A Sketch of the Life
With Appended Selections from Skidmore's Rights of Man to Property!
Introduced, annotated & edited
Mark A. Lause
Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company
This book is dedicated to Fellow Worker
A Sketch of the Life of
by Amos Gilbert
Had a record been kept of all the acts of all the men who have ever lived, it would constitute the history of the world: -- a knowledge of their thoughts in all ages, would show the progress of intellectual development, in the same way that a knowledge of all their feelings, would be a criterion by which to test the positive, as well as comparative morality. This is true of the whole, because it is true of the constitutional parts.
Though we see actions we cannot see thoughts and feelings; it may be confidently said that no man ever knew certainly, what his fellow man thought, or how he felt; but as impulses naturally lead to thoughts -- corresponding thoughts; and these in their turn have an aptness to produce suitable action: -- and as we have had frequent opportunities of observing this routine, we conclude the act affords a good clue to the motive -- to the feeling which gave rise to it. Had it never been the supposed interest of any to diguise motives to conceal the real feelings -- the inference would be well enough; this having unhappily been the case, there is liability to great errour and mistakes -- we can do little else than to impute to the actor such motives as we conceive would have influenced ourselves in such practice: -- This is all we can do, and it is very little: -- there are many reasons why our conclusions can have no pretensions to correctness: -- they are too obvious to enumerate.
Imperfect as it is, this inferential course of procedure is often interesting, and instructive. It is so in the case of all professed Reformers in an especial manner. We infer their motives, whatever may be their professions, from the wealth or fame which they acquire for themselves, -- the value they attach to it, and the tenacity with which they
hold to it; or from the sacrifices they make or the privations they endure, and the fortitude and temper with which they sustain themselves under adversity and disappointment. Like other general rules, this has its exceptions.
Honest biography will bear a comparison in point of utility, with most kinds of composition, inasmuch as there is no subject so universally interesting as the human character. It is to be regretted that there cannot be more materials collected, concerning the subject of the following memoir: posterity will regret it; for an age must come when a history of the author of the "Rights of Man to Property," will be read with that interest which is always felt in the neglected, abused benefactors of the age in which they lived. The errour is always discovered best, when it is too late to profit by the wisdom, or to do justice to the motives of those who had the good of mankind at heart; -- not is the discovery turned to practical account, for while we censure our predecessors for their treatment of the wise and the good of their day, we pursue a course that will compel those who come after us to say that we were no less guilty of underrating and neglecting hold to it; or from the sacrifices they make, or (perchance oppressing and persecuting) the sterling merit of our own time; -- but to the memoir.
Thomas Skidmore was the oldest of ten children, born to John and Mary Skidmore of Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut.1 He was ushered into the world August 13th, 1790.
He early evinced a love of literature2; so intense was his desire to avail himself of the benefits of school that he could not be prevailed upon to remain at home, however, inclement the weather, though his residence
was a mile and half from the school. It appears too that he had in his green age, a capacity for acquiring knowledge; for before he was thirteen, he was appointed teacher of the district school, though he had not solicited the situation.3
He continued the employment in the same location, until he was eighteen. His reason for leaving his native home, was that his father received and monopolized all the remuneration for his industry; the son was willing to divide with the father, but he could not consent longer to be debarred the exercise of his right to any part of the proceeds of his own exertions.4
At the age just mentioned, he left the parental roof, and became assistant teacher in the academy at Weston, Connecticut,5 where he continued a shorter time than he might otherwise have done, had he not given offense to an uncle with whom he boarded, by writing sundry political articles for the public eye. He was at Weston probably a
year, and on leaving it went to Princeton6 in New Jersey, where he continued for a short time as teacher in an academy. He passed on to Bordentown, thence to Richmond, Va., to Edenton and Newbern in N. Carolina, at all of which places it is believed he was engaged in the business of teaching.7
From 1815 until 1818 Thomas Skidmore was at Wilmington, Del. Here his pursuits were different; -- his time was occupied in chemical and mechanical research. He attempted an improvement in the manufacture of gun-powder,8 as well as in wiredrawing, and paper-making; in the latter he was successful, but another, less inventive probably, but more managing, succeded in securing the advantage.9 He left Wilmington
and resided for some months in Philadelphia, and from that city he removed to New York, in June 1819, after ten years absence.10 In
March 1821, he married Abigail, widow of Francis Ball, and daughter of Henry Boles, of New Brunswick, N.J.11
New York continued to be his residence to the time of his death, which was on the 7th of August 1832.12 By comparison of the dates, it will be seen that he was near the close of his forty-second year.
