Weekly Scribe: Ira Sayles to Edwin B Hall, 1884

Today I transcribed this letter posted from my 2x great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, to his long time friend, Edwin B. Hall, at the end of June, 1884. I suspect that the friends first met in the 1860s after Ira’s sister, Rhobe Sayles Crandall, moved with their elderly parents to Wellsville (Allegany County, New York) where Hall ran a drugstore. Ira’s visits to check in on sister and parents would have provided opportunity for the two men to meet, and share their enthusiasm over all things geological. Both men collected rock and fossil specimens as citizen scientists; and Ira parlayed that hobby into a job with the newly developed United States Geological Survey in 1883. The Hall-Sayles friendship continued throughout Ira’s tenure. I am grateful to Jay Woelfle for sharing his 2x great-grandfather’s keepsakes with me.

A few days ago, the Mail Carrier laid on my table a package. On opening it, I might have imagined, but didn’t, that all the Wellsville typeclingers had suddenly fallen in love with me.  Some articles had pencil marks around them. The one from Mr. Rude reveals some curiosities relative to Prof. [J.L.] Burritt, and his management of the Academic Department of Wellsville Graded School. I have known some men similar to the one hinted at by Mr. Rude. Still I have seen the public run gaping after these very men. The truth is, that the general public is utterly unqualified to sit in judgement on really well educated intellect. A man with brass and endless variety of sweetened palaver can talk popular approval of any folly his fancy may choose, into the popular head. In educational matters, as in Religion and Politics, the blind lead the blind, unquestioned, and, even if questioned, the popular shield sufficiently protects the arraigned idol.

I know absolutely nothing of Prof. Burritt; but I suspect that Rude knows his man.

I discover that Wellsville rejoices in a New Light—The Free Press!  Does A.N.C.1 shine through its columns? If it lack his vast illuminating powers, ‘twill, possibly, prove an Ignis Fatuus3. A.N.C. and the great E. B.2 have shed such floods of thin light in Alleghany County that the people ought to erect a rival Washington’s Monument on their highest hill, to commemorate their appreciation of such wondrous services.

By the way and apropos, Washington’s Monument is becoming quite a respectable pillar. It has already attained the height of 470 feet above the foundation. In two months more, it is expected to reach 500 feet, from which point a new slope will bring it to a terminus, at the height of 555feet—the highest work ever erected by man: still how insignificantly small, compared with the huge pyramids of Egypt! The base of this monument is 55 feet: its walls, at the base, are fifteen feet thick, leaving, thus, twenty five feet of open space inside the walls.

In my judgement, its site is most unfortunate. Why it was placed down on that low ground, I can not imagine, nor have I yet found the man wise enough to give me any light on that point. It is there, but why there, nobody seems to know. All admit the blunder, if one can call such the case a blunder. It must have been chosen for some fancied advantage; but what? That’s the question. As an American Citizen, I am ashamed of the location. I don’t suppose my protest will avail anything; but I protest, “all the same!”

1 A.N. Cole, editor locally known as the “Father” of the area’s Republican Party.

2 Perhaps a reference to E B Hall.

3 Noun: 1: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter. 2 : a deceptive goal or hope.

The Prayer-Centered Life of Florette Sayles Strickland

A most touching note came by snail mail last week.  My uncle, a darling man with a twinkling smile and gentle eyes, shared a memory of his mother, my grandmother.

“Mom went down on her knees beside her bed to pray,” he wrote, “EVERY night before going to sleep.  The attached is her adaptation of The Lord’s Prayer.” (copied in her hand sometime in November 1971)

Bartering for Black Gold : amanuensis Monday

The unlined paper was folded in half, then in half again.  The resulting seven by three inch rectangle bore no identifying notation.   I have reread the Wilson-Minor Land transactions (see post 1, post 2, and post 3) several times since first spreading this undated agreement out on my work table.  The deep brown ink now yields a message which I understand.

John P. Minor purchased 350 acres on Simpsons Creek, Harrison County, (West) Virginia from James P. Wilson and wife Rowena on October 25, 1841 (post 2).  This letter appears to be laying out the terms of payment for an adjacent tract– the 223 acres on Simpsons Creek, Harrison County, (West) Virginia sold to John P. Minor by James P. Wilson and wife Rowena on April 1, 1842 (post 3).

–the said Miner bonds himself to pay for the said land at thirteen dollars per acre in the following payments one thousand dollars in current bank paper of Virginia on or before the first of April next (*1) also one bay horse at eighty dollars down and the balance till paid at three hundred dollars per year and the P. Wilson agrees to let the horse be included in the second yearly payment .  Both parties bind themselves their heirs to comply and said Wilson further agrees to make a good deed when called on and the P Miner is to execute his notes for said land.  Wilson is to make a general warrantee (sic) deed clear of all encumberances (sic) except the coal bank in testimony hereof the parties bind them selves their heirs  this 26th of Oct 1841.

Jas. P. Wilson
John P. Miner

PS  the land mentioned in this contract is to be used as the land bought in a former contract Miner is to have Wilsons interest in D. D. Wilsons coal bank on the hill P. Miner is to allow P Wilson the privilege of passing through his land to his the p Wilsons land lying above for all family purposes so wilson to keep up the gaps and not injure P Miner.

How interesting that this land is to be purchased with two forms of stored value–bank notes backed by the state of Virginia and a bay horse.  There was no national currency in 1841, and a hodgepodge of financial mechanisms and payment systems filled the vacuum. I am tempted to digress into the whole interplay of banking, bartering and currency issues of our antebellum nation, but I fear that that subject deserves its own blog–or several blog posts, at the very least.

It is also interesting to note the lack of convention in both spelling and punctuation. Though it makes for some tough reading, I believe by staying true to the original author I convey the message and provide a little clue about the  mental landscape in which our ancestors lived.

(*1)   1 April 1842.