On This Day: The Discharge of Captain Ira Sayles

Winter SkyAs the sun set one hundred fifty years ago, Ira Sayles glumly faced life as a civilian. The New York abolitionist had enlisted in the summer of 1862, joining Alfred neighbors and friends in forming Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers.  Their first deployment was in Portage Station, New York, to be issued uniforms and weapons, and to elect company officers.  Private Ira became 1st Lieutenant Sayles.  The regiment traveled by train, their early legs through Williamsport and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lined by cheering children and flag-waving townsfolk.  A brief stop in Washington, D.C. was followed by passage down the Potomac, into the Chesapeake Bay, to Fort Monroe.  The soldiers, by and by, found themselves in the September humidity of southeastern Virginia, eight miles from the North Carolina border, and just mosquito-wings distance from the Great Dismal Swamp.  Camp Suffolk would soon surround the southern town of Suffolk, with earthen forts, trenches, and rifle pits.

The recruits of the 130th NY Volunteer  infantry were unseasoned soldiers, and days of shoveling red clay were followed by nights of marching.  Footsore, hungry and often wet, the companies would return from their Blackwater River escapades without having fired a shot.  By the end of September the regiment began losing soldiers to the diseases of the swamp.  And 1st Lieutenant Sayles was elected Captain to fill one such resignation.

From the Family Records of Sharon Babcock.  THANK YOU!

Captain Ira Sayles was proud to wear the officer’s sword, and to marshal the energies and courage of his men.  After all the pre-war public-speaking, after all the furtive dealings along the local Underground Railroad, Ira must have found the actual participation in slavery’s eradication a seductive reason to endure all the trials and horrors of the war.

Unfortunately, Ira’s forty-six year old body rebelled against the prolonged exposure, manual labor, and sleep deprivation.  By January, Ira Sayles, suffering from chronic debilitating pain, reported for a hospital cot instead of picket duty.  At length,  as it became evident that Ira’s passion could not overcome the frailties, his regiment’s physician, B. T. Kneeland, wrote these words :

February 19th. 1863

I certify that I have carefully examined Capt. Ira Sayles of Co. H, 130th N.Y. Vol’s. and find him incapable of performing the duties of his position, because of rheumatic disease induced in my opinion by frequent and long continued exposure and fatigue, in performing the duties of his office.  

Surely a long, sleepless night followed the examination.  The next day, after sharpening a fresh goose feather quill, Ira dipped deep into his abolitionist soul to find these words:

Sir,

I have the honor hereby to tender my Resignation of the Captaincy of Company H of the 130 Regiment, New York State Volunteers, which post I now hold.

It is with unfeigned regret, that I find myself compelled to take this step during the continuance of my country’s imminent peril; but the labors, the exposures, and the watchings of the past six months’ service here, have made such inroads on my health, that it is evident I can no longer perform the severe duties of a Captain of Infantry, either creditably to myself, or effectively for my country.  In such case, honor and patriotism alike demand, that the sword I am no longer able to wield with due energy, I resign to stronger hands.  (Please find Surgeon’s Certificate enclosed.)

Praying for my country’s Early and Honorable Peace through Victory over her Insolent Foes,

I have the Honor to be, Sir, Very Respectfully Your Most Obd’t Serv’t,

Ira Sayles

One last time, Ira proudly added:

Capt. Comd’g Co. H., 130 Reg’t., N.Y.S.Vols.

By February 26, Ira would have received notice. Special Order No. 55 had been issued by Head Quarters, Department of Virginia, Seventh Army Corps, Fort Monroe, Virginia:

The following named officers having tendered their resignations are honorably discharged from the military service of the United States

Capt. Ira Sayles 130th Reg. N.Y.Vols. on account of ill health.

By command of Maj Genl. Dix

The sun set that February night on a civilian Ira Sayles.

Talented Tuesday: The Poet, Ira Sayles

Ira Sayles was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island on March 30, 1817.  He learned his letters by the age of three and as a child on the family’s Tioga County, Pennsylvania farm Ira spent every available moment reading.  After apprenticing with a Genesse Valley, New York cloth dresser for several years, Ira had saved enough money to continue his formal education at what became Alfred Academy, Alfred, New York. This voracious reader became a determined teacher and life-long learner, as well as an impassioned writer — of essays, articles, observations, and poetry.  There was no remedy for this urge to write; it was “constitutional, and eradication is death! You know, sir, ‘Poeta nascitur, – no fit.’”  [Poets are born, not made.]*

Ira Sayles, My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, (1891); Herrick Memorial Library Archives: Alfred, New York, accessed November 2012.Ira included poems in letters to friends and siblings; submitted a poem to be published with his daughter’s obituary; and while visiting his old stomping ground, had various selections published in the Alfred University paper.  Throughout his long career as principal, teacher, geologist, and  paleontologist, Ira kept up his art.  On March 30, 1891, Ira wrote My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, which he self-published in Washington, D.C. in between his work sessions with the United States Geological Survey.  The first stanza reads:

In the changeful days of Spring,

When the birds begin to sing,

When the sunshine and the storm

Chase each other, cold and warm,

When the lambs are shivering,

When the calves are quivering,

And anon the sunny ray

Brings a pleasure to the day,

From rosy morn to evening gray. —

At such a changeful time as this

My gentle mother’s loving kiss

Welcomed then her baby boy

To this varying Life’s alloy.  

