Signer #83, Robert Smallbridge: “Patterns Converge”


02 Sep
02Sep

Signer #83: Robert Smalldridge 

(b. July 4th, 1820, England--d. January 20th, 1899, Iowa Falls, Iowa)


            After getting a peek into the life of “Robert Smallbridge,” I was surprised by the similarities he shared with the other signers already profiled.  The throughlines that arose are features that I would not automatically associate with the Seneca Falls Convention.

            Like “Mary S. Mirror” (a.k.a., Mary L. Minor, Signer #34), evidence suggests that the 83rd signatory of the Declaration, “Robert Smallbridge,” involves another transcription error.  And like Sophronia Taylor (Signer #24), subsequent reproductions of the Declaration roster are divided on the correct spelling of the name.  The 1889 History of Woman Suffrage (with Stanton's involvement) records #83’s surname as “Smalldridge” (810).  The 1893 Hand Book of the National American Woman Suffrage Association records it as “Smallridge” (15).  And the celebratory, locally produced 1908 Roll of Honor doubles down on “Smallbridge.”  

            When all else fails: check the Yellow Pages.  The 1862 Brigham’s Directory for Seneca Falls, Geneva, and Waterloo lists “Smalldridge Robert, cooper, h 31 Toledo” (66).  The directory places Smalldridge’s domicile just south of the canal.  31 Toledo Street is situated west of Bridge Street and one mile's walk from Wesleyan Chapel.  Being a cooper, it's hard to imagine that Smalldridge was also sympathetic to the cause of temperance (an assumption of mine -- it just doesn't make good business sense). 

            Like Azaliah Schooley (Signer #100), Robert Smalldridge was an immigrant.  “England” is listed as Smalldridge’s birthplace in the 1850 federal census and consistently thereafter.  Smalldridge’s signature on the Declaration, in fact, happens to be the first evidence chronologically (that I could find) of his presence in the United States.  He is 29 in 1850, so he would have just turned 27 at the time of the convention.  Robert's wife, “S.A.,” elsewhere Sarah, Sally, or Sally Ann, 21, is a "tailoress" and a New York native.  They have two children: “J.H.,” 7, and “Eliza,” 5.  That Robert signed the Declaration and Sarah/Sally did not is an enigma.  Why is her name absent?  Did she attend?  Was she supportive of what was transpiring there? 

            And it appears that Robert did not immigrate from England to New York State alone.  Like Experience Porter Gibbs (Signer #65), familial ties might have driven Smalldridge’s interest in the convention.  In 1850, a second Smalldridge family lives in Seneca Falls.  One “Richard Smalldridge,” 26, also from England and a carpenter, is married to Amarilla, a New York native.  They have two children.  Immediately following Richard Smalldridge’s family in the 1850 census roll is a household headed by Cynthia Fuller,  Signer #50.  Families on the roll are listed in order of the census worker’s visitation to a household, not by location, but the proximity on paper still implies that Richard Smalldridge and Cynthia Fuller were neighbors.  If Robert and Richard Smalldridge were brothers who immigrated together, how might Richard's connection to Fuller have propelled Robert’s involvement? 

            Furthermore, the 1860 census has Robert and Sally Ann Smallbridge listed three “household visitations” apart from a potential candidate for Signer #68, Sarah Sisson.  Again, this begs the question of how social ties between neighbors might have driven individual participation in the convention.  By 1860, brother Richard has disappeared from the census.  Amarilla Smalldridge and her two teenage daughters, Caroline and Martha, are boarding with a local family.

            And like Mary L. Minor, Sarah and Robert Smalldridge sent a child to the Civil War.  James H. Smalldridge is 17 years old in the 1860 census, his occupation listed as “boatman.”  James enlisted as a private at Seneca Falls in August 1862 and was “attached to Forty-ninth Infantry” in May 1863 (Adjutant General’s Office 126).  Robert, now 44 with his occupation listed as “constable,” also had to register for the draft (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau 285).

            After the war, evidence suggests that the Smalldridge clan went west.  The 1880 census locates Robert, Sarah, James, James' spouse Emily, and their six children all living in Coral, Illinois.  Robert and James are now working as farmers.  The 1877 Biographical Directory of McHenry County advertises: “Robert Smalldridge Has A Farm of Seventy-Six Acres…Highly Improved and Naturally Fertile Land, For Sale. Buildings Good.  Three good Wells of Water; also good Bearing Orchard” (331).

         Their tombstones reading “Grandfather Robert” and “Grandmother Sally A.,” Robert and Sally both died in 1899 in Iowa Falls, Iowa.  Sally  survived Robert by only 8 months.  The father of eight children, James died in 1912 and is interred in the family plot.  His tombstone is decorated according to his service in the Forty-Ninth Infantry.

         The last name Smalldridge was misspelled for reasons akin to the misspellings of Minor and Taylor.  He was a local, unaffiliated to any of the activist movements present at the convention (including, but not limited to, temperance).  That the Smalldridges had vacated Seneca Falls and lit out for the territories some time in the late 1860s or 1870s, making themselves scarce to local memory, further enabled the misspelling to flourish.


Works Cited 

Biographical Directory of the Tax-Payers and Voters of McHenry County. C. Walker, 1877.

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

“James A. Smalldridge.” Findagrave.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018

National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Hand Book of the National American Woman Suffrage Assocition and Proceedings of the Annual Convention. 1893.

Office, New York (State) Adjutant General’s. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year. James B. Lyon, state printers, 1900.

“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.

Provost Marshal General’s Bureau. Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registrations, 1863-1865. Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War), Record Group 110. National Archives at Washington D.C.

“Sally A. Smalldridge.” Findagrave.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

“Robert Smalldridge.” Findagrave.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

“Smalldridge Family.” U.S. Federal Census, 1850. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1860. Seneca Falls, Seneca, New York. Ancestry.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

---. U.S. Federal Census, 1880. Coral, McHenry, Illinois. Ancestry.com. Accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, et al. History of Woman Suffrage. Susan B. Anthony, 1889.

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