On May 28, 2016 I drove through the rolling landscape of north central Pennsylvania to the New York border. I drifted west over winding backroads until I hit the outskirts of an ancestral home. Along the banks of Cryder Creek, Whitesville contains the memories of pioneering people, including the White and Teater families, from which I am descended.
In the late 1810s, Samuel followed his father-in-law, John Teater, to the farmland that became Independence Township, Allegany County. His wife, Nancy, was a teacher and helpmate to every endeavor that Samuel undertook, which included the raising of seven children and the building of a hamlet’s first hotel in 1827. Samuel was a farmer, cattle dealer, a shop keeper, an innkeeper; he served his community as town clerk, postmaster, and town supervisor. With time the hamlet took on the name Whitesville.
Folks of Independence Township had long believed the oral tradition of how their town got its name. Roger Easton, Independence historian, led the effort to formally attribute the village’s name to Samuel White’s life and legacy. That last Saturday in May several descendants gathered at Lot 50, site of the White Hotel, and unveiled the Legends and Lore highway marker.
Thank you so much, Roger and all the supporters of the Independence Historical Society for your dedicated efforts (and for lunch)!!
Nancy Teater White survived her husband, Samuel S. White, by two and a half years. This generous soul could well have spent her widow years with the sons who lived in Independence and neighboring Whitesville. But she died in Alfred, a nearby town and home to Alfred University.
Her daughter, Serena White Sayles, lived on the campus of that college in the Gothic, a home built by Samuel in the early 1850s. At the time of Nancy’s death, Serena was home alone with nine month old baby Christopher, five year old Merlin, and eleven year old Clifton; and she may well have been on faculty of that college teaching French as she had periodically since 1848. Professor-now-Captain Ira Sayles was actually in a hospital tent outside Camp Suffolk, Virginia, suffering the effects of leading Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York State Volunteers in camp drills and exhausting training marches in the Black River area.
Grandma White ended her life in Alfred at her daughter’s home, where she no doubt had helped Serena juggle the demands of young children, a baby and a community while her son-in-law served his country far from home. Or at least tried to help before becoming another dependent in the Gothic household. I like to think that Serena clung to a community of strong women that January, as her mother passed on. I am certain that she missed the genial spirit of Nancy Teater White, as the next month’s uncertainties unfolded.
While transcribing a letter dated July 24, 1869, a couple of its sentences looped relentlessly through my head, like a snippet of a catchy tune. My great-great-grandfather complained to his brother, James :
My year’s expenses devoured my year’s salary (as principal of Rushford Academy), and left me as poor today as one year ago today. Serena does not dispose of much of her landed property, though, of course.
Just how much landed property did Serena have? De Beer’s 1869 Atlas of Allegany County, New York mapped residences, illustrating that the couple, or rather, Serena owned three properties – the Gothic house on Alfred University’s campus, a farm a few miles south in Independence, and a house on Main Street, catercorner to Rushford Academy. How did Serena come by these properties? On her teacher’s salary? Hardly likely, since Ira notes that his wages didn’t cover expenses. Mutter, mutter….. Far more likely that Serena received land and property from her parents, Samuel S. and Nancy Teater White, who had been successful farmers and business owners in Whitesville, Allegany County. But how had they managed that in one generation, on those rocky Appalachian hills, removed from any highways or railroads? And what attracted them to western New York in the first place?
In the space of five minutes I found myself in a web of my own, sticky design.
This is my brain on genealogy, just a web of ideas and places and people, stuck together in a mass of interconnected strands. Not til I imagine that I am a Super Fly, using this mess as a trampoline, can I make a bounding leap of faith and see the story hidden in its design.
