The Tigerish Glare: part two

Notice of Sherman Sayles’ suicide attempt appeared in newspapers throughout the country. It’s hard to know if my great-grandfather, Clifton Sayles, subscribed to any of them. He may not have learned of his younger brother’s peril until the Chase City, Virginia family was contacted by administrators at St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Sherman had traveled in and out of their lives since he left the Mecklenburg County farm in 1880. I am certain the news stunned them. What had happened to their boy? What should Clifton, his mother Serena, and wife Anna tell the kids, particularly Alice? What would the neighbors say? What would happen if Sherman couldn’t be cured? Where would he go? What must they do? Were they allowed to visit? Should they visit?

All of the questions swirled just as summer’s responsibilities were heating up. The Sayles would have likely had the bulk of their winter and spring oats cut; and the wheat cut and shocked, stacked and housed. Corn and tobacco would have been growing steadily. Their Irish potato crop would have been dug and readied for shipment. But tobacco, the cash crop, would soon have to be topped and later hilled, cut and hung. Corn would have to be picked, shucked, and stored; timber would need to be felled, cut and stacked for winter heating and cooking.  Fruits and vegetables were coming in daily, and the drying and canning for the winter table was a constant chore.

What if the family tended to its business at hand and waited to see Sherman? What would happen to Sherman?

With some inquiries, Serena and Clifton might have found relief in the national reputation that Superintendent William Godding had built at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Modeled on the Moral Treatment, Sherman wouldn’t be restrained but encouraged to enjoy the outdoors. Every building and garden, every view and path had been constructed to aid in a patient’s recovery.

Furthermore, the hospital had a farm on site, which meant Sherman would eat fresh cucumbers, radishes, watermelons, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, corn, and small fruits, as well as fresh dairy products and beef and pork.

In addition, Sherman would receive the latest advances in hydrotherapy under the supervision of Dr. George Foster. Depending on his condition, the physician would prescribe wet towel wraps, continuous baths, or showers to relieve his restlessness and agitation. Maybe by Thanksgiving Sherman would be feeling more hopeful, more in control of his life.


The week before Thanksgiving, Clifton crossed the St. Elizabeth’s campus, leaves crunching underfoot, and climbed the steps to the entrance of Toner Hall, the convalescent residence to which Sherman had been moved. A nurse could have accompanied him to one of the building’s sitting rooms, where he might have found Sherman seated in a rocking chair.

The visit did not go as planned.

Sherman was distant and unresponsive. Sullen.

Clifton returned one more time, only to be met by open hostility.

In my mind, I see Clifton take a train crossing the Potomac to Fredricksburg, then transferring to a train to Richmond, thinking the whole time of his baby brother. I imagine his preoccupied stride across the platform in Richmond to the Southern Railway coach to carry him home to Chase City. I wonder if he had to walk from the train station down Main Street to the farm, late at night, alone and struggling to understand what was to happen next. Would anyone have waited up for him to hear his report? Or was it around the breakfast table the next day that he would share his disconcerting memories with Serena, Anna, and Alice–his eldest child, so fond of her Uncle Sherman.

By Tuesday, November 22nd, the family had made decisions. Clifton sat down and penned this letter:

Doctor Foster

Dr.  Sir

As I was compelled to leave Washington without seeing you, I have taken the liberty of writing. 

The second time I went to see my brother he either did not, or would not recognize; and acted in a very suspicious manner altogether. 

Now I do not claim to understand his mental condition; but I do say this, he acted very  ungratefully to say the least. I have consulted with my mother since my return and we have come to the conclusion that the place for him to remain is right where he is. I would consider it unsafe for him to be here at liberty for years to come. Of course, I am entirely ignorant as to how long the U.S. Government will take care of him. I am also ignorant as to whether or not his regiment has been mustered out of the service: but he was certainly in the performance of military duty at the time of his mental attack.  I do not wish to give you the impression that we are acting in an unnatural manner towards him; but I will never forget to my dying day, the tigerish glare he gave me the second time I went to see him. 

