Today is the anniversary of the birth of my grandmother. Born December 4, 1901 to two middle-aged farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Anna Florette Sayles was a bit of a miracle girl.
Her father, Clifton Duvall Sayles, had five children from his first marriage to Anna McCullough, both Yankees drawn to the south after the Civil War. After Anna died sometime during the year of 1900 Clifton paid court to his first love, Miss Rebecca Eulelia “Lilly” Dodson, a spinster who lived down the road near Butchers Creek on the family’s farm with her two spinster sisters.
Lilly and Clifton had fallen in love right after his arrival in Mecklenburg County in 1870 but James and Sarah Jane Dodson would not accept Clifton’s proposal to marry their daughter. Feelings ran high against Yankees for the Dodson’s had lost both a son and a brother to the Cause. So Lilly lived her life, without ever marrying. Clifton met and married Anna in 1879. They had five children, two of whom were still at home when Anna died in 1900. Clifton set out to complete his family.
In January of 1901, no longer needing anyone’s approval, Lilly and Clifton were married in Chase City, Virginia. Just twelve months later, the forty-five year old bride gave birth to her only child. Anna Florette grew up pretty much an only child, for all the McCullough Sayles had married or moved off the farm by the time she was a young girl.
In 1920 George R. Strickland, who had been adopted by Lilly Dodson Sayles’ sisters and unmarried brother, hitched up a wagon and drove his team to the Sayles’ house to pay court to Florette. They were married September 28, 1921 in the Baptist parsonage in Chase City, Virginia by the Rev. H. L. Williams. Four sons were born to this union: George Sidney, Clifford Ricks, Paul Warren, and Norman Scott. The family survived the depression by returning to the Dodson farm.
By 1951 all the boys had left Mecklenburg County, and my grandmother and grandfather lived in Chase City, keeping up the farm with the help of tenant farmers and the like. My grandfather ran several school buses for the Chase City district and was landlord for several city properties. My grandmother kept George straight, and the home running smoothly.
Florette Strickland loved music; she made sure all of her boys could play an instrument, and that they played together regularly. She played the piano; my granddaddy had purchased this big old piano which sat in the living room of their home. Her pile of music contained anthems for her church choir, as well as popular ballads and tunes. One of my favorite memories is of me on the bench, playing Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy. Grandmother sat on the couch, crocheting another blanket. When I finished I turned to see her smiling and she said, “I believe you just made that piano sing.”
Anna Florette Sayles Strickland died in March 1981, leaving behind a rich legacy of music loving family.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scrambling up the last boulders I reached the summit of the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary; binoculars to eyes I watched the acrobatic loops of Turkey Vultures. The kettle of twelve rode the updrafts of the Kittatinny Ridge, swooping closely past our position on the western outcrop. Bald heads turned right and left as they rode the current back down the ridge, just above the forest canopy. Were they looking for carrion or smelling the air for it?
This question was raised by my great² grandfather, Ira Sayles, in an article published in The Auk, Volume IV, No. 1, PP. 51-56 in 1887. During that era, relative amateurs were emboldened to enter scientific discourse, armed with an inquisitive mind and observations. My great great grandfather had taken the time to record his observations of turkey vultures and develop a theory that ran counter to prevailing scientific thought — the carrion feeders found their meals by using a highly developed sense of smell.
I sat on a sandstone boulder yesterday til my body demanded a seat cushion. Even then I watched, fascinated that I shared a hobby with my great great grandfather and confident that my Ira Sayles had been right.