What did Robert Fulton of steamboat fame look like? Below are three portaits of him. Biographers described him as 5'11' to 6' tall, fair complexion, slendor build, with dark eyes and dark brown curly hair. The first portrait is from a miniature in possession of descendents reproduced in the 1915 Sutcliffe biography. The second is from a painting by Benjamin West reproduced in Reigart's 1856 biography. The third is a reproduction of a portrait by Charles Willson Peale.
Brief Notes on the Ancestry of Steamboat Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton of Steamboat fame had 4 children, 3 daugthers and 1 son. The 3 daugthers all married and had children so there are likely lots of direct descendents, but since his only son Robert Barlow Fulton died unmarried, there is no one with the surname Fulton directly descended, unless of course there is the fluke a descendent marrying a Fulton. Robert was the son of Robert Fulton Sr. and Mary Smith and he had 3 sisters and 1 brother. The 3 sisters all married and I believe all had children, but his younger brother Abraham Smith Fulton appears to have died leaving only 1 or 2 daughters, so there are no Fultons around who can call Robert their Gr Gr Gr ... Uncle. So Fultons related to Steamboat Robert are likely brothers or cousins of his Father Robert Sr.
My own theory is that Steamboat Robert Fulton's Father Robert was the son of the William Fulton who bought 150 acres in what is now Little Britain Township in Lancaster County, PA in 1734 and who died without a Will in 1741. I think this William likely left 3 sons David, John, and Robert, who all being minors likely went to relatives. I suspect they may have gone to live with an Alexander Fulton, likely an Uncle and likely the Alexander Fulton found on the 1751 Drumore Twp. and 1754 Little Britain Twp., Lancaster County, PA. tax lists. I think both these Alexander's are the same man and that he didn't move, just lived very close to the township boundary. The land that William Fulton bought in 1734, which is I think part of the same land the Robert Fulton's Father bought in 1764 is located very near the boundary of Drumore and what was then Little Britain Twps. This Alexander was possibly the Alexander Fulton who died in nearby Cecil County, Maryland in 1762. This could explain that early County History sources say Robert Sr. was the son of Alexander, while a genealogy of the Smith Family indicates the Father was William. Another possibility is that William Fulton who died in Little Britain in 1741 was the Grandfather of Robert Sr. and Alexander was Robert's Sr's. Father.
In the following I have tried to assemble a summary of information about the ancestry and family of Steamboat Robert Fulton. What seems undisputed is that Steamboat Robert Fulton was born on November 14, 1765, in a house on a farm in what was then Little Britain Township, Lancaster County, PA., and what is not in Fulton Township, named after him. His parents were Robert Fulton and Mary Smith and they were married probably in the town of Lancaster in 1759. Mary Smith was the daugther of Joseph Smith of Oxford Township in Chester County, PA., and she and Robert are named in his Will proven June 12, 1760. Robert Fulton Sr. was a tailor and purchased a home at the northeast corner of Centre Square in the town of Lancaster on August 23, 1759. Robert Sr. does not appear on the 1764 Lancaster Borough tax list and shows up for the first time on the Lancaster Borough tax list in 1756 and also in 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1763 on the later of which his occupation is noted as a tailor. On Oct. 28, 1765 Robert Sr. bought the farm, with a mortgage, on which Robert Jr. the inventor was born. This appears to have included the land originally bought by William Fulton on July 21, 1734. This William died without a Will in 1741. Robert Sr. was not successful at farming and the farm was put up for sale in 1771 and the family moved back to Lancaster. Robert Sr. died in 1774, in the autumn according to the biography of Steamboat Robert Fulton written by his granddaugther Alice Crary Sutcliffe in 1915.
I have three old biographies of Steamboat Robert Fulton. The earliest and first biography was written by Steamboat Robert Fulton's friend Cadwallader D. Colden in 1817 only two years after Steamboat Robert's death. Very little family history is given in this biography. It states Steamboat Robert's Father was named Robert and was of "a respectable but not opulent family" and was a native of Kilkenny, Ireland. It states Steamboat Robert's Mother was "of a respectable Irish family, by the name of Smith, established in Pennsylvania." This biography states that Robert Sr died in 1768, which appears to be incorrect as several other sources say 1774. It states the Robert Sr. was one of the founders of the First Presbyterian Church of Lancaster. It states that Steamboat Robert's Mother died in 1799 on a small farm in Washington County, PA., which Robert Jr. had purchased for his Mother. The book states Robert Sr and Mary Fulton had 5 children, 3 daugthers and 2 sons and that Robert was the oldest son.
