Tuesday’s Tip: Don’t Climb Trees With Your Glasses On!

It all started, this tree climbing, with my grandmother’s handwritten family history and my father’s stories of growing up on the family farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  I scrambled up the lowest branches, then higher and higher into the tree; deeper and deeper into my past, discovering dreams and disappointments among the families’ leaves.  Blogging as I connected the dots of dates and events and folks’ names, I attracted the attention of a fellow enthusiast and descendant.   And the letters she posted via snail mail continued to support my generational study of the Sayles/Dodson family.  Kind of.

Read this excerpt:

“I could get and make a splendid home there (Virginia), at a very low price.  But it is all of no use.  The means of making such a home are his/hers.  Where s/he says invest, there investment will be made, or nowhere.”

Which ancestor wrote this:

a) the stay at home mom with three boys, 18, 13 and 7?

b) the former Captain in the 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry?

c) the Principal of Rushford’s secondary school?

d) the French teacher in the town’s academy?

If you said (a), you would not be alone, for that was exactly what I would have said, were I listening to this letter, author unknown.

My great-great-grandmother, Serena White Sayles, was a stay at home mom in the summer of 1869, and a former French teacher at both Rushford Academy and Alfred University in Allegany County, New York.  She and husband, Ira Sayles, moved to a farm outside Christiansville (Chase City), Virginia by the 1870 census, with their boys, upon the advice of Ira who might have become aware of this fertile region while serving at Camp Suffolk, Virginia – just east of Christiansville –  in 1862-1863. 

That’s the story I saw, prior to this letter, because I stared through the lens of old English common law, in which  women’s wages, property and their very identity were merged with that of their husband.  This framework dominated the legal and social  landscape in the post-war era. Except in New York, where the legislature had first passed laws governing the rights of married women as early as 1848. In 1860 it had updated the law to read in part:

Section 1: The property, both real and personal, which any married woman now owns, as her sole and separate property; that which comes to her by descent, devise, bequest, gift or grant; that which she acquires by her trade, business, labor or services, carried on or performed on her sole or separate account; that which a woman married in this state owns at the time of her marriage, and the rents, issues and proceeds of all such property, shall, notwithstanding her marriage, be and remain her sole and separate property, and may be used, collected and invested by her in her own name, and shall not be subject to the interference or control of her husband, or liable of his debts, except such debts as may have been contracted for the support of herself or her children, by her as his agent, ¹

So the author of this letter was not a powerless wife, but a former Captain in the Union army, and a community and educational leader.  It was Serena who owned the family’s real estate, properties gifted to her by her father, Samuel S. White of Whitesville, New York and Serena who held control over those assets.  And it was Serena who instigated the move to Virginia, not Ira, as revealed in another section of this same letter:

She wanted me to invest her means in Virginia lands.  Then she thought she didn’t dare trust me alone, so she went with me. 

Taking my common law lenses off, I have read and reread this letter.  Each pass through yields a different clue to the nature of Ira and Serena’s relationship, its distribution of power and its lack of harmony.  How different the family story is shaping up to be, now that I am climbing without my glasses on. 

¹ New York Married Woman’s Property Act of 1860, approved March 20, 1860.  1860 N.Y. Laws 90, Session 83, pp. 157-159.

Amanuensis Monday: A Letter From Ira

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a blog-reading  cousin, Sharon B., who contacted me after perusing this site.  After a flurry of excited email, I received a packet of letters written from MY great-great-grandfather to HER great-great-grandfather.  Today I transcribe the first of these brotherly exchanges.  Thank you, thank you, Sharon!

From Rushford, Allegany County, New York, my great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, wrote a letter to his younger brother James Sayles.  The circumstances of that summer of 1869 must have been strained; the weather was unpredictable, his marriage unsatisfactory, his birth family scattered far and wide.  Ira seems unsettled and forlorn.  On a Saturday, July 24 he wrote:

My Dear Brother, James,

Yours of the 18 inst (of the present month) came to hand, last evening.  I need not say I was somewhat surprised: for I had lost all trace of you.  My last to you was directed to LaPorte, and was never answered.  I received a paper published at Austin, Minn. sometime last summer, a year ago.  Your name was onit, and I supposed you sent it.  This was ll the clue I had to your whereabouts.   I could not discover where that was mailed.  So I supposed you would rather I should not know.  Of course I was quiet.  I am glad to receive a line now.  Since I wrote to you, my matters have run along in the usual track.  My year’s expenses devoured my year’s salary, and left me as poor, today, as one year ago today.