The foregoing is all that can be collected of his movements and residences, and may suffice; it is not so much when a man lived, as how he lived; -- what he pursued, as how he pursued it; -- as it regards these, we can speak with some certainty in relation to the subject of this memoir.
Of his religious principles nothing can be said except that he favoured universal toleration. What were his peculiar speculations it would be difficult, perhaps impossible to tell, as he did not obtrude them upon the notice of others, in public or private; and as he considered the act or belief to be involuntary, he neither censured or ridiculed those whose conceptions were different from his own.13
His moral scheme was based upon the great precept which enjoins that we do as we would be done by, and his practice was as accordant with it as could reasonably be expected, surrounded as he was, by social
arrangements which he conceived altogether erroneous, and adverse to a compliance with its requisitions. However some may be opposed to the equal vicasa of Thomas Skidmore, few can be found, perhaps, whose aberrations from a consistent moral practice were less frequent.
There are two points of view in which Skidmore drew upon himself attention; as an ingenious, scientific man -- and as an agrarian.14
Although he never held a distinguished place among men of science, it was not for want of scientific attainments: -- His knowledge was of things rather than words; this of course would often lead him to question the theories, and laugh at the puerilities of science: It is too, the true way of accounting for the circumstances of an original and cultivated genius having been overlooked, or rather avoided, by learned men. He was a chemist, and in general, a natural philosopher, and a good mathematician; all this he was by practice, and not in theory.
But that for which the name of Skidmore will be longest remembered, is the simplicity of his views regarding the equality and universality of human rights; the ability he evinced for explaining, and the fearless manner in which he advocated and defended them. He took the position that any generation of men were entitled to all the advantages, of whatever kind, there were in the world at the time they were ushered into, or entered upon it; that these advantages belonged to them in mass, and hence were subject to a general and equal distribution. He maintained that this was true of all ages; that every individual of every generation, on arriving at maturity was entitled to an equal dividend of the world's goods with his contemporaries of the same age, and that previous to entering upon such possession they were all entitled to the best instruction which the state of intelligence and the means of the time could afford. From this ground he never permitted himself to be enticed or coerced, but in a most uncompromising
disposition, in an independent and uncourteous manner, he would oppose the slightest deviation from it.
Indeed he evinced most hostility to those who appeared to make the nearest approximation to his favourite position, if they did not admit fully, he habitually classed them with the enemies of equal rights: His tenacity and impetuousity, if they did not make him enemies, at least prevented the hearty cooperation of some others between whom and himself there was a great similarity of opinions and would have been much sympathy offending.15 He died in the belief that some, who publicly espouse the cause of the producers of wealth, were its secret enemies -- that belonging to the aristocracy, they had all interests in common with it, and only wished to form a party around them to gratify ambition, or in some way subserve a private end. It is not wonderful that he
should have felt opposition to such16; it requires less, far less penetration than pertained to the subject of this sketch, to perceive that the world is overrun with imposters and wily, intriguing politicians; and when it is considered what a thorough and continued conviction pervaded his mind of
the overbearing assumptions of the rich, and the oppression, degradation and sufferings of the poor, and by how many devices the former had attempted, and partially succeeded in reconciling the latter to their condition, it is not strange that he should look on the possession of wealth with an eye of distrust when he came forward as the advocate of universal, equal rights: -- This game had often been played with success, -- so often that the privileged classes were entitled to no confidence; -- but that they should now come forward at a time, when a generous and general impulse was given, and soothe it into quietness and peace -- that they should divert attention away and induce an awakened generation of producers to withdraw attention from the steady pursuit of their own rights, and evaporate it, as it were, in their admiration of the talents, and the boldness of a few individuals, -- was with him a subject of the deepest regret: however mistaken he was, he could not be persuaded to think they were really the friends of their race, and it called forth feelings of indignation, whenever he thought of them.
