On The Trail To Tioga

Cemetery. Mount Pleasant. Westfield, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  Sayles, Christopher and Sarah KingI woke to this thought–I live three hours from my great-great-grandfather’s childhood home. The weather report promised spring sun and warm temperatures, perfect for a cemetery hunt.  I gassed up my car, plotted out my routes, and headed out west through the Endless Mountains. I couldn’t help wondering why Ira Sayles’ parents and grandparents picked up and left Rhode Island.

At Williamsport, I turned north and traveled up the four lane highway where hillsides hug the horizon to the valley.   Just miles from the point where Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier turns into New York’s Southern Tier, I turned off onto a winding Route 49.  A stagnant band of water stretched some miles to my right, today’s Cowanesque River Recreation Area.  In another moment I realized that the water was off to my left and squiggling through the soil, a river of little size.  This then is the Cowanesque Valley which beckoned to my ancestors centuries ago.  Alrighty.  But why would the Howlands, Kings and Sayles make the trek from northwestern Rhode Island, small children, babies, pots, pans, quilts, packed into whatever form the roads required?  How did this land lure people from ancestral ties, family-packed villages, established communities and businesses?

I kept driving, through Elkland, toward Deerfield Township. Knoxville and Westfield were up ahead.

I rounded a corner–to a valley opened in a welcoming hello. Flat fields stretched for miles.  Farmhouses sat close to the road, their barns and outbuildings clustered close behind.  Green hills rose on the horizon, tethering the fertile ground to a wide sky.  So THIS was the Cowanesque Valley that pulled John and Lois Eddy Howland, James and Rhobe Howland King, and Christopher and Sarah King Sayles from the established coastal settlements to the western frontier.

Landscape. Cowanesque Valley, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

The Howlands were Quaker, and their remains were buried in what is now the town of Knoxville. Quaker headstones were often inscribed with nothing more than initials and a date of death.  The town decided to replace the aging stones with one durable marker honoring the burial place of the area’s Quaker ancestors.

Cemetery. Knoxville. Howland, John and Lois Eddy.

On this site were buried the great-grandparents of Ira Sayles, John Howland (1743-1835) and Lois Eddy Howland (1749-1825)

The valley narrowed as I continued west to the Krusen Cemetery, located a short distance from the Cowanesque River bridge in Westfield.  On a knoll are the remains of this town’s elders, including Ira’s grandparents, James IV King and the Howland’s daughter, Rhobe.

Krusen Cemetery, Westfield, Pennsylvania. The gravestone of Ira Sayles' grandparents, James King IV (1765-1844) and Rhobe/Merrobe Howland King (1769-1836)

Krusen Cemetery, Westfield, Pennsylvania. The gravestone of Ira Sayles’ grandparents, James King IV (1765-1844) and Rhobe/Merrobe Howland King (1769-1836)

Turning east I took the hill-hugging Mill Street to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the resting place of Ira’s parents, Christopher Sayles and the King’s daughter, Sarah.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Westfield, Pennsylvania.  The grave of Ira's parents, Christopher Sayles (1791-1884) and Sarah King Sayles (1793-1866)

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Westfield, Pennsylvania. The grave of Ira’s parents, Christopher Sayles (1791-1884) and Sarah King Sayles (1793-1866)

Pausing at the grave sites I tried hard to imagine what characteristics I might have inherited.  Persistence.  Patience.  Imagination. Courage to get up every day even when you don’t know if you’ve done the right thing. The desire to make a building a home,and a network of people a community.

As I looked out over the hills of my ancestors I felt a piece of me relax, accepting their gifts, prepared to continue their legacy.

Landscape.  Westfield, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.

 

Surname Saturday: Preparing for the Family History Writing Challenge

Your ancestor sits amid the details, seemingly solitary, independent, like a mushroom poking through tangled blades. 

Upon further investigation, you discover others by his side: parents, aunts and uncles, children, cousins, neighbors, bosses, friends, enemies – a figurative forest of ‘srooms.

A forest of 'shrooms

The simple family history narrative that the Family History Writing Challenge beckoned you to write has become a convoluted mess of story lines and mysteries and brick walls.  This predicament is exactly what thwarted my previous attempts to compose the story of Ira Sayles, my paternal great-great-grandfather.  But this year is going to be different.  This year I have committed to writing 500 words a day about this perplexing gentleman.  As Lynn Palermo prompts in her Family History Writing Challenge, these syllables don’t have to be great prose, and the 14,000 words don’t have to produce a finished book.  I just have to remain committed to writing 500 words a day. By the end of February, I will have a start on the reconstruction of Ira Sayles, if nothing else, and I will have a habit of writing, which is infinitely more important than any resolution.

Today’s Surname Saturday prompt from Geneabloggers will be a preparation step for this February project.  Instead of being thwarted by the forest of relations, I WILL be inspired.

AHEM.

Ira Sayles was born to two long-time residents of Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1817.  In fact, the families of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King had been in the northwestern corner of Glocester – Burrillville – for generations. In 1825, Christopher and Sarah took their young family and went to Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  They left behind Christopher’s dad, Christopher Sayles, who died shortly thereafter; his mom, Martha Brown Sayles had died in 1813.

Tioga County, situated along the north central Pennsylvania-New York border, was a land of fertile soil, hard wood forests and plentiful water.  It was also a land of Sarah King’s family.  Her parents, James IV and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King, had emigrated from Rhode Island to the Westfield area in about 1815.  Those two souls had joined Rhobe’s Quaker parents, John and Lois Eddy Howland, who had pioneered the Cowanesque River Valley in 1803-04 with their son, Dr. Eddy Howland and family.

By the time Christopher and Sarah brought young Ira to be a “codenizen with bears, wolves and panthers”¹, there was an extensive network of extended family – like filamentous fungi connecting brilliant ‘srhooms.

Sayles, Kings, Howlands.  As I begin his story, I gaze on all the colorful characters in his life, and happily imagine what remains hidden underneath my genealogical meadow of facts.

Fall color in Amanita muscaria

¹ Sayles, Ira. Letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; 1880. Archived in Houghton Library, Harvard University.Copy received 5 April 2010.