Critical thinking, please!

Photo discovered while researching Jane (Barton) Sweetnam.

One of the extremely satisfying things when doing is to discover a likeness, a photo, painting, or drawing, of the person being researched. It brings a satisfying closure to the process.

This is not Jane Barton, mother of Ruth Sweetman.

Jane Barton is reported to have been born in 1780, married in 1802, and gave birth to the first of numerous progeny in 1803. The last I have discovered in any record, her 14th, is one Richard Weymouth Sweetnam, born 1830.

Nine years later, 1839, William Fox Talbot of the UK first learns of sodium thiosulphate[WP] and produces the first glass negative, Louis Daguerre presents his daguerrotype method for creating photographs in Paris, and Robert Cornelius takes the first surviving ‘selfie.’

Dorothy Catherine Draper, ca 1840, aged 32 or 33. From Photograph by John William Draper.

If you think Jane Barton, at age 59 and being the mother of 14, looked like that in 1839 and somehow managed to locate a photographic hobbyist/scientist, you are far more optimistic than I. It may be another photo of Dorothy Catherine Draper by her brother John, a pioneer in photochemistry. In this historic image, created in 1839 or 1840, he captured the first known photo portrait of a woman, when his sister was approximately age 32.


Unfortunately, the photograph is not the only element of fiction related to Jane/Janet/Jennie Barton. She and her husband are believed to have died in South Africa, both in 1869, at a place known as “Post Retief”. Such a place does not currently exist, but there is a town by the name of Piet Retief. The town, however, was founded in 1883 and named for the voortrekker of the same name who was killed in 1838 – it probably did not exist in 1869,  and would not become part of South Africa until 1891. Being a boer and afrikaner space during the migrations and Transvaal period, it seems unlikely that an English family would arrive and settle so far from the English center of government at Cape Town.

On the other hand, Jane and Thomas’s daughter Ruth Sweetman is reported to have married Henry Talbot in Grahamstown’s “St. George church”. The church was begun during an 1820 visit to England by the governor, construction began in 1824, and the building was opened in 1830. It would still have been very new in 1833 when the wedding took place, but it would have been there.

The problems, however, are in verification. There is no chain of evidence indicating any of the frankly unbelievable tales surrounding the Sweetman family moving from Kent, England to South Africa, and the Henry Talbot conversion to Mormonism and taking his large family to Utah.  Keeping in mind that Talbot supposedly arrived in Utah with a slave brought from South Africa, where slavery was officially abolished in 1834, sometime during the U.S. civil war (1864?,) and stories are told that this young man was sold after the presidential emancipation in 1865. Yet there are no documents cited to support any of this, so far.

Which is not to say it did not happen, just as the tales say it did.

Except that photo. It is not Jennie Barton. Or, at least, not this Jennie Barton.