Signer #50, Cynthia Fuller: "The Loose Thread"


16 Aug
16Aug

Signer #50, Cynthia Burden Fuller

(b. Massachusetts, circa 1792-1795—last known location, 3rd Ward Seneca Falls, 1860)

            To unravel the life details of Signer #50, Cynthia Fuller, I chose to tug on an unattended, exposed thread.  I had already chanced upon Fuller’s name while researching the life of Robert Smalldridge, Signer #83.  I decided to begin my rummage by taking a closer look at that particular artifact and using it as a lead.  Pulling on the thread revealed Cynthia Fuller’s potential connections to three other Declaration signers.

            As described in my September 2018 profile of Robert Smalldridge, Cynthia Fuller appears in an 1850 census record taken by Isaac Fuller, immediately after the entry for the household of Richard Smalldridge, a 26-year-old carpenter from England:

I presumed that Richard Smalldridge was related to Robert by virtue of their English birth—most likely as brothers or cousins, especially given their three-years difference in age.  After counting heads in the home of Richard Smalldridge, Isaac Fuller visited a household led by Cynthia Fuller, 55, a native of Massachusetts.  She lives with Ira W. Fuller, 21, a “Machinist; “L.I.," 18, a laborer; and one Nathaniel Davis, 8.  Each of the males is a New York native.

            It is useful to note here that Cynthia and Isaac Fuller are most likely not immediately related, in spite of their identical surname.  Isaac Fuller, owner/editor of the Seneca Courier and later village postmaster, published a December 1861 obituary for Hannah Fuller, “Mother of Editor of this paper” (quoted in Jackson and Jackson 96).  Isaac's mother is said to have been born in Connecticut in the posting, as opposed to Cynthia’s background in Massachusetts.

            For the 1860 census, Cynthia’s link to the Smalldridges carries on.  Cynthia occupies a household with Lucius, now a machinist (most likely the “L.I.” of the 1850 entry):

 Richard’s daughter, Caroline Smalldridge, 15, also lives under the same roof.  The census taker has here re-inked the “d” in Smalldridge, possibly to correct the erroneous name“Smallbridge” to Smalldridge—a typo that also occurs in various reproductions of the Declaration.  The census designates the household as being located in the 3rd Ward of Seneca Falls, in the southwest quadrant of the village, on the south bank of the Seneca River.  This means that Cynthia Fuller was a neighbor to 3rd Ward residents Experience Gibbs (Signer #65) , Mary L. Minor (#34), and Robert Smalldridge. Fuller’s wealth is assessed at 230 dollars.  That Cynthia and Lucius’ respective ages in 1860 census fail to track evenly with their 1850 ages is curious, but is, by no means, an unusual set of errors in census-taking during this period.  I tried to establish a rough street address for Cynthia Fuller's home using other households identified on the same page of the census, but I could not get consistent results.  This neighborhood does include a number of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, who, based on occupations listed in this census and in the 1862 Brigham’s Directory, made a living off the canal trade and the local textile industry in the 3rd Ward.  For example, Cynthia’s neighbor John Pool, born in Scotland, is listed in Brigham’s as “watchman Seneca Knitting Mills” (61).       

            Oddly enough, Caroline Smalldridge is recorded twice in the 1860 census, in separate entries created by the same census worker during the month of July.  Caroline is listed elsewhere as residing with her mother, Amarilla, in a multifamily 2nd Ward home (amidst the glaring absence of Richard Smalldridge).  Caroline’s presence with the Fullers suggests some enduring relationship between the former neighbors.  Her duplication in the 1860 census also gestures to the semi-itinerant lifestyle necessitated by economic precarity, which seems to have flourished in the 3rd Ward.  Absorbing relatives and neighbors into one’s household appears to have served as a coping strategy for socio-economically vulnerable signers of the Declaration.  Caroline would eventually marry one Orrin Fry and live in nearby Varick, passing away in 1926 (“Fry Family,” “Caroline Fry”).           

            Uniquely among all the signers profiled thus far, I was able to recover viable documentation regarding Cynthia Fuller’s life before her immigration to the Finger Lakes Region.  A handwritten record from the Massachusetts town of Sutton notes that “Isaiah Fuller of Sutton & Cynthia Burden of Charlton were joined in marriage on March 22nd, 1812,” by a justice of the parish.  A volume entitled Vital Records of Sutton, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849, corroborates this information, identifying three children born to Cynthia and Isaiah in Massachusetts: Ancil, born August 25th, 1812; Lyman, born October 6th, 1814; and “Susanna or Sukey,” born April 14, 1816 (45).  A 1940 membership application to the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR), made by Oliver Johnson Edwards, Jr. (Lyman’s great-great grandson), also supports this genealogy, identifying Isaiah’s birthdate as April 23, 1779.  Isaiah’s father, Benjamin Fuller, was the Revolutionary War veteran who qualified Oliver Edwards for NSSAR membership.   

            While the exact date of Cynthia Fuller’s relocation to New York remains unclear, it is evident that she did not make the transition alone.  Lyman married Sarah Davis Fuller in 1837, and, by the 1850 census, he works as a blacksmith in Verona with Sarah and three children, including a young daughter eponymously named Cynthia.  By 1860, Lyman and Sarah have moved to Lansing.  The 1867 Gazetteer and Business Directory for Cayuga County locates Lyman, still a blacksmith, in Ledyard (181).  According to the NSSAR document, his life ended on May 23, 1867.