He may have been less republican than he knew himself, and may have felt chagrin on the failure to form a permanent, increasing party around him: -- The failure was attributable to another cause. Skidmore was in an errour, or rather there was confusion in his
ideas; he did not distinguish between a mind aroused from a state of torpor at the mention of a proposition, and a mind convinced of the truth of that proposition; -- between a boisterous advocacy of some fundamental principle, just discovered, and a thorough acquaintance with the details of a system, the legitimate consequence of that principle carried out. Those who adhered to him had not, like himself, investigated the subject; its strong points were brought into view in bold relief, by him; these were all they saw; they knew nothing of the background scene; it was rather their passions which were excited, than their reasoning powers put in motion. There was reaction; he misinterpreted the evidence of the impulse, and inferred if his views could be acceptably presented to all men, all men who had no opposing interest, would receive and act upon them simultaneously; hence he became sanguine, by misappreciating and misunderstanding the boisterous zeal manifested by others, as far as they misappreciated and misunderstood his simply, though profound, and well-reasoned, though radical view of social organization.
If the impulse given by him was different from that which he wished to give, or believed was given; and if the reason why some who did not range themselves under the same banner, were not what he supposed them to be -- it was not he alone who misconceived,
for neither of these descriptions rightly appreciated the results which he contemplated; -- they both attributed to him a hostility of purpose, and expected a violence of action which did not come within the sphere of his designs; -- he saw no occasion for either; his whole reliance was on the preference which the human mind gives to truth.17
The death of Skidmore has, as is always the case, allayed much of that asperity of feeling which was excited against him, and opened many eyes to the respect due to his character and views but it will be the business of posterity to do him strict justice; perchance it may not be expected from them. -- Their sympathies for the fate of so bold a pioneer in the work of reform may induce them to overestimate the character, as much as it was under-estimated in his own day. Judging of the intelligence of the age by some of its opinions and usages which they will have incorporated with their better social system, they will be unable to find an apology for that generation which could permit a Skidmore to drag out a life in poverty and obscurity, and die with no other than an ordinary passing obituary; that while he who could project and ably advocate plans so comprehensive as to embrace the whole human family, had but a scanty and precarious subsistence, those who opposed him, though a small minority, could, while they reveled in luxury, introduce the majority to condemn not only the measures, but the man: But so it is, -- so it has ever been -- and so it must remain to be, until
men can be brought to cherish fraternal feeling, and to decide as independent reasoning beings. The progress toward this state of things, however certain, must always be slow; and though from a combination of favourable circumstances, or even the exertions of an extraordinary individual, a visible advance may be made in the work of man's perfectability, yet in general the progress of an age is scarcely perceptible. Skidmore did not reflect duly on this; it had not escaped his notice, from his extensive knowledge of man's history, that it had always been so in the past, but his enthusiasm for the improvement of the human condition, and his impatience under the privations to which the mass of his fellow-beings were subjected, prevented him from seeing that it must be so in the present, and the future. It is not strange that it was thus with him, for at the time that he entered the political arena, to whatever concatenation of causes it was attributable, something in the character of a new impulse, appears to have been given; -- the human intellect, it would seem, was aroused into action in an especial manner; all opinions and usages were examined, and their truth and utility discussed with a freedom which neither their sacredness nor their antiquity could repress.
Superiour minds had long been engaged in similar investigations, but the result of their
labours had not attracted attention further than was essential to suppress them, or bring them into disrepute. Now the case was different; the human mind, disburdened of the incubus that had weighed it down, asserted (whether it felt it or not) its independence.
With Skidmore, this passed for more than its worth; he did not perceive that it was rather the effect of noisy declamation, than the result of sober well-reasoned conviction; he did not suspect probably, that, as the line of bricks, the impetus given to the first was communicated to the second, and so to all the rest in succession.
But whatever may have been the misconceptions and the errours of Skidmore, it will have to be conceded that his views were far in advance of the age; and however radical, that they were substantially correct; he could only have been mistaken regarding the means, by which his just and benevolent objects could be attained and the necessity of that intellectual preparation which is preliminary to their use, or which indeed, is itself the means. In the progressive stages of improvement through which the human mind is probably destined to pass, it will be seen that, with some modifications, every position he took was true and important.
