Amanuensis: A Letter from Ira Sayles to brother James K. Sayles, 1869

Rushford, Allg. Co., N.Y., Saturday, July 24, 1869

My Dear Brother, James,

Yours of the 18 inst[ant] 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 La Porte, and was never answered. I received a paper published at Austin, Minn., sometime last summer, a year ago. Your name was on it, and I supposed you sent it. This was all 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 does not dispose of much of her landed property, though of some. She is moving to sell her Alfred property, house and all, for six thousand. It ought to bring ten thousand. She wanted me to invest her means in Virginia lands. Then she though 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.

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 is in East Boston, I suppose. He has twice inquired of me for you. I could not tell. The matter has rested.

I am again engaged in this school, 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 one can guess what hour 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

Source:

Letter from Ira Sayles to James K. Sayles, 1869, from the Sayles Family Collection, privately held by Sharon Babcock (address for private use); transcribed by Kay Strickland 25 February 2019.

Ira Sayles (1817-1894) was the author's great-great-grandfather.

Tick Tock: A timeline for Ira Sayles, 1884-1894

In 1884 letters to his buddy, Edwin B Hall in Wellsville (NY), Ira set out his specs for what sounded like a utopian “home”, where fellow believers of THE WAY OF IRA would live in harmony.  Clearly, the estrangement with Serena and his sons ruled out Virginia as a potential location. 


Ira went on to state that he intended to head out west and carve from the Public Domain land that he can call home.  Buoyed by the steady income from his employment with the United States Geological Survey, Ira seemed keen on making the move in the next couple of years.  

However


Records show Ira hopscotching from town to town, collecting fossil specimens in Appalachian strata, and residing in either Washington, D.C. or Ithaca, NY (Cornell connection) while labeling and organizing the collections for the National Museum for the best part of a decade.


Ira did go west, eventually.

The 75 year old suffered a stroke in November 1891 while in Ithaca, that reduced the capacity of his right arm. Another life-threatening “attack” forced his hospitalization while in Washington, D.C. the following February. Just weeks after the second illness, a Greensburg (KS) newspaper reported that Captain Ira Sayles had arrived to make his home with his brother Loren, the city’s water engineer. But that experiment out west ended in July 1892.


Ira returned to Washington, D.C., where he applied for a pension on August 2 based on his military service in 1862-1863 . Later that week Ira collapsed at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot and was whisked away while unconscious to the Emergency Hospital. 


A former colleague, Dr. R. R. Gurley saw a notice of the hospitalization in the paper and went to visit the elderly friend. Seeing that Ira was intent on leaving the hospital though weak and confused, Dr. Gurley persuaded Ira to spend a few days at his home in Carlins (now in Alexandria) before continuing his travels.


Ira remained in DC until at least October when he was examined by pension board of examiners’ doctors, Little and Davis. Their report indicated that an inguinal hernia (completely returnable and held in by truss!) and some heart disease limited his ability to do manual labor, and therefore qualified him for a disability pension.

 
Later that fall, the patriarch traveled to his son’s home, where he remained confined and totally dependent on family formerly estranged. 


The pension was approved in June 1893, and payments sent to Chase City, where he died a year later. 


Without his home. 


"…the small still voice spoke to the soul, and the soul listened, bowed and received the instruction given it. So shall my labor be. I will speak to those only that wish to hear, and hear but to obey. Every principle I teach, shall become an active element in the lives of them that hear. Whoever hears but refuses to practice, will hear no more. He cannot live with me; and so shall it be with them that follow me. My home shall be the home of such and of such only as wish to live the life that I teach and… (missing)”
~~Ira Sayles in a letter to EB Hall, 1884 

I find this man and his life struggles fascinating. 

A[nother] Letter from Ira Sayles

Updated 23 February 2019

IN 1884 Ira Sayles, 1817-1894, wrote a letter to his friend Edwin B. Hall of Wellsville, New York. My great-great-grandfather could have been writing from Ithaca, New York or from Washington, D.C., in between field trips for the United States Geological Survey. He could have been writing on site in Tennessee or Virginia or Vermont, after a day’s work collecting paleontological specimens. Though Hall was also a renowned amateur paleontologist, in this note Ira dwells on his aspirations rather than fossils.

While the first page is missing, it is possible to discern that Hall and Sayles were in dialogue about life’s value and one’s hopes. Ira says, ” The whole scope of our natural activities must be met, grasped, and guided by a master-hand.”

Ira proceeds to lay out his plan for a home, to be established on public land out West, where he could retire and live with others who practice the principles that he teaches. “My home shall be the home of such and of such only as wish to live the life that I teach…[I]t will be to me as the beginning of my life anew–a life with a purpose humble, but deep as the Eternal Fountain whence it draws its inspiration.”

Ira Sayles aspired to build a utopian community, or so it appears. As Ira was a prolific letter-writer, I am certain to flesh out Ira’s “principles” as I take a new look at old files.

This letter contains clues worthy of pursuit. And after a fresh take I can answer a few questions.

Why did Ira claim that he had never had a home of his own?

Ira lived in his parents’ home, with siblings, in Alfred College dorms and in residences that his wife’s money purchased. He rented hotel rooms and apartments, stayed in boarding houses, and visited his estranged wife on the farm that she owned. A recurring theme for Ira, “home” as something he purchased and constructed in accordance with his values and principles eluded the man throughout his life. His search for status and belonging makes for a poignant story.

What happened in 1880 that led Ira to feel healthier, more fit?

This question requires more research. And luck.

What happened in 1883 that contributed to Ira’s financial security?

