Sarah Sibley Biography

Sarah Jane Steele was born on February 8, 1823 in a small village near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that was eventually named Steelesville after the Steele family. Sarah was the youngest of nine children born to James and Mary Humes Steele. Surviving samples of her writing include several poems and letters, reflecting intelligence and a good command of vocabulary.

Sarah's older brother Franklin Steele traveled to Minnesota around 1839 to explore lumber milling opportunities in the St. Croix River valley. Sarah joined her brother and his new wife in Minnesota in 1842. On May 2, 1843 she married fur trader Henry Hastings Sibley at Fort Snelling. As Mrs. Henry Sibley, Sarah Jane moved across the river from the Fort to Sibley's home in Mendota. The Sibleys had nine children, five of whom died in childhood: Henry Hastings (1846), Henry Hastings (1847-51), Franklin Steele (1853-63), Mary Steele (1855-63) and Alexander Hastings (1864). Their suviving children were Augusta Ann (b. 1844), Sarah Jane (b. 1851), Charles Frederick (b. 1860) and Alfred Brush (b. 1866). Around 1849 Sarah contracted pleurisy, a viral infection of the lung that affected her for the rest of her life.

By 1857 Minnesota was rapidly moving toward statehood, and nominations for state governor were being sought. The Republicans chose Alexander Ramsey. Henry Sibley was named a candidate for the Democratic Party. The race was close, with Sibley winning by only about 240 votes. On May 11, 1858, when statehood was finally achieved, Sarah Jane Sibley became the state of Minnesota's first "First Lady". While first lady she was asked to lead a Minnesota Chapter of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, an organization founded to preserve the home of George and Martha Washington.

In 1863 the Sibleys moved to a new home at 417 Woodward Avenue in St. Paul. Sarah succumbed to pleurisy on May 21, 1869, at the age of 46.