Whenever in your opinion he is sufficiently recovered to rejoin his regiment, we think that is the proper place for him. We would be very grateful indeed to you if you would take the trouble to write occasionally in regard to his condition. Please withhold nothing.

Continued in The Tigerish Glare: Part three


summer’s responsibilities: “Weather and Crops,” Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia,) 6 July 1898, page 7; accessed digitally on Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com) 12 March 2021.

St. Elizabeths Hospital: “The Records of St. Elizabeths Hospital at the National Archives,” Frances M. McMillen and James S. Kane, Prologue Magazine, Institutional Memory, Summer 2010, Vol. 42, No. 2; digitally accessed at the National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/summer/institutional.html), 12 Feb 2021.

St. Elizabeths Hospital: “St. Elizabeths Hospital, Historic District,” Thomas Otto, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.; accessed digitally (http://dcpreservation-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/St-Elizabeths-Brochure.pdf) February 2021.

penned this letter: Christopher Sherman Sayles, QO1-563669951, St. Elizabeths Hospital (Washington, D.C.) patient record, Case number 10778, created 1898-1903; copy from National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., received February 2020.

Mourning: The Death of Ira Sayles

On Friday morning, the 15th day of June of 1894, in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Ira Sayles was still but for the shallow movement of his chest. Outside, a mockingbird poured song into the sun-warmed house. His son Clifton and neighbor Joel E. Beales sat bedside by his wife, Serena. Anna, Clifton’s wife, and their children, Alice, Harold, Francis, and baby Gertrude, sheltered quietly nearby.

Ira–once a teacher and abolitionist, a soldier and poet, a geologist and paleontologist–passed on that day, in a house that he never called home, surrounded by family and neighbors who knew him as a stranger.

June is hot, humid, full-on-summery in southside Virginia. The body needed to be interred quickly.

Joel Beales and Henry R. Dodson, helped the family wash, dress, and shroud the remains in a sheet before placing it into a coffin. The neighbors then accompanied the Sayles to their family graveyard, where “they assisted to bury the coffin on the afternoon of the same day as his death.”

I wonder what sort of service, if any, took place that day, or whether a community funeral service was held at some later time. I wonder if the family’s neighbors delivered Brunswick stew, peach pie, tomato wedges, biscuits and ham for dinner that evening. I wonder if anyone stayed with the family over night. And I wonder if Serena in this hour of passing mourned her loss.

Source:

Pension files of the Act of June 27, 1890, Widow’s Pension #597.861 of Serena Sayles, General Affidavit of J.E. Beales and H.R. Dodson, 26 Nov 1894: National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Transcript Tuesday: General Affidavit in the Widow’s Pension Application of Serena C. Sayles, 1894

GENERAL AFFIDAVIT

State of Virginia, County of Mecklenburg, ss:

In the matter of the application for pension of Mrs. Serene (sic) C. Sayles Widow of the late Ira Sayles

ON THIS 30thday of July , A.D. one thousand eight hundred and ninety-four, personally appeared before me, a Notary Public in and for the aforesaid County, duly authorized to administer oaths, J.M. Sloan, aged 60 years, a resident of Chase City in the county of Mecklenburg and State of Virginia whose Postoffice address is Chase City Va, and M.V.B. Webb aged 58 years, a resident of Chase City in the County of Mecklenburg and State of Virginia whose Postoffice address is Chase City VA well known to me to be respectable and entitled to credit, and who being sworn, declare in relation to the aforesaid case as follows:

Mrs. S. C. Sayles owns a small plantation, worth some #300.00 the rent of which amounts to $20.00 per annum. Which amount barely pays the taxes on same farm.  There is no other income whatever, which she receives, and no other property or source of income. 

And we further certify that the above statement was written by N.H. Williams in our presence and only from oral statements made to him on this 30thof July 1894 at chase City, Va. And in making this above statement I did not use, and I was not aided or prompted by any written or printed statement or recital prepared or dictated by any one other person and not attached as an exhibit to this testimony. 

We further declare that we have no interest in said case, and are not concerned in tis prosecution. 

