Sunday, March 06, 2005

Judah's birthdate

From: "Wendell Huffman"

In response to a question from Kyle, I share this with all. It was published in Railroad History some time back in the '90s. Bracketed comments are current.

Theodore D. Judah's Birth Date

History "carved in stone" may not always be correct. The mortal remains of Theodore D. Judah–promoter and first chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad–lie buried beneath a large tombstone at St. James Episcopal Church at Greenfield, Massachusetts. On the side of the stone is carved the inscription: "Born March 4, 1826, Died November 2, 1863."

The first hint that something might be wrong with this widely accepted birth date came from an examination of Judah's enrollment record at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, from which school he was reported to have graduated. In fact, Judah appears only to have attended Rensselaer during the summer term of 1838, and his birth date was recorded as March 4, 1825–one year earlier than that inscribed on his tombstone. This Rensselaer register is the only known record of Judah's birth date created during his lifetime.

The mystery was seemingly complicated by the 1850 census which records Judah as a twenty-six year old civil engineer of Seneca Falls, New York. As this enumeration was made in October 1850 this age suggests a birth date in 1824. However, this record may only mean that Judah was closer to his twenty-sixth birthday than his twenty-fifth at the time of the census (we know neither how the age question was framed or interpreted [nor do we know who answered]).

Further research led to the baptismal records of St. John's Episcopal Church, Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Judah's father Henry R. Judah was rector at the time of his son's birth. This document records the baptism of "Theodore son of H. R. Judah" in September 1825 (no day given). As this date is six months too early for the 1826 date carved on his tombstone, it strongly suggests that the March 4, 1825 date Judah himself [apparently] gave upon enrollment at Rensselaer is the correct birth date.

[The actual document consulted is a handwritten copy made some time after the fact. I did subsequently locate what is supposed to be the original, but the archivist who examined the document for me was unable to find any baptism record for Theodore–on this date or any other. For what it's worth, one Pierce genealogist examined the same material I looked at and came to the conclusion that the Theodore baptized in September 1825 was an older brother who died, and after whom our Theodore was named–though he had no record for any other Theodore's birth or baptism. And, also for what it's worth, Norman Tutorow elected to stick with the traditional birthdate dispite everything you read here.]

Making Judah one year older than previously accepted hardly changes our perception that he accomplished much as a young man. However, this revision portrays Judah as closer to the ages of his associates than is often held, as it makes him just one year younger than Central Pacific president Leland Stanford.

[Another comment: Judah was very sloppy with dates. Soon after (or in preparation for) the dispute between himself and C.P. Huntington of summer 1863, Judah prepared an inventory of the various things he had done on behalf of the Central Pacific Railroad. In it, he was off by one year from the actual events. So, it is left to you to conclude whether Judah was sloppy with his birthdate at Rensselaer in 1838 and at Seneca Falls in 1850, or in what he told Anna at various times in their relationship. I was never able to determine whether the date was actually carved on Judah's grave marker during Anna's lifetime, or whether that was added after she died–but I imagine it was done by her.

[The Sacramento Union of 28 March 1855 records that Judah was showing off a "handsome ring" which was inscribed "Sac. Valley Railroad, March 4th, 1855, first gold ever taken from earth used in making a Railroad bank." No comment was made by the paper on the significance of that date, but the 4th of March was probably indeed Judah's birth anniversary. I believe the ring was his present on his 30th birthday–perhaps from Anna. The gold in the ring was worth $5 1855 dollars, and it was taken from eight cubic yards of earth one mile east of Alder Springs–about three miles west of the Folsom station.]