John Corbin Sunderlin
He was born June 20, 1835, at Fort Ann, New York. His original name was John Corbin Vorce, but his mother died when he was three months old, and his name was changed when he was adopted when he was nine. He married Harriet A. Penny August 19, 1855. They had five children. In 1856, Sunderlin abandoned farming and “mechanical pursuits” for photography.[i] He became an itinerate photographer with a studio in a horse-drawn wagon, and made his own photographic plates.[ii] He died of pneumonia April 23, 1911, in Blairstown, New Jersey.[iii]
He enlisted in the Fifth Vermont Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, reaching the rank of Sergeant.[iv] His obituary found in The Blairstown, New Jersey, Press, says: “He served in the United States army during three years of the Civil War, was present in eight hard-fought battles and a number of skirmishes, was shot through he body at the battle of Fredericksburg, and after partially recovering from his wound and the typhus fever at Georgetown Hospital, he was mustered out and, like so many other men in like conditions, was left largely to himself to find a place in the business world from which he had been excluded by the call to arms.”
After the war he settled in Fort Edward, New York. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Odd Fellows. He joined the Masonic Order too, and is listed as a member in a Masonic membership list. He was a member of the New York State Prohibition Party.[v]
After the war he returned to photography and pursued that profession “until 1870 when he was ordained by the Methodist church and preached in a number of important charges in the Troy conference.”[vi] The sole reference to his ministerial training is in a family history, and all it says is that he “was educated for the ministry, ordained at Plattsburgh, N.Y., and held pastorates at Kingsbury and Schroon Lake, N.Y., and Arlington, Vt.”[vii] When he began active association with Russell, Sunderlin resigned his Methodist ministry and restarted his photography business.
Sunderlin’s name appears in the list of money receipts printed in the February 1879 issue of The Herald of the Morning. His first notice in Zion’s Watch Tower is a letter appearing in the October 1880 issue. The June 1881 issue of The Watch Tower noted that “Bro. Sunderlin … has been in the [preaching] work for three months.”[viii] This fits with a statement in the Blairstown Press obituary:
Finding, after preaching for a number of years, that his views were not those of the denomination with which he was connected, always faithful to principle, he left the Methodist denomination and became a free lance; although always loyal to the great doctrine of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. About the year 1880 he relinquished the work of the ministry and resumed his occupation of photography.
Sunderlin moved from Fort Edward to Flemington, New Jersey. In 1902, he purchased a studio in Blairstown, New Jersey, and spent the last years of his life in that city.[ix] His work received favorable review from The American Journal of Photography in 1893 and from Wilson’s Photographic Magazine in 1899. Wilson’s called him “one of the veterans of the craft” and said that he “has upheld the honor of the craft by good work.”[x]
[i] Obituary: J. C. Sunderlin: The Blairstown, New Jersey, Press, April 26, 1911.
[ii] The Southern Literary Messenger, Volume 3, 1941, page 104.
[iii] Obituaries: The New York Times, April 26, 1911.
[iv] General Orders of the War Department Embracing the Years 1861, 1862, and 1863, Volume 2, Derby and Miller, New York, 1864, page 432,
[v] Most of this biography comes form Bascom, Robert O.: The Fort Edward Book, Containing Some Historical Sketches with Illustrations and Family Records. James D. Keating, Fort Edward, New York 1903, page 266. His membership in the Free and Accepted Masons is verified by Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, May 1912, J. J. Little & Ives, New York, 1912, page 169. Activity in GAR noted also in The Trenton, New Jersey, Times, March 14, 1904.
[vi] Obituary, The Blairstown Press, April 26, 1911.
[vii] Vorce, Charles M.: A Genealogical and Historical Record of the Vorce Family in America, with Notes on Some Allied Families, Cleveland, Ohio, 1901, page 63.
[viii] Russell, C. T.: To the Readers of The Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1881, reprints page 239.
[ix] Items of Interest, St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, January 1902, page 40.
[x] American Journal of Photography, 1893:53; Wilson's Photographic Magazine, 1899:124.