Signer #24, Sophronia/e Taylor: “The Two Sophronia Taylors”
Signer #24’s name is spelled variously in different reproductions of the Declaration, which must stand in for the lost original. The original report of the Seneca Falls Convention published in 1848 by John Dick of Rochester renders the #24’s given name as “Sophrone.” The celebratory "Roll of Honor" reproduction of the Declaration published in 1908, at its half-century anniversary, identifies #24 as “Sophronia.” Whether the change-of-name in 1908 represents a correction, informed by local knowledge, or an erratum is hard to judge. Subsequent accounts of the Seneca Falls Convention are split as to whether this individual was Sophronia or Sophrone. The confusion is understandable: misreading the letters “ia” for “e” in a stranger’s handwriting is an easy mistake to make. I encountered a number of misspelled variations of the name(s) in census entries, including “Cephrona, ” “Sophrona,” “Saphroni,” even “Sopvoline.”
The name consists of the Greek roots “soph-” (as in “sophomore”) and “-phren” (as in “phrenology”), meaning something akin to “sound mind” or “gentle spirit.” The name was popularized in the Italian Torquato Tasso’s 1581 epic poem, La Gerusalemme liberate (Jerusalem Delivered), a fictional romance set against the backdrop of the 1099 conquest of the Holy Land during the First Crusade. The character Sofronia (later anglicized as Sophronia) is a Christian, Palestinian maiden who falsely accepts the blame for stealing an icon of the Virgin Mary. Sofrone’s sacrifice is meant to prevent a massacre of Holy Land Christians at the hands of Aladine, the Muslim ruler of Jerusalem.
The continental popularity of Jerusalem Delivered drove a slew of imitations in English-language sources, like Samuel Sheppherd’s 1650 The Loves of Amandus and Sophronia, Abraham Portal’s 1758 Olindo and Sophronia: A Tragedy, and the anonymous 1761 epistolary novel Sophronia, or Letters to the Ladies. There is Sophronia Lammle in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. In Sam Scudder’s 1908 anti-immigration novel, A Counterfeit Citizen, there is even a “Sophronia Taylor,” said to hail from “Skaneatelas,” two Finger Lakes east of Seneca Falls (24). This Sophronia Taylor is said by the author to have the “appearance…of a stolid, yet cunning Lithuanian, than of an intelligent American girl” (24).
While the name is a rarity today, the name Sophronia abounded in 19th century America—perhaps, because of its prevalence in popular reading materials of the period. That prevalence makes finding the Sophronia/e Taylor who signed the Declaration a challenge, especially given her equally common surname. In my research, I found that there were, in fact, multiple Sophronia/e Taylors alive in the central region of Upstate New York in the 1840s.
To cull a shortlist of possible candidates who might have been the real Sophronia/e Taylor, I had to interject some eliminating parameters that would leave me with the most likely Sophronia/e Taylor. Here are the two exclusionary rubrics I used to narrow my data set, with a short explanation:
Eliminating Factor Number 1: Unless drawn to the convention through her ties to Quaker, Abolitionist, Feminist, or Spiritualist activism networks, I assuming she would have lived within 30 miles of the village of Seneca Falls. For the sole purpose of narrowing the field, I assume that a trip greater than 30 miles, attending modes of transportation available at the time, would have represented too great an undertaking for an unaffiliated (but allied) independent to make the trek to Seneca Falls for the convention. Since I found no recorded Quaker, Abolitionist, Feminist, or Spiritualist bearing the name Sophronia/e Taylor, I have been lead to believe that Signer #24 was local. This dimension eliminates, for example, Sophronia Taylor of Cortlandville, New York, which is roughly 60 miles from Seneca Falls. That distance would have been an expensive, time-consuming haul in 1848.
Eliminating Factor Number 2: I will assume the right Sophronia/e Taylor was an adult, above the age of 15, by 1848. While children and adolescents were present at the Seneca Falls Convention, I find it unlikely that an unaccompanied minor would have signed the Declaration. Another signatory with an identical surname might suggest that a signer was an accompanied minor. In the case at hand, there are no other Taylors present on the Declaration. This eliminates the Sophronia Taylor born in Wilton, New York, in 1838; Wilton also happens to be 191 miles away from Seneca Falls.
This process of elimination, I admit, is not foolproof. Still, I was left with two adult Sophronia Taylors who lived in the vicinity of Seneca Falls in 1848. The two Sophronia Taylors had a number of remarkable parallels: they resided primarily in Cayuga County, were married to husbands more than ten years their senior, lost husbands under unknown circumstances, moved around a great deal (for not entirely clear reasons), and left behind somewhat scant archival records of their lives. Only in the later stages of my research of both Soprhonias was I able to eliminate of the candidates that emerged. Because of the challenge of disambiguating the two distinct, yet similar lifelines of the two Sophronia Taylors, I have decided to include a short profile of both individuals.
Sophronia Taylor (née Enos)
(Circa 1811 - August 4th, 1895)
According to the 1855 New York Census, Sophronia Enos (spelled “Sophrona” in this document) was born in Chenango, circa 1811. Likely of Puritan extraction, Sophronia was the daughter of one Submit Newcomb, Canadian, and Roswell Enos, Massachusettan.
At the time of the 1855 census, Sophronia is listed a resident of Mentz, Cayuga County. Her husband, David Adams Taylor, is 13 years her senior, and his occupation is listed as farmer. Living under the same roof are Thomas and Catharine Anderson, immigrants from Ireland and day-laborers, and the Andersons’ five American-born children.
