The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2004

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Authorizing Mothers

A Study of the First Maternal Association of
Utica, New York, 1824 - 1833


Elizabeth Shanklin

Index to Authorizing Mothers

Part II: Status of the Founding Members' Families

A close examination of Utica city directories, local histories, newspapers, census documents, cemetery records and the records of the First Presbyterian Church suggests that Utica's Maternal Association was not anomalous. The organization was founded by and composed primarily of women married to upper-middle-class men who were merchants, professionals or ministers. In fact, some members had lineage's descending not only from the New England elite, but from English royalty.

In 1824, when eight female members of Utica's First Presbyterian Church founded the Maternal Association, Utica was no longer a frontier. Migrants from Connecticut and Massachusetts in search of land to perpetuate the corporate family economy, who previously might have settled in Oneida County, had to continue west. Utica, however, offered newcomers an expanding, thriving center of commercial activities, whose citizens anticipated even greater growth of trade the following year when the Erie Canal was to open. In that year General LaFayette would acknowledge Utica's importance by visiting to participate in the formal inauguration festivities. Yet the Canal actually decreased Utica's rate of growth. As the frontier commercial outpost became increasingly a conduit to the West, its rate of population increase dropped from 134% to 47% during the next decade. Utica adapted by developing flourishing publishing and textile industries and by catering to the needs of travelers, but by 1845 the census showed that the population had actually decreased four percent in five years.

The founders and many members of the first Maternal Association of Utica were the wives and daughters of the city's ruling elite who in 1824 were intent on maintaining and expanding economic, civic, and cultural hegemony. Attesting to the civic recognition accorded the founders of Utica's First Maternal Association, a local anecdotal history provided their names. The Pioneers of Utica: Being Sketches of its inhabitants and its institutions, with the civil history of the place, from the earliest settlement to the year 1825-the era of the opening of the Erie Canal by M. M. Bagg named the eight women. The husbands and fathers of the women who initiated the Maternal Association had founded and led the Village of Utica from its inception in 1793. Maternal Association founder Sophia Clarke, for example was married to Erastus Clarke who had named Utica. A graduate of Dartmouth, Erastus was a student of the classics and suggested the name of the port of Carthage, which eventually was chosen by lot. Erastus's lifelong piety may have been influenced by the fact that his maternal grandmother was a sister of Jonathan Edwards. An attorney, Erastus served as Trustee of Utica from its incorporation in 1793 until he was elected president in 1807.

Maternal Association founders Jerusha Wells Clark and Electa King were also married to attorneys. Founder Beulah Allen Clark was married to a captain in the War of 1812, who became President of the Village of Utica in 1824, the year the Association was inaugurated. Founders Martha and Mary Hastings were married to printer-publisher-editors. The year prior to the founding of the Maternal Association, they had begun Western Recorder, Utica's weekly newspaper that promoted Presbyterianism. The editor, Thomas Hastings, a composer and musicologist, was also the author of several books that suggest his class identification: Hastings' dissertation on musical taste; The Musical Reader, or Practical Lessons for the Voice; and A new and Choice collections of Flute Melodies; consisting of duets, waltzes, cotillions, airs, marches, etc. to which are prefixed the instructions for the German flute and patent flagelot. Founder Sophronia Clark was married to a prominent merchant, described by a local historian as "one of ten large subscribers to the enlargement of the Erie Canal in 1835." The eighth founder, Sarah K. Clarke had been widowed early and reared her family by conducting a school. She was also Superintendent of the Female Department of First Presbyterian's Sabbath School.

The founders of Utica's first Maternal Association then were the wives of upper- and middle-class citizens who were among the ruling elite during Utica's first decades. In Utica in 1824, the eight women could expect that their names would be an important factor in insuring that the new maternal association would be greeted with respect.

In addition to the identification of the founders through local history, the other major source of member identification for this study is the sheet published in 1840 that identifies 65 living members (2 illegibly) and 27 deceased members, along with the statement that 70 more previous members (unidentified) had joined other associations or "removed." This membership list presents women's given names without identifying their husbands. Local historian M. M. Bagg had identified the founders by their married names with the exception of one who was a widow. From periodicals and local histories, four more members have been identified. Thus, a total of 94 members' names are known. Of these, the names of seventy-seven husbands have been identified. The occupations of 62 husbands, 2 widows and 1 married woman have been identified, thus providing the basis for references regarding the economic class of 63 of the known members.