Serena (White Sayles) does not dispose of much of her landed property, though, of course.  She is moving to sell her Alfred property, house (1) and all, for six thousand.  It ought to bring ten thousand and she wanted me to invest her means in Virginia lands.  Then she thought she didn’t dare trust me alone, so she went with me.  It was exceedingly warm; and I suspect she will not go again, very soon.  (2)  I could get and make a splendid home there, at a very low price.  But it is all of no use.  The means of making such a home are hers.  Where she says invest, there investment will be made, or nowhere.

Loren (another younger brother) is in East Boston, I suppose.  He has twice inquired of me for you.  I could not tell. so the matter has rested.

I am again engaged in this school (Rushford Union School/Academy), for another year.  So you will know where I may be found.

This season has been a very unfavorable one for corn with us; but wheat has done well.  Grass has a heavy growth, but the weather for haymaking is tremendous.  No on can guess what hour it may rain like Noah’s flood.  These rains are frequently cold as April rains.

We are all very well.  I have not recently heard from any of our brothers and sisters.  My respects to Lucinda and Anna.

Very truly, Your Brother,

Ira

(1) The Gothic house on Alfred University’s campus, built by her father, Samuel S. White, in 1852 to house the Sayles’ family.  Both Ira and Serena were on faculty at the time.

(2) In fact, the family had purchased a farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, just south of what would become Chase City, by the spring of 1870, when it was recorded to be the residence of Ira and eldest son, Clifton.

Project 150: Ira and Serena Sayles in 1861


November 1861   The rolling hills of Allegany County, New York were studded with trees, bare-limbed but for the oak trees.  Red brown leaves would be clinging fast to those branches until harsh winter winds pulled them into crunchy swirls.  

All that remains of The Gothic, built by Samuel S. White in 1851 for his daughter, Serena White Sayles

Ira and Serena Sayles would have been leading very full lives on the campus of Alfred Academy and Alfred University, which were situated on the hill just beyond the Main Street of the town, Alfred.  Waking early to parent two young boys, ten year old Clifton and four year old Merlin, the couple would have departed The Gothic, their lovely framed house, to teach; Serena would have taught French while Ira taught modern and classical languages, mathematics and geology.  The end of the fall term was approaching, and the campus would have been filled with the tension that accompanies examination preparation.  Of course, autumn winds brought more than northwestern cold fronts that year. 

Alfred – Hotbed in Cold Times

Alfred University was a community of religiously devout, liberal intellectuals; ardent believers in equal rights – for women and for negroes.  Among the guests entertained on the 1861 campus were Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lectured on the “Classes of Men” and Frederick Douglass, who spoke on his “Life Picture.” Shortly after shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the entire graduating class of the university enlisted, leaving for Elmira, New York on July 2, 1861 to become part of the 23rd New York Volunteers.  Professor, and Sayles’ neighbor, Jonathan Allen accompanied the young men as they headed to Washington, D.C. and to the front, where he witnessed the chaos of the Union retreat at Bull Run.

 That November letters from Asher Williams, Luis Kenyon, Edmund Maxson, and other alumni would certainly have been shared among the community as were, no doubt, Jonathan Allen’s first hand accounts.  Copies of the Angelica Reporter, Genesse Valley Free Press and the Elmira Advertiser could have been found in every hall, in every home. 

Students and faculty alike would have been immersed in a dual world in which academic studies prepared students for peace time adult lives and community organizations prepared everyone for war time contributions.  Serena and Ira may very well have argued about just what those contributions should be for each of them.  Ira was probably quite keen on enlisting himself, while Serena, who was pregnant with their fourth child*, would have encouraged him to remain active enlisting others.

November held hope for quick victory over the slaveholders’ treason and joy for Alfred’s loved ones who were still safe.  But there was almost certainly some tension among this abolitionist community about what Lincoln and the Union was finally going to do about slavery.  Thus far the war had nothing to do with slavery, though slavery had everything to do with the war. Among the thanksgiving and prayers offered up that November 28, Ira and Serena would most certainly include thoughts for their unborn child, their former students turned soldier and for unknown slaves fleeing their oppression.  For the Sayles family the secession of southern states had already become an opportunity to end slavery on American soil, once and for all.

