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Mary (Struthers) Robinson Photo back of Mary Struthers
Mary (Struthers) Robinson
Of all the pictures in Hannah Rich’s photograph album, the portrait of young Mary Struthers is the most perplexing and the most touching.

This Mary Struthers is almost certainly the sister of Agnes and Stephen Struthers, and the daughter of Mary Rich Struthers; all four appear in Hannah Rich’s album. Hannah, who may have been Mary, Stephen, and Agnes Struthers’ aunt (though they were all roughly the same age) wrote Mary’s name on the back of the picture in ink; at some time she added “Mrs. Robinson.”

The drama appears in Hannah Rich’s penciled addendum: “Uncle Stephen paid $20.00 to send a telegram to South Kortright telling of her death by messenger from Hancock.” Most novelists would be justifiably proud of themselves if they could compact so much intriguing material into one short sentence.

And this is where the mysteries begin. Who was Mary Struthers Robinson, and when and where was she born? When was she married, and who was the Mr. Robinson who became her husband? When and how did she die? Furthermore, who was Uncle Stephen, who paid the exorbitant amount of $20.00 for a telegram bearing the news of her death?

It seems likely Mary was born in the early 1840s. The photograph itself contains one clue: her dress. While we tend to think of large round hoop skirts as the style throughout the 19th century, in fact the dress Mary is wearing, with its tight fitting bodice and slightly elevated waistline that make the waist appear tiny and the skirt immense, was high fashion for only about 5 years, until 1865.

If we guess that this picture is of a woman aged 22? 23? 24? in 1865, then she would have been born in the early 1840s.

We can further narrow the date of this photograph with help from Dave Rozzana’s “Tips for Dating Old Photographs." According to Rozzana, special taxes were levied on photographs from August 1864 to August 1866. (See the photograph of William Blakely in this album to see what these stamps looked like, and for further information about this special Civil War levy.) So this picture was taken—and Mary was alive—either for the few years before August 1864 or after August 1866.

*Where* was Mary born? The 1850 Federal and 1855 New York State census both indicate she was born in New York in about 1844. Thus far, no online records have been located for a marriage between Mary Struthers and a Mr. Robinson, though there were numerous Robinsons in early Delaware County, NY, where Hannah Rich and her groom William Blakely Peters lived, and where Mary died. Since we know Mary died in Hancock township, one would assume there would be some record of her death there, or at least a grave marker. Again, the online records shed no light on this.

These records *do*, however, reveal the existence of a number of Mary Robinsons, all too young to be the Mary Struthers Robinson shown here, though one of them might have been her child: it was just as common for daughters to be named after their mothers as it was for sons to be named after their fathers. And that leads to an interesting possibility: that the woman shown in this picture died in childbirth, leaving a daughter named Mary Robinson. It was an all-too-common scenario.

The telegram itself: twenty dollars was a huge sum of money for any commodity, let alone a telegram. According to the Economic History Service, if one calculates the value of $20.00 in today’s money using the unskilled wage index, this telegram cost over $2000.00!

Finally, there is a mystery about the telegram’s sender. Who was Uncle Stephen? Yes, Hannah Rich, the owner of this album, had an uncle Stephen, Stephen Altgelt Rich, born 1790. According to the second section of the Delaware County Biographical Review, this Stephen A. Rich died in 1858, which makes it impossible for him to have been the sender of the telegram in the 1860s. There is, however, at least one error in this section of the Review—more about that later—so perhaps this date for Stephen A. Rich’s death is also wrong.

About the photographers: Rintoul and Rockwood at 839 Broadway, New York City, took this picture, as well as the picture on the preceding page of Agnes Struthers. Presumably Mary and Agnes went together to the studio of Rintoul and Rockwood to have their photographs taken. Note that the balustrade in the background is the same in both shots.

According to John Craig’s wonderful online Daguerreian Registry, Rockwood was George Gardner Rockwood, born in Troy, New York. Craig writes, “Rockwood reportedly began his photographic career in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1853. Another report advances that date to 1855. While in St. Louis, Rockwood reportedly produced the first carte-de-visite in the United States. [A carte-de-visite was a photographic calling card; such cards were the rage in England and the United States during the Civil War, and millions were sold. For more information about the carte-de-visite craze, go to the Antiques Roadshow site]. Rockwood arrived in New York City, NY, in either 1857 or 1859, and opened a photographic gallery with his brother at Broadway and 13th Street. In 1860 he was listed at 839 (possibly 841) Broadway, corner of 13th Street, in partnership as Rintoul (JA) and Rockwood. The firm advertised they employed five artists for coloring photographs, and included one member of the firm to take outdoor views. After a long career, Rockwood died in Lakeville, Connecticut.”

For more about George Gardner Rockwood (1832-1911) and to see his portrait, visit Picture History.

Craig also tells us the Rintoul of Rintoul and Rockwood was John A Rintoul, listed in 1860 as Rockwood’s partner. Before 1860, Rintoul worked at 841 Broadway and lived at 159 East 84th Street.

The people pictured in Hannah Rich’s album lived in overlapping social circles. The Rintouls of photographic prominence, for example, were connected to the family of our bride, Hannah Rich, by marriage: Hannah’s Aunt Elizabeth Rich was married to James Rintoul, a railroad company auditor born in Scotland, possibly in Glackmannanshire [link: www.familysearch.org] and living in Manhattan at the time of the 1880 US census. Another Rintoul, Belle Rintoul Davenport, appears in Hannah’s album as well.

See also the pictures of Agnes Struthers, Mary Rich Struthers, Stephen Struthers, and Belle Rintoul Davenport.

 
Please Note: In 2005 this album came into the loving care of Hannah Rich Peters’ and William Blakely Peters’ great-granddaughter, Carolyn Flanders McPherson, and is presented here for the first time. For more detailed information on the photo album and its contents you may view the introduction here.

Patricia and Carolyn have attempted to identify all persons in the album and learn more about them through research of various records. If you can help us identify or add further information to this photo, please contact:
Email Carolyn

 

Additional Links

 
Next Photo - Stephen Struthers
Index of Hannah's Photo Album
Photo of William Blakely
Family Search
----An outside link to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Economic History Service (An outside link)
Delaware County Biographical Review (An outside link)
Craig’s Daguerreian Registry (An outside link)
Antiques Roadshow (Outside Link)
Picture History (Outside Link)
PDP's Roots & Branches Blog
 
 
 
Updated June 01, 2014
Album photos provided by Carolyn F. McPherson 2005
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