A Kentuckian in Paris: the Travel Diary of Dr. Thomas Sanders, Jr.

The Sanders family papers represent only one of the many valuable sources on early Kentucky life available for research at The Filson Historical Society. Dating from 1799 to 1928, the collection includes letters, receipts, and legal instruments from the Sanders family of Shelby and Hart Counties, Ky., including items from related families, the Hardins and Todds.

Victoria, Queen of England, Photographed by W. & D. Downey, Newcastle on Tyne, England [PC22.0024]

Victoria, Queen of England, later in life than when she was seen by Thomas Sanders, Jr. Still well fed. Photographed by W. & D. Downey, Newcastle on Tyne, England [PC22.0024]

The earliest letters include the 1828 correspondence between Dr. Thomas Sanders, Sr. (1800-1833) and his wife, Jane Irvine Hardin Sanders (ca. 1807-ca. 1892) in which he discusses Jacksonian politics and criticizes organized religion. However the bulk of the Sanders family material relates to his son, Dr. Thomas Sanders, Jr. (1832-1904) and includes his 1854 travel diary to Europe where he toured London, Paris, Belgium, modern day Germany, and Switzerland.

Young Sanders left detailed descriptions of the people, customs, and sites he encountered including a glimpse of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria in London.  He wrote, "We got a good situation in front of the palace and after waiting a few minutes the show commenced." He then describes the royal procession in detail including "the Queen and Prince Albert in a gilded and bespangled carriage drawn by two large cream colored horses." He adds, "She is quite a good looking woman and looks like she was well fed."

Eugenia, Empress of France [PC5.0023]

Eugenia, Empress of France, who Dr. Sanders found, "Very pretty." [PC5.0023]

Without question some of his more colorful entries were written in Paris, where Sanders planned to study medicine. The diary contains numerous references to the sites and people of Paris, including descriptions of his visits to the Merchants Exchange, the Louvre, Luxembourg Palace, Versailles, the palace at Fontainebleau and the tomb of Napoleon. On one occasion he records, "I had a good look at the Empress (Eugenie) on yesterday," and adds, "She is very pretty and judging from her countenance must be very amiable." He notes, "She was dressed very plainly with a straw (hat) on."

On another occasion he witnessed a grand military review at the Champ de Mars. He noted the troops were reviewed by the Emperor, Napoleon III, accompanied by Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge and suite.  The Duke of Cambridge was a division commander of Britain's military forces at the time. Sanders observed,

Black and white print of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte published by E. Gambart & Co. [PR675.0293]

Black and white print of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte published by E. Gambart & Co. [PR675.0293]

"The Emperor would occasionally stop and address a private soldier, on which occasions the people would rend the air with their shouts of Vive le emperor."

The military review symbolized the alliance between France and England who had joined forces with Turkey in the ongoing war against Russia in the Crimea. Later that year, Sanders attended the "great Fete day" on 15 August. He writes, "I saw there a fine representation of the siege of Silistria, though they hardly represented the Russians fairly." He adds, "During the performances they sent up three hundred balloons representing the allied fleets."

A deeply pious man, Sanders frequently expressed serious reservations about the manners and morals of the French. He denounced the many dancing gardens as palaces of the Devil. He records, "Frenchmen from the highest to the lowest seem to live only for the present having no thought of the future."He observed that in Paris, "An American sees and hears more in a week to shock his feelings as a moral man than he would at home in a lifetime and in no place…are the temptations to err more seductive."  Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of the diary is what was left unsaid, for the remainder of his Paris journal was later cut out.

Five Brothers Plug Tobacco Advertisement [PR010.0018]

"In no place are the temptations to err more seductive...." writes Thomas Sanders, Jr. in his travel diary. Five Brothers Plug Tobacco Advertisement [PR010.0018]

To learn more about Dr. Thomas Sanders, Jr., and his family, see the collection finding aid here: https://filsonhistorical.org/research-doc/sanders-family-papers-1799-1928/ and come to The Filson to view the collection.

James Prichard

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