Monday, April 14, 2008

Biographical Sketch of Ira Joy Stoddard 1820 - 1916

Ira Joy Stoddard was the Barrett Brother's gggrandfather. His daughter was Bertha Stoddard Whitney. Her daughter was Edith Whitney Whitson. Her daughter was Bertha Whitson Barrett - the Barrett Brother's mother.

Ira Joy was the second son of Ira Child Stoddard and Charlotte Electa Joy Stoddard, and the first born after their move to New York state. His father had gone to western New York state several years previously to scout out the possibilities. He wrote a pamphlet to encourage migration. He spoke and sold land for the Holland Land company throughout northern New England. He married during this time back in Vermont, but returned at least once to New York before he went back to Vermont to bring his family. “The year without summer” encouraged (or forced) many northern New England farmers to leave. He brought them to a new town named Eden. He became the pastor of the Baptist church there, and also served as singing master. Ira Child’s mother, Molly Salisbury had had a beautiful voice and had a repertoire of many hundreds of songs, primarily hymns. Ira Joy was raised in a family where there was much music and singing, as well as a very enthusiastic Christian faith. The Stoddards had been an early American Baptist family. The other early influence was his grandfather Jacob Stoddard, who told stories of his Revolutionary War experiences. He was at the Battle of Bunker Hill as a 16 year old and was very sure that every one of his 10 bullets had brought down a “John Bull”; as a tall, well-built, good looking young man he had attracted the attention of George Washington and had served in his honor guard. He revered Washington’s memory.

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.

According to his daughter Bertha Ira was a gentle and loving nurse. He was the one who stayed home to care for sick children, because Drusilla felt that her work as a teacher had to adhere to a more regular schedule than his preaching. So he was the one who nursed the children through smallpox (Bertha had pockmarks on her face) and cholera. In fact, he wished to attend medical school when he went on furlong, but the mission board said he had to spend all of that time, traveling and preaching to raise money for missions.

Sometimes his missionary work included protecting the people from predatory tigers. Villages where tigers were attacking livestock and people would send for him to shoot the tiger. Having grown up on the frontier and having hunted to provide meat for the family table, equipped him well for this role.

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.

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.

According to his granddaughters, Ira was a very neat man, who could automatically straighten a room as he walked through it. One quotation I have heard is that he would come downstairs and when asked where his wife was, would say, “She’s upstairs reading and knitting. And the faster she reads, the faster she knits, and the faster she knits, the faster she reads.”

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.