A discussion of the husbands identified in Utica's first City Directory (1817) will indicate some of the problems encountered when attempting to rigidly categorize the occupations of members' husbands in an early market economy. Seventeen husbands of known members of First Maternal Association were identified with their occupations in the Utica Village Directory of 1817 with the following occupational distribution: three attorneys, six merchants, one broker, two saddlers, one tailor, one house joiner, one gold and silver smith, one musical instrument maker, one printer/bookseller. (One individual was assigned two classifications in the directory as will be discussed below.) Thus, the distribution is seven artisans and seven who were not. Within a decade, five of the seven would not properly be classified as artisans.

Comfort Butler, identified in 1817 as a saddler, was by 1828 the proprietor of the Western Museum, which the City Directory stated, had been:

designed, chiefly, for natural curiosities. The first deposits were extensive: and the present collection, considering the short time in which it has been accumulated, is respectable and will not fail to gratify the spectator. The edifice as constructed specially for the purpose; and its spacious rooms, with the promenade, upon the top, present, in themselves, considerable attraction and contribute to render it a place of fashionable resort.

Identified in 1817 as a printer/bookseller, William Williams by 1829, was a director of the Ontario Branch Bank. William Whiteley, identified in 1817 as a musical instrument maker, placed an ad in the 1832 city directory that makes clear that he sees himself as both manufacturer and a merchant:

He keeps for sale Bassoons, Clarionets, Flageolets, Flutes, Bugles SERPENTS, fifes, and almost every other article of Musical Merchandize, forming in the whole, a more choice collection than is often found in market. His long experience in the business enables him to say with confidence that he can furnish INSTRUMENTS to buyers, wholesale or retail, on as good terms as can be afforded by any other manufacturer or seller.

John Hoyt, identified in the 1817 City Directory as a tailor, was also named in that publication as a director of the Manhattan Branch Bank, capitalized at $2,050,000 in 1799. James Dana, Sr., identified above as both a saddler and hardware merchant, was also a director of that same bank. By 1850, the federal census identified Dana as a merchant who at that time owned $24,200 worth of real estate; that same census stated that Maternal Association member Abigail Handy, previously married to a merchant, was the owner of real estate worth $36,000, both among the largest individual investments recorded.

With reservation then, because of the many opportunities for men to enhance their economic status, and the additional proviso that many husbands had more than one occupation, the occupations of 62 husbands of the 94 members have been identified: 2 ministers; 8 artisans; 6 attorneys; 7 educators, 8 publishers of newspapers, magazines and books; 27 merchants; 1 politician; 5 bankers and capitalists; 2 physicians; 2 manufacturers; 1 musicologist; 1 white-collar worker. As will be discussed below, many more members' husbands held political office than is indicated here; only the husband for whom no other occupation was identified was categorized as a politician. There were six individuals whose activities seemed to require dual categorization: William J. Bacon (lawyer and newspaper publisher), Thomas Hastings (editor-publisher and musicologist), Theodore Pomeroy (physician and manufacturer), Alexander Seymour (merchant and banker), William Williams (artisan and newspaper and book publisher), Samuel Whittelsey (minister and educator). There are 70 occupations here for 63 members because in one case a widow was employed and in six cases dual occupations are included. Appendix 1 provides the names of members with categories assigned them. Yet these occupational categories only begin to reflect the economic, political and cultural power of the husbands and members of the Maternal Association. They barely suggest the resources that were potentially available to the founders when they set out to generate a new organization and then a movement. Nor do they convey the dynamic models that members' husbands must have provided: these men demonstrated how to successfully pioneer economical political and cultural institutions.

Samuel Farwell, husband of Maternal Association member Philomela, will serve as another example of the reductive result of categorizing men married to members of the Association according to their original training and of the ways members' husbands advanced their economic status in an expanding economy in an expanding nation. Samuel Farwell born in 1800 was trained to be a mason, an artisan.

Trained on a farm by his father, a physician in Litchfield, Connecticut, he learned the trade of masonry which "prepared him for the public works in which he engaged and on which he entered soon after his marriage in 1820. The number and magnitude of these have been rarely surpassed by individual contractors. The first consisted in the building of the aqueduct, culverts, and all the other masonry, except locks, of the portion of the Erie Canal extending between Steele's Creek and Little Falls…. He supplied ties and lumber to the Mohawk and Hudson, Hudson and Berkshire, Utica and Schenectady, and Syracuse and Auburn Railroads, and completed a contract on the Erie Canal enlargement…[and] a contract to build the New York and Albany railroad. [He was] President of the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steamboat and Canal Packet Boat Company and was one of its first directors…. For fifty years he conducted colossal enterprises in different parts of the United States and Canada."

