Sarah (Sadie) Ann Robertson

Family connections, like second cousins thrice removed, might as well be calculus. I don’t have a mind for it. I can’t even fathom simple connections like great aunts or great nephews' so I’ll keep it simple.

Sarah (Sadie) Ann Robertson was my mother’s mother’s mother. I hate to convict someone without overwhelming evidence, but my mother didn’t have much good to say about her. So, since this is not a court of law, and my mother’s instincts are unimpeachable, I’ll proceed to prosecute her. All of the hard evidence comes from my mother’s hand. In clear black ‘ball point’ scrivening, she describes her mother’s mother (Sarah Ann Robinson) as selfish. She offers only one example, but it is so egregious, you may find you agree with my mother; at least you should. My mother’s mother’s father (Alson Alexander White) was well-heeled, and traveled widely in his business interests, so on his road trips he would buy bolts of quality cloth for Sarah, his wife, and his two daughters: Lucille; and Mary Trulucia (my mother’s mother). Sadie, selfish Sadie, would make dresses for herself with the expensive cloth, then buy cheap cloth to make dresses for Lucille and Mary Trulucia. This is back in the day when mothers actually sewed and, to give credit where credit is due, Sadie must have actually stitched the dresses herself, because my mother says Sadie would thump her on the head with a metal thimble. Ergo, she must have been sewing. Even as I prosecute my mother’s mother’s mother, I feel guilty, because the defendant is not around to defend herself. If she was, I’d squeeze in a question of why was she thumping Charlotte on the head?

My mother notes that Sadie favored her five sons over the daughters. Other notes indicate she never forgave Mary Trulucia for running away and marrying Wilford Alberti (my mother’s father). I can’t find information on a formal or church wedding so I assume they eloped. Wilford was 23 and Mary Trulucia was 21. A blessing from Mary Trulucia’s father was out of the question since Wilford was not gainfully employed--and was Italian to boot (pun intended...you know, Italy is shaped like a boot). Alson Alexander, Sadie’s dad, would have liked to give Wilford the boot. Italians were not held in high regard at the time, and Sadie cried when Charlotte was born, complete with dark hair and dark eyes, looking very Italian.

Two other words Charlotte uses to describe Sadie is a “belle”, and a “beauty”. With a little prompting I think my mother would have added “spoiled” and “supercilious”. (Supercilious is my word; my mother would have used snooty or hoity-toity). I’m just trying to divine the thoughts my mother really held of Sadie with my limited evidence.

Evidence for the belle comment is slim, but here it is: Sadie was born in Rensselaer, Missouri, at Oakland Farms, a plantation home of historical significance. Her lineage is chock full of old money and landed gentry that can be traced back to an immigrant from merry old England in 1630, Lieutenant Griffin Craft. Oakland Farms was situated in Ralls county in Missouri above St. Louis in a little pocket dubbed “Little Dixie,” because of the high number of slaves and slaveholders. The major crops were tobacco, cotton, and hemp: all requiring labor in planting and harvesting. Imagine the labor involved in plowing with a mule (or by hand for that matter), harrowing with a hoe, then harvesting the cotton, hemp, or tobacco. Oakland Farms was no exception to neighboring farms or plantations and their crops depended on slave labor. I have failed to find how many slaves, or a register of their names and genders. I don’t have hard evidence Sadie’s father owned or operated Oakland Farms; only that she was born and married there. Rensselaer was only a blip on the dirt road without facilities, so it makes sense they would reside in Hannibal, a long walk, or a short buggy ride due east of Rensselaer. Surprisingly, Hannibal was Missouri's third largest city when the Hannibal @ St. Joseph Railroad was organized in 1846 at the offices of John M. Clemens (Mark Twain's father). The railway connected to the state's second largest city, St. Joseph.

I’ve lost corroborating reference somewhere in a pile of papers, but Sadie’s father was involved in the booming lumber industry in Hannibal, where Alson Alexander White was working for the company that eventually became Badger Lumber Company. Somewhere in the comings and goings in Hannibal--in a church, on the street, or possibly where Main Street bends down to the wharf and the Riverboat Landing, Sadie and Alson crossed paths. You can picture the young Sadie; the belle and the beauty, in a long dress and antebellum hat, strolling the wharf. More than enough to catch the attention of the young up and coming man named Alson Alexander White. I’m sure she held a parasol, more fashionable than functional, on the day they met. White, preferably, with a pink fringe, to match her long dress and the pink ribbon on her hat.

Fast forward through courtship and the marriage ceremony to Sadie’s seven pregnancies. Eight, if you count the first baby which she lost after playing around and jumping off of the porch. The first four children, in order, were Lucille, James Edward, Alson Alexander Jr., and Mary Trulucia, all born in Hannibal, Missouri between 1879 and 1885. The next three were Paul Palmore, Charles Joseph, and French Robertson, all born in Independence, Missouri between 1890 and 1894. This information comes from an obituary for Alson Alexander, and the birth and death dates of the children conflict with other accounts.

At the far right margin of mom’s messy arrows, circled words, and looping lines at 45 degrees, is a list of Mom’s mother’s siblings. This would make them mom’s uncles and aunts. Correct me if I’m wrong. Only three have comments written beside their names. Allie, who I presume is Alson Jr., was alcoholic, James Edward was a stinker and a ladies’ man. Charlotte also notes that Charles Joseph was the favorite. Favorite of Sadie, or Alson, or herself? I don’t know. Tragically, Charles died a horrible death at 24 after being bitten by two dogs; at least one of which was infected with rabies. One of the dogs belonged to Charles, who was probably trying to break up a fight with another dog when he was bitten. Thankfully, he was still unmarried at the time of his death, so he did not leave behind a widow or children.

Dying of rabies infection is truly terrible. The progression of a rabies infection causes inflammation of the brain; the resulting symptoms include paranoia, terror, confusion, partial paralysis, and other horrible effects. I wrote a paper in college on the ethics of using animals for incubating the rabies virus vaccine. I visited a warehouse in the west bottoms of Kansas City and walked through a corridor of cages with infected dogs of all sizes and breeds in the full throes of rabies. The howling was unbearable. I don’t know how anyone could have lasted a day there. The back dock was jammed with barrels of decapitated dogs, the live rabies virus having been harvested from the dogs’ brains. Thank science and God the virus is now grown in embryonated eggs, and we now have vaccine to prevent the spread of infection.

Sadie made two claims of which Charlotte took note. She told my mother, and others I assume, that she was the inspiration for the fictional Becky Thatcher in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” This isn’t likely, since parts of the book were written before Sadie was born. The fictional Becky is probably a composite of Becky Pavey and Laura Hawkins, close neighbors of the Clemens family in Hannibal.

The other assertion has more tread. She says she owned the first electric car in Kansas City. There were a number of smaller car companies based in Kansas City when Sadie was living in the eastern outskirts. These included Baker @ Elberg Electric, established in 1894.. Sadie would have been 40 years old. If this was the electric car she owned, it would have been a “Runabout”, a light, basic style with no windshield, top, or doors, and a single row of seats. If indeed Sadie owned an electric car, there is no corroborating evidence that I can find--but I’ll give her this one.

One last parting shot at Sadie, who has no one now to witness to her good character. Charlotte asserts that Sadie would intentionally set the brothers against one another. What kind of mother is this? This hearsay, and subsequent slander was collected by a very young Charlotte hiding beneath the entry steps of her grandparent’s home. What better place to overhear the Machiavellian machinations of her malevolent mother’s mother. I’ll let you be the judge and jury. In mitigation, my mother might have been seeking redress for the thimble head-thumping.

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