Signed

J.M. Sloan

M.V.B. Webb

State of Virginia, County of Mecklenburg, ss:

Sworn to and subscribed before me this day by the above-named affiants and I certify that I read said affidavit to the said affiants including the words _____ erased, and the words _____ added, and acquainted them with its contents before they executed the same.  I further certify that I am in nowise interested in said case, nor am I concerned in its prosecution; and that said affiant are personally know to me and that they are credible persons.

Signed 

N. H. Williams

Notary Public

NOTE.—-This may be sworn to before a Clerk of Court, Notary Public, Justice of the peace, or any officer who has the right to administer an oath. 



Widow’s Pension Application 597.861, Serena C. Sayles, General Affidavit of J.M. Sloan and M.V.B. Webb, 30 July 1894. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The Will of Thomas Rowlett: Spider Web in a Family Tree

I first came to know the Rowlett family through my 2nd great-grandmother, Sarah Jane, who married James Dodson in antebellum Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

When Sarah was a young girl, Congress addressed the needs of its elderly war heroes by passing the Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1832.  This legislation provided full pay for any man, enlisted or officer, who had served at least two years in the Continental Line or state militias.  William Rowlett’s application is an extensive justification of his claim that also serves as biography.  It is this document that offered my first peek into Sarah’s Rowlett lineage, connecting her to the surname found in Chesterfield County (VA) and to the Butcher’s Creek, Mecklenburg County (VA) neighborhood of Sarah’s adulthood.

The pension files include documentation of William marrying Sarah’s mom, Rebecca Short, in 1825 while living in Chesterfield County.  It is clear from the tangle of story lines that this was William’s second marriage, that he had children from the first marriage, that he had served in the Revolution while living in Chesterfield County, that he emigrated to Mecklenburg County after the war ended and lived there for some thirty years before returning to Chesterfield County.  Between 1825 and the filing of the pension application, an elderly William, Rebecca, and Sarah relocated to Mecklenburg County, on a farm near James Dodson, and his parents, Edward and Mary Green Dodson.

In my last post I offered a brief synopsis and a transcription of the last wishes of a Thomas Rowlett. Written in the closing days of 1805, Thomas’ will confirms some relationships that I have been guessing about–neighbors and cousins, great-aunts and -uncles, and 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers–since first investigating Sarah Jane’s lineage.

Thomas Rowlett listed four primary relationships as beneficiaries of his estate :

  • his mother, Sarah, thought to be a second wife, and also known as Sarah Neal Archer.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 11.30.42 AM

  • his brother, William, not known to have married.

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  • his sister Mary, who it is thought married a first cousin, William Rowlett, also known as 3rd-great-grandfather, William Rowlett, father of Sarah Rowlett Dodson.

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  • his deceased sister, Martha, daughter of Sarah, wife of William Wills Green, and mother of Mary Green Dodson, my 3rd great-grandmother.

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This one document helps confirm how intertwined my  branches are.

So, in short:

Sarah Jane had much older half-siblings:

  • Sarah, who married Thomas Coleman.
  • Thompson, who married Mary (Polly) Dodson.
  • William.
  • Peter.
  • Thomas.
  • John.
  • Mary.
  • Archer.
  • Martha.

The oldest two remained in Mecklenburg County, and I have accounted for them.

The others may have returned to Chesterfield County, and pose more questions than my brain can handle right now!

My 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Green Dodson, lost her mother before 1803, when William W. Green is recorded as having married widow Mary Hinton Poindexter.  The will suggests to me that as a young girl Mary might have been at least partly raised by her elder siblings.

  • Archer.
  • Abraham.
  • Elizabeth who had married James W Oliver in 1799.
  • Sarah.
  • William.
  • Martha.
  • Lewis.

Mary also had two younger sisters:

  • Susanna.
  • Rebecca Cole.

As I continue to gather documents and sift stories, I have an increasing number of relatives , neighbors, cousins to inquire after, to listen for.  I know folks refer to this genealogical hobby as building a tree, but right now I feel more like a spider spinning a web that collects specks of the past.

What story will come from these patterns?

Source:

The Last Will and Testament of Thomas Rowlett. Mecklenburg County (VA), Will Book 5, p 320, 1806; accessed digitally from Family Search (familysearch.org) September 13, 2018.

