Descendants 350

This photo album of Descendants of many of the First Settlers of Rhode Island pays tribute to the trials and tribulations that their Ancestors were subjected to during the early to middle 1600s. It offers a unique look and study of the State's early history as it relates to images of Descendants (contemporaries) as icons or symbols to pay tribute to and talk about their Ancestors' (First Settlers') contributions through text extracted from The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island (and other sources).

This contemporary approach resurrects the past through the present: discussion of Ancestral contributions to the State's development via historical text and visualization of their Descendants, today (1986), through documentary photography to bring forth those founding bloodlines, and to offer to the viewer a likeness or similarity of features between the Descendants and their Ancestors.

This project was funded by Providence 350, Inc. as a part of Rhode Island's 350th Anniversary Celebration, 1986. Chambers received a Proclamation from Edward DiPrete, Governor of Rhode Island.

This unique coupling of present and past bloodlines makes this project special: Rhode Island's early history is referenced, and the Ancestors'/First Settlers' contributions in formulating the State's history are genetically perpetuated through today's Descendants of those First Families, our contemporaries and those individuals who are alive and interact with other residents of the State during our present time. This sense of presence or immediacy is the key factor that brings this project to the forefront for consideration and discussion.

The Descendants are placed in environmental settings that relate to their Ancestors. Their expression and posture within the images are essentially the same throughout the series of photographs to establish a common thread or connection, which indicates a unity of pride for their Ancestry. Even though the photographs can be viewed strictly as portraiture, they are also a collection of icons or symbols that presents itself through flesh objects (Descendants) as gifts of gratitude, respect and admiration for those Ancestors/First Settlers who founded and settled a new society based on freedom from religious persecution.
The photographs with historical text can be read at

News coverage: Tom Chambers' unique exhibit sponsored by Providence 350. The stern features of Trooper William A. Rathbun, Sr. gaze out at the onlooker from the veranda of the Surf Hotel on Block Island, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the whispers of history. The photograph of the seated Rathbun is one of 40 portraits of Rhode Islanders, all descendants of founding families, by Tom R. Chambers, sponsored by Providence 350, Inc. The exhibit is on display in the Fleet Center, 50 Kennedy Plaza, through next Wednesday. Chambers, official photographer for Mayor Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., said the original idea was his own. "I approached Providence 350, and they liked the idea and gave me a $1300 grant," he said.

Rathbun is a 10th-generation descendant of John Rathbone, one of 16 purchasers of Block Island, who died in 1702. Another portrait shows Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, whose ancestor, Thomas Angell (1618-1694) settled Providence with Roger Williams and served as commissioner, juryman, constable, freeman and town clerk. The bishop is shown relaxed in the Superior Court House. Charles C. Whipple crouches over an ancestral tombstone in Providence's North Burial Ground. He is a 10th-generation descendant of John Whipple, 1617-1685, a purchaser. Harold Champlin shows another side of the founding families - a member of the Narragansett Indian tribe, he stares out from a pier at India Point Park, the waters of the Providence River dark behind him.

Chambers found his subjects through publicity in newspapers, magazines and television. "Several people called in," he said, "then I got a call from Robert Allen Greene. He's a 12th and 13th generation - two different families - descendant of John Coggeshall, 1591-1647, a signer of the Portsmouth Compact. Robert Greene is a genealogist. I would give him certain first family names I had researched out, and he would plug in the descendants." Chambers said he relied on the 1969 revised edition of the Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island for his data. "I would reach people and explain the project," he said. "I would ask if they were willing to let me take a documentary portrait. Not one person refused me. They have a lot of pride in their ancestry." (Thomas J. Morgan, Staff Writer, Providence Journal-Bulletin, Providence, Rhode Island, 1986)

News coverage: Descendants 350, an exhibition by fine arts photographer, Tom R. Chambers, views like a stately procession of New England nobility. The show consists of black-and-white portraits of 40 Rhode Island scions who singularly and collectively convey an intense bond with local governmental, social and religious beginnings. Chambers photographed each descendant in settings reflective of their ancestors' respective backgrounds.

So we meet William A. Rathbun, Sr. looking stern-faced on the deck of the Surf Hotel on Block Island. He's a 10th-generation descendant of John Rathbone (b. -, d. 1702), who, along with 15 fellow settlers, made his mark on the Ocean State by purchasing Block Island, according to The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. George Williams appears in front of the Roger Williams Monument and Burial Site at Prospect Park in Providence. Roger Williams (b. 1599, d. 1683), of course, founded "Providences of the most Holy and only wise I called Providence." Pictured in the Council Chambers at Providence City Hall, Jeanne M. Desrosiers, an 11th-generation descendant, rekindles the spirit of Thomas Olney (b. 1600, d. 1682), a deputy and town councilman whose signature was among those that ratified this state's government. Ninth-generation scion, Charles C. Tillinghast, gazes at the lens from aside the Tillinghast Monument, which stands on Benefit Street in commemoration of Pardon Tillinghast (b. 1622, d. 1718), pastor of the First Baptist Church and overseer of the poor.

