Biography of Samuel Livingston Tate

Samuel Livingston Tate, born in Leeds, England in 1839, was a man of remarkable achievements. Despite limited means, he pursued education, graduating from Albion College and the University of Chicago. He practiced law before venturing into real estate, where he made significant contributions to the development of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Tate’s entrepreneurial endeavors included promoting railroads, constructing street-car lines, and establishing manufacturing plants. He actively served in the war, held various public offices, and espoused progressive ideals. Married to Frances Belle Wilcox, he raised a family and left an indelible mark on the industrial and civic history of South Dakota.

SAMUEL LIVINGSTON TATE is a native of England, having been born in the city of Leeds, Yorkshire, on the 14th of January, 1839, and being a son of Henry and Elizabeth (Haigh) Tate. Henry Tate, a shoemaker by trade, was born in the county of Lincolnshire, England, on the 17th of February, 1811, and his wife was born in the city of Leeds on the 13th of January, 1815. In June, 1842, they emigrated from England to America and settled in the village of Leyden, Franklin County, Massachusetts. The vessel on which they took passage was wrecked and they, with other passengers, landed on an island off St. Johns, Newfoundland, where they remained six weeks, waiting for a vessel to take them to New York. It was currently reported at the time that the ship on which they had taken passage was intentionally wrecked in order that insurance might be collected on the vessel and cargo, the latter being principally composed of rags, baled in imitation of broadcloth and insured as such. Passengers were robbed by officers of the vessel and then abandoned, while they were saved from starvation by kind-hearted fishermen who inhabited the island on which they took refuge. The father of the subject was of Scotch descent, but there is but little authentic data to be had concerning the genealogy. The maternal ancestry is traced without interruption back to the time of the religious persecutions during the reign of King Philip of France, when they fled from their native land to England for refuge, being Huguenots, while it may be said that during all the long intervening years those of the line have retained to a marked degree their peculiarities and general appearance as a sect.

On account of the limited means of his parents, Mr. Tate was hired out to a Massachusetts farmer when nine years of age and, in the connection, became inured to hard physical labor, while his educational advantages in the meanwhile were limited to an attendance in the district school during the three-months winter term until he was fourteen years of age when he accompanied his parents on their removal to Peru, Illinois. For the ensuing two years, he was employed in connection with the construction of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad until its completion to Rock Island in the fall of 1854. He was a total abstainer from the use of tobacco and all intoxicants, was studious, and found his greatest pleasure in the society of a few select friends rather than in that of large and promiscuous crowds. At the age of twenty-two years, though without financial resources, he began the work of preparing himself for college, defraying his expenses for several years by doing janitor work during the college year, while during the summer seasons he did farm work and canvassed for the sale of books, teaching school at intervals and sparing himself no labor or pains in his efforts to reach the desired end. He was for one year a tutor in Adrian College, Michigan. His first collegiate work was done in Wheaton College, Illinois, while later he was in turn a student in Adrian and Albion Colleges in Michigan, completing the classical course in the latter institution where he was graduated in June 1868 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, while in 1873 the same college conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts. After leaving Albion, he entered the old University of Chicago, in the law department of which he was graduated in June 1869 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws, being admitted to the bar in the Supreme Court of Illinois in the following month, while he soon after began the practice of his profession. Of this work, he has spoken as follows: “My professional life covered a period of fifteen years and cannot be said to have been eventful. My first effort was made in the autumn of 1869, at Evansville, Wisconsin, where I was admitted to practice in all the state courts, but early in the next year, I removed to Grand Haven, Michigan, where I remained until the fall of 1884, when I abandoned the profession and removed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, having been admitted to practice in all the state and federal courts in each of the four states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and South Dakota. During nearly all the time I was in Michigan, my time was largely occupied with official duties, which finally created a feeling of constraint and which did not admit of the degree of expression and the freedom of action which a personal spirit of independence demanded.”

