27 Jul

Best Candidate, Birth: New Jersey, circa 1822. 

Last Known Location: 1881, Seneca Falls.

                         [Mary L. Minor's name as recorded on her husband's probate letter]

It’s hard to read the name of Signer #34, “Mary S. Mirror,” without getting the impression that the name is incorrect in some way. Mirror is not a very common surname.

It's also hard not to be reminded of that moment from "The Brady Bunch" when Jan Brady, in a moment of adolescent angst, feels motivated to invent a boyfriend.  Her parents press her on his name:

 “George…uh…[peers at the empty glass atop bedside nightstand]…George Glass, George Glass…I’ll go wash up for dinner.” 

Maybe the semantic connection between “Mirror” and “Glass” is the driving force behind my association.  But it does broach an important question: are any of the 100 names included on the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments pseudonyms?  Social pressures could have made the inclusion of fabricated names a genuine possibility. 

It’s plausible that an individual might have felt compelled to lend a supporting name to the document while still remaining apprehensive of the potential repercussions of an exact self-identification.  The pressure to distance oneself from the Declaration was real.   Part of the lore of the Seneca Falls Convention claims that many of the original signers subsequently demanded that their names be removed from the document because of the stigma it had attracted.  Rather than opening oneself to that potential criticism and ostracization, fabricating a name offers a personal compromise.   

Unsurprisingly, I could find no “Mary S. Mirror” living in the Finger Lakes region in the 1840s.  And yet, I don't think "Mary S. Mirror" is an intentionally misleading alias.  

I am drawn instead to imagine how the surname "Mirror" involves some error in transcription.  Signer #34’s signature might have been misread at some point, and the mistake was then never caught and corrected. 

Cursive handwriting is idiosyncratic and not an exact science. Mistakes reading cursive are easy to make.

I tried an experiment.  I wrote the word "Mirror" in my best (still terrible) cursive.  The two arches of the lower-case, double letters "rr" side-by-side looked a great deal like the stem and arch of one lower-case, cursive letter "n."  Try as you might to carefully scrawl out the double cursive "r," its often indistinguishable from the letter "n."

If we presume “Mary S. Mirror” is a transcription error and search for “Mary Minor” or (because cursive "e" and "o" have the same problem) “Mary Miner,” the research landscape changes dramatically.

According to the 1850 federal census, there are two adult Mary Miners living in Hector and Newfield, respectively, both in Tompkins County.  Another adult Mary Minor, a schoolteacher, lives nearby in Lodi, Seneca County.  All these candidates reside on the middle section of Seneca Lake’s eastern shore.  Considering these Marys as possible Mary Mirrors comes with an important caveat: Lodi is located a little more than 20 miles south of Seneca Falls; Hector and Newfield are both above 25 miles south.  While these distances do not eliminate these three individuals as candidates, their respective likelihoods of being Signer #34 are diminished.

Google Maps has the audacity to claim that the 20.8-mile walk from Lodi village center to the Wesleyan Chapel would take a paltry 6 hours and 37 minutes.  And that estimate is assuming travel on modern, paved roads in 2018.  Lake-to-canal water travel might have been a more suitable alternative, but it still would have been time-consuming and not inexpensive.  Moveover, public notice of the convention was first given on July 11, a little more than one week before the event commenced on July 19.  An excursion to Seneca Falls on such short notice seems like a huge undertaking, especially for an individual with no ties (I could find) to any of the activist movements then flourishing in the Burned Over District. 

Distance and ease-of-access are primary determining factors in my selection of a best candidate for signer (see my blog on "Sophronia Taylor," Signer #24, from June 2018).  Accordingly, the most likely "Mary S. Mirror" lived in a stone's-throw proximity to the Wesleyan Chapel. 