I also have an extensive biography, "The Life of Robert Fulton" by J. Franklin Reigart, published in Philadelphia by C. G. Henderson & Co., 1856. The book is very detailed regarding Steamboat Robert's life, but contains virtually no information on his parents or siblings. What is there is appears almost directly quoted from the Colden book. It does contain some interesting stories from Steamboat Robert's youth including a reference to visiting an Aunt in Little Britain in the summer of 1779. The Aunt is not named so we don't know if it was a sister to his Mother or Father, but does indicate their were relatives still in the Little Britain area in 1779. This biography also contains a transcript of Steamboat Robert Fulton's Will in New York City dated Dec. 13, 1814 and proven July 23, 1815. The Will is very extensive and leaves most of the considerable estate to his wife Harriet nee Livingston and his four children who are not named in the will. Steamboat Robert Fulton's children:
Children of Steamboat Robert Fulton and his wife Harriet Livingston
Robert Barlow Fulton, born 10/16/1808. Died unmarried in 1841
Julia Fulon, born 4/13/1810. Married Charles Blight and had 3 children
Cornelia Livingston Fulton, born August 6, 1812. Married Edward Charles Crary and had 5 children
Mary Livingston Fulton, born 7/19/1813. Married Robert Morris Ludlow and had 1 child.
In his Will, Steamboat Robert Fulton left legacies to his 3 sisters and his brother. They all appeared to be living in Washington County, PA.
A third biography I have of Steamboat Robert Fulton is "Robert Fulton" by his Great Granddaugther Alice Crary Sutcliffe, published in New York by The MacMillan Company in 1915. This biography has some additional family information not found in other sources. Quoting from page 4, "Robert Fulton's father was one of three brothers, David, John, and Robert. They were of Scotch origin and came to America from Kilkenny, Ireland, about 1730. Robert, the youngest, settled in Lancaster, Pennslyvania, where in 1750 he married Mary Smith, daugther of Joseph Smith of Oxford Township ...". In chapter 4 "The Gift of a Farm" the book discusses the farm Steamboat Robert Fulton purchased for his Mother and siblings in Washington County, PA. in 1786. Robert bought the farm with money his had made from painting miniature portaits in Philadelphia and he took his Mother and siblings to the farm in 1786 and settled them before returned to continue his studies. He was 21 years old. According to the Sutcliffe book the farm was located in Hopewell Township, about 1 mile NE of the little community of Buffalo on Cross Creek. He also bought 4 lots in the nearby town of Washington, three of which he later conveyed to his three sisters. On pages 32-33 Sutcliffe relates information about Robert's siblings as follows. His eldest sister Isabella (nicknamed Belle and probably born about 1760) married Peyton Cook in 1786. The next sister Elizabeth, called Peggy, married a Mr. Scott, first name not known. He apparently died as Robert's 1814 Will provides a legacy to her and her children and notes she is a widow. Robert was the middle child. Then came the third sister Mary called Polly, probably born about 1768, who married David Morris "a nephew of Benjamin West" in 1790. Benjamin West was a famous painter in Philadelphia under whom Robert studied. The youngest sibling was Robert's only brother Abraham Smith Fulton. The Sutcliffe book says he was 13 years old when the family moved to Washington County, PA., in 1786, making his birthyear about 1773. It goes on to say that Abraham was perhaps a school teacher early in life and then later went to work for his brother Robert in developing steamship navigation on the Ohio River and was killed by the collapse of a log structure he was building on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River not far from Pittsburgh. Abraham Smith is listed in Buffalo Township, Washington County, PA., in the 1810 census. It appears he is married with perhaps three daugthers as the census lists 2 females under 10, 1 female 10-16, and 1 female 26-45 in the household. It appears that Steamboat Robert Fulton's Mother Mary died in 1799 on the farm Robert bought for her in Washington County, PA.