The readers of this brief sketch may incline to inquire regarding the cause of Skidmore's peculiarity of charcter. Physiologists may
trace it to some theory of physical organization, probably to craniology: they must please themselves in accounting for the course he pursued. Certain it is that he early manifested that desire for the acquisition of knowledge which continued to stimulate him to the last; and the cause which led to a separation from his family may have been that in which his agrarian opinions had their origin. This and his departure from Weston are indications of that resolute independence of character for which he was particularly distinguished. His mother, though she had not failed to remark his early enterprise and perseverance, was little prone, or perhaps had her attention too much engrossed with the cares of a numerous family, to observe the cause or causes which led to them, and no one else to whom access can be had, had the opportunity to do so. To an inquiry once made by the writer of this, to Skidmore, regarding the origin of his singular course bf political investigation, he replied that it might be found in his reading, when yet a boy, in the "Aurora," a periodical published at that time by Wm. Duane of Philadelphia; and which according to the current politics of its day was decidedly democratic. It is not likely however that he meant more than an impulse, for it contained nothing of that for the advocacy of which he rendered himself notorious. His agrarianism was not that of
Sparta; he was to those around him what Sparta was to her neighbours.
In conclusion, Skidmore's perceptions were quick and at the same time clear, yet so well arranged that it was indifferent to him what part of his system was selected as the point of attack: he was prepared at all times to defend with such confidence as those only feel who rely fully on the excellence of their cause, and who feel no distrust in their ability to sustain it. He would hear his whole scheme denounced and its projector with it, without evincing irritable feeling, and if any objection was suggested which had not occured to him, he not parry it off, but in a softened tone and deliberate manner, saying, "well, I don't know," would enter upon the examination, whether it was a real objection or a tangled sophism deduced from the assumption that things are as they ought to be. He never resorted to sophism, subterfuge or prevarication in his reasonings. He marched in a straight line to meet his enemy, nor would he permit that enemy to zig and zag in his approaches to him. There was no apprehension of losing the subject, even in the warmth of animated disputation, where he was a party. There was a positiveness and abruptness in his manner which, when tried by the fashionable test of refined society, would be pronounced rudeness, and thought indicative of the absence of those fine feelings
which are the origin of true politeness; but this it is believed was more in the manner, than in the motive; he had a strong sharp voice, which together with a rapid articulation, might easily be so construed. It is probably, hqwever, that there was something in it -- long accustomed to hear opinions defended, which he had decided that none but the unthinking or the designing would attempt to defend, he may have been insensible of the respect due from man to man in the case of those who differed from him in the question of human rights.
In his person he was not remarkable; he was of the middle size, and well proportioned. Complexion inclining to sallow; his features were bold, symmetrical and manly: from partial baldness his hair was thinly diffused over a high and finely formed forehead, such as the Sculptor and the Phrenologist might contemplate with pleasure. His eyes were grey, clear, and uniformly expressive of the lofty benevolence and philanthropic feeling which characterized the conceptions of his mind: negligent of his person and dress, plain and simple in his manners and totally unstudied in his whole deportment, there was nothing in the appearance of Skidmore to attract the casual observer, -- but his free animated and intellectual conversation fixed at once the attention of every listener, exhibiting that grandeur of soul, that clearness of head and
goodness of heart which command at once our admiration, respect and esteem. In temper he was mild and equable, in disposition cheerful without levity, and in his intercourse with friends familiar without the sacrifice of dignity. In accordance with the tenor of his doctrines he regarded and treated all men as equal by nature, and in every circumstance he evinced that high and independent spirit
"That could not fear and would not bow."
The latter part of his life was spent in producing transverse rotary motions in a hollow sphere, in which to cast thin metallic shells for globes. This was a favourite project, both on account of the pecuniary results he anticipated from it, and the expectations of great benefit to be derived to the public. He conceived that if a knowledge of geography could be carried into every family, it would be of incalculable advantage; and the cheap rate at which he hoped to furnish globes by his device, would place such an accomodation within the reach of every one. An idea of what he expected from it, as well as of his pecuniary circumstance's, may both be gathered from the fact that on presenting his wife with the first entire shell he succeded in casting, he said "You need not now be under apprehensions. Hereafter, we shall never want bread."