The Whites of Whitesville came from the sea
Samuel’s father was born Oliver White, Junior, in 1759 to Oliver White and Mary Sherman in the town of Newport, Rhode Island, down by the sea. Oliver Jr. removed west to Hopkinton, Rhode Island, a small town carved from Westerly, by 1775 when he first enlisted in the colonies’ army. Oliver served off and on for the duration of the Revolution, and between one of his tours of duty, on March 1, 1781, Oliver made a fateful decision. He decided to marry a Seventh Day Baptist. Cynthia Burdick was the daughter of Hannah Hall and Robert (4) Burdick, who was the latest generation of Burdicks to provide leadership to the Westerly congregation. Like other Baptists, they believed that local congregations were autonomous from a church hierarchy and had the authority to make decisions locally; and that the Bible was the authoritative source of faith. But unlike other Baptists, the Burdick family held that the scriptures designated Saturday as the Sabbath. Sabbatarians worked on Sunday. The rhythm of their work and worship, then, fundamentally differed from those of the larger community – and economy – in which they found themselves. (Oliver Jr. became a member of the Hopkinton Seventh Day Baptist Church in 1786.)
As the atmosphere became more hostile to those not adhering to the conventional Christian sabbath, the sabbatarians began to migrate westward. They moved in clusters, establishing communities in which they were free to work six days and worship on Saturday. Oliver and Cynthia left Hopkinton, RI, with their children including Samuel, before 1810. They lived for a short while in the 7th Day Baptist community of Brookfield, Madison County, New York, before moving on to Alfred, another center of sabbatarians, before 1816. Here, young Samuel met and fell in love with a young school teacher and early organizer of Alfred’s Seventh Day Baptist Church, Nancy Teater.
They married in 1819 and moved to a new community south of Alfred, near the millson Cryders Creek. Within their first decade, Nancy and Samuel had established a farm, started a family, provided leadership for another Seventh Day Baptist congregation, and opened a hotel in the town which soon bore their name – Whitesville.
Not long ago I took a genealogy field trip from my home in northeastern Pennsylvania to Allegany County, New York, following the Appalachian ridges to the hills of my ancestors, great-great-grands Ira and Serena White Sayles. A wonderful thing happened on the way back south – I found Serena’s hometown, Whitesville.
What I Found Between the Hills
In a preparatory internet session I had found an index for the Whitesville Rural Cemetery, which had not included my third great-grandparents, Samuel S. and Nancy Teater White, Serena’s parents and founders of this hamlet. So on my way into town, I just drove by the gates of the meticulously maintained grounds. At the other end of Main Street I parked and snapped a photograph of the beautiful town signage, returned to the car and promptly went right back down Main Street the way I had just come. Why? A nudging from the past?
I drove into the cemetery, about thirty yards, and parked. The tombstones were old here, lichen and moss gently adorning the rock, and my sense was that I had reached the burial grounds of my ancestors. I stepped out of my car again, camera slung over my shoulder, and pointed it at a neutral object to get a light meter read on the gray, overcast fall day. Turning, I approached a magnificent stone:
I open the memory of my grandmother’s Huston Street home in Chase City, Virginia and enter the filtered light. I move across the living room to look out onto a small covered porch. Indirect light bathes her African violets, perched on top of their window stand, their pink and purple blooms nodding in the summer breeze. I wait to greet my grandmother with the news: Hendrich was not the Immigrant Teater after all.
Anna Florette Strickland spoke her English with a Southside Virginia accent, slowly, carefully, vowels lingering in the air. I long to sit on that couch and unfold the tale of her great-grandmother’s ancestors, and listen to her southern wonder. Her grandma was a Yankee, a northern abolitionist moved south after the War of Northern Aggression. Serena White Sayles taught French in Mecklenburg County, Virginia schools, places whose names have been lost to family memory. Serena was herself the daughter of a teacher, Nancy Teater White; in fact, Nancy Teater was the first teacher in Allegany County, New York, in 1814. This part of the story my grandmother knew and passed on. Picking up the family lore, I have discovered that Nancy Teater’s father, John Teater, was originally from Dutchess County, New York.