            By 1850, “Ansel” Fuller, 38, a native of Massachusetts, lives in Waterloo with spouse “Cath.,” 37,  His occupation is listed as physician.  In a record first recovered by Judith Wellman, a Cynthia Davis also lives with the Fullers:  

This Cynthia Davis is a prime candidate for Declaration Signer #25.  Moreover, in the household visitation immediately preceding Ansel Fuller’s, one Margaret Jenkins resides, a prime candidate for Signer #49.  An undeniable thread of connection is implied by these social proximities and by the recurrence of first and last names.  The ordinal proximity of Margaret Jenkins and Cynthia Fuller in the Declaration, as signers #49 and #50, respectively, makes the connecting thread even stronger.  Perhaps Lyman’s spouse, Sarah Davis Fuller, bears some relationship to Cynthia Davis.  The 8-year-old Nathaniel Davis who resides in Cynthia Fuller’s household in the 1850 census also suggests familial ties between these Davises and these Fullers, even as exact relations remain unclear.  Could Nathaniel Davis be Cynthia Davis’ son?  Could Cynthia Fuller be Cynthia Davis’ mother?  Following the 1850 census, Ancil/Ansel, working in the dangerous profession of medicine, vanishes from record.   

            As for the two teenage males residing with Cynthia Fuller in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Ira Romeo Wilson Fuller would move to Syracuse and pursue a career as a piano maker.  Ira and his spouse, Cordelia, have five children by the 1870 census.  Ira would pass away in 1916, at age 86, and is interred at Syracuse’s Woodlawn Cemetery (“Ira Fuller”).

            The war record of Lucius Isaiah Fuller poses something of a mystery.  According to both the New York Town Clerks Records and the Report of the Adjutant General, Lucius enlisted in the 8th New York Cavalry Regiment in October 1861 and was mustered out in December 1864.  He was subsequently “Transferred to the Invalid Corps,” a unit for wounded soldiers still willing and able to perform in non-combat and administrative capacities, where he served until September 1865.  If Lucius was mustered out of his regiment because of a combat injury, its details are not specified in existing records.  The entry in the Town Clerks Records lists Lucius' birthdate as May 23, 1839, and names his parents as Cynthia Burden and Isaiah Fuller.  If Cynthia and Isaiah are Lucius’ biological parents, he would have been born at a time when Cynthia was 44 and Isaiah (if still living) was 60.  While this is not an impossibility, it might otherwise indicate that Lucius was an adopted son and yet another example of blended homes in the 3rd Ward.  This also means that, like signers Robert Smalldridge, Mary L. Minor, and Betsey Tewksbury (Signer #47), Cynthia Fuller was the parent of a Civil War veteran. Following his brother Ira, Lucius would marry and live in Syracuse after the war, laboring as a painter and a machinist. He passed away in 1911 ("Lucius Fuller").  

            After 1860, Cynthia Fuller leaves no additional traces; she does not reside in any of the homes of her established children. Her residence, a short walk away from the Wesleyan Chapel, and her apparent ties to Robert Smalldridge, Cynthia Davis, and Margaret Jenkins dramatically increase the likelihood that she is Signer #50.  The connecting thread that runs through the individuals in her life reinforces a common theme: social, religious, and familial ties motivated participation in the Seneca Falls Convention.  And like Declaration signers Phebe King and Betsey Tewksbury, Cynthia Fuller had been widowed or estranged from her spouse some time before or around the time of the Seneca Falls Convention.  Like King and Tewksbury, she was consequently compelled to head a single-parent household.  This recurring feature, I would argue, reflects (at this stage) a core collective experience and crucial motivating factor that underwrote the convention participation of a number of signers.  

Works Cited

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

Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Cayuga County, N.Y., for 1867-8. Syracuse, 1867.

“Caroline J. Fry.” Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/106694811.  Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Fry Family.” Federal Census, 1880. Varick, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Fuller-Burden Marriage, 1812.” Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Ansel Fuller Family.” Federal Census, 1860. Waterloo, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Cynthia Fuller Family.” Federal Census, 1850. Seneca Falls, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Cynthia Fuller Family.” Federal Census, 1860. Seneca Falls, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Ira Fuller.” Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/124859855.  Accessed 15 Aug 2019

“Ira Fuller Family.” Federal Census, 1870. Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

Jackson, Mary Smith, and Edward F. Jackson. Marriage and Death Notices from Seneca County, New York Newspapers, 1817-1885. Heritage Books, 1997.

“Lucius Isaiah Fuller.” Town Clerks´ Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War, ca 1861-1865; Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Lucius Fuller.” U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Oliver Johnson Edwards, Jr.” Application to National Society of Sons of the American Revolution Membership, 1940. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Smalldridge Family.” Federal Census, 1850. Seneca Falls, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

“Smalldridge Family.” Federal Census, 1860. Seneca Falls, Seneca County, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

Report of the Women's Right Convention. Rochester: John Dick, 1848.

Vital Records of Sutton, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849. Worcester, Mass. : F.P. Rice, 1907.

Wellman, Judith. “Cynthia Davis.” Women’s Rights National Historic Park. https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/cynthia-davis.htm. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.


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