On arriving in Sioux Falls, in the winter of 1884-5, Mr. Tate engaged in the real-estate business, conducting his operations individually until the autumn of 1886, when the firm of Pettigrew & Tate was formed, and as equal partners, the two interested principals engaged most actively in the general real-estate and promoting business, their transactions having reached as high an aggregate as more than a million dollars in a single year. The firm bought and sold immense tracts of land in and near Sioux Falls, platted nine additions to the city, constructed eight and one-half miles of street-car lines in the city, operating the same for eleven years, erected the fine Pettigrew & Tate block, a three-story structure of cut stone, in Main Avenue, and built a terminal standard-gauge railroad, eight miles in length, from the city to the new packing house west of the same and equipped the line with rolling stock. They were also the principal promoters and owners of many manufacturing plants in South Sioux Falls and platted large tracts of land adjacent to the city of Yankton, connecting their addition with the city by street-car lines three and one-half miles in length. Mr. Tate was one of the promoters of the Midland Pacific Railroad, projected to connect Sioux Falls with the city of Seattle, on Puget Sound, and served not only as a member of the directorate of the company but also as its president. This venture was declared by J. Pierpont Morgan to be the best-conceived and most promising railroad project in the United States and would have been carried forward to a successful issue but for the financial convulsion in the early nineties. Mr. Tate was one of the principal promoters and leading officers in the Sioux Falls Stock Yards Company, which planned and constructed the mammoth new packing house near the western limits of the city and was the largest stockholder in the company. He has more recently promoted the Sioux Falls Pressed Brick Company, for the manufacture of brick from sand and lime, and this company now conducts in the line one of the leading industrial enterprises of Sioux Falls. He has also promoted several mining companies in the western states and is at the present time president of two of the same, whose properties are located near Grand Encampment, Wyoming, while he has also been a promoter of many other important enterprises of an industrial nature, the list being too long to permit of specific mention in this connection. Mr. Tate’s executive and initiative powers seem illimitable, and the impress of his strong and vigorous individuality has been permanently left on the industrial and civic history of South Dakota, while he is known as a loyal and progressive citizen, a man of high attainments, and one who richly merits the implicit confidence and esteem in which he is uniformly held.

Mr. Tate was one of the patriotic young men who rendered valiant service in defense of the Union at the time of the war of the Rebellion. In 1864, he served as an orderly sergeant in Company I, One Hundred and Thirty-second Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and in the following year, under the name of one of his brothers, was a member of Battery G, Second Illinois Light Artillery. He served as circuit court commissioner and injunction master in Ottawa County, Michigan, from January 1, 1871, to January 1, 1873; as county judge of the same county from January 1, 1873, to January 1, 1885, and as alderman or mayor of Grand Haven during the same period. During the last two years of his residence in that city, he held the office of township supervisor, and for the last five years was president of the local board of education. He held for many years the office of secretary of the Republican county committee, being particularly active in the party work and having also served as secretary of the Republican central committee of the fifth congressional district of the state, while he was a delegate to the national convention of the party in 1872.

In 1882, he was tendered the United States consulate to his native city of Leeds, England, but did not accept the office. In 1886, Mr. Tate identified himself with the Grand Army of the Republic, and he has been affiliated with several posts of the same. He has also been identified with two secret societies of a fraternal order but has not been regular in his attendance of meetings, preferring the society of his family to that of miscellaneous organizations. He was an official member of different Congregational and Presbyterian churches from 1870 forward during a period of more than thirty years. His present attitude in the connection is best indicated by his own words: “Long experience and mature reflection have taught me that the spirit of Christ does not necessarily dwell in church organizations and that it is often found outside of them. I have withdrawn my fellowship from them and now recognize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Christ.” Continuing further regarding his well-fortified opinions, he speaks as follows: “Hypnotists and clairvoyants can make no use of me, as I never permit my will to be subordinated to that of another. With the advance of years, I have steadily emancipated myself from the thralldom of creed and party and am now bound by neither. I am a believer in evolution and progress; never joke with a vote or cast it for a friend as a compliment. I detest and expose shams and pretenses whenever possible and refuse to follow the fortunes of the Republican party, since I believe that all of its generic principles have long since been abandoned. I believe in the broad principle of equal civil and political rights for all men, without exception, and in a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ — all of them. Further than this, I would demand a strict interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, no acquisition of foreign territory under any pretense, and no annexation of contiguous territory without the consent of all parties, and then only of countries whose people are homogeneous with our own. I am opposed to government by injunction and to special privileges for preferred classes, believing that all toilers should be permitted to their full share of the products of their labors.”

On the 16th of June, 1869, at Coral, McHenry County, Illinois, Mr. Tate was united in marriage to Miss Frances Belle Wilcox, who had been a student in both Adrian and Albion Colleges at the same time as he was, and who is a woman of gracious refinement. She was born in the city of Syracuse, New York, and is of a Revolutionary family which settled in Connecticut in the colonial epoch. She is the only daughter of Chapin A. and Susan (Smith) Wilcox, representatives respectively of old Connecticut and Pennsylvania families and lineal descendants from English, French, and Holland colonists. Of the children of Mr. and Mrs. Tate, we enter the following brief record: Mary Elva, who was born October 10, 1870; Edith Susan, who was born December 16, 1872, and who is now the wife of Frederick Karr Eldred; Frances Belle, who was born February 17, 1875, and who is now the wife of Philip Sheridan Campbell; and Nellie Louise, who was born March 14, 1883.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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