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Sketches of Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Ridgley online

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sion No.

, 189$

. Cla&s No.









BORN JULY 26TH, 1806;
DIED MAY 26TH, 1892.

STEPHEN RIDGLEY was the son of Thomas Ridgley.
His father was born in 1777, in Motcombe, county of Wilt-
shire, England. He was the oldest son and a freeholder.
He owned an interest for three lives in an estate in Horn-
ingsham, Wiltshire. He also cultivated rented lands. He
was, therefore, a farmer both in the American and in the
English sense. Dissenting from the established faith, he
left the Church of England and joined the Methodists. For
their use he built a church on his own land, and a few
years ago, when the son visited the old homestead, the
building was still standing. Thomas Ridgley was an earnest
and devout Christian.

Dissatisfied with the restraints which obstruct the career
of a poor man in England, he resolved to seek the freer
conditions of American life. Accordingly, in 1816, he for-
sook his native land and came to Boston. During the
twenty one years of his life in Boston and its vicinity, he
followed the vocations of baker, gardener, and farmer. He
spent thirteen years on a farm in Medford.

Unsuccessful in his efforts to accumulate property in
New England, he determined to go West. In 1837, he set


out in a private conveyance and after three months of con-
stant travel reached Alton, Illinois. From Alton he moved
to Berwick, Illinois, and subsequently, after the death of his
wife, went to live with some of his children at Bunker Hill,
Illinois. He died in St. Louis at the age of eighty three,
while on a visit to his son Richard. Thomas Ridgley was
a man of very limited abilities. His inefficiency prevented

The maiden name of Stephen Ridgley's mother was
Lydia Cross. She was born in 1776, in Maiden Bradley,
Wiltshire, England. She had only a common school educa-
tion, but was a woman of strong native sense. She was for
many years a church member and in later life became fer-
vently active in the service of religion. She died in Berwick,
Warren county, Illinois, in the seventy fourth year of her

The issue of this marriage was eleven children, of
whom but one survives.

Stephen, the seventh child, was born in Horningsham,
England, July 26th 1806. His birthplace was a little vil-
lage belonging to Lord Bath.

The parents were too poor to give their son an education.
Even the expense of the parish school exceeded their hum-
ble means. After eighteen months of incompetent instruc-
tion in a school whose full course of study comprised only
reading and writing, the child at the age of eight was set
at such manual tasks as his young hands could perform.
His school life ended when that of more favored children
had scarcely begun. When indigence compelled the lad to


leave his books and go to work, he had never been taught
the multiplication table, or the simplest rules of grammar.
This lack of early education was keenly felt throughout life.
It was an embarrassment in society and public station.
Though Mr. Ridgley's English was clear and expressive, it
was often incorrect. The stern necessity of constant toil
for a livelihood left no time for study. But the severe les-
sons of personal experience taught Mr. Ridgley the prime
importance of an education, and doubtless led to those munifi-
cent endowments which at the close of his life he bestowed
upon literary institutions.

In 1816, Stephen Ridgley came with his father to the
United States. He was then a boy of ten. At this tender
age, he was thrown entirely upon his own resources and
compelled ever after to take care of himself.

He first served as an errand boy with William Law-
rence, the cousin of Abbot Lawrence. For seven years he
worked in Boston and the adjoining towns with no pay but
his food and clothes. Numerous changes of place brought
a variety of business experience. The house, the store, and
the field were the shifting scenes of his youthful toil. In
1823, the lad for the first time received wages. He was
then an errand boy for a Mrs. Paine in Boston. But his
pay was only half a dollar a week. His next service was a
little better rewarded. For six months' work on a farm in
Dedham, his wages were twenty four dollars.

In the fall of 1824, young Ridgley went to sea. He
shippe.d before the mast in the brig " Lapwing," under the
command of Captain Blanchard. The object of the voyage


was fur trade with the Alaska Indians. At Archangel, the
brig and cargo were sold to the Russian Government for
seal skins. By the terms of the contract, possession was to
be given at the Sandwich Islands. Accordingly, a Russian
crew was taken on board and carried to the place of deliv-
ery. Thrown out of employment by this transaction, Ridg-
ley sought another situation, and embarking on the ship
' Parthian," under Capt. Rogers of Boston, sailed to Canton,
the Sandwich Islands, and Alaska. His ship returned to
Canton and then set out on the homeward voyage. On
their way back, the sailors were subjected to great priva-
tions. Storms and head winds caused delays which threat-
ened to exhaust their supplies of water and provisions. For
ninety days, the crew were kept on short rations; but at
last, though half-famished, they reached Boston in safety.
The absence of the young sailor on all of these voyages
lacked one month of three years.

