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)!!
I want to thank Nick at the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society in Janesville, Wisconsin, for his help in retrieving the following obituary in the Sabbath Recorder, volume 22: issue 18, p. 71.
In Wellsville, N.Y.; February 24th, 1866, Mrs. SARAH SAYLES, wife of Christopher Sayles, in the 72nd year of her age. She was a member of the Protestant Methodist Church, and adorned her profession by a godly life. Her end was one of triumph over the terrors of death and the grave. She leaves eight children, and twelve brothers and sisters, being the first to die out of her father’s family of children, the youngest of whom is fifty-three.
A quick read of this paragraph reveals my great-great-great-grandmother Sayles to have been a godly woman; a wife, a mother and sister. The second read through tickles my curiosity. With its choice of the word “wife”, the author communicates that Sarah was survived by her husband Christopher Sayles, with whom she had had eight children. The author also states that Sarah died in Wellsville. I know from other family records that the couple had lived much of their adult lives in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. What, then, was Sarah doing living across the New York state border, in Allegany County?
START WITH THE FACTS AND CHASE THE TALE
The 1865 New York State census marked the trail head to this mystery path: Sarah and Christopher were sharing a home with their daughter, Rhobe Sayles Crandall.
This discovery pushed me to flush out Sarah’s other seven children and her twelve brothers and sisters. Family historian and cousin, Sharon B, fed me data crumbs which aided my search, and I reread a transcribed The History of Tioga County (Pennsylvania) on Joyce Tice’s site, Tri-Counties Genealogy and History. Now my trail was well blazed.
THE FAMILY TREE OF SARAH KING SAYLES
Sarah and Christopher were born and married in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and they moved to Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1825. Here they raised eight children to adulthood: Ira (my great-great-grandfather), Rhobe (Crandall), Priscilla (died at age 2), James King, Christopher Loren, Martha (Pickett), Philander, Keziah King (Batcheller), and Adriel King.
Many of Sarah’s siblings were among the residents of Tioga County, as her parents had also migrated from Rhode Island to Tioga County in 1825. James and Merrobe (Roby) Howland King had thirteen children: Prince, Allen, Eddy, Ozial, Sarah (Sayles), John, James, Keziah (Crandall), William H, Hannah, Roby, Adriel, and Almon, who being the youngest, was just 53 at Sarah’s death.
Newspaper notices capture the facts of a life.
Sarah King Sayles passed from this earth on a Saturday, the 24th of February 1866. That fact, and the reference to all those who shed tears upon learning the news, is easily transmitted in newsprint.
But who was Sarah, really? I am left with as many questions as Sarah had siblings. How did Christopher and Sarah contribute to their children’s household? Where did her siblings reside? How much time passed before they knew of her death? Her obituary states that she adorned her profession with a godly life. How did Sarah practice her faith? Did any of her children serve in the Civil War? How did that affect her? As she triumphed over the terrors of death, did she suffer a lingering illness?
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.
One of the all-time best inventions of the human mind, in my humble opinion, is the map. Whether ink to paper or pixels to screen, maps represent reality as seen from the cartographer’s point of view. Beyond the accurate recording of topography and societal infrastructure, map makers convey all sorts of information, depending on who has paid their salary! Display all the gas wells in Allegany County! List all the businesses of the Whitesville! Differentiate between a dirt road, a tiny local road and the main state road.
One of my favorite sites lets me explore the world according to my ancestors. Historic Map Works lets you browse United States, World or Antiquarian maps by searching with a Keyword, Family Name or Address. I wanted to know what a map could tell me about my ancestors, Ira and Serena Sayles, in the 1860s when I know they lived in three separate towns in south central New York.
Using the keywords ALLEGANY COUNTY NEW YORK my query returned a treasure: The Atlas of Allegany County, published by D. G. Beers and Company in 1869. Each page of the atlas has been digitised, and can be opened for expanded viewing.
This page of Alfred Center shows my great-great-grandmother’s home, The Gothic. According to records this house was sold and the proceeds used to purchase a farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, shortly after the publication of this atlas.
Interestingly, I also found Serena Sayle’s name on a property in the township of Independence and her husband’s name, Ira, on a property in Rushford, where he was the principal of Rushford Academy.
With a subscription to Historic Map Works I can download and print these maps out, further exploring Ira and Serena’s world; who did they live next to, what stores might they have shopped in, how far did they travel in going about their daily lives? All these details, from a map.