Project 150 is a series of Civil War posts that, taken together, will tell the story of my family’s life choices during the years of rebellion.  Sources used for today’s post include privately held family documents, documents held in the Alfred University archives and the New York State Military Museum and the Federal 1860 census accessed at ancestry.com.

*Their daughter, Florette, had died of unknown causes in 1857.

Teater, Teeter, Tieter = Thaeter, Dieder, Dather : Surname Saturday

Part One of Teater, Teeter, Tieter

I open the memory of my grandmother’s Huston Street home in Chase City, Virginia and enter the filtered light.  I move across the living room to look out onto a small covered porch. Indirect light bathes her African violets, perched on top of their window stand, their pink and purple blooms nodding in the summer breeze.  I wait to greet my grandmother with the news:   Hendrich was not the Immigrant Teater after all.

Anna Florette Strickland spoke her English with a Southside Virginia accent, slowly, carefully, vowels lingering in the air.   I long to sit on that couch and unfold the tale of her great-grandmother’s ancestors, and listen to her southern wonder.  Her grandma was a Yankee, a northern abolitionist moved south after the War of Northern Aggression. Serena White Sayles taught French in Mecklenburg County, Virginia schools, places whose names have been lost to family memory. Serena was herself the daughter of a teacher, Nancy Teater White; in fact, Nancy Teater was the first teacher in Allegany County, New York, in 1814.  This part of the story my grandmother knew and passed on.  Picking up the family lore, I have discovered that Nancy Teater’s father, John Teater, was originally from Dutchess County, New York.

Last week ancestry.com sent “You’ve got hints!” mail, and I learned that John Teater was the son of Revolutionary War soldier John Teeter, Sr., and the grandson of the Revolutionary War patriot, Hendrich Teeter  —  both of Dutchess County, New York.  I began collecting the surname variations and deduced that my forefathers had crossed the Atlantic with an umlaut — making the Immigrant Teater a native of Germany.  Tödter! That is what I searched for in every data base with every search engine in my command.  But then I was astounded by a document within the ancestry.com results.

Teater, Teeter, Tieter morphed into Thaeter, Dieder, Däther, an umlaut that led me back into a history along the Hudson of which I was totally unaware.  And this is the story I would sit and share on my grandmother’s couch.

From the website of the Palatine Project: http://www.progenealogists.com/palproject/

Conditions were bleak for residents living along the Rhine in 1708 and 1709. Repeated French invasions of the region had led to deprivations and terror, particularly for German Reformed (Calvinists) and Lutheran Protestants.  The weather had been bitter and cold.

Elizabetha Dotter, wife of Hans, died July 31, 1708 in Leonbronn in what is now Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, about 14 miles northeast of Bretten.  Hans (Johan) Dotter or Dother died on January 13, 1709.  The three children, Lorenz, Jorg and Maria Margaretha, joined the mass emigration of Palatines hoping to find a better life among the colonies of Great Britain.  Lorenz and his siblings boarded Captain William Newton’s ship at Rotterdam and sailed for England on July 3, 1709, and they were among the 2814 Palatines who left London for Queen Anne’s work camps along the Hudson in December 1709.  Thus Lorenz Däther, my Teater Immigrant, was a member of the first and largest mass emigration to America in the Colonial period.

Lorenz Däther worked off his passage in Dutchess County, New York, from 1710-1712, at which time Queen Anne and the English government stopped paying subsidies to the immigrants.  Some of the Palatines moved to New Jersey and Pennsylvania seeking farmland.  Lorenz stayed along the Hudson, settling near Rhinebeck, New York.  He married Margareta Lnu about 1710 and was naturalized in about 1715.  The couple had their son, Hendrich Teeter in 1716 in what would become Dutchess County, New York, and obtained a life lease on land at the Livingston Manor in 1717.

Hendrich Teeter married Caroline Bender, daughter of Valentine and Anna Margaretha Stoppelbein Bender, in Dutchess County, New York.  The couple had at least one son, John (Johannes), on March 2, 1742.

