Niagara Gazette

July 10, 2006

GUESTVIEW: Old letter reports nine Sutherland sisters

By Brandon M. Stickney

A relative of the Seven Sutherland Sisters has made an exciting discovery: there were at least nine sisters.

Many local residents are aware of the Sutherlands’ legacy as long-haired singers who made a fortune in the 1890s by selling hair tonic and related beauty products around the world. But a letter written by patriarch Fletcher Sutherland (found recently in a family collection in Michigan) alters the history we have known.

The letter by Fletcher is addressed to his brother Benjamin and reveals that a five-year-old daughter named Mary, the eighth Sutherland sister, died on Sept. 8, 1867, of “inflammatory cough” after being unwell for two weeks.

In the traditional Victorian language of the period Fletcher explains: “We had her baptized about eight hours before her death, and she expressed a perfect willingness to die and once or twice during the week she expressed a desire to die, that she might go to heaven. She was always a very quiet, thoughtful and conscious child, easy to learn, always told the truth, and never failed to say her prayers. She was remarkably kind hearted and affectionate ... .”

After seeking the advice of a number of doctors, the family hired a “celebrated” man named Dr. Hill of Lockport, who attempted an operation on Mary “with nitrate of sulfur upon a small brush” but failed.

Fletcher also reveals long-sought-after information about the mysterious illness of his wife, Mary Brink Sutherland, which would lead to her death just two weeks after the letter was written to Benjamin. He also discusses the brief life of the ninth, un-named Sutherland sister. “Our affliction was deepened by the circumstance that my wife was about the same time delivered of a child which lived only about six hours, being premature about six or seven weeks. The (two) children were placed in one coffin and buried near their grandfather Sutherland.”

As with much of “discovered” history, the letter also creates confusion because of the information we already know about Fletcher and Mary’s daughter, Mary Sutherland, the last (seventh) of the Sutherland sisters who was reportedly born in 1864 and died in 1939.

Why would the Sutherlands have named another child Mary when they already had one named Mary who was born in 1864? This and other mysteries never fail to fascinate fans of the famous seven from Cambria.

Lockport resident Brandon M. Stickney is writing a book about the (Seven) Sutherland Sisters.