In 1827, Ridgley again shipped as a sailor and went to
Smyrna, Valparaiso, and Lima, and returned home by way
of Liverpool. He was then employed on board the U. S.
Revenue cutter " Hamilton," commanded by Lieutenant
Girdley of Marblehead. He remained in this service about
one year. The cutter was stationed at that time in Boston
Harbor. While he was serving before the mast, Ridgley
doubled the Cape of Good Hope once and Cape Horn three

At this period, Ridgley abandoned the life of a sailor
and entered the lamp manufactory of William Carleton of


In 1836, Mr. Ridgley spent several months with an
uncle in Warren County, Illinois. During his stay in the
West, he visited St. Louis. It will be seen that this trip
exerted an important influence upon his future career.
After his western visit, he returned to Mr. Carleton's work-
shop. His pay, at first only seven dollars a week, was soon
increased to one hundred dollars a month. Mr. Ridgley
became the most expert workman in the shop. Heretofore,
in consequence of the lowness of his wages, he was unable,
even with the utmost economy, to save any of his earnings,
but now a more liberal compensation allowed him to get a
start which ultimately led on to fortune.

During this period, he joined the church of Dr.
Nehemiah Adams, but subsequently, together with thirty-
seven others, withdrew from this membership and formed
the " Free Church," which was afterwards called Marlborough
Chapel. The church lot, free of buildings, was bought for
$43,000; it is now worth hundreds of thousands.

After he had served his apprenticeship and thoroughly
learned his trade, Mr. Ridgley resolved to go West and set up
in business for himself. Accordingly, in 1838, he established
himself in Alton, Illinois; but, in 1839, becoming convinced
that St. Louis was destined to be a place of greater com-
mercial importance, he removed to this city and opened a
store for the sale of lamps and spirit gas. He brought to
Alton a capital of $3500, but through injudicious invest-
ments in land, the title of which proved defective, he lost
$2500, and consequently commenced his mercantile career
in St. Louis with only $1000 of available funds.


The name of the firm under which he began business
in St. Louis was " Webb, Chapin, & Ridgley." Near the
end of the first year, Mr. Ridgley bought out the interests
of his associates and formed a partnership with Abner
Stone of Lexington, Mass. After an existence of eight
years, this firm was dissolved by the withdrawal of Mr.
Stone, and then Mr. Ridgley conducted the business two
years longer by himself. From the very outset, Mr.
Ridgley was successful in business. In 1850, having mean-
while amassed a competency of $50,000, he permanently
retired from mercantile life. Prudent investments in real
estate subsequently increased the moderate accumulations
of trade to the proportions of an ample fortune. Mr.
Ridgley's commercial success was based upon sterling integ-
rity and the sound policy of giving his customers a fair
equivalent for their money. It was his habit never to
allow a. lamp to be taken from his store without a personal
examination to see if it was in good condition. He was
enriched by the profits of a trade which his honest dealing
secured. The custom of patrons who always found his
wares to be exactly what he said they were enabled him
in eleven years to withdraw from business with a compe-
tency for the rest of his life.

Mr. Ridgley was married in Alton, Illinois, April 2Oth
1840, to Susan Lucretia Hill of Northwood, N. H. This
union was childless.

In the fall of 1866, Mr. Ridgley was elected State
Senator for the term of four years. During the administra-
tions of Governors Fletcher and McClurg, he was Chairman


of the Committee on Banks and Corporations. He was also
Chairman of the Senatorial Delegation from St. Louis dur-
ing his whole term of office. Though he never made
speeches, he was an active, hard-working, and influential
legislator. His reports on the various bills that came before
his Committee were more numerous than those of any other
Chairman. His remonstrances more than once deterred
rural members from legislation unfavorable to the commer-
cial interests of St. Louis.

In society Mr. Ridgley, though never brilliant, was
always sensible. He never had the opportunity of opening
the sealed treasures of learning, but he had traveled widely
at home and abroad, and acquired piactical wisdom by
extended intercourse with mankind. He never attempted
to discuss questions of literature and science, but his obser-
vations upon the commercial and political problems of the
day were characterized by sound sense.