Last week ancestry.com sent “You’ve got hints!” mail, and I learned that John Teater was the son of Revolutionary War soldier John Teeter, Sr., and the grandson of the Revolutionary War patriot, Hendrich Teeter — both of Dutchess County, New York. I began collecting the surname variations and deduced that my forefathers had crossed the Atlantic with an umlaut — making the Immigrant Teater a native of Germany. Tödter! That is what I searched for in every data base with every search engine in my command. But then I was astounded by a document within the ancestry.com results.
Teater, Teeter, Tieter morphed into Thaeter, Dieder, Däther, an umlaut that led me back into a history along the Hudson of which I was totally unaware. And this is the story I would sit and share on my grandmother’s couch.
Conditions were bleak for residents living along the Rhine in 1708 and 1709. Repeated French invasions of the region had led to deprivations and terror, particularly for German Reformed (Calvinists) and Lutheran Protestants. The weather had been bitter and cold.
Elizabetha Dotter, wife of Hans, died July 31, 1708 in Leonbronn in what is now Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, about 14 miles northeast of Bretten. Hans (Johan) Dotter or Dother died on January 13, 1709. The three children, Lorenz, Jorg and Maria Margaretha, joined the mass emigration of Palatines hoping to find a better life among the colonies of Great Britain. Lorenz and his siblings boarded Captain William Newton’s ship at Rotterdam and sailed for England on July 3, 1709, and they were among the 2814 Palatines who left London for Queen Anne’s work camps along the Hudson in December 1709. Thus Lorenz Däther, my Teater Immigrant, was a member of the first and largest mass emigration to America in the Colonial period.
Lorenz Däther worked off his passage in Dutchess County, New York, from 1710-1712, at which time Queen Anne and the English government stopped paying subsidies to the immigrants. Some of the Palatines moved to New Jersey and Pennsylvania seeking farmland. Lorenz stayed along the Hudson, settling near Rhinebeck, New York. He married Margareta Lnu about 1710 and was naturalized in about 1715. The couple had their son, Hendrich Teeter in 1716 in what would become Dutchess County, New York, and obtained a life lease on land at the Livingston Manor in 1717.
Hendrich Teeter married Caroline Bender, daughter of Valentine and Anna Margaretha Stoppelbein Bender, in Dutchess County, New York. The couple had at least one son, John (Johannes), on March 2, 1742.
In 1775 Hendrich declared his loyalty to the fledgling colonial government by signing the Articles of Association:
“Persuaded that the salvation of the rights and liberties of America depend, under God, on the firm union of its inhabitants in a rigorous prosecution of the measures necessary for its safety ; and convinced of the necessity of preventing anarchy and confusion, which attend the dissolution of the powers of government, we, the freemen, freeholders, inhabitants of _____, being greatly alarmed at the avowed design of the Ministry to raise a revenue in America, and shocked by the bloody scene now acting in Massachusetts Bay, do, in the most solemn manner, resolve never to become slaves and do associate, under all the ties of religion, honor, and love to our country, to adopt and endeavor to carry into execution whatever measures may be recommended by the Continental Congress, or resolved upon by our Provincial Convention for the purpose of preserving our Constitution, and opposing the execution of the several arbitrary Acts of the British Parliament, until a reconciliation between Great Britain and America on constitutional principles (which we most ardently desire) can be obtained ; and that we will in all things follow the advice of our General Committee respecting the purposes aforesaid, the preservation of peace and good order, and the safety of individuals and property.”
My information is second-hand. I have read reports authored by a Philip Teeter, who digested the genealogical works of Henry Jones and Anne Cassidy, who did examine records and conduct primary research. I have perused countless public trees and genealogical message boards. I am satisfied that I have a profile, a bundle of clues, connecting my grandmother’s great-grandmother, Nancy Teater, to the Palatines of New York. Imagine the many tongues that have spoken the hard initial consonant and repeated the germanic vowel; Teater, Teeter, Tieter, Thaeter, Dieder, Dother, Däther = optimistic colonial pioneer.
Source used by most of my sources: Jones, Henry. “Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710.” 1985.