Madness Monday: What Happened to Christopher Sherman Sayles?

Christopher Sherman Sayles was welcomed into the village of Alfred Station, New York sometime during 1862, the year his father, Ira B. Sayles, enlisted in the 130th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army.  This youngest child of Ira and wife, Serena White Sayles, was named for his paternal grandfather, Christopher Sayles.

Sherman had two brothers, Clifton Duvall (b. 1852) and Merley (b. 1856).  According to the 1870 Federal Census, Sherman  resided with his mother and Merley in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, after Ira migrated to Mecklenburg County, Virginia with Clifton in 1869.  By 1880 Serena had emigrated to Virginia to farm with Clifton and wife, Anna McCullough; and Ira had returned to Andover, New York to teach school.  Sherman is recorded as living with Ira and working as a laborer.  Merle has disappeared from the records.

A. Florette Sayles Strickland wrote in her family history that “(Her father) Clifton Sayles’ brothers, Sherman and Merle, remained unmarried. One of them served in the peace time Army and died while there.  He was buried in the National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. The occupation and burial place of the other brother is unknown to writer.”

The facts of Merle’s life and death remain unknown.  It is clear from the 1900 Federal Census and the document “Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans 1879-1903″ that Sherman was the brother who served in the Army.  The surprising discovery was the fact that he served in the Spanish American War in 1898, as a private in Company C, 3rd Regiment Mo (?) Infantry, was discharged and admitted to the St. Elizabeth’s Government Hospital for the Insane, Washington, D.C., where he was listed as an inmate in the 1900 Federal Census.  C. S. Sayles was single, and could speak English, read and write.  Christopher Sherman Sayles died on 19 November 1903 and was buried in a hospital  cemetery.

It was not uncommon for family members to hide the nature of a loved one’s mental illness, and my grandmother’s failure to include this detail may reflect her father’s desire to forget it.  Someday soon I will request Sherman’s medical records from the National Archives, to follow the family story a bit further, and uncover perhaps the circumstances and nature of his mental illness.