Mr. Ridgley was generous, but not indiscriminate, in
his charities. His gifts were frequent, but they were
bestowed with a secrecy which concealed them from the
knowledge of the public. . In early years, while still an ap-
prentice earning but little more than his own livelihood, he
solemnly resolved to devote one-tenth of his income to
works of charity. The amount of the gifts bestowed in a
life-long observance of his youthful resolve was large. His
own need of early culture led him highly to appreciate the
value of an education. Having no children of his own, he
opened to the sons of others the avenues of learning. He
sent one of his nephews to school for seven years. All of


the student's expenses, from the beginning of his prepara-
tory training to the completion of his College course at
Dartmouth, were defrayed by the hand of his benevolent
uncle. The same hand supplied the means of fitting the
son of an old friend for Harvard. It was Mr. Ridgley's
intention to pay his way through the University, but the
patriotic youth, responding to the summons of an imperiled
country, fell upon the sanguinary field of Bull Run.

Mr. Ridgley was for fifty one years a member of the
Presbyterian Church and a liberal supporter of the faith
which he professed. A benevolence founded upon religious
principles and successfully eluding public notice character-
ized his whole life.

On the iQth of January 1889, Mr. Ridgley transferred
to Washington University properties worth $66,000, to be
used, when the accumulations have reached an adequate
sum, for the erection of a fire-proof Library building. His
friendliness to the University was still further evinced by a
bequest of $IO,OOO.

For several years prior to his death, Mr. Ridgley had
been acting as his own executor.* In carrying out the pro-
visions of his will, he had already disposed of the greater
part of his property. Apart from generous legacies to kins-
men, the gifts which during his own life he had conferred
upon charitable and literary institutions exceeded $200,000.
Such a noble devotion of private wealth to public beneficence
is worthy of gratitude and imitation.

In his domestic relations, Mr. Ridgley was a kind and
loving husband. His cheerful good nature brightened the


household like a ray of sunshine. In his wife's last sickness,
protracted through four years of acute suffering, Mr. Ridgley
did everything which the ministries of affection could do to
relieve her anguish.

Mr. Ridgley's father was short, thick-set, and blue-eyed.
The son inherited these physical traits. A florid complexion,
mild blue eyes beaming with good nature, a short, stout,
heavy figure suggestive of robust health and exuberant vital-
ity were the bodily features which Mr. Ridgley derived from
his English parentage.




Mrs. Ridgley's maiden name was Susan Lucretia Hill.
Her ancestors came from England. They were poor hard-
working people whom a spirit of enterprise and a desire to
better their humble lot brought to the New World. They
transmitted to their descendants an ardent love of liberty.
Both of the grandfathers of Mrs. Ridgley fought with patri-
otic valor in the battles of the American Revolution.

Mrs. Ridgley's parents were John Hill and Susan Pearl.
Both were natives of New Hampshire, her father having
been born in Northwood and her mother in Farmington.
Not disheartened by poverty and humble birth, they aspired
to education and social position. Fully availing themselves
of their limited opportunities for instruction, they at length
began, while still attending the winter schools, to teach
during the summer months. After qualifying themselves
under such unfavorable conditions for the duties of instruc-
tion, they followed for about ten years the profession of
teaching. Various district schools in that part of the State
were the scenes of their useful labors. In 1812, Mr. Hill
abandoned teaching and moved to Middleton, N. H., where
he opened a country store and inn. Miss Pearl was then
teaching school in Middleton. Mr. Hill met her, and their


mutual attachment ripened into love and marriage. Their
nuptials took place in 1812.

A few years later Mr. Hill sold his interest in the busi-
ness to his partner by whose dishonesty he was defrauded of
all the heard-earned savings of twelve years of toil. Dis-
couraged by this reverse and by the difficulty of supportng
his large family in Middleton, he moved to Saco, Me., and
subsequently to Somersworth, N. H., where he luckily
secured a good position in the employ of a manufacturing
company. But he did not live long to enjoy the benefits of
his better fortune. He died suddenly in 1831, leaving a
widow and eight children, the oldest of whom was eighteen
and the youngest five. The widow proved equal to the
emergency. She was a woman af great energy of will and
persistency of purpose. Her self-reliant struggles to sup-
port and educate her large family were successful. All of
her children enjoyed the benefits of the village schools, and
her second son, David Clarke Hill, partially completed a
course of liberal studies at Dartmouth College. Having
attained the distinction of second scholar in his class, he died
at the age of twenty six, near the beginning of his Senior

