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Photographs and Memories Sayles Surnames White women's history

Grandma Serena Had A Cat

This week’s #family history challenge–What’s Your Favorite Discovery–from Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors52Weeks sparked a vivid memory.


In mid-January 2009 I discovered first hand what our nation’s capital is like in winter. Washington, D.C.’s humid air wraps your body in a vise; a cold breeze off the river increases its grip. I walked briskly from the Archives-Navy Memorial metro station to the National Archives and arrived flush-faced–from the cold, from the exercise, from the excitement.

Butterflies knocked around in my belly as staff took my photo and transferred it to an official archivist ID, my entry card to the treasures within that building. I entered stacks and confirmed my great-great-grandfather’s Civil War pension number before notating it on the official request form and filing it with staff for retrieval that day.

I remember picking that file up, its heft a pleasant surprise. I took a seat along side other researchers at a long wooden table in a cavernous room. Though work was conducted in hushed silence, my anticipation made me chatty. The gentleman across the table sensed my excitement and smiled. We softly shared our awe that these historical records, so meticulously preserved and catalogued, were here for us to search and use and build stories.

I took a breath and started to read.

Page after page I turned. The Pension Application for Ira Sayles revealed new information about his 1863-64 service record in Company H, 13oth New York Volunteers. Letters submitted in witness to his 1893 condition documented the end of his life, and the tribulations that led Ira to apply for the monthly stipend.

All of this data wealth provided inspiration for years of further research and story telling. But my favorite pages were not about Ira.

They were about his wife, Serena White Sayles.

Whereas Ira left an abundance of letters, published articles, books, poems, and public documentation, Serena left but a few breadcrumbs tracing her life. Here in this file I glimpse the woman behind the name.

Serena White Sayles dressed in a black dress in the fashion of 1863 sits with her small baby Christopher Sherman in her lap. Sherman hugs a bottle of milk to his chest. A little girl dressed in pink stands at the mother’s right shoulder. Florette had died in 1857 and was painted here in memoriam. A second painting exists that depicts her husband Ira and her two older sons, Clifton and Merlin.

Serena White Sayles was born in the southern tier village of Independence, New York to Samuel and Nancy Teater White. She met Ira while attending Alfred Academy (Alfred, New York), and the couple married shortly after graduating. The teachers were instrumental in the development of Alfred Academy and Rushford Academy, both located in Allegany County, New York. In the early years of Reconstruction Ira, Serena, and their surviving children–Clifton, Merlin, and Sherman–relocated to Southside Virginia, outside the village of Christiansville (later known as Chase City), on a farm of around 600 acres. Ira returned to New York in 1872, and the couple remained estranged for the rest of their marriage. This family story was passed on by my grandmother, Florette Strickland, daughter of Clifton, and lifelong resident of Chase City.

The pension file disclosed so much more.


Ira died in the heat of June 1894. A week after his body was laid to rest in the family’s Mecklenburg County cemetery plot, Serena filed her widow’s declaration to continue receiving the $8/month stipend. Over the course of the next 2 1/2 years brothers, neighbors, and friends added impressions and details to Serena’s own testimony.

My Great-great-grandma began with an attestation of her marriage to Ira on 11 April 1845 in Whitesville, New York. The ceremony was performed by Seventh Day Baptist Elder John B. Chase and witnessed by her family. Because she had no public certificate to back that up, her brothers George and Clark White of Whitesville, New York submitted notarized statements confirming the event.

The widow then had to prove that she was indigent and needy enough to qualify for the government benefit. It must have hurt her pride to ask for help. Her birth family had been well connected in Allegany County, leaders and successful business people in Independence and Whitesville. Her move south was made possible by the relative wealth that she inherited.

But here in these 1890s documents I glimpse an elderly woman struggling to not be a financial burden on her family–her eldest son Clifton and his wife and four kids lived in the adjacent farm. For they all suffered from the ripples of the 1893 failure of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company, financial failures that set off a national financial crisis.

One friend testified that Serena was “in very dependent circumstances and unable to support herself, except by her daily labor. [She] owns a small plantation, worth some $300-rent of which amount to $20 per annum, barely pays taxes on same farm.”

“In order to eke out an uncertain existence she has to resort to selling a little timber but even that resource will soon be exhausted. Can’t see how she keeps body and soul together.”

“The land is mostly old field pines, poor and almost worthless.”