The Association did attract women whose fathers and husbands like those of the founders were preeminent in the growing commercial center. Talcott Camp, the first recorded President of the Village of Utica, was the father of Eunice Camp Potter and Harriet Camp Merrell, sisters and both members of the Maternal Association. The records for the Village for the first five years of the Village were lost, but we know that from 1798 until 1817, Camp was reelected annually. In 1803, he was elected one of the first Trustees of the First Utica Presbyterian Society, which founded the church. Mary Ryan provides the Camp and Merrell families as examples of artisan members of the Maternal Association.

While it is true that, like William Williams, Ira and Andrew Merrell began as artisans, they were the founder-owners of Merrell and Camp, Book Publishers, newspaper and book publishers and the most prominent booksellers in Utica, a city that became a cultural center. A young printer in 1803, Ira Merrell with Asahel Seward, (the husband of member, Martha Williams Seward), purchased Whitestown Gazette & Cato's Patrol and began publishing it as Utica's first newspaper. Merrell and Seward hired a Yale graduate to edit the paper and subsequently sold it to him while continuing to print the paper.

While the term "printer" today may connote a purely commercial relation between a printer and a publisher in which the printer does not determine the content of what is printed, such was not the case for Benjamin Franklin or Utica's printers, the Hastings, the Merrells, the Sewards, William Williams, who funded their own projects which they chose according to their own values. All of these men were married to members of the Maternal Association providing them both models and resources

Which must have made it seem feasible to begin Mother's Magazine, which was originally printed by William Williams, husband of member Sophia Wells Williams. According to local historian P. H. Fowler, Colonel William Williams, for example: "was widely known as one of the two principals of a firm doing the largest printing and publishing business west of Albany, and as a prominent citizen and newspaper proprietor, and he was familiarly known to our ministers and churches as particularly their printer and publisher, and as an active, useful, and exemplary Christian and ruling elder. He entered the office of his relative, William McClean, the pioneer printer of Utica, and well schooled there, he formed a partnership, long maintained with his brother-in-law, Asahel Seward…. The firm commenced the publication of the Utica Patriot in 1816, and continued it, under different names, until 1825. They supplied the infant community throughout the territory of the Synod with school books and reading matter generally; and when the Western Magazine, afterwards called the Utica Christian Magazine, established with much effort by the Presbytery of Oneida and the Association of Oneida, in 1812, and kept in being by no less effort, and highly valued for its usefulness, was ready to expire, or had already died, Col. Williams appeared in Presbytery and offered to carry it on, or revive it, with the Presbytery's endorsement; and from 1822 to l826, he printed and published it under the name of the Utica Christian Repository."

Not only were members of First Maternal Association daughters of, or married to, men who founded and ruled the Village of Utica, Association members were the daughters or wives of men who continued to govern Utica throughout the 1820s and 1830s. William Clark, the husband of founder Beulah Allen Clark, was President of the Village in 1824, the year the Maternal Association was begun. He was reelected in 1828 and 1829.

Joseph Kirkland, the father of member Eliza Kirkland Bacon, having represented Utica in New York's House of Representatives from 1821-1823, was the first mayor under the new charter of the city of Utica in 1832. That year when the city suffered a severe cholera outbreak, while others fled, Kirkland remained to supervise relief and to attempt to stop the spread of the disease. He was reelected in 1834. In 1835, when a group of abolitionists had obtained the Council's permission to hold the founding meeting of the New York State Abolitionist Society in the courthouse, Kirkland successfully rallied an opposition.

As an indication of the moral independence that despite coverture elite women might exercise, Eliza's mother, an ardent abolitionist publicly opposed the mayor, her husband. Kirkland was a founder of Hamilton College, the Utica Academy, the Presbyterian Church, the Ontario Branch Bank, the Oneida Glass factory, the New Hartford Manufacturing Society, the Farmers Factory, the Paris Furnace Company and other Oneida County institutions.

Prominent members of Utica's second generation were also represented in the Maternal Association. William J. Bacon, A. B., L.L.D., Eliza Kirkland Bacon's husband, was a graduate of Hamilton College admitted to practice as an attorney in 1825. He joined the law office of her father in 1828. While there, he became editor and proprietor of a new newspaper, the Utica Gazette. In 1850 he was elected to the State Legislature; in 1853, he was elected justice of the Supreme Court for eight years; in 1862 he was reelected for a second term. In 1876, Judge Bacon was elected to the Forty-fifth Congress.

