1841: Charlotte Electa Stoddard to Ira Joy Stoddard

Busti, New York

This letter was written by Charlotte Electa [Joy] Stoddard (1795-1886), the wife of Ira Child Stoddard (1792-1878). She wrote the letter to her son, Ira Joy Stoddard (1820-1916) while he was attending the Hamilton Literary & Theological Institute in Hamilton, Madison County, New York.

Ira’s father was an agent for the Holland Land company and wrote a pamphlet encouraging settlers to relocate to western New York. Not long after their marriage, Ira and Charlotte relocated from Vermont to a new town named Eden, New York, where Ira became the pastor of the Baptist church and also served as singing master. In 1825, the Stoddards moved to Busti, Chataugua County, New York, where Ira became the pastor of the Baptist Church. Ira Joy Stoddard, their son, was raised in a family where there was much music and singing, as well as a very enthusiastic Christian faith.

Ira Joy Stoddard

“Ira Joy Stoddard graduated from the theology Department of Madison University (later called Colgate Univ. in Hamilton New York) in 1847. He planned to immediately go over seas to join in foreign mission work. He married Drusilla Allen who was also intent on becoming a missionary. For their honeymoon, they sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Calcutta. They then traveled on to Nowgong, where Drusilla and Ira took over the running of an orphan school for boys and girls. Ira had a passionate desire to save heathen souls, to teach the gospel message and baptize converts.His interest in languages led him not only to translate scripture into Assamese but to produce a written language for his beloved Garo tribesmen so they could read the Bible in their own language. Adult literacy as well as schools for children became part of their work. After nine years in the field they returned on furlong, to recover their health. They found they were needed at Central College, a Baptist school being started by Dutch Baptists in Pella, Iowa. Ira preached in the local church, worked on his translations. Drusilla was the head of the college’s Women’s Department.

The Stoddards and one of their church elders (Bennet Whitney) collaborated on caring for and passing on Underground Railroad passengers who came their way. One of the strategies was to use to other’s horse and buggy: if the Stoddard’s horse was at home, Ira Joy would be gone with the horse and buggy of Bennet Whitney. To the searching slave catcher that would give the appearance of Ira being out making calls on foot. In 1860, Ira and another teacher from the college attended the Republican Convention in Chicago.

Ira Joy Stoddard with two of his children

In the early difficult days of the college in Pella, the Stoddards used some of their own savings to keep the college afloat financially. In 1866 they returned to Assam, to carry on the work among the Garo tribesmen. The girls stayed in the United States to continue their education, Ira Joy, Jr. returned to India with his parents. When the illness that lost Drusilla her hearing, made it difficult to stay in Assam, she returned to Pella and Central College leaving her husband and son behind. Ira Joy continued preaching, teaching, baptizing converts, and working on translations. In the 1870s, Ira returned to Pella. He attempted to return one last time to Assam but was turned down for medical reasons. Ira Joy Stoddard settled into life in Pella again, serving as minister to the Baptist congregation there and working on translations. His translation of the Bible was so well done, that in the 1980s it was still in use.

In 1904, the Stoddards finally closed down their household in Pella and went to live with their daughter Bertha’s family in Plainfield, New Jersey. He continued for the next twelve years of his life to write and to translate religious works. Many visitors came to see them: people they had known in the mission field; students from Pella; even some students Drusilla had had when she taught on the Indian reservation before she was married; relatives; and American Baptists who honored them and their work.

Mrs. Drusilla Stoddard and son

After the death of his wife in 1913, he missed her terribly. When he went to church with the family, he found the Baptist minister they had then a little too formal for his liking; The minister did not like any unprogrammed input—prayers or testimony– from the the congregation. The family was told that if they couldn’t keep the old man perfectly quiet during the service – no saying “amen”, he should be kept home. Ira Joy choose to go for walks during the church hour, and so discovered a Baptist church more to his liking, — a Negro church. Three years after the death of his wife, Ira came home one day from his walk and told his daughter that he was going to bed, and he wasn’t going to get up again. He choose to take no solid food during the next two weeks. It was the members of the Negro Baptist church that he welcomed to his bedside to sit beside him, read the gospel and pray.

Upon Ira’s death, the minister at the First Baptist Church was glad to have the honor of having the funeral there, with all the visiting Baptist dignitaries, but wanted to refuse the family’s request that the minister from the Negro Church take part in the service. Ira’s son-in-law Henry Whitney had a rather forceful argument with him about this. It ended with the membership of the Negro church being allowed in and the minister sitting on the stage with the other ministers involved in the ceremony, and being the one to offer the closing prayer. Ira’s body was taken to Pella to be buried beside Drusilla and his granddaughter Alice.” Source: Ancestry.com

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Ira J. Stoddard, Hamilton Literary & Theological Institute, Hamilton, Madison County, New York

Busti, [Chautaugua County, New York]
March 2d 1841

Dear Ira,

Today we have received and read your letter to Eder Chapin in which we had a share. It was quite a relief to our feelings to learn that your health was good, and I hope we shall all feel that it is of God’s distinguishing goodness that you have been kept from a sick and dying bed, among strangers far away from home. It is quite a dying time in this region. Yet there is no prevailing sickness. Our folks forgot to mention in our last the death of Aunt Charity Frank. Ira has just started for Drewsburg to be gone until next week. I was glad to hear from aunt Eliza and to learn than another of her family have been brought to love the Savior. O! what encouragement we have to pray. I was glad too to hear from Veranda.

Wednesday 10th. Today the Missionary Board have again met here together with others and formed a ministerial conference. Elder Dodge was expected to preach but did not come. Elder Rathbone preached. Elder Alvord stay with us tonight. Uncle Silas and wife have made us a visit.

