Believe You This?

In a letter to brother James dated 10 April 1872, Ira Sayles sent both sympathy and sermon to his ailing 50 year old sibling whose diagnosis of palsy had been shared in a March note.

Palsy by definition in the 1870s was a chronic condition involving some sort of paralysis. A person had three alternatives in seeking a recovery:

  • medicinal remedies,

“There is no pain that Centaur Liniments will not relieve, no swelling it will not subdue, and no lameness it will not cure.” (1)

  • a physician’s treatment,

Dr. Clark A Miner of Chicago the Celebrated Chronic Disease Specialist will make his next visit to Austin, August 13th and 14th till ‘Noon at the Fleck House where he can be consulted free upon any disease in his specialties…Scrofula, Syphilis, Consumption, Kidney Disease, Piles, Paralysis, Palsy, Female Complaints of Whatever Character…Almost hopeless cases are successfully treated.” (2)

  • or, as Ira preaches, ” A sincere, calm trust in Providence is of more consequence than all else.”

Much of this letter could have been delivered from a pulpit. Ira writes long detailed paragraphs that delineate his belief system.

“I have spent years in studying these matters, and my Father has gradually opened to me the whole scheme, scope and aim of human life, with all the human faculties and susceptibilities. He gave us the exhibition of the Life of Jesus, as the modle(sic) of a perfect man. Through Him He promises to confer on the perfect man Immortal Life; and, in the resuscitation of the mangled carcass of Jesus, after a death of nearly three days, He demonstrates His power to fulfill His promises.”

Words not at all out of the ordinary for a devout Christian.

But Ira then goes on to weave the language of science into this religious doctrine.

The death and resurrection of Jesus he states is “strictly scientific, if we make our scientific basis broad enough; if we make it too narrow, we fail to reach this great fact.”

“The narrow-based scientist and the narrow-based religionist are forever at loggerheads. Both are dogmatic: both wrong.”


Ira was a citizen scientist, collecting botanical and geological specimens throughout his career as a teacher and academy principal. His keen observations of and theoretical writings about nature earned him local acclaim.

In fact, Ira would be appointed to the United States Geological Survey in 1883 by Secretary of the Interior Henry W. Teller, a former student, where he served as an assistant geologist and assistant paleontologist until his final illness. Ira was a scientist at heart.

And he was also a Christian, his faith formed during the Second Great Awakening spurred by the religious revivals of Charles Finney. He received his education and first teaching opportunities at Alfred University, a school deeply intertwined with the Seventh Day Baptist church.

Separating religion from science, science from religion, embracing both, or one and not the other…this is the stuff of existential debate that has raged from the moment humans began to observe, classify, hypothesize, and offer testable explanations based on facts. It is fascinating to bear witness to my great-great-grandfather’s grappling.

“The scientist sees just to the end of his nose, and thinks that the whole universe. The religionist scarcely sees from our corner of his eye to the other yet he thinks nothing worth seeing, which he don’t (sic) such are the facts in the case. IF your religion rests on a ‘scientific basis’, be sure that your basis is broad enough.”

Believe you this?


1. The St. Cloud journal. (St. Cloud, Minn.), 27 Feb. 1873. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

2. Mower County transcript. (Lansing, Minn.), 02 Sept. 1875. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

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. 

Are You My Cousin? : The Legacy of Migrating Minors

How many of us stand on the hopes and dreams of the pioneering Minors?  With yesterday’s publishing of the 1872 letter between brothers Samuel and John, I am reasonably certain that I have many unmet cousins in the Midlands and West Coast states of America.

Collating the data from the letter, a Thomas Minor Society register, and Federal and state census reports from 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, I can track one piece of the Minor Migration.

Somewhere, out there, beneath the waning gibbous moon, I have cousins in Iowa, Illinois and Oregon.  If you are one of the migrated Minors, I hope you will leave a message, continuing the conversation begun almost 140 years ago between brothers Samuel and John.

“Write soon.”

I Remain Your Loving Brother – Samuel Minor to John P. Minor: Amanuensis Monday

On Mondays, many geneabloggers don the hat of amanuensis, to record and transcribe primary sources within our care.  Today I begin sharing the records of Samuel and Elly Lowery Minor found among the papers of Samuel’s brother, my great³ grandfather, John Pearson Minor.  

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On the 22 September 1872, Samuel Minor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa sat down to write his older brother, John Pearson Minor of Whiteley, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  The letter lacks basic punctuation and words are imprecisely spelled.  I have taken the liberty of translating the newsy note, rather than transcribing Samuel’s words verbatim .  Click on the images below to read the letter yourself!  

Cedar Rapids, Iowa  September the 22 1872

Dear Brother,  I take this opportunity of writing to you.  We’re all well as usual. I hope this will find you all the same.  We have had very rainy weather here since the first of August so it is very difficult to save grain and make hay.  Our wheat was very good.  We have thrashed and have 26 bushels to the acre.  Our corn is very good.  Oats and hay not so good.  I got a letter from Ellis not long since and they were all well.  He brags very much of the health of their county and has 200 acres of land and 64 head of cattle, 40 milk cows.  He said they need not lay up any wintering and their cattle is fat in the spring.  They have plenty of fruit of all kinds.  His nearest neighbor had 500 bushels of peaches.  They have no winter of any account; ice not thicker than a knife blade.  Apples will keep all the time in any old house without freezing.  AJ (Andrew Jackson) is going to move to Illinois to Idair on the railroad.  He has been living with one but says he can’t farm as his complaint hurts him to plow.  

Sam has bought another farm and he has worked himself down til he looks almost as old as I do.  John lives close to western.  They have had some sickness on their family but are nearly well again.  If Jack leaves I can’t tell how Elly and me will do.  Sias (Josiah?) and Samuel says they live close by and they can see if we want any thing and Elly has got so she cooks for her and me all this last year nearly and we are getting along very well but we know not what a day may bring forth.  I sometimes think my time short and people tells me I am good for 10 years.  Yet god has spared my life til a good old age and I have a very good relish for my victuals yet.  Elly and me was up at town the other day and had our likeness taken 12 of them and I send you one.  We have a fine iron bridge over the river and you would hardly know our town now.  This bridge is ??? our bridge that I had a sho? is gone the new one is lower down cross the plane.  No more but remain your loving brother. 

Samuel Minor to John P Minor

Write soon.