Friday, March 9, 2012

The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Technology Meets the Tanners

Despite all efforts to identify the people in this picture, the bottom line is is that we can't know the details for sure. It is unfortunately common to have old family photos without identifying information. It's tragic, in a way, when you think about how much this picture could have meant to the people in it.

The Tanner family moved from Bolton, New York, to Kirtland, Ohio, in the winter of 1834-1835. They moved to Missouri in 1838. In 1839, the Tanner family was living at New Liberty, Illinois.

During the Nauvoo period, the Tanner family lived in Montrose, Iowa, across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo.

The email from the Church History Library in the introductory post mentions Lucian Foster, the Nauvoo daguerreotypist. Here is one of his well-known pictures from Nauvoo:

Nauvoo-era daguerreotype of Brigham Young.

John Tanner left Nauvoo on a mission in April 1844. The daguerreotypist Lucian Foster reportedly arrived in Nauvoo on April 27, 1844, with his daguerreotype equipment. He first advertised in the Nauvoo Neighbor on August 21, 1844, two months after the murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.

Not much is known about Lucian (also Lucien) Foster. He evidently left Illinois sometime after his time there in the mid-1840s and moved to Brooklyn, New York.

Advertisement for daguerreotypes in the August 28, 1844 Nauvoo Neighbor. From BOAP.org.

Since John Tanner was on a mission to promote Joseph Smith's candidacy for president, he would probably have returned to Illinois upon hearing news of Joseph Smith's death. The date of his return is not noted in any of the family histories.

As far as we know, this would be the first opportunity the Tanners had to sit for a portrait. It was just four or five years after the first picture was ever taken of any person anywhere. Would the Tanners have taken the opportunity to have a daguerreotype made by Lucian Foster? Which of the Tanners would have been available and would have sat for the portrait? Why the four in this picture? Why not others? Does it look like the daguerreotype of Brigham Young or other known daguerreotypes taken in Nauvoo?

When the Saints left Nauvoo, the Tanners moved with the Saints to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In January 1847, their entire home was burnt. Elizabeth Beswick Tanner recalled:
We were camped out at Winter Quarters where we had our cabin where we had most of our things burnt. The boys on the range with the cattle had some bedding which was saved—but the chest containing my clothing with many other things were burned. I was left without a change of clothing except print for one dress.
Someone saved John Tanner's original copy of the Book of Mormon from the fire, although it suffered significant damage.

John Tanner's original Book of Mormon. When George Tanner wrote the book John Tanner and His Family, this original copy of the Book of Mormon was in the possession of Patience Thatcher of Logan, Utah. From John Tanner and His Family (Tanner, 1974), page 44.

If the daguerreotype was taken before 1847, was it rescued from the fire? Does it have any evidence of fire damage? Was it rescued without damage? Or was the picture taken later?

Sixty-nine year old John Tanner and his family left Winter Quarters on July 3, 1848. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the middle of October 1848 and settled in South Cottonwood (now Murray), in the Salt Lake Valley.

John Tanner died a year and a half later. I have not seen any suggestion of a daguerreotypist operating in Salt Lake City before John Tanner's death on April 13, 1850. The first daguerreotypist in Salt Lake City seems to have been Marsena Cannon, Sr. He and his family arrived in Salt Lake City on October 14, 1850, six months after John Tanner's death.

The year after John Tanner's death, his family left South Cottonwood to go to San Bernardino with Charles C. Rich and Amasa Lyman. They were in San Bernardino until 1858, when they returned to Utah Territory at the time of the Mormon conflict with the Federal Government.

Subsequent posts will discuss the identity of the people in the picture, the possibility that it was taken in San Bernardino, and the possible dates for the picture.

To be continued...

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: We Meet the Tanners
Part 3: What is a Daguerreotype?
Part 4: Technology Meets the Tanners
Part 5: Woman at Right
Part 6: Woman in Center
Part 9: Summary

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