While serving as Secretary of the Interior (1882-1885), Henry M. Teller appointed his former Rushford (NY) Academy principal and teacher Ira Sayles to the newly formed United States Geological Survey. Ira was then able to have a steady income from work that centered his scientific interest in geology. Ira’s field work yielded rock and fossil specimens from the Appalachian strata from Tennessee to Vermont before illness forced the elderly paleontologist to resign in 1892.

Did Ira ever go West? If so, where did he travel, how long did he stay, with whom did he live?

Ira finally went west…in 1892, after suffering a stroke the previous fall and some sort of “attack” that forced him into a Washington, D.C. hospital for a few days in February 1892.

By March 11, Ira had crossed the country to Greensburg, Kansas where he intended to make a home with his brother, Loren Sayles. No description of his four month visit has surfaced, but it is clear that health played a part in Ira’s return to Washington, D.C. where he made application for a military pension on August 2 based on general debility. The story of what followed his return to the East deserves a post of its own.

Home.

There is no place like home.

Ira wandered like a stray puppy looking for his home, to the end.

Source:

Letter from Ira Sayles to EB Hall, 1884. From the Edwin B Hall Family Collection, privately held by Jay Woelfel, [address for private use.] Transcribed by D. Kay Strickland December 2018.  

Letter. Sayles, Ira to EB Hall. 1884.transcription. images 1,2,3.

Newspapers.com – Kiowa County Signal – 11 Mar 1892 – Page Page 1

 Newspapers.com – The Olean Democrat – 5 Jun 1883 – Page Page 6

Fresh

 

Fresh (adjective): Experienced, made, or received newly or anew.

I am celebrating the overwhelm that results from a decade’s hunt for Ira Sayles, my great-great-grandfather. In my research stash are maps of Allegany County (NY), the Union encampment at Suffolk (VA),  landowners of 1870 Mecklenburg County (VA); letters to his brother James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and his friend Edwin B. Hall; book chapters, newspaper columns, field notebooks, and poems; census data, New York enlistment and discharge records, Alfred University documents, land deeds, and a federal pension application.

Ira Sayles was a Victorian gentleman, an autodidactic from a rural northern tier Pennsylvania family whose passion for learning led him to school in the southern tier town of Alfred, New York.  The 27-year-old finished the teacher’s education course of study and then zealously joined Principal William Kenyon in expanding Alfred Academy into a premier teacher’s college.

And then the two explosively parted ways.

This much of the story was established fairly early in my search. Burning curiosity pushed me in multiple directions to discover the source and result of the conflict, the status of Ira’s relationships, the values and communities that informed his choices over his long life.

Now 2019 is the year, the year to challenge myself to stop collecting detritus, and tackle the endeavor of creating a fresh narrative for the geologist-educator-writer-ancestor, Ira Sayles.

 

Coming soon…how to identify an ancestors’ vision and values 

 

 

 

 

Peeking Into Ira’s Soul


“”Practice any art,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote.  “…music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage…

“Practice any art…no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Ira Sayles, 1817-1894, practiced art, writing essays and poems throughout his long life.  He shared them with friends. He enclosed them in family letters. He submitted them to regional newspapers and sought wider publication.  Ira yearned to belong among the publicly acclaimed, a recognized poet, an admired intellectual.  He had to settle for living among regular folks.

It didn’t stop his writing, though, and the samples of his art that survive are a testament to Ira’s experiences and soul searching. 

In a poem written 15 December 1872 and published in The Sabbath Recorder on 9 January 1873, Ira celebrates the biblical account of Jesus’ birth.  Each verse ends with “Peace on earth, good-will to man!” 

Is this refrain a peek into Ira’s soul?

Ira served in the Union Army in the early years of the Civil War, discharged after only a short campaign because his 44 year old body couldn’t bear the field conditions of a soldier, much to his dismay. He returned to his wife, Serena, and three sons to resume teaching at Alfred University, Alfred, New York. During early Reconstruction, Serena directed Ira to purchase land in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where the family relocated in 1870. Her money, her land, in her name, feme sole.  The situation proved acrimonious, as Ira sought to retire and write. Serena, presumably, was determined to teach, farm, or both. 

By the poem’s wintry date, Ira was estranged from Serena, who stayed with their three boys down in Virginia.  Ira returned to his birth family in Pennsylvania.  Eventually, the 55 year old would resume teaching, traveling throughout northern tier counties of Pennsylvania and the southern tier counties in New York to fill vacancies in one room schoolhouses.

Do these stanzas tell us more than Ira was a Christian? Perhaps this poem was a way for Ira to process grief, shame, restlessness; to find peace on earth and good-will to Ira in the new year.

            "Christmas Choral"

 Music floats upon the night-wind,
            Watching shepherds list the strain:
Gently steals the anthem earthward;
            Echo whispers its refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
Seers had heard the wondrous story,
            Longed to seeMessiah’s reign,
“Come! O come! thou King of Glory!”
            Echo caught the faint refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
Cradled in a humble manger, 
            Nursed by earth’s most lowly train,
Lo! He comes, th’ Almighty stranger!
            Echo murmurs the refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
Magi see the astral token
            Shimmering o’er Judea’s plain;
Death’s gloomy night , they know is broken;
            Echo floats the sweet refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
Age on age hath borne its burden,
            Filled with human woe and pain, 
Since Faith first beheld her guerdon:
            Echo thunders the refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
Brighter gleams that astral glory,
            As the ages rush amain;
Echo louder peals the story,
            Thundering out that sweet refrain—
“Peace on earth, good-will to man!”
 
                                    Ira Sayles
Knoxville, Tioga Co., Pa., 
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 1872

Source

Sayles, Ira. Poem “Christmas Choral,” The Sabbath Recorder, 9 Jan 1873, v29 i2 p6; digitally accessed on Fulton History (FultonHistory.com) 10 Dec 2018.  Transcribed by D. Kay Strickland.