Weekly Scribe: Ira Sayles to Edwin B Hall, 1884

Today I transcribed this letter posted from my 2x great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, to his long time friend, Edwin B. Hall, at the end of June, 1884. I suspect that the friends first met in the 1860s after Ira’s sister, Rhobe Sayles Crandall, moved with their elderly parents to Wellsville (Allegany County, New York) where Hall ran a drugstore. Ira’s visits to check in on sister and parents would have provided opportunity for the two men to meet, and share their enthusiasm over all things geological. Both men collected rock and fossil specimens as citizen scientists; and Ira parlayed that hobby into a job with the newly developed United States Geological Survey in 1883. The Hall-Sayles friendship continued throughout Ira’s tenure. I am grateful to Jay Woelfle for sharing his 2x great-grandfather’s keepsakes with me.

A few days ago, the Mail Carrier laid on my table a package. On opening it, I might have imagined, but didn’t, that all the Wellsville typeclingers had suddenly fallen in love with me.  Some articles had pencil marks around them. The one from Mr. Rude reveals some curiosities relative to Prof. [J.L.] Burritt, and his management of the Academic Department of Wellsville Graded School. I have known some men similar to the one hinted at by Mr. Rude. Still I have seen the public run gaping after these very men. The truth is, that the general public is utterly unqualified to sit in judgement on really well educated intellect. A man with brass and endless variety of sweetened palaver can talk popular approval of any folly his fancy may choose, into the popular head. In educational matters, as in Religion and Politics, the blind lead the blind, unquestioned, and, even if questioned, the popular shield sufficiently protects the arraigned idol.

I know absolutely nothing of Prof. Burritt; but I suspect that Rude knows his man.

I discover that Wellsville rejoices in a New Light—The Free Press!  Does A.N.C.1 shine through its columns? If it lack his vast illuminating powers, ‘twill, possibly, prove an Ignis Fatuus3. A.N.C. and the great E. B.2 have shed such floods of thin light in Alleghany County that the people ought to erect a rival Washington’s Monument on their highest hill, to commemorate their appreciation of such wondrous services.

By the way and apropos, Washington’s Monument is becoming quite a respectable pillar. It has already attained the height of 470 feet above the foundation. In two months more, it is expected to reach 500 feet, from which point a new slope will bring it to a terminus, at the height of 555feet—the highest work ever erected by man: still how insignificantly small, compared with the huge pyramids of Egypt! The base of this monument is 55 feet: its walls, at the base, are fifteen feet thick, leaving, thus, twenty five feet of open space inside the walls.

In my judgement, its site is most unfortunate. Why it was placed down on that low ground, I can not imagine, nor have I yet found the man wise enough to give me any light on that point. It is there, but why there, nobody seems to know. All admit the blunder, if one can call such the case a blunder. It must have been chosen for some fancied advantage; but what? That’s the question. As an American Citizen, I am ashamed of the location. I don’t suppose my protest will avail anything; but I protest, “all the same!”


1 A.N. Cole, editor locally known as the “Father” of the area’s Republican Party.

2 Perhaps a reference to E B Hall.

3 Noun: 1: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter. 2 : a deceptive goal or hope.

Saturday Musings: Juneteenth

Yesterday was Juneteenth and I am uncomfortable admitting that it was the first Juneteenth that I honored with reflection.

I mean, I knew about Juneteenth, but I didn’t KNOW Juneteenth. Didn’t make time to feel the deep hope of freedom that the day commemorated. Yesterday, ’cause this has BEEN A YEAR, I felt called to ponder.

I pondered the role my ancestors played in perpetuating the cycle of enslavement. Strickland. Stone. Stallings. Coppedge. May. Green. Rowlett. Dodson. So many wills, probate documents, and tax records. So many traces of Lucys, Reubens, and Armisteads deliberately obscured from my family story.

I pondered my role in perpetuating the erasure of my “cousins by consequence.” *

I reread the “full disclosure” posts I have written in the past about ancestral enslavement with my shoulders hunched, face scrunched. The tone makes me cringe. My white saviorism is on full display. I am embarrassed. I don’t know the right way to share this information. When is it my story to tell?

I hesitate to return to this work.

But that is what racism looks like, isn’t it? Silence of white folks.