The fourth child, Susan Lucretia Hill, was born in Mid-
dleton, N. H., April 5th 1819. Her youth was passed amid
the privations of poverty and the austerities of religious
zeal. In early life, her father had intended to consecrate
his life to the Christian ministry, and ever afterwards, when
failure befell his secular undertakings, he thought that every
unsuccess was an evidence of divine displeasure for his


renunciation of a sacred duty. But he atoned for his
abandonment of the clerical profession by the rigors of
his domestic worship. The children were subjected to an
austere discipline. Kept indoors on the Sabbath, forbidden
to play, to sing lively airs, or to talk of worldly matters,
they were compelled to sit still and commit to memory
Watts' Hymns and passages of Scripture. But the
natural feelings of childhood, rising in instinctive protest
against this unreasonable severity, for a time thwarted the
pious intentions of the father. Mrs. Ridgley has said that
this excessive strictness, instead of strengthening her sense
of its sanctity, rendered the Sabbath day odious, and it
was not until the reflections of mature life corrected the
impressions of girlhood, that she felt a genuine reverence
for its holiness.

Susan was twelve years old at the death of her father.
The family had been left in indigence. A filial desire to
relieve the weight of their mother's burdens inspired the
older children with a determination to earn their own liveli-
hood. Susan accordingly left school and together with an
older sister began dress-making at Great Falls, N. H. A
few years afterwards, believing that a large city would
afford ampler opportunities for success, they moved to Bos-
ton. By this time, Miss Hill had reached the years of
womanhood. She was full of life and gaiety. But her
fondness for the pleasures of society did not wholly divert
her mind from serious thought. General reading occupied
many of her leisure hours and religious meditations began
to engage her mind. Her awakening interest in spiritual


affairs was shown by a more regular attendance at divine
worship and by her taking charge of a class in the Sabbath
School. Her religious sympathies attracted her to the Free
Church. It was in Marlborough Chapel that she first met
her future husband. This casual acquaintance strengthened
into a tender and life-long attachment. In the spring of
1839, Miss Hill and one of her sisters came to Alton,
Illinois. Her marriage with Mr. Ridgley took place in
April of the following year. Her husband's prosperity soon
enabled her to assume a social position which had been
denied to her poverty. Upon the occasion of her first
return to Boston, certain persons who in former years had
treated the shop girl as beneath their notice now sought
her society ; but her just disdain quickly showed the keen-
ness of her discrimination between a respect for personal
worth and an obsequious regard for wealth. Mrs. Ridgley
was a woman of ardent temperament, alike intense in her
attachments and her aversions. She never affected a friend-
ship which she did not feel. A smile of pretended welcome
was never the mask of secret dislike. No duplicity ever
disguised the expression of her real sentiments. Her nat-
ural ardor manifested itself in the enthusiastic activity of her
life. Her zeal in social, political, and religious matters was
unflagging. During the rebellion, her intense loyalty led her
to unwearied labors for the sanitary comfort of our patri-
otic soldiers. Her firm belief in the natural rights of her
sex impelled her to earnest efforts to remove the conven-
tional restrictions which have excluded woman from so many
honorable means of self-support. The families of her pas-


tors received many and substantial proofs of her kindness.

The initial steps which led to Mr. Ridgley's noble gifts
to Washington University were taken by his wife. When
it became obvious that her illness must terminate in death,
Mrs. Ridgley made a will, in which, after disposing of her
personal property, she adjured her husband to give an endow-
ment to Washington University. A simple verbal request
would doubtless have been sufficient, but she preferred to
emphasize her desire by the solemnity of a formal testament.

Mr. Ridgley never for a moment hesitated to follow his
wife's injunction. His own judgment fully sanctioned his
wife's recommendation. A large share of the gratitude
which Washington University owes for this munificence is
due to Mrs. Ridgley.

The last sickness of Mrs. Ridgley was long and painful.
She was confined to her chamber for more than four years,
and after the first six months of her illness she was not
able to lie down. A bed afforded her no relief; it only
increased her anguish. For three years and a half she sat
day and night in her chair. Her agony was at times
almost beyond human endurance. But never, during all
these weary months of distress, did Mrs. Ridgley utter a
word of repining against the allotments of Providence.
Her patience of suffering was more than heroic ; it was
Christian. Her unmurmuring and even cheerful fortitude
was a signal proof of the efficacy of religious faith.




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Online LibraryS. (Sylvester) WaterhouseSketches of Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Ridgley → online text (page 1 of 1)