The 1860, 1865, and 1875 censuses situate Sophronia and David in Victory, Cayuga County. The 1860 values their estate at $3400. By 1880, the Taylors have relocated to Montezuma, Cayuga. David, now 82, is identified as a physician.
According to records included in the FindaGrave.com database, Sophronia Enos Taylor died on August 4th, 1895, at age 83, and is interred in Sennett, Cayuga. In April 2016, a researcher named Tiffany left a digital remembrance on Sophronia’s FindaGrave webpage, thanking the Taylors: “David and Sophronia took in my great-great grandparents and their children, the Anderson family, for a time. I am grateful to them and their kindness.”
Only in the late stages of my research did I come across John Bearse Newcomb’s 1874 Genealogical Memoir of the Newcomb Family, which includes information on Sophronia Enos Taylor. Newcomb relates that Sophronia, born August 26th, 1811, was one of 11 Enos children. Sophronia was first married in 1830 in Victory to one Calvin Rumsey, who subsequently passed away. She remarried, via the volume’s laconic notation, “she m. 2d. in Feb. 1851, David A. Taylor” (153). Record of Sophronia’s second marriage is also included in Andrew Napoleon Adams’ 1898 Genealogical History of Henry Adams, but is said to have occurred on “June 13, 1850” (112). According to Adams', David's career was as a teacher. Via her second marriage, “Sophronia (Enos) Rumsey” became an extended member of the Boston Adams family, which includes John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Brooks Adams.
While each volume affixes different dates to the wedding of this Sophronia Taylor, they both fall after the turn of the decade. This means that this Sophronia would most probably have signed her name as Sophronia Rumsey in 1848, making her the less likely candidate as signer.
Sophronia Taylor (née Mack)
(Circa 1812/13 - After 1865)
The records of the life of Sophronia Mack Taylor, much like her namesake, suggests a life of tragedy and resilience. The 1850 U.S. Census places a “Sophrona” Taylor in Aurelius, the village on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, directly opposite Seneca Falls. Her husband, George W. Taylor, is identified as a “Clothier.” She is 37 at the time of the census (so, born in Vermont circa 1812-13), and he is 49. Their family includes Franklin, 11; William, 10; Adelaide, 5; Josephine, 3. The Taylor family shares the household with Bridgett Lingham, a 30-year-old domestic helper from Ireland.
In the 1913 genealogical account Sprague Families in America and confirmed in 1865 census, the birthplace of Adelaide (born March 27, 1845) is listed as “Seneca Falls” (446). This suggests that these Taylors lived for a period in the village of Seneca Falls (proper) and were there immediately prior to the 1848 convention.
According to Judith Wellman, Sophronia Taylor was, by 1848, a member of the congregation of the Wesleyan Chapel (where the convention was held). She is also one of a handful of signers who "disappeared from local historical records" (223). If Sophronia Mack Taylor is the correct Sophronia Taylor, census records provide some motive behind her archival disappearance. Following the 1850 census, George and Josephine disappear from public record, and this Sophronia and her remaining family appear to have been subsequently dispersed into the local community. The 1855 state census identifies “Saphrone Tailor,” as a “Domes.” living in Scipio, Cayuga County, with John and Eliza Gildersteen. Franklin, now 15, also resides under the Gildersteen's roof. Back in Aurelius, an Adelaide Taylor, now 9, is listed as “Servant,” living in a home with 11 other individuals—members of the Wadsworth-Durning clan and two adult domestic workers.
By 1865, the Taylor family has been partially reunited in a home in Scipio. A “Sophrona,” now 55, lives with Franklin, a farmer, now 24; Franklin’s wife, Loretta, 30; William, 24, his profession listed as “Sailor”; and Adelaide, 21. Adelaide’s last name in this census is Sprague, following her marriage to one Alfred J. Sprague in October 1864. Alfred’s absence seems to be linked to his service in the 138th New York Volunteer Infantry. According to Sprague Families in America, Alfred, after the war, would become a dentist in nearby Weedsport. Adelaide and Alfred would have two children, Maude and Lewis.
By 1880, Franklin, Loretta, and son, George, would move to Bay Hundred, Maryland, to farm. Living with neither Franklin nor Adelaide in 1880, Sophronia appears to have passed away.
If I were a betting scholar: I would say that Sophronia Mack Taylor is the 24th Signer.
Adams, Andrew Napoleon. A Genealogical History of Henry Adams, of Braintree, Mass., and His Descendants: Also John Adams, of Cambridge, Mass., 1632-1897. Tuttle Company Printers, 1898.
Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. T. B. Peterson & Brothers, 1865.
The Loves of Amandus and Sophronia, Historically Narrated. A Piece of Rare Contexture, Inriched with Many Pleasing Odes and Sonnets. ... Disposed Into Three Books, Or Tracts. 1650.
Newcomb, John Bearse. Genealogical Memoir of the Newcomb Family: Containing Records of Nearly Every Person of the Name in America from 1635-1874. Also the First Generation of Children Descended from Females Who Have Lost the Name Newcomb by Marriage. With Notices of the Family in England During the Past Seven Hundred Years. Published by author, 1874.
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“Our Roll of Honor. Listing Women and Men Who Signed the Declaration of Sentiments at First Woman’s Rights Convention, July 19-20, 1848.” Library of Congress, Washington.
https://www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001182/. Accessed 5 June 2018.
Portal, Abraham. Olindo and Sophronia: A Tragedy. Josiah Graham and E. Withers, 1758.
Scudder, Sam. A Counterfeit Citizen. Broadway Publishing Co., 1908.
Sophronia: Or, Letters to the Ladies. The Second Edition. J. Bew, 1775.
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Wellman, Judith. The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention. University of Illinois Press, 2010.