy" clothing, which would put this maybe in the late 1860's after the civil war. Over the course of the next day or so, I worked on it until James Thomas was staring back at me. I printed him out, framed him, and we set him up on the kitchen table. My Dad, my sons Donovan, Dylan, and I looked at him for a long time. We began to imagine what he was like and maybe try to understand a little of his character. His hands are rough and there is a kind of steely determination in his eyes. He seems to have a deep dimple or maybe a scar in his left cheek. We know he and his male counsins fought in the Civil war for Virgina, but I haven't discovered any further records to be more specific. I have him on my mantle now. I wonder if he ever imagined that his direct decendents would be using technology that was beyond his dreaming to restore his image and we would be talking about him over 100 years later. He stares back from the mantle and I wonder what he would make of the world now.

5 comments:

Dude said...

God help the man with 8 daughters! No wonder he carries a shotgun.

E said...

Take the damn picture before I blow your head off.

Sir Saunders said...

E! That one had me out of my chair laughing.

Tom said...

It looks absolutely amazing. Tricia has some school pictures from the 1970s that are so faded even photoshop can't bring the color back. And here we have a beautiful portrait.

E said...

It's really neat that you have so much family history and continuity thru the generations. That is something you don't see a whole lot of any more in American life. A great treasure to pass down to the boys.

Post a Comment