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From Letters to the Editor, RAILROAD HISTORY 175, Autumn 1996

Theodore Judah's Birth Date

To the Editor:

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 Rensselear 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, his 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 do not know how the age question was framed or interpreted).

Further research led to the baptismal records of St. Johns'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 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.

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.

Wendell W. Huffman, Carson City, Nevada

Courtesy Wendell W. Huffman.

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