Wednesday 17th. Last Thursday Pa, Charlotte, & myself went to Mayville and were detained there until today by a March snowstorm. Sunday afternoon, Pa preached for Elder Dodge. In the afternoon, a colored man preached and took a collection for the institution for colored people at Rochester. They have been holding a protracted meeting at U. which has resulted in quite a revival — some twenty or thirty have been immersed. While we were gone, Solomon harnessed his bay colt with one of Alfred A__’s grays, went to the mill, [and] left them a moment without hitching. They started and ran till they came to the steep hill beyond Mr. Tiffany’s where they ran off the bank and killed Alfred’s horse dead on the spot.

Sunday, 21st. Pa at Ashville today. Ira, I have some painful news to announce if you do not hear of it before this reaches you. Elder Scofield has fallen perhaps never more to rise. Some six or seven years ago, he had a young woman living in his family whom he had partly brought up. He wa apt to attempt the abuse of her chastity. He saw saw his guilt, confessed, asked her forgiveness, and received it. Since then she has married into a family connected with the Bishop party, to whom she has disclosed it, and they spare no pains to circulate it and present it in the most glaring colors. He has confessed far as he thinks or feels that he is guilty, and is almost crazy. Some think it will kill him. You cannot imagine the shock of the ministers and churches have felt in this region and Ira, it has increased my anxiety for you an hundred fold. O, I do entreat you to keep yourself pure in thought and words, and then you will be more likely to in deed. Do not allow yourself to converse on subjects calculated to excite the passions to impurity. O, how we should fear to indulge even the thought of doing what God has forbidden. How important that we should keep trying to get a little nearer to God that he may hide us in his pavilion when the storms of temptation threaten.

April 1st. Since writing the above, we have made Elder Scofield a visit together with Elders Swain and Chapin. We found him like Job — sitting among the ashes and potshards of the earth (in spirits), yet we found that the nature of the crime had been very much exaggerated in the report that had gone out. But it has gone out from such a fountain or combination of persecution that we know not where it will end.

I hardly know what to advise you in regard to vacation. Pa thinks you had better not go out to work unless you can find some employment that will not expose your health. If you go into a school, or something like that, perhaps you can go out to Uncle’s and make a visit for a week or so, and rest a little from your studies, and then spend the rest of the time in study if no better way opens. I have not written such a letter as I contemplated when I began. The sickness of the children has taken almost all my time and attention for three weeks past. Lusally is better. I have taken a letter from this church to unite with the church in Jamestown. The interest in religion has considerably abated here. We have not heard from Eden since Mr. ___ was out. [Benjamin] Franklin Kidder is going to move in to Pennsylvania near Meadville. Is in a hurry to be going and I must close. “Acknowledge God in all thy ways and He will direct you in all your paths.”  — Charlotte Stoddard

March 4. Ira, we are sugaring off today. We would be very glad to have you call and take a little. March 8th. This evening a few of us rode to Mr. Davis’ to hear the organ. It is much better than Uncle Alfred [Stoddard’s]. They are well. 18th. We went to Mayville today. Went to old Mr. [Jabez] Burrows to stay all night. 19th. Mr. Burrows took down to the county house. ¹ There were 108 paupers, some crazy, some blind, some sick, and one dead man. It was a sight that cannot be described on paper. The next Tuesday we went down to Mr. Pabes Burrows. There we heard some beautiful music. He has a piano, violin, accordion, & flute. The music of the piano is sweet. Indeed, much better than the organ. It exceeds all music I ever heard. Thursday, we came home. We rode from Mayville home without stopping. I was completely tired out but have got rested. I have not walked only over to J. Franks since last November. Prods up to Win Franks. March 31. I had a good visit. Aunt Christine sends her best respects to you. Elder Swain lives with Mr. J. Frank’s family. We have had a singing school here this winter and have some good singing now but some of the church are very much tried about it. Oren has written Margret, Catherine, and Harriet. I read it and counted more than 40 mistakes. I would give considerable could I write down some of Hiram’s actions. He is sport for us and every one that comes in. He reads in two syllables.

Ezra Abbott’s oldest child is dead. O & H have been quite sick with the scarlet fever but are better. Lucy is quite sick. We have 15 geese — one is setting on 13 eggs. April 5. Pa is making a stone boat. The boys are in the sugar bush. Mrs. Cowdin has gone to Mr. J. Frank’s. She has accused us of stealing her flour, wood, &c. We have some new neighbors by the [name] of [Norman] Backus. ² A Mr. Reed works Mr. Miller’s farm. Mr. Bool works J. Frank’s farm. Mary Howe, formerly Mary Smith, has moved up beyond Shepperd Davises. We expect Oren back in May. Every one almost asks if he is coming after Catherine Smith. You had better look out.

Pa has sold Maj. to Therin Parmeter for $50. Ansel says tell you we have got 15 hogs, 47 sheep, 25 horned cattle, 5 horses. Our best respects. S. D. E. sends her love to you. Have I written little things enough? We shall look for a family informer in a few weeks. I must close. Pa is in a hurry to go to Jamestown. — Charlotte E. Stoddard


¹ The “County House” that Charlotte refers to in her letter was the county poor house, erected in Mayville in 1832. She wrote of it: “There were 108 paupers, some crazy, some blind, some sick, and one dead man. It was a sight that cannot be described on paper.”

² Probably Norman Bachus (1803-1875). He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad according to Chataugua County records. His obituary notice appeared in the 12 March 1873 issue of the Jamestown Journal: BACKUS, at Busti, March1, 1875, NORMAM BACKUS, aged 71 years. His wife died a few weeks ago. His last words were, “I am going to see mother.”


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