So I make a promise this Juneteenth to walk the journey of discomfort, to tell the full family story. And I hope that folks will participate with me in the comments, to hold me accountable when the tone is off, or share when the story resonates; to find joy when a clue is dropped or ask a question when the digging can go deeper.

Thank you.


*Term used by Michael W. Twitty @KosherSoul.

Library Love

Going to take a moment here this Friday morning to give a shout out to all the genealogical communities scattered in counties and municipalities across the country, and around the world.

Yesterday I traveled down Route 11, crossing the Susquehanna River at Plymouth, and dodged potholes on the San Souci Highway.  A right turn at the Hanover Area High School light took me up the hill to the Hanover Green Cemetery, and the building that houses both cemetery maintenance and the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, Inc.  

Mind you, I am researching roots in southWESTERN Pennsylvania and southside VIRGINIA. Yet I make near-weekly treks to this site and am warmly received as the “Document Lady.”

NEPGS is a certified member of the Family History Library network, and when I sit at their computers I can access ALL the digital records within Family Search’s database. Plus, this local library can receive any microfilm records that I request because they have yet to be digitized.

Over the years I have been able to accumulate dozens of wills, deeds, tax records, and court documents from Mecklenburg County, Virginia because of the generosity and kind spirit of these dedicated folks.

A hearty thank you to my local genealogical society board of directors and staff.  I couldn’t chase my ancestors without you.

 

 

 

Leaf Litter from the Family Tree

The leaves from our deciduous forests are turning yellow, or brown, and dropping with alacrity to the ground.  They carpet every surface–grass, water, rocks, moss, driveways.

Falling LeavesFor years I have used the family tree metaphor to structure my genealogical research.  Only today did it strike me that leaf litter can also be an inspirational metaphor, as in those leaves, those ancestors, that get dropped, and disappear to nurture the soil of the family’s winding tale.

 

And as a review of this deed transcription suggests it is often women who carpet the family forest floor.

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On 15 June 1770, Samuel Whitworth sold 120 acres of land to William Wills Green, my fifth great-grandfather.  The parcel included houses, outbuildings, orchards, woods, water, and parts of Allens Creek, Mecklenburg County, Virginia…land that lay not far from where my father grew up.

William W Green took possession of the real estate on the same day.  His neighbors included Edward Beavils, Francis Moore Neal, Abram Green, and Thomas Whitworth.

No women were present for the sale.  No dower rights were acknowledged.

 

English common law crossed the ocean with the European settlers from which I descend.  Among the provisions of this legal framework was coverture, the principles enshrined to govern married women, prohibiting their agency to hold property, run businesses, conduct trade,  and act as citizens.

Therefore, though I know from William Wills Green’s last will and testament that he had 10 children, there is no record of their mother in this deed, or among the long list of deeds I have uncovered.  There is no acknowledgement of the women with whom she quilted and cooked; no indication that a midwife helped birth all those babies; no public record of any domestic work that contributed to the Green estate development.

Which is frustrating.  I have to snuffle in the leaf litter of history to discover the women in my past, more imagining than documenting their stories to fill out my family tree.

If you are a women’s studies buff, please leave any sources and ideas for research questions in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Reclaiming all the past

These thoughts are for all you white family historians out there.  Particularly the ones who are, like me, struggling to tell the unmentionable, the dishonorable chapters of our ancestors’ lives.  The plot lines of which extend into our own days, leaving us uncomfortable with our race.  Our whiteness.

I have been silent on this blog space, for what seems like a long time.  Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because what I have to say is so disconcerting to me.  I have hung out with my research for months, letting it rattle my bones.  Letting the names and the implications of the unnamed disturb my imagination, and disrupt my nostalgia of my southern past.

And humbled I return to this segregated space to confront the taboo against mixing race and family.  The taboo against talking straight up about how I can trace my status, my education, my opportunities right back to those of my Dodson forebears in 1772.

I want to reclaim all the past.  I want to braid stories of the Dodsons with the connections of the Crutes and dozens of unnamed African Americans who contributed to the Dodson legacy, yet seldom profited from it.

I hope you will return to learn how my dad’s scribbled note prompted my memory of something Norman said, which together led to the documentation of the Dodson Crute Connection.

Next up:  The Dodson Crute Connection

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