He served in the following capacities between 1825 and his death in 1889: Director and Vice-President of the Utica Gas Company, Director of Utica and Black River Railroad Company, Director of Utica Cotton Mills, Director of Utica Globe Woolen Mills, Director of Second National Bank of Utica, Director of Utica Water-works Company, Trustee and President of Utica Savings Bank, Trustee of Hamilton College, Director and President of Forest Hill Cemetery Association, Trustee of the Home of the Homeless, Consulting Manager of the Utica Orphan Asylum, Counselor of Oneida County Historical Society, President of Utica Philharmonic Society, and Director of Oneida County Bible Society for twenty-five years.

Like other members of Utica's civic and cultural elite, William Bacon had emigrated from Connecticut or Massachusetts, where his predecessors were accustomed to social dominance. Bacon's grandfather was president of the Massachusetts Senate in 1800, and represented Berkshire County in Congress from 1801 to 1803; the Bacons were direct descendants of Nathaniel Bacon who had emigrated to Massachusetts in 1642, and was councilman in the old colony of Plymouth.

Husbands and fathers of members of the Maternal Association not only dominated the developing political institutions of Utica; they were prominently represented among the city's leading capitalists.

Utica's 1817 City Directory informs us that Utica possessed three banks with capital stock of $500,000 (Ontario Branch Bank), $1,000,000 (Bank of Utica) and $2,050,000 (Manhattan Branch Bank). Among the twelve directors of the Ontario Bank were Joseph Kirkland, Jesse W. Doolittle, Arthur Breese and Gerrit G. Lansing. Jesse W. Doolittle, a leading merchant, was the husband of member Jerusha Doolittle; Arthur Breese was the father of member Sarah Breese Lansing. He settled in Utica in 1808, was a trustee of the Village and of the Presbyterian Church. He was a founder of the Utica Academy and of the Oneida Bible Society. Sarah Breese Lansing's brother, Samuel, became a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, while another brother Sidney Breese became United States Senator from Illinois and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sarah Breese Lansing was married to Barent Bleecker Lansing, who is identified in city Directories as "Cashier." Local historian Samuel W. Durant in his History of Oneida County writes that Barent Bleecker Lansing was a prominent man of the period. The functions and power of a cashier in 1812 are indicated in the following account of another financier precluding anachronistic assignment of meaning to the term:

The Bank of Utica was incorporated on June 1st, 1812 and began business on December 8th, with Montgomery Hunt as cashier. He soon became known as an able and skillful financier. During the War of 1812, the Bank of Utica advanced large sums of money to the federal government and was well rewarded for its financial support. The signature of Montgomery Hunt was accepted throughout the country as a pledge of financial security.

In 1829, the husbands of three other members of the Maternal Association joined the directors of the Ontario Branch Bank: William Williams, the printer/publisher husband of Sophia Wells Williams, Horace Butler, the husband of Hannah B. Butler, and Alexander Seymour, the husband of Hester Seymour. Horace Butler was in business with Nicholas Devereux: Devereux, Butler & Co. As an indication of his wealth in 1825, Nicholas Devereux purchased the Van Rensselaer mansion and donated the funds to begin a Catholic church in Utica. In June, 1819, Alexander B. Johnson whom Walsh terms, "the leading capitalist in the village before the War of 1812" became a director of the Ontario Bank. His wife Mary Adams was the niece of President John Adams. Until he was excommunicated for not observing Sabbath in his businesses, Johnson was a leading member of the First Presbyterian church where the Maternal Association was born.

Thus, in 1828, five of the twelve directors of the Ontario Branch Bank were husbands of members of the Maternal Association, while its President was a member of their congregation. In addition, husbands of members of the Maternal Association were directors of the Manhattan Branch Bank, capitalized at $2,050,000 in 1799. This bank was directed by nine men, three of whom were married to members of the Association: John C. Hoyt, John H. Handy and James Dana, husbands of Sarah Hoyt, Abigail Handy and Harriet Dwight Dana.

Several conclusions are suggested from this examination of the economic class and status of the husbands of members of the Maternal Association. First, Utica city directories at least until 1840 provided no category for capitalist or financier. (The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1792 as the date of first use of capitalist.) For Utica that was a new category not yet symbolized. Second, there was great fluidity. Enterprising men, especially those helped by financial backing and education, and a support network provided by a powerful church, could pioneer new institutions. The position of such men in their city and nation is not well represented by a category based upon an occupation that they may have learned as an adolescent, and which did not continue to be their primary source of income or identity. Third, anachronistic assignment of meanings to occupations obfuscate power relations. Many members of Utica's first Maternal Association were married to early capitalists: Men listed as artisans in the 1817 City Directory were pioneering new financial institutions in the 1820s and 1830s when the Association was born and functioning.

© 2003, Elizabeth Shanklin
Index to Authorizing Mothers
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