"They strike a certain pose, posture or expression to convey a sense of self-worth, pride and an awareness of my presence," says Chambers of his ancestral subjects. "Descendants/350, A Photographic Tribute to the First Settlers of Rhode Island," which was funded by Providence 350, Inc., is hanging in the Roger Williams Park Museum through Feb. 15. The exhibition will be displayed at the University of Rhode Island's Extension Center Gallery from March 2 through 27 and at the Narragansett Pier Free Library from April 5 to May1. (Providence Business News, Providence, Rhode Island, February 2, 1987)

News coverage: Museum showing 350th photo project. A photographic linkage of past and present is on display through Aug. 29 at the Warwick Museum. The exhibit presents "Descendants 350: A Photographic Tribute to the First Settlers of Rhode Island," a collection of works by Tom R. Chambers of Providence, originally produced as part of the State's 350th Anniversary Celebration last year. The 40 photos show living descendants of Rhode Island's founders in settings around the State connected with their ancestors?role in the State's beginning. A number of notable Warwickites from the past are represented by the current generation. Chambers, who is staff photographer for Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, Jr., took six months to complete the project, which includes a text detailing the history of the ancestor of each photo subject.

"Even though the album of photographs can be viewed strictly as portraiture," wrote Chambers in an introduction to the exhibit, "it is also a collection of icons or symbols that presents itself through "flesh" objects (the descendants) as gifts of gratitude, respect and admiration for those ancestors who founded a new society (Rhode Island) based on religious freedom and rights for all." Each photo is what photographers call an "environmental portrait," with the subject person placed in an environment that relates something about him/her and his/her heritage.

For example, Fred Vohr, a 10th-generation descendant of Warwick founder, Samuel Gorton, is seen outside the Warwick City Hall. Other Warwick-connected persons are: Phillips Lillibridge, 11th-generation descendant of Stukeley Westcott; Edwin G. Wickes, 10th-generation descendant of John Wickes; Thomas E. Greene, 11th-generation descendant of John Greene; Rodney Bailey, 11th-generation descendant of Randall Holden; Russell W. Greene, 12th-generation descendant of William Carpenter; Franklin G. Arnold, 12th-generation descendant of William Arnold; and Samuel C.H. Dumas, 11th-generation descendant of Samuel Bennett.

Another interesting aspect of the show is a joint project of the Museum and Insight that allows visually-impaired persons to "see" the exhibit. An audio tape recording has been made with a description of each photo and a recitation of its accompanying historical text. Visually-impaired museum goers can listen with a tape recorder to get a sense of the look of the exhibit. (Warwick Beacon, Warwick, Rhode Island, June 18, 1987)

News coverage: Exhibit on R.I. settlers is at State House. Show pairs photos of descendants with accounts of their ancestors' lives. It probably wasn't funny to John Sweet, but three-and-a-half centuries and 11 generations later, Earl Sweet Palmer, Jr. Gets quite a chuckle out of his ancestor's antics. It seems John Sweet, one of Rhode Island's original settlers, ran into a little trouble back in the 1600s, when he was "presented by the grand jury for shooting a wolf dog of Colonel Endicott's." Whether Sweet was convicted of that crime remains unclear, but Palmer said yesterday that the shooting was probably a sign of the times. "Every one of them was a rebel," Palmer said with a laugh as he read a bit about his family history yesterday at the State House. Palmer was one of several descendants of the original settlers who attended the opening of a photo exhibit honoring their ancestors.

Descendants/350, by photographer Tom R. Chambers, was completed in 1986 as part of the State's 350th Anniversary Celebration. It has been exhibited at seven sites, and is at the State House for a 10-day showing, through July 1. The exhibit pairs photos of the descendants with brief accounts of their ancestors' lives. The 40 original settlers' names are familiar: Williams, Brown, Waterman, Angell, Wickenden, Greene, Coggeshall. The exhibition is to be shown later this summer at the Old Colony House in Newport. (Kevin Sullivan, State House Bureau, Providence Journal-Bulletin, June 21, 1988)


Descendants 350 (solo show), Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (accepted by the Secretary of State as a part of the Rhode Island State Archives Permanent Collection), 1991.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Old Colony House, Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (sponsored by the Secretary of State's Office, Rhode Island), 1988.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The State House, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (sponsored by the Secretary of State's Office, Rhode Island; and received a Governor's Proclamation), 1988.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Barrington Public Library, Barrington, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution), 1988.
Descendants 350 (solo show), Faculty Club Gallery, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A., 1987.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Warwick Museum of Art, Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S.A., 1987.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Narragansett Pier Free Library, Narrangansett, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (sponsored by the Narragansett Historical Society), 1987.

Descendants 350 (solo show), CCE Gallery, The University of Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A., 1987.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Roger Williams Park Museum (Museum of Natural History and Planetarium), Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (sponsored by the City of Providence), 1987.

Descendants 350 (solo show), The Fleet Center Gallery/50 Kennedy Plaza, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A. (grant - Providence 350, Inc.), 1986.

Descendants 350
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Tom Chambers

Descendants 350


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