Memoir writing, it must be confessed, is liable to exaggeration. It is difficult to conceive the probability that a perfectly disinterested person would take up his pen to sketch the life of another. The writer of the foregoing makes no pretensions to such disinterestedness; he freely acknowledges that he felt great respect for the talents, and for what he believed to be the motives of Skidmore while living; he regretted his death as a loss to mankind, and now that Skidmore is no more seen of man, he cannot but cherish the memory of what he pronounces a rare human being.
Let it not be inferred that that expression of regard proceeds from agreement in views. Between the subject of this biographical memoir, and the writer of it, there were marked and strong points of difference; -- they were at issue in what they conceived vital and radical questions. The one held the opinion that the first steps toward eradication of moral evil was an equal distribution of property; the other depended upon proper mental training to effect the same end. The one would have divided the products of labor equally; the other would have given them to the labourer. On these two questions alone they had much animated discussion in private, and in public. Skidmore never believed that the writer was in earnest to have the human condition improved, and would probably have
thought him the least likely of all men to write a friendly memoir, or even to desire justice done to his character, and memory.
1 Emily Hawley identified the mother of Thomas Skidmore as one Polly Baldwin who was born in Newtown, died in 1866 at New York City and was buried at Seneca Falls. See p. 381. The land records of the Register of Deeds for the Town of Newtown also indicates the close associations between the Skidmores and the Baldwins; microfilm copies of these materials are in the Connecticut State Library, Hartford. For a Polly Baldwin born in Southbury in 1769 and her parents, see the Vital Statistics for Southbury, 1, 122, 131, for Derby, 21, and for Goshen, II, 396 in the Barbour Collections of that institution. Five of the other nine children were: Zenas, born in June, 1791; Philo, born in 1792 ; Beers; Darius; and Laura Hawley, 370, 371, 382-83, 384. For Philo's obituary, see the Columbian Register, January 6, 1844.
2 It seems unlikely that any American of the 1790s interested in literature would have been unfamiliar with the most important American literary figure of the day, Charles Brockden Brown. The first American to attempt to earn a living exclusively through the writing of fiction, Brown was strongly influenced by the English radicalism of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. One of his novels
much of Skidmore's destiny. It depicted the exodus of a rural youth estranged from his father to the city in order to find "other manual occupations besides that of the plough." Instead of such an emancipation, he found poverty, corruption, and the new class oppression of the industrializing city. Arthur Mervyn: or, Memoirs of the Year 1793 (2 vols., 2nd ed.; Philadelphia, 1887), 1, 12-13, 22. See also the original biography by his friend William Dunlap, The Life of Charles Brockden Brown (2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1815).
3 This did not entail full time employment. Several miles away, at Ridgefield, Connecticut, Samuel G. Goodrich knew "the greatest 'arithmeticker' in Fairfield county" -- a teacher who spent most of the year in the "business of ploughing, mowing, carting manure, etc." See also his Recollections of a Lifetime, or Men and Things I Have Seen: in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend: Historical, Biographical, Anecdotal and Descriptive (2 vols; New York and Auburn, 1956), I, passim, 30-40. Only carpentry skills would have made Skidmore's probable employment different.
4 Scholars have perhaps read deeper psychological meaning into this conflict than it merits. After all, even as Gilbert wrote, John Skidmore participated in the same New York City radical circles as had his son, and back in New England, he had showed a notable openness to new ideas. As stated above, he seems to have taken an "oath of fidelity" to the Revolutionary government in the Summer of 1777. Newspapers like the Aurora could be found under his roof and, as a freethinker, he was probably Newtown's "village atheist" for some years before moving away. Finally, it should be noted that he also worked as a carpenter and builder to suppliment a meager income from farming in a desperate struggle to support his large family.
5 A Military Academy was incorporated at Weston in 1777, and, from the beginning, "a corps of teachers" passed through the area. Hurd, 808; Pease and Niles, 199-200. "Academies" were nearly equivalent to the modern preparatory high school. No such institution existed at Newtown and Skidmore would have been unable to afford attendance had there been one. He probably went to Weston to learn as well as to teach, and seems not to have stayed for as long as Gilbert supposed.
6 Princeton was already the principal seat of higher learning and the source of teacher recruitment for the Southern states, an important consideration given Skidmore's subsequent career.