Several references from the 1800's including a History of Chester County, PA., in 1880 and an 1880 article on the Smith Family printed in volume 4 of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History, state that Steamboat Robert Fulton's Grandfather was named Alexander. Both are in biographies of Robert Smith born at sea in 1720, who it says was the son of John and Susanna Smith and that John Smith came to America from Northern Ireland with his sister Mary who married Alexander Fulton, Grandfather of Steamboat Robert Fulton. Interestingly it appears from these stories that Alexander and Mary's son Robert Sr., Father of the inventor, also married a Mary Smith, a cousin, a daughter of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith died in Oxford Township (created from a part of NW Nottingham Township) in Lancaster County, PA., leaving a will dated May 22, 1760 and proven June 12, 1760. Among his children he named a daugther Mary, wife of Robert Fulton. Another view is presented by Scot Highland in his 1929 Genealogy of his Smith line. He also says that John Smith who came to American in 1720 had a sister Mary, but says this sister married about 1728 to William Fulton and indicates he believes this is the William Fulton who acquired 150 acres of land in Dromore/Little Britain Twp, in Lancaster County on July 21, 1734 and that these were the Grandparents of Steamboat Robert. We don't know which if either of these is correct as there appears to be no documentation to support them. I suspect it is true that the Grandmother of Steamboat Robert Fulton was a Mary Smith just as was his Mother. I also suspect there is some truth in both the William and Alexander stories. One theor might be that Steamboat Robert Fulton's Grandfather was indeed the William Fulton who bought land in 1734 in Little Britain Twp., Lancaster County, PA. We know this William died intestate in 1741. It is likely their children were underage and their son Robert, father of the inventor may have been quite young, perhaps under 10 years old and maybe he finished growing up in the household of a relative, Alexander Fulton, maybe his Grandfather, but perhaps an Uncle. This would explain the confusion of whether Steamboat Robert Fulton's Grandfather was William or Alexander. If it was his Uncle Alexander, this could well be the Alexander Fulton who died leaving a Will in 1762 in Cecil County, Maryland.
There is also an extensive and well researched article on the ancestry and family of Steamboat Robert Fulton in the Oct. 1992 issue of The Fulton Family Newsletter, edited by Pat Stark.
Below is a theoretical genealogical chart of SE PA and N. MD Fulton’s including Steamboat Robert Fulton:
So just for fun, purely based on theories I suggest the following. This is far from proven and is likely wrong in some aspect, but I think the following is likely a genealogy outline of Steamboat Robert and other Fultons in southeastern PA and northern MD.
Outline below is JUST THEORY
A theoretical outline of Lisburn Fulton connections to Steamboat Robert and other Fultons in SE PA might start with William Fulton of Lisburn, County Antrim, Northern Ireland born abt 1650, who probably had brothers Hugh, Thomas, and John. This William Father may have been the son of William Fulton of Deriaghy, near Lisburn Ireland that Hope refers to as William of Kilkenny and references the burial of his widow Elizabeth in 1674. Somewhere either this William or his son John or grandson William went from Lisburn to Kilkenny to work in the linen industry. William likely had at least three sons:
1. John Fulton born abt 1675. I think this John had at least the following sons:
a) William Fulton, b abt. 1700, who died in Little Britain Twp, Lancaster PA. in 1741
i) David, perhaps the one who died in Lancaster PA 1757 without children.
ii) John, b: 1726 of Harford County, MD. A tailor, who left sons William, Alexander, and James.
iii) Robert, b: abt 1730, Father of the inventor
b) Alexander Fulton, b. abt 1710, who died in Cecil County, MD. In 1762 with 3 sons named in his Will: John, Francis, and Samuel.
c) James Fulton, b abt. 1705, who died in 1772 in Hopewell Twp., York County, PA. leaving sons John, James, William, Andrew, David, and Hugh.
d) Thomas Fulton, died without a will in Lancaster County, PA. in 1747. Possibly Father of John Fulton referred to in John Kettere of Lancaster County in 1770 as his son-in-law with children: Thomas, James, John, Elizabeth, Margaret, Hannah, and Jane Fulton.
2. Alexander Fulton. Could be the Alexander Fulton noted on page 375 of a history of Chester County, PA., as of the ship Charles of London who drowned on Sept. 27, 1697.
3. William Fulton. Possibly the Father of Richard Fulton b: 1706 in Londonderry, N. Ireland and died 1774 in Paxtang Twp., Lancaster, now Dauphin County, PA., leaving children William, Jean, Richard, Isabel, Grizzle, and Joseph.