The 1850 census records one “Mary Minor,” 28, residing in the town of Seneca Falls.  Her spouse is a boatbuilder by the name of "Ransom Minor,” 38, born in Connecticut.  Mary and Ransom have a son (inferred), Charles, 7.  One Caroline Mack, 24, likely a domestic helper or boarder, resides in the same household. Based on the 1840 census, the pair were probably married prior to 1840.[1]  

Local directories (the Yellow Pages of the day) offer more information on the exact location of the Minor home. In the 1862 Brigham's Directory for Geneva, Seneca Falls, and Waterloo, “Mary L. Minor" is designated as "seamstress” and “Ransom Minor, boat builder.”  They share a residence "h 47 Bridge," which I take to mean their home is at that number on Bridge Street (57).  An 1874 directory locates Ransom at “Bridge n. Barker,” the letter “n.” signifying near (79).  Consulting the 1874 Seneca Falls town map (and making the journey using Google Maps), 47 Bridge Street, near Barker, is 4/10s of a mile from the Wesleyan Chapel, an eight-minute walk.  If she left home, headed north, and crossed the eponymous bridge of Bridge Street, Mary L. Minor was a single right turn away from the convention. Furthermore, Mary and Ransom are the only Minors listed as living in Seneca Falls.  Nor are there any Miners or Mirrors.

Because her name was not corrected prior to the publication of the report on the proceedings of the convention, it suggests that Mary Minor was an otherwise-unaffiliated, curious local at the convention.  If she had been a known personage, plugged into one of the activist networks present in force, her name might more likely have been corrected during the editing and publication process. Because Mary was not a juiced in Quaker, Abolitionist, or Spiritualist, no one acting in an editorial capacity knew to clarify the misspelling of her name prior to its printing.  And so the error lived on...

In regards to the different middle initials between Mary S. Mirror and Mary L. Minor, capital "L" and capital "S" in cursive threatens another sticky wicket, prone to transcriber error. 

By the 1860 census, Mary’s profession is now listed as “tailoress.”  Ransom is now a carpenter.  A one-year-old, George, has now joined the family.  Their property and personal belongings are valued at a combined total of $1400.  Six other individuals now reside in the same household: this includes Maranda Rogers, 16; Anna Micks (sp), 24; Thomas Gifford, 32; Esther Gifford, 32; and Ida Gifford, 1. The final boarder in the Minor household is Justin Williams, a 49-year-old spinner. He is the best candidate for Declaration Signer #71.  

Born in 1844, Mary's son Charles would have been approximately 17 at the start of the Civil War.  The military record of one Charles Minor, “also known as Miner,” born in New York, enlisted at and a resident of Seneca Falls, is startling: “Captured at Harper’s Ferry Sept 15/62…Wounded at Beverly Ford Va June 9/64, Deserted Aug 7/63 from McClellan…returned Aug 17/63.”  His physical description is given as “Gray eyes, brown hair, dark complexion. Height 5 ft. 7 in.”

Ransom and George are listed in the 1874 village directory. George is working as a clerk and boarding nearby, at “Bridge n. Bayard” (79).  In the 1880 census, Mary's birthplace is identified as New Jersey (this information is an innovation in the 1880 census).  George, by now 21, works at a cotton mill.  Ransom suffers from rheumatism. 

In the April 20, 1881 probate record recording his final will and testament, Ransom leaves Mary to the administration of his estate. 

Even in the cursive of the scribe on hand, Mary's surname looks just like Mirror. 

[1] The 1840 census only included the names of white, male heads-of-household.  Others are only counted by number.  Ransom Minor is listed as residing with one adult female, presumably Mary.

Works CIted

Brigham, DeLancey. Brigham’s Geneva, Seneca Falls, and Waterloo Directory and Business Advertiser, For 1862 and 1863. Self-published, 1862.

“Charles Minor.” New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900; Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

Evans, William & Wesley Crofoot. Seneca Falls & Waterloo Village Directory, 1874-5. Truair, Smith & Co. Print.

“Minor Family.” U.S. Federal Census, 1840. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1850. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1860. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1870. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1880. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

“Ransom Minor” New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1659-1999. Ancestry.com. Accessed 28 July 2018.

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