7 On the academies at Edenton and Newbern, see Mrs. Guion Griffin Johnson, Antebellum North Carolina: A Social History (Chapel Hill, 1937), 266, and Charles L. Coon, The Beginnings of Public Education in North Carolina: A Documentary History (2 vols.; Raleigh, 1908), I, 74. Two important Princeton men -- William Gaston and Thomas Pitt Irving -- sponsored and staffed the Academy. In Skidmore's day, it remained at least partially on the grounds of the governor's mansion from which Governor Thomas Tryon had directed the 1771 crushing of the back "Regulators" in a back country rebellion in some ways comparable to that of Shays. See Charles L. Coon, North Carolina Schools and Academies, 1790-1840: A Documentary History (Raleigh, 1913), xiv, 50; Johnson, 304, 306; A.T. Dill, Jr., "The Story of Tryon's Palace," 7 in New Berne: Cradle of North Carolina (Raleigh, 1941).
The outbreak of war with Britain found Skidmore in Newbern. On July 31, 1812, the authorities mustered his company of the Craven County militia into service. Without arms until late August they marched to the coast at Beaufort to meet an expected invasion at Fort Hamilton, but were gradually
demobilized, leaving the garrison entirely in the hands of the regular army by January, 1813. The militia later responded to the threat of invasion by participating in the coastal defense. Muster Rolls of the Soldiers of the War of 1812: Detached from the Militia of North Carolina in 1812 and 1814 (Raleigh, N.C., 1851), 11. See also Sarah McCulloch Lemmon's Frustrated Patriots: North Carolina and the War of 1812 (Chapel Hill, N.C.), 21-22, 18, 79, 122-23, 94. The failure of Gilbert -- who interviewed members of Skidmore's family -- to even mention Skidmore's service must be considered along with other factors: Skidmore's New England origins, his ties to Princeton academic circles (from which Gaston entered Congress as a leading opponent of the war), and Skidmore's later denunciations of war in The Rights of Man to Property! Together, they indicate that Skidmore was not one of North Carolina's "frustrated patriots" itching for a fight with the British.
8 This did not involve employment with the largest gunpowder mill in the area, that of Eleuthere Irenee de Nemours, the founder of the DuPont fortune. No record of such employment exists in the virtually complete business records in the family papers at the Library of the Hagley Mills Foundation.
9 This incident probably involved work on a technique using revolving cyclinders to make paper in a continous sheet. Thomas Gilpin, the Wilmington manufacturer took a patent on the machinery in 1816. Gilpin's business successfully installed it and, within a year, supplied the American Daily Advertiser in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, a rival firm in Springfield, Massachusetts "by obtaining information from time to time of some of the work people" pirated and perfected the innovation, robbing Gilpin and others (probably including Skidmore) of the credit for their roles in the process. See Elizabeth
Montgomery, Reminiscences of Wilmington, in Familiar Village Tales, Ancient and New (Philadelphia, 1851), 33, 34. Joel Munsell, Chronology of the Origin and Progress of Papier and Paper-Making (5th ed.; Albany, 1876). Given his diverse background, Skidmore would have fit the norms of the industry's work force, described by one scholar as "a wandering lot of vagrants very much like the old-time tramp printers. ..." Lyman Horace Weeks, A History of Paper Manufacturing in the United States, 1690-1916 (2nd ed.; New York,' 1969), 145.
10 Skidmore's family had already moved to New York City. His brother Zenas had arrived in 1811, serving in the local militia during the war; like Beers and the still-unmarried Darius, Zenas worked as a tailor, and Philo as a shoemaker. Their parents and their sister Laura had followed them to the city by 1819. Hawley, 370-71, 381-84. It was fortunate they were there, for the Panic of 1819 threatened what, at a conservative estimate, amounted to over a tenth of the population with starvation. Samuel Rezneck's "The Depression of 1819-1822: A Social History," American Historical Review; XXXIX (October, 1933), 31. Unlike many newcomers, Skidmore could have found work at his father's grocery, or in one of his brother's shops, but he may have found work in the local building trades, in which case he could have participated in what one local investor called "a conspiracy" -- a strike sparked by the refusal of the masons to accept a pay cut. See Murray N. Rothbard, The Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies (New York, 1962), 195.
Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register,
and City Directory for 1820, 1821, and 1822 indicate that Skidmore soon launched an erratic career as a "civil engineer" out of a shop on Cherry street. By 1822, he lived at No. 43 Hester street with a shop at 263 Water. The directory for 1823 gives a home address at 32 Forsyth without a location for the shop, indicating that business had not gone well.
11 Over the next ten years, they had at least three sons: Thomas, Jr.; William; and Henry.
12 An obituary dated August 7 ascribed his death to "an inflammation of the liver.... The illness of Mr. Skidmore was of three weeks' duration, and was it is thought, caused by a slight attack of the cholera morbus. We are informed that a bust of the deceased will be taken during the day, after which the corpse encased in a Coffin partly of glass will be kept for the inspection of the deceased's friends, until the interment, which will take place tomorrow afternoon, from his late residence, 55 Clinton street." Workingman's Advocate, August 11, 1832.
13 Unlike much of New England, the district in which Skidmore had been raised was not dominated by the Congregationalists -- the denominational successors to Puritanism. There a strong Anglican church early took root, enjoying the allegiance of half the white population as early as 1725. By 1804, itinerant preachers brought the revivalism of the "Second Great Awakening" into the area, and small groups of Baptists, Methodists, Sandemanians, and Universalists soon formed. Hard, 34, 49, 71; Hurd, 463, 467-69.
Diverse religious views were also held in Skidmore's family. Its founders came to the New World with John Winthrop and the Puritans, but by the middle of the eighteenth century -- at least in Newtown -- the Skidmores were nominally Anglican. John Skidmore, Thomas' father subscribed briefly to the Presbyterians and was later a freethinker. E.L. Johnson, 75; Hawley, 370.
14 During the construction of the Erie Canal, Skidmore wrote from his Hester street address to the governor to argue that a great telescope should be built for the "existence or non-existence on the surface of the moon & other Heavenly bodies, of animate beings, similar or dissimilar to ourselves, must be conclusively decided." He freely speculated on "the rapture which such a discovery as I am speaking would excite in the public mind." Not only scientists but "the mass of mankind" could participate in such a venture. Indeed the project might crown the "electrical, optical and chemical advances of the past two centuries" with a transformation of humanity's view of itself. See his letter of August 22, 1822 in Letterbook X, No. 53, DeWitt Clinton Papers, Manuscript Collection, Columbia University Library, first noted by Hugins, 82-83, 240 n. 7.
15 In particular, Gilbert was concerned with Skidmore's hostility to the the influence of Owenism in the American labor movement of his day. Skidmore was one of the first to recognize that the distance between Utopian community and company town -- between New Harmony and Pullman was not so great as it might seem. One aid in his understanding was the presence among Owenite sympathizers of the Wilmington industrialist Thomas Gilpin. Anthony F.C. Wallace, Rockdale: the Growth of an American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution (New York and London, 1972), 284-85.
16 It should be remembered that Skidmore was probably drawn into politics by such movements as the United Dry Goods Association of New York. Founded by local merchants and small retailers like his father, it opposed the "price fixing" of the "auction monopoly " -- those firms marketing cheaply imported British goods undermining both domestic manufacturers and regular retailers. New York Patron of Industry, June 6, 16, 17, 20, 1821, and Niles Weekly Register, XXI (October 13, 1821), 103, both cited Rothbard, 179-80. The movement reemerged in 1828 in the New York Anti-Auction Committee. Horace Secrist, "The Anti-Auction Movement and the New York City Workingmen's Party of 1829," Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, XVII, Part 1, No. 2 (1911), 149-66. In September of 1828, Skidmore participated in a "numerous and respectable meeting" of the Thirteenth Ward supporters of President John Quincy Adams, and won election to the city convention of the National Republicans -- soon to become the Whigs. Less than a month later, he attended a mass meeting of a Whiggish committee -- that of the "friends of the protection of American Industry, and the determined opponents of British influence and Auction monopolies." New York American, September 18, October 15, 1828. Such experience tended to teach a mistrust of well-to-do "friends of labor" and professional politicians.
17 In fact, Skidmore realized that, under certain circumstances, the government would have "suddenly ceased to exist -- that it has expired, as it were, in a fit of apoplexy," in which case "a temporary committee of safety" would be required to organize the seizure of power. The Rights of Man to Property!, 389-90.