In 1775 Hendrich declared his loyalty to the fledgling colonial government by signing the Articles of Association:

“Persuaded that the salvation of the rights and liberties of America depend, under God, on the firm union of its inhabitants in a rigorous prosecution of the measures necessary for its safety ; and convinced of the necessity of preventing anarchy and confusion, which attend the dissolution of the powers of government, we, the freemen, freeholders, inhabitants of _____, being greatly alarmed at the avowed design of the Ministry to raise a revenue in America, and shocked by the bloody scene now acting in Massachusetts Bay, do, in the most solemn manner, resolve never to become slaves and do associate, under all the ties of religion, honor, and love to our country, to adopt and endeavor to carry into execution whatever measures may be recommended by the Continental Congress, or resolved upon by our Provincial Convention for the purpose of preserving our Constitution, and opposing the execution of the several arbitrary Acts of the British Parliament, until a reconciliation between Great Britain and America on constitutional principles (which we most ardently desire) can be obtained ; and that we will in all things follow the advice of our General Committee respecting the purposes aforesaid, the preservation of peace and good order, and the safety of individuals and property.”

My information is second-hand.  I have read reports authored by a Philip Teeter, who digested the genealogical works of Henry Jones and Anne Cassidy, who did examine records and conduct primary research.  I have perused countless public trees and genealogical message boards.  I am satisfied that I have a profile, a bundle of clues, connecting my grandmother’s great-grandmother, Nancy Teater, to the Palatines of New York.  Imagine the many tongues that have spoken the hard initial consonant and repeated the germanic vowel; Teater, Teeter, Tieter, Thaeter, Dieder, Dother, Däther = optimistic colonial pioneer.

Source used by most of my sources: Jones, Henry.  “Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710.”  1985.

Teeter, Teater, Tieter = Another German Umlaut in the Family: Surname Saturday

My smartphone winked its red eye.  Thumbs scrolled to the email icon. “YOU HAVE HINTS!” ancestry.com said.

The applications to the Sons of the American Revolution, submitted many decades ago by cousins many times removed, warranted a thorough review.  Once at my computer screen, I browsed these family trees which provided clues for a good googling of commanding officers that provided tips for a search of  the Daughters of the American Revolution database.  Not quite primary sources, but the consistency of these secondary sources lead me to create this profile with Heinrich and Johannes Tödter, my great(6) and great(5) grandfathers.

Heinrich Tödter was born in Germany and married Catherina Benner in or around 1738.  Their date of immigration is unknown.

Once in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York, Heinrich Tödter was known as Hendrick Teeter or Teater or Tieter. He and his wife had at least one child, Johannes or John Teeter, baptised 2 March 1742.  Hendrick signed the Articles of Association in June and July of 1775 and is considered a patriot of the Revolution.  He died in 1785 in Dutchess County, New York.

John Teeter married Margaretha Rifenberg, and the couple had at least one child, John M. Teater, born 8 January 1764.  John, Sr. served in Captain Henry B. Livingston’s Company of the 4th New York Continental Regiment in 1775.  He died in 1795.

John M. Teater married Sophie Schut on 7 March 1788 in Dutchess County, New York.  They had at least one child, Nancy Teater, in 1795.  John M. Teater died in Whitesville, Allegany County, New York on the 4 August 1838; Sophie died on 13 October 1851 in Whitesville.

Nancy Teater was the first school teacher in Allegany County; she married Samuel S. White in around 1818.  The couple had five children of which I am aware: Dugald C., Clark, Serena Crandall, Cynthia, and Minerva J.  Nancy died in Allegany County in January 1863.

Serena White, born around 1826, married Ira Sayles in 1844 and taught school with her husband at Alfred College and Rushford Academy, before relocating to Mecklenburg County, Virginia in 1870.  They had four children:  Florette who died as a girl; Clifton Duvall; Merle; and Christopher Sherman.  Serena died in Mecklenburg County, Virginia on her son’s farm in 1897.

Clifton Duvall was born in Alfred, Allegany County, New York in 1851, relocated with his family to Mecklenburg County, Virginia in 1870 and married his first wife, Anna McCullough, in 1879. In the twenty years before her death, the couple raised four children.  Anna died early in 1900, and Clifton soon remarried — a woman he first courted right after The War.  Rebecca Eulelia “Lilly” Dodson had remained single and lived with her spinster sisters on the family’s farm just down the road from Clifton and Anna.  Lilly married Clifton in January of 1901 and delivered my grandmother, Anna Florette Sayles, on 4 December of that same year.

Florette was a writer and historian before I realized what her recollections could mean.  It was from her handwritten notes that I first learned of Nancy Teater and her pioneering kin. I believe that she would be thrilled to learn of Nancy’s ancestors and I know she would have joined me in my pursuit of the immigrant’s story.  Somewhere Grandma is nodding her head, crochet hook flashing, urging me on.

Part Two of Teater, Teeter, Tieter