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Sayles Transcriptions

The Obituary of George Parker

George Parker

George Parker died of grip at his home near Alfred, May 28, 1902. He was born in bondage near Murfreesboro, N. C. Slavery kept few records and the date is not known, but at his death he was probably not far from the allotted age of man. He was sold once. In 1863, along with others, he escaped from the small plantation and came to the union camp. A little later he was brought north by Prof. Sayles. The first money of his own was two pennies given him by a little boy. He worked for a number of different people, including Chandler Green, Valencia C. Baker, Amos Burdick and others. He was accounten (sic) an excellent hand. He became widely known and respected. He attended school several terms and, although it was hard for him to learn, he was deeply interested in education. He had an ambition for which he carefully saved his money until nineteen years ago when it was realized, and he bought the farm which was his late home. On May 10, 1885, he was married to Ellen Van Dosen Simons, who survives him.

He was converted in younger years. He loved to go to church, and attended regularly until failing health made the trip too hard. He had many friends. They say of him that he was perfectly honest, his morals were above reproach, his heart tender and appreciative. He did not understand being born again, but it was his purpose to serve his God and live right. In at least one of the homes where he worked he was counted one of the family, and when speaking of the young ladies of the family he would call them ” our girls.” Only kind words are spoken of him, and the feeling of many would be expressed in the words of one man who said: “Well, George and I have been friends ever since he came to this country.”

There was one occasion when he was always present, if possible, and that was Memorial Day. Probably this was the first time he has missed for many years. It was peculiarly appropriate that his funeral was held in the same place the next day, and that the same patriotic decorations were in place. Surely it was as he would have had it be. Under the flag whose stars and stripes thrilled his heart when he saw it floating over the Union camp–under that flag the last tribute of love and respect was paid to his memory.

Funeral service were conducted in the First Alfred Church Sabbath afternoon, May 31. A brief sermon was preached by James Dawes, the black missionary who has been attending the University. A short life sketch and tribute was presented by Pastor Randolph. A large and sympathetic audience was present. Interment in Alfred Rural Cemetery.

L.C.R.

Published in The Alfred Sun (New York) on June 4, 1902.


Annotations

  1. died of grip: died of complications from influenza
  2. the allotted age of man: George appeared in the 1865 New York State census with stated age of 22. He could have been between 55-60 years of age when he died.
  3. came to the union camp: George was part of a group of refugees who arrived in Camp Suffolk’s contraband camp, Uniontown, in early 1863. [see post His Future Was Not Yet Written]
  4. he was brought north by Prof. Sayles: Professor Ira Sayles was a well known educator of Allegany County.
  5. he attended school: George attended the Preparatory Program at Alfred Academy, 1869-1870.
  6. he bought the farm: the farm lay on the outskirts of Alfred, New York
  7. he married: George married the widow Ellen Simons, and helped raise her son, William.
  8. he was converted: George became a member of the Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church, adherents of which keep the sabbath on Saturday. Alfred Academy and Alfred University were affiliated with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination.

Post photo of Alfred, New York countryside by Kay Strickland, 2013.

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Maps Sayles Surnames

His Future Was Not Yet Written

Shortly after my father died I began to search for his ancestors, my ancestors. Within a couple of years I had masses of information about Ira Sayles, my dad’s mother’s grandfather, including a one-line reference in The Alfred (NY) Sun obituary of one George Parker.

A little later [George Parker] was brought north by Prof. Sayles.

The Alfred Sun (Alfred, New York), June 4, 1902

Research into those words revealed a story of serendipity.

Murfreesboro, North Carolina, 1863

George Parker was a young black man, 18 to 20 years old, who sought refuge from slavery in the cabins of Uniontown, a contraband camp outside the Union stronghold in Suffolk, Virginia. He arrived as part of a small group of refugees from Murfreesboro, North Carolina in early 1863 after Lincoln’s promised emancipation proclamation became reality.

Murfreesboro was an important antebellum town not far from the Virginia border situated on the Meherrin River, a tributary of the Chowan River which flowed into the Albemarle Sound. By the fall of 1862 its shops and academies had been appropriated by the Confederate cavalry for barracks, commissaries, and stables; a Union boat sat down river guarding the way to the coast.

That fall, across the North Carolina border, soldiers–including those commanded by my great-great-grandfather, Captain Ira Sayles–regularly marched out of Camp Suffolk to the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers, streams just to the north and east of Murfreesboro, foraging and engaging in skirmishes with “secesh” troops.

By the time George Parker and his fellow refugees made their way in wintry conditions past skittish pickets and irate slave-catchers into the pine cabins of Uniontown my ancestor Ira was too ill to carry his officer’s sword.

So how, then, did Ira and George begin a collaboration culminating in George Parker’s lifelong residence in Alfred, New York?

Uniontown (above right hand corner)

and Camp Suffolk, 1863

My great-great-grandpa was an exceptional teacher by all accounts, equal parts demanding, unrelenting, and encouraging.