It is hard for me to imagine this well-educated, financially independent woman struggling to keep a roof over her head.

“[I] have no personal effects of any account and no income. [I have] 1 bed, some books, 1/2 dozen chairs, in all about $50 worth including clothing.”

“[I have] a lot No. 5 Section 10 in Chase City (VA) [worth] $100.”

I have “nothing besides the land except one cat.”

Grandma Serena had her books. Her wits. Her determination to survive.

And she had a cat.

Something we most definitely have in common.

A black and white tuxedo cat sits contentedly in her mom’s lap.

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family history Family Lore Minor Surnames Transcriptions

Letters from Home:

Donald C. Minor to his daughter, Marilyn–1954

This letter written from my Grandaddy Minor to my mother, Marilyn, made me chuckle. Though decades old, its mixed sentiments about the holiday season could have been written in just the last few days.

As 1954 drew to a close, Donald Minor paused before heading to bed to pen his account of the Greene Hills Farm Christmas to his eldest daughter.

Dear Marilyn and Norman, Dec 30, 1954

Another year nearly completed–my how time does fly! We used to read about the fleeting years and little could I then realize the full import of the expression and how swiftly the useful years of our lives are really spent. It certainly behooves each of us to live each day with purpose and spiritual significance. Most of our thought and planning is for a livelihood and self agrandizement [sic] and it is apparent that unless we become more careful the tendency will become increasingly prevalent. Somehow it is difficult to feel the challenge for a more purposeful life until we come in contact with a meek soul who is truly trusting God for strength and guidance.

Every day I have meant to write you and thank you for greetings at Christmas together with the candy and guest towels. The candy was delicious and quite different. Did you make it, Marilyn? And the towels are so pretty. –those colors go well with our blue walls in the bath room.

Yes, I bet she DID make that candy, for my mother was a fabulous cook and baker.

From your letter today it sounded like you had a nice Christmas even though you were away from home. I was so glad for you and was so happy you could be together–it would simply have been too ba if you could not.

My parents had been married for just a year, and living separately as Norman completed his first year with General Electric in Rochester (NY) and my mother completed her Occupational Therapy degree at Tufts University, Boston. It snowed heavily the day my mother was to commute to Rochester for Christmas and my dad, fearing the bus wouldn’t make it, drove half-way to Boston, picked her up at one stop [lost to my memory] and headed to their apartment in New York. They clearly didn’t make it back to Lyn’s childhood home in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Our Christmas was much the same as usual–just a family dinner with entirely too much preparation and commotion to be truly enjoyable. Our gifts were mainly clothes and personal things to make a feller’ look better and smell pretty. I got a shirt, socks, house slippers and shaving accessories and oh yes — a wedding band after 24 years. It’s a nice on and I like it a lot. I’m glad the house coat fitted you. I had Toddy Riggs Greenler–she works in the office–try it for size. Only wish it could have been nicer but I did like the color. Norman’s shirt I trust was OK. We thought maybe with your being a bit more north (you are, aren’t you) that a heavier shirt would be acceptable. Those nylon and wool shirts were quite the rage here–Spraggs store sold them by the dozen. I trust the others will tell you about their Christmas which was much like mine except Helen got a R.C.A. Victor record player–Hi fidelity from Steve. It’s really nice. Of course the niceness depends upon the type records and some Steve selected I didn’t much care for. The machine will play continuously for 9 hours if you so desire.

How do you like your new apartment? I hope it will be pleasant and quite satisfactory for you both. I am so glad Marilyn you are living in the hospital where you work–at least I trust it will be more desirable. In this day it is hardly safe for a woman to live out to herself. The beastly desire of men (women too of course) cannot be overlooked and we cannot allow ourselves to be negligent of the fact that such characters are lurking around every street corners [sic]. An article in a recent issue of the Coronet magazine was allerting [sic] women of this prevalent danger. Too it was warning women everywhere to be cautious today and to avoid contacts and places where this type “bird” might be hanging around for they are really vicious. They do most of their work not in the “dives” but right out on traveled streets where they will wait hours for the opportune person and moment. This is not to frighten but to caution you of the danger.

Quite the cheery holiday message, eh? And a solid reminder of how messaging was (is) designed to curtail women’s movements and opportunities.

Yes we got our dining room “revamped” for Christmas. Between the oak squares we have it painted a nile green. The paper above is pale cream background with prominent design of Rhododendron in two shades of pink and flamingo and green leaves and branches in varying hues of green. it is really striking and helps the whole downstairs. Our living room mantle had a string of colored lights hidden in pine and white candles. The doorway too was decorated with pine and lights–in fact it looked real nice.

We seem to be awfully busy somehow doing nothing but just existing. Eating, sleeping a little, and working–in fact I’m plain tired of it. Never washed so many dishes in y life it seemed as during this last week. The male members are simply horrified at the sight of a dish cloth in this household. As soon as they get a fill off they go to another part of thehouse to suck a cigarette.

In my mother’s handwriting is a note: referring to Steve too, I’ll bet!

Helen (my mother’s sister) and Steve left for New Jersey this morning to spend New Years. She worked all day yesterday and up until 11 last night–in fact Helen was worn out and really looked badly. she had no business going so far in her condition [pregnant with her first daughter] but of course Steve didn’t want to go alone and she of course didn’t like to see him go off by himself. Do hope they get along OK. Don’t think she looks forward with anticipation to trips down that way for their living there is so different–Maybe it’s OK but it doesn’t appeal to me. There seem to be some nice people but they sure are pleasure mad. Well here it is 11pm. I just came home from our Agri (sic) Extension meeting. We have some good members on the board.

My grandfather was an active leader in the Greene County agricultural community, known for his livestock expertise.

John Myers is holding Revival meetings for the 1st Bapt. Ch. in Jan. they want me to conduct the song services but I simply cannot and work every day. Then to what is their preacher going to do? He says his “pins” will hard hold him up. Maybe so but by golly mine aren’t so agile anymore and besides I’m older than he is. It seems a fellow has to look out for himself a little–the other fellow doesn’t care too much and I know best how I feel. Best of luck for a happy and successful New Year. Lots of love and a big hug to start it off with.–Dad

Donald was a graduate of Denison College (Ohio) and had as a young man aspirations to be a professional–a banker or a journalist. The Depression blunted that dream, and its reality forced him to provide for his young family by returning to the Garard’s Fort ancestral land and the Minor tradition of raising livestock. Donald never gave up his love of music, however, practicing the piano and leading church choirs as often as time and health permitted. At the time of this note, Donald was 52 years old, and evidently feeling the 24/7/365 fatigue of farming.

Source:

Minor, Donald C. (Garard’s Fort, Pennsylvania) to “Dear Marilyn” [Marilyn “Lyn” Minor Strickland]. Letter. 30 December 1954. Privately held by D. Kay Strickland, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 2021.

Categories
Minor Surnames Transcriptions

Minor Details: A Pension Certificate, A Letter, & A Curious Descendant

Not long ago a cousin set out on a quest to determine the provenance of a Minor family heirloom–a sword, rumored to have belonged to John Pearson (Pierson) Minor. Some folks suggested to my cousin that the sword must be from the American Revolution.

But J. Pearson Minor was born in 1791, not even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes during the revolution, and his father, Abia (A-bye-ya) did not serve in either a state militia or the Continental army during that period. So the sword is not likely to be from the 18th century.

Family lore had it that Pearson Minor did serve during the War of 1812, and there is evidence to support that story among the contents of The Minor Satchel, a leather case filled with documents, notes, and ledgers that I inherited from my mother, Marilyn, who retrieved it from the attic of the Whiteley (PA) Home Farm before it was sold in the 1970s.

The Evidence

After the Civil War, Congress passed the Act of February 14, 1871 to establish a monthly pension for elderly, infirmed veterans who had served at least 60 days during the war with Britain in 1812-1815. An attorney acting on my great-great-great-grandfather’s behalf filed an application. On March 15, 1872 J. Jackson Purman wrote from his Waynesburg (PA) office:

Pearson Minor, Esq:

Dear Sir-I have at last succeeded in getting your claim adjusted and a Certificate issued, which has been sent to your Post Office. Along with the Certificate you will find certain other papers, which you are to sign and have witnessed, and be sworn to, and upon these being sent to the agent, who pays the money at Pittsburg, you will receive your Pension. As these papers require great care in their execution, you had better come up to Waynesburg to execute them if you are able. If you are not able, go before your nearest squire and execute them. The Certificate you will keep in your own possession- You need not trouble yourself about any fee, as I will receive my fee from the Government.

Yours Sincerely,

J. Jackson Purman

Included in this set of papers is Form No. 26 from the Department of the Interior, Pension Office, Washington D. C. An office clerk used a black ink pen to fill in the pension certificate number ________

13669

and the pension agency _________________ charged with making the $8 a month payment

Pittsburgh

At the bottom of the page, the worker wrote the name of the pensioner

To Pearson Minor, Whiteley, Green Co. Pa.

and stamped the Commissioner’s name, J. H. Baker, before putting the one page document into a Department of the Interior official envelope and hand addressing it to Pearson Minor. This notification left Washington, D.C. on March 12.

PENNSYLVANIA, Plate 14 from Mathew Carey’s General Atlas, Philadelphia 1814. Digitally accessed at 1810’s Pennsylvania Maps (http://www.mapsofpa.com/antiquemaps31.htm), 14 Nov 2021.

In addition to government form No. 26, the “Pension Papers” contain a voucher from 1872 and another from 1874; an envelope from the Pittsburgh Pension Agent, James McGregor, that once contained a voucher; and the most important document of all–THE pension certificate #13669.


Transcription:

Department of the Interior

War of 1812–Survivor’s Pension

I certify that in conformity with the Law of the United States, approved February 14, 1871, Pearson Minor, late a Corpl (Corporal) of Captain T. J. Seeley’s Company Pa Militia is inscribed on the Pension List Roll of the Pittsburg (sic) Penna, Agency, at the rate of eight dollars per month , to commence on the fourteenth day of February, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one. No sale, transfer, or mortgage of any description whatever, of the whole or any part of the pension payable in virtue of this certificate , is of any legal or binding force against either the pensioner or the United States.

Given at the Department of the Interior, this 9th day of March, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two,


Back to the heirloom sword

My cousin received the sword from his father, my uncle and great-great-grandson of J. Pearson Minor. These documents strongly suggest that the sword was used by our patriarch during the War of 1812 when he served as a corporal with Captain T. J. Seeley’s Pennsylvania Volunteers, just as family lore suggested.

What remains a mystery is more about the pension, itself. Why did Pearson need a pension when he had hundreds of acres of land, and a son with whom he lived. On the surface it would seem that the Minors had the assets and labor necessary to care for Pearson, even if he was an infirmed, eighty-one year old.

Those bits of data–and perhaps more information about Minor’s military life–could be in the pension application itself, a document that resides in the National Archives, Washington, D. C. on microfilm M313, Department of Veteran Affairs, Record Group #15.

Yes. You guessed it. I have submitted a request for a copy of this record and eagerly await an archivist’s reply.

More Minor Details to come.


Source:

Minor, John Pearson (Pierson) Minor (Whiteley, Greene County, PA). Pension Certificate #13669 and assorted documents, 9 March 1872. Privately held by D. Kay Strickland, [address for private use] Pennsylvania, 2021.

Categories
Minor Surnames Transcriptions

Transcription: A Letter Home-Abia Minor

Abia Minor was born in Greene County, Pennsylvania in about 1815, the son of stock drover John Pierson Minor and his first wife, Hannah McClelland. As a young man Abia (a-bye-ya) followed his family’s tradition, bought and farmed land near the town of Bridgeville in what was then western Virginia. But he had aspirations that went beyond the Appalachian Mountains. By the early 1850s, Abia had purchased land in Moultrie County, Illinois with clear intentions of resettling there. That dream was deferred a bit by the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Thompson, and his remarriage to Harriet Ballard. Before the decade turned and civil unrest upended the nation, Abia and Harriet relocated to Township 14 N Range 6 E, Moultrie County, Illinois. The family farmed this Jonathan Creek land until emigrating to Harper County, Kansas in 1878, where Abia lived until his death eleven years later.


This letter, with its long, run-on sentences, was written to Abia’s Pennsylvania parents during that Jonathan Creek period, sometime after 1858 but before his step-mother, Isabelle, died in 1863. I read ancestors’ notes out loud to my dog–hearing the words makes the distance between past and present smaller. Since Abia wrote with NO PUNCTUATION, to clue you all in I transcribed the letter with spacing matching my breath, so reading Abia’s 159 year old words is more conversational.

The first two pages have been lost, so we begin Abia’s letter to J. Pearson and Isabella Minor on

Page 3

…Tell him to go out and look not to make it all talk

it has been awful cold here this winter otherwise it has been a fine winter or we would think it so if we had our usual crop for it has been dry all winter and better roads I never saw

good sledding for 3 or 4 weeks but the snow is gone now only where it drifted I have yet 160 rods along my fence that 30 feet wide and was between 4 and 5 feet deep but it has settled down to about 3 feet

the weather has been fine winter weather ever since the cold storm was over which only lasted 2 days

you wrote that you had been in Ohio this winter I wish you could have came out to see us I would like to come to se (sic) you and Thank you for you (sic) generous offer but I canot (sic) come this winter Polk is in Woodford Co going to school and I have to stay close to home

John is of age and wants to be doing for himself talks of going away this spring

I want to put a corn crop for I think we will raise good crop next year and I am trying to make some more fence so I can keep some stack without so mutch (sic) trouble in winter

Isabel [perhaps his sister] got home on sunday after she started they were detained by not making the connection and it cost her 21 dollars and some few ctz (sic) She will write to you and send her letter with this you said you would send her saddle and some flannel for me a warm (?) that would be quite a present to me for sutch (sic) flannel is hard to get here and if you send it box them in a light box and send them from any point on the railroad or if any one was coming out you could put them in a trunk and they can bring them through for nothing but if you send them out by railroad direct them to

Abia Minor

Mattoon*

Coles Co

Illinois

And take a receipt from the _ldier agent for them and send it to me by mail

please write to me as soon as you get this and I would like to have mothers likeness which you can have taken and send it in a letter and Isabel says you have yours taken on horseback I wish you would send me a coppy (sic) of it it can be taken on paper or leather and sent in a letter

give my respects to all my brothers and sisters

tell them to write to me and I will answer their letters and feel very thankful beside with the above I remain yours truly

Abia Minor

*Mattoon was 15-17 miles from the Jonathan Creek property, a town created by the intersection of the Illinois Central, the Terre Haute, and the Alton Railroads.

**Per the 1860 Federal Census, Abia wrote this letter while his at-home family included: second wife, Harriet, teenage sons John C and James, teenage daughters Permilia and Margaret, young Minerva, and very young William and Mary O.

Source:

Minor, Abia (Moultrie County, Illinois) to father [J. Pearson Minor]. Letter. undated, presumed between late 1850s and 1863. Privately held by D. Kay Strickland, [address for private use] Pennsylvania. 2021.

Categories
Strickland Surnames Transcriptions women's history

Amanuensis Day: The Last Will and Testament of Happy Stone

North Carolina, wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 for Happy Stone, Franklin County; accessed digitally on ancestry.com, 20 August 2021.

On a Tuesday morning in March three springs before her death, Happy Stone sat with H. H. Davis and Robert Mannas and dictated the terms of what should happen to her farm and estate upon her death. On 8 April 1853 Kerenhappuch departed this world, and at the 1853 June court her last will and testament was proven and recorded in Franklin County (NC) Probate Records, Book IV, pages 330-331.

In the name of God. amen. I Happy Stone of the State of North Carolina and County of Franklin considering the uncertainty of my earthly existence, but being of sound mind and memory, do make, publish and declare this to be my last will and Testament in manner and form following. To wit-

  • Item 1. It is my will and desire that this body of mine be decently interred and that all of my just debts be paid after my death.
  • Item 2. It is my will and desire that after my death that all the property of every description that I may possess at the time of my death be sold and equally dived (sic) as follows, (To wit) I give one sixth part after paying all expenses to my son William Stone. One sixth part I give to my son McCullar Stone, one sixth part I give to my son Washington Stone, one sixth part I give to my son Elias Stone, One sixth part I give to my daughter Mary Ann Howell, one sixth part i give to my grandson John Axum (?) Jenkins–but should he die before he arrives of age of twenty one, it is my will that the part left to him be equally divided between William, McCullar, Washing (sic), and Elias Stone and Mary Ann Howell and their Heirs.
  • Lastly I nominate and appoint my son William Stone my sole Executor to this my last Will and Testament. In testimony of which I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 19th March A.D. 1850.

signed, seal, and acknowledged Happy HER MARK X Stone

H. H. Davis, Robert Mannas

Because she had already sold her land to my 2x great-grandparents, Anderson and Julia Strickland, what remained were debts settled with the proceeds from the sale of her tools, furniture, livestock, foodstuffs, crops already planted, and two human beings, Nancy and Crofford*.

But that is a story for another day.

*alternative spellings: Crawford, Craff, Croford.


Related posts:

Amanuensis Day: Happy Stone’s Land Goes to the Next Generation