 

 

The Last Will of Thomas Rowlett: 1806

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 2.56.44 PMSource: Mecklenburg County, Virginia Will Book 5, p 320, 1806; accessed digitally from Family Search (familysearch.org) September 13, 2018.

In late December of 1805, Thomas Rowlett of Mecklenburg County wrote a new will.  Less than a month later, the son of William Rowlett and step-mother Sarah Neal Archer Rowlett was dead.  Thomas left an estate that included a mill and a 1300 acre plantation on which lived 9 horses, 32 head of cattle, 38 sheep and 17 lambs, 4 sows and 24 pigs, 7 turkeys, 59 Dunghill Fowls, 13 geese, and 4 ducks.

And twenty-three enslaved people who worked as carpenters, field hands, grooms, cooks, and household help.

Phill (£200), Joe (£100), Sam (£120), Tom (£120), Bob  (£75), Peter (£60), Charles (£90), George (£75), Isaac  (£75),John (£60),Caesar (£5)Dixon (£50),Ned (£30),Lucy Senr  (£30), Hannah (£90), Diannah (£60), Susanna (£90), Creacy (£75), Lucy Junr (£75), Nancy  (£55), Dizy (£40), Amy (£25), and Fanny (£15).

I Thomas Rowlettof the County of Mecklenburgand the State of Virginia do make and ordain this my last will and Testament in manner and form following—

First I give and bequeath unto Sarah Coleman the wife of Thomas Coleman a negro woman named Hannah. Secondly I give and bequeath unto my dear mother Sarah Rowlett one hundred dollars annually during her natural life if she will accept of the same. Thirdly I give and bequeath unto Colo William W Green my Grey Riding Horse call Yorick to be delivered upon my death.

Fourthly, all the rest of my estate both real and personal I desire may be kept together for two years after my decease and then my executors hereafter named is hereby directed to sell the whole thereof to the highest bidder on twelve months credit taking sufficient security and after paying my debts if any should be due, and the legacies aforesaid—

I will and desire that the whole of my estate arising from the said sales and the profits of my Estate until the said Sales – be divided into three equal parts or shares to be divided as follows to wit one third part or share aforesaid I give unto my brother William Rowlett,

one other third part or share I give unto my sister Mary Rowletts Children, to wit, Sarah Coleman, Thompson Rowlett, William Rowlett, Peter Rowlett, Thomas Rowlett, John Rowlett, Archer Rowlett and Martha Rowlett to be equally divided,

one other third part or share, I give unto the Children of my deceased sister Martha Green, to wit, Archer Green, Abraham Green, Elizabeth Oliver, Sarah Green, William Green, Martha Green, Lewis Green, Mary Green, Susanna Green, and Rebecca Cole Green, to be equally divided among them.

Lastly I nominate and appoint Archer Green, Thomas Coleman and William Rowlett my brother executors of this my last will and Testament with a request that my plantations and carpenters shall be more particularly managed for the two years aforesaid by the said Archer Green and that he will leave the Mill finished.

I hereby revoke all other wills, I so hereby decide this to be my true last will and Testament this twenty ninth day of December on thousand eight hundred and five.

Signed sealed published and declared as the last will and Testament of Thomas Rowlett in the presence of us:

Edward L. Tabb, I Ridley Jr., Elizabeth Neal, Clarissa H Neal

Signed   Thomas Rowlett

At  a Court held for Mecklenburg County the 13thday of January 1806

This will was proved by the oaths of Edward L Tabb and I Ridley Jr. witnesses thereto and ordered to be recorded and on the motion of Thomas Coleman one of the executors therein named who made oath thereto and together with Charles Colley, James T. Hayes, William Pettus, William Stone and James Batte his secureties (sic)  entered into and acknowledged their bond in the penalty of fifty thousand dollars conditioned as the law directs certificate us granted him for obtaining a probate of the said will in due form, liberty being reserved for the other executors therein named to Issue in the Probate when they shall think fit.

Teste  William Baskervill CS Cou

Analysis to follow.