*Ira Sayles, Letter to H. W. Longfellow, (1880); Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge.

Mapping My Ancestors: The Kings of Rhode Island

“Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.”
― Alexander McCall SmithLove Over Scotland

My Sayles ancestors did not leave a trace of their personal maps; only clues left in letter heads or the handwriting of a census enumerator reveal the location of family at a given point in time.  It is left to my imagination to draw smiles, hear wails, to listen for laughter or argument.  I found this map of Wallum Pond, Rhode Island while searching for brain-twizzling information on the King family. *  The book chronicled the history of a 20th century sanatorium and included the early landowners of the area.  Identified in the map’s key was the location of the James King farm, at points 16 and 17, at the southern  tip of Wallum Pond.

Wallum Pond, Burrillville, Rhode Island

I can read all sorts of information from these squiggles – the lay of the land influenced the establishment of waterways, transportation networks, farms, mills, communities.  My imagination has to supply the “at the top of this hill James and Rhobe discussed what road to take west,” or “here is where Sarah cried after learning that her parents were moving to Pennsylvania.”  This map marks the spot where James King learned to farm from his father, James, during the late 1790s.  It marks the spot  where James and Rhobe reared a family and raised their stock, drained the bog and grew their corn, and where they packed their belongings and loaded up the youngest members of their brood as they headed out to the wilderness of Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1822.

I have to supply the imagination that weaves the tapestry of their life.

*Ira Sayles is my great-great-grandfather on my father’s side, and the impetus to my participation in the Family History Writing Challenge, February 2013.  His father, Christopher Sayles, was the son of Burrillville, Rhode Island residents, Christopher and Martha Brown Sayles; Ira’s mother, Sarah, was  the daughter of James and Merrobe Howland King of Wallum Pond, Rhode Island.

Surname Saturday: Old Family Histories – Gospel or Clue?

I have sworn to produce more and consume less in 2013; write more, research less;  read more books and fewer status updates.  I have stumbled a bit in the last week, as I prepared for the Family History Writing Challenge.

Determined to set a rich social context for my protaganist, Ira Sayles, I returned to accumulated notes hoping to glean early childhood vignettes.  A self-defeating  act, as it turns out, since I spent an ENTIRE day surfing the ‘net for collaborating evidence of the family register and family trees. By nightfall I felt like a zettabyte of information was smothering my writing spark.  Yes, I found genealogical gems, that appear to be well-documented and thoughtfully written.  And yes, they offer conflicting information.

DID IRA DESCEND FROM ARTHUR, JOHN OR HENRY HOWLAND?

Previous genealogists have gathered quite a bit on this dilemma, as it turns out. I have enough family documentation, indirect and direct primary as well as secondary sources, to rest assured that Ira Sayles was the son of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King Sayles.  Sarah King was the daughter of James King and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King.  Rhobe Howland was the daughter of John Howland, Jr. and Lois Eddy Howland.  Now I pause, not quite certain of my sources in tracing lineage back further, not an uncommon dilemma for folks with Revolutionary Era ancestors. I feel fortunate to document this much of the family, for I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Howlands farmed land that they had purchased in Scituate, Providence County, Rhode Island, where they were free to worship as Quakers.

But there is a tug on my line that threatens to reel me back further, for you see, the Howlands came over on the Pilgrims’ boats.  Intriguing, no?

John Howland was an indentured servant on the Mayflower, and signed the Mayflower Compact.  Henry and Arthur, brothers of John, came over between 1623-1630.  All of the Howland boys were successful farmers and landowners in the early Massachusetts colony, but Henry and Arthur were obstinate troublemakers, from the Pilgrims’ point of view.  Henry and Arthur broke the Sabbath, refused to worship in public, and *gasp* harbored Quaker meetings in their homes.  Finally the two brothers migrated toward Roger William’s colony – Rhode Island. Settling in communities along the southwestern coast of Massachusetts, the Quaker Howland descendants continued to flourish, and in time migrated on into the western and northwestern corner of Rhode Island.

And that is where I find my Ira’s great-grandfolks.  Quaker Rhode Islanders.  That fact serves as a clue pointing to descent from either Arthur or Henry, not John as a 19th century Tioga County, Pennsylvania history purported.  Yesterday’s search uncovered a source, The John Howland Who Married Freelove Wood,  by Frances G. Jenkins, Williamstown, Massachusetts; this well-documented paper gives evidence that John Sr. who married Freelove Wood was a descendant of troublemaker Arthur.

Now I am really intrigued to read the substantial record of Arthur’s life.  BUT I have yet to determine with certainty the John Jr. who married Lois Eddy is the son of John Sr. who married Freelove Wood.

Now what?

I turn to you, fellow Keepers of the Family Lore.

  • How do you use the genealogical work of other descendants?
  • When do you decide that enough is enough, just write about it already?
  • What sources are available from my armchair to confirm parentage for New England ancestors of the mid-1700s?
  • What folks might be able to conduct look ups for sources, and in what archives?

Someday my family history writing will be someone else’s old family history.  I would like them to consider it a reliable story, more gospel than clue.

For me this dilemma is at the core of much family history work.  When do we treat our sources as gospel and preserve the family stories we have uncovered, as is? And when do we treat our sources as clues, to inform the next research question, leaving the story untold, or incomplete?

 

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.