Ira Sayles also had a long history as an abolitionist. In the fall of 1850 he organized his Alfred colleagues, neighbors, and family in resisting the Fugitive Slave Act, declaring in a published op-ed that they would refuse to cooperate with any enforcement of the act “even unto death.” In the summer of 1862 he once again organized these folks, exhorting fellow able-bodied men to answer President Lincoln’s call for 300, 000 volunteers, and enlisted himself at the age of 44.

Captain Sayles was an acknowledged leader in his community because of his brain, not his brawn. And though his heart and soul longed to be part of the moral defeat of the Confederacy, his body was not able to endure the physical privations and disease of camp life.

The muster rolls for January and February of 1863–the time period I suspect George Parker arrived in Camp Suffolk’s Uniontown–indicate that Captain Sayles was too unwell to report for military duty.

But perhaps not so ill that he couldn’t teach.

A convalescing Sayles may have walked from his hospital bed to the Uniontown school, lecturing, tutoring, assisting in the classroom tasks. Or perhaps Ira simply stayed in bed and tutored from his cot anyone who wanted to learn. Including young George.

It is hard to know who first recognized the potential in the relationship. Ira knew he had to resign, that he couldn’t wield his sword against the “insolent foe.” As the teacher-soldier was digesting this bitter pill, perhaps George expressed a desire to move on, out of the crowded camp, away from the disease and constant threat of re-enslavement. And perhaps Ira proposed that the young man travel, not just to another contraband camp, but to New York, to a community of farmers and educators invested in the freedom of the formerly enslaved.

He came north.

George and Ira crossed paths, just in time, as one was arriving in camp, and one was preparing to depart. They found each other by pure serendipity.

Ira received his honorable discharge February 25, 1863. Shortly thereafter, they traveled by boat–one middle-aged white dude, one very young black man–down the Nansemond River to the Chesapeake Bay, on up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. There they caught a series of trains to Alfred Station, disembarking to lead very separate lives.

George Parker came north with Professor Sayles, his future not yet written.


Epilogue

George Parker spent the rest of his life in Allegany County, New York, a welcomed member of the town of Alfred. Student, farmer, friend, husband, father. He died in 1902, leaving the farm he purchased on the edge of town to the Alfred University community that embraced him.

The Alfred Sun (Alfred, New York), June 4, 1902; accessed digitally from Old Fulton New York Post Cards (fultonhistory.com) 5 April 2021.


Murfreesboro, North Carolina: Confederate States Of America. Army. Dept. Of Northern Virginia. Chief Engineer’S Office, Campbell, A. H. & Cassell, C. E. (1863) Map of Hertford and part of Northampton and Bertie counties, N.C.: surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell, Capt. of Engineers & Ch’f. Topog’l Dep’t N.D. Va. [S.l.: Chief Engineer’s Office, D.N.V] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00323/.

Camp Suffolk, Virginia: Allen, O. S. (1863) Map of the siege of Suffolk, Va. [S.l.: s.n] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00399/.

A terrific read on the process of emancipation and the role of contraband camps: Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War by Chandra Manning, Vintage Books: New York, 2016.

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Sayles Surnames Transcriptions

Talented Tuesday: The Poet, Ira Sayles

Ira Sayles was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island on March 30, 1817.  He learned his letters by the age of three and as a child on the family’s Tioga County, Pennsylvania farm Ira spent every available moment reading.  After apprenticing with a Genesse Valley, New York cloth dresser for several years, Ira had saved enough money to continue his formal education at what became Alfred Academy, Alfred, New York. This voracious reader became a determined teacher and life-long learner, as well as an impassioned writer — of essays, articles, observations, and poetry.  There was no remedy for this urge to write; it was “constitutional, and eradication is death! You know, sir, ‘Poeta nascitur, – no fit.'”  [Poets are born, not made.]*

Ira Sayles, My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, (1891); Herrick Memorial Library Archives: Alfred, New York, accessed November 2012.Ira included poems in letters to friends and siblings; submitted a poem to be published with his daughter’s obituary; and while visiting his old stomping ground, had various selections published in the Alfred University paper.  Throughout his long career as principal, teacher, geologist, and  paleontologist, Ira kept up his art.  On March 30, 1891, Ira wrote My Seventy-Fourth Birthday, which he self-published in Washington, D.C. in between his work sessions with the United States Geological Survey.  The first stanza reads:

In the changeful days of Spring,

When the birds begin to sing,

When the sunshine and the storm

Chase each other, cold and warm,

When the lambs are shivering,

When the calves are quivering,

And anon the sunny ray

Brings a pleasure to the day,

From rosy morn to evening gray. —

At such a changeful time as this

My gentle mother’s loving kiss

Welcomed then her baby boy

To this varying Life’s alloy.  

*Ira Sayles, Letter to H. W. Longfellow, (1880); Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge.