Rebecca Eulelia Dodson Sayles: Sunday’s Obituary

"Lilly" Rebecca Eulelia Dodson Sayles

Born on 15 August 1856 in Regiment 22 of Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Lillie Dodson was one of ten children:  Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), Edward, and William Rowlett (Bud).  Her parents, James H. and Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson, farmed land just off the Boydton Road south of The City.

Mr. Dodson was a planter and slave owner.  Miss Rowlett moved with her parents from (Chesterfield County, Virginia) and settled on land adjoining the Dodson plantation.  They were united in marriage in (1844) in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Mr. Dodson built the old Dodson home and moved into it when Lillie was three years old, about 1859.  She said she could remember walking across from the “Old House,” climbing over the felled trees, carrying her dolls.  The house had not been completed, and as the War soon started, he never did finish it.

Mr. Dodson gave each of his children a tract of land for a homestead.  He gave the Dodson house and a certain number of acres to the three unmarried daughters, Dora, Molly and Lillie.

…Soon after moving to Virginia with his parents in 1870, Clifton Sayles paid court to Lillie Dodson (a neighbor girl).  Her parents were still living, and twas too soon after “The War between the States: ended; feelings still ran high.  For Clifton’s father, Ira Sayles, had been a Captain in the Federal Army, and Lillie’s brother, Greene Dodson, had been killed while serving in the Confederate Army; consequently Lillie’s parents did not favor the suit, and Clifton married another girl.

This wife, Anna McCullough, died sometime after the census date of 1900, and Clifton again paid court to Miss Lilly, who had remained single.

Clifton Duvall Sayles, born April 11, 1851, in Alfred, N.Y., and Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie) Dodson were united in marriage January 9, 1901 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Born to this union:  Anna Florette, born December 4, 1901.

At the time of her marriage, Lillie traded her share in the home with Ed, for his share, called the “Old House” tract, and she later sold it.  Ed, Dora and Molly remained single and continued to live at the Dodson home until their deaths in the 1920s (at which time the land was bequeathed to the adopted son, George Strickland.)

George …was a real son to them.  He continued to care for and look after them untill their final illnesses and deaths.  He called Ed “Master Ed” and said Aunt Dora and Aunt Molly and called their sister Aunt Lillie.  In appreciation of the love and care George bestowed on (them) Ed Dodson deeded George Ricks Strickland the old Dodson home place.

Around 1920, George Strickland drove a wagon over to the Sayles home and paid court to Florette.  They were married September 28, 1921 in the Baptist parsonage in Chase City, Virginia by the Rev. H. L. Williams.  Four sons were born to this union:  George Sidney, Clifford Ricks, Paul Warren, and Norman Scott.  The family survived the depression by returning to the Dodson farm.

At around the same time, Clifton Sayles died, leaving Lillie a widow;  she moved in with her daughter and nephew to help raise the four boys–and made certain that cookies were a regular part of their diet.

from left: Sidney, George Strickland, Paul, Florette Sayles Strickland, Norman, Clifford, Lillie Dodson Sayles

Source:  Strickland, Anna Florette.  Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family.  Chase City, VA: Handwritten, March 1976.

Surname Saturday–Sayles

Serena White Sayles–are you there?

That is what I ask every time I sort the Sayles’ family records.

My grandmother was a miracle baby.  Anna Florette Sayles was born in December 1901, less than a year after Lilly Dodson and Clifton Duvall Sayles married, a second shot at happiness that these two grabbed.  Clifton had paid court to Lilly shortly after arriving in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, but in the early 1870’s feelings ran high about Yankees.  Lilly’s oldest brother, Greene, and an uncle, Benjamin F. Dodson, had been killed in the Seige of Petersburg, 1864; Clifton’s father had served as captain in the 130th New York State Volunteer Infantry in 1863.  And Lilly’s parents, James and Sarah Rowlett Dodson, would not hear of Lilly marrying the young New Yorker.

Clifton stayed on the farm purchased in 1869 by his dad, Ira, and married Annie McCullough in 1879.  His mother, Serena White Sayles, had moved by that time to Mecklenburg County, while father Ira had returned to teach in New York.  The 1880s found Serena helping Clifton raise a family and teaching at private Chase City schools, while Ira Sayles traveled the east coast collecting and analyzing rock specimens for the young United States Geological Survey.

Ira fell ill in 1892 and finally settled in with Serena, Clifton and Annie, and several of his grandchildren.  He filed for a pension under the 1890 Civil War pension program and after his death 24 June 1894, Serena filed to receive the widow’s pension.  She had a cat and some books. Serena received the pension from 1897 until her death 16 July 1899.

Annie died sometime between 1 June 1900 and January 1901.

And Clifton, age 50,  immediately paid court to Lilly, who had never married.  She accepted his proposal and they were wed in Chase City, 9 January 1901. At the age of 45 Lilly had her first and only child, her miracle, my grandmother, 21 December of that same year.

It is Florette’s handwritten family history that has clued me in to how special Serena was. Brought up in western New York during the 1830s Serena attended Alfred Academy where she met fellow student Ira Sayles.  They married and remained in the Alfred Academy family through its growth to a college.  In fact, Serena taught after she was married, quite an avant garde position for a woman.  That much was conveyed through family lore.  I have found all sorts of letters, poems, scientific notes, and journal articles that Ira wrote. Given Ira’s considerable correspondence that is public I keep hoping that sooner or later I will trip over letters he and Serena exchanged.  But so far I have nothing.

What and who was Serena? This educated woman who loved French? This New Yorker of Seventh Day Baptist sensibilities, who relocated from a thriving women’s suffragist community to a sleepy agricultural county in southside Virginia?  What did Serena do? Who did she befriend? How did she keep up her French and her thinking? Did Serena write poetry, like Ira?  Because my grandmother was the child of the second marriage, those details she would never have heard.  And the children of Clifton and Annie, whom Serena help raise, have long left the collective memory of my family’s lore.  I just keep wondering.

Serena–are you out there?