Thursday, May 13, 2021

"A High-toned Christian Gentleman"


Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Wm E. Ijams Son of [J]. H. Ijams one riding horse, bridle and saddle if living...


While William Edwin Ijams was not the first of his siblings mentioned in his uncle Isaac Ijams' will, he was the oldest, thus first, at least, in our review of the family. By the time his uncle Isaac drew up his will—signed by Isaac on 12 September 1845—William would have been not quite fifteen years of age.

I like to think that perhaps that gesture of kindness from an uncle contributed to the life story which unfolded for this nephew. It certainly echoed in the story of William's younger brother, as we'll see in a few days.

Born December 16, 1830, to Isaac's brother Joseph and his wife—likely an Ijams cousin—Mary Ann, William spent his early years in the same county in Ohio where his father and uncles had settled after leaving their home in Maryland. Before the time of the 1850 census, though, Joseph and his family had moved to Morgan County—a matter of only two counties to the east of Fairfield County, but enough of a distance, perhaps, for Isaac to be unsure whether his younger brother's son was still living.

From the Joseph Ijams family's residence in McConnelsville, at some point William entered school across the state border at a Pennsylvania institution which eventually became known as Washington and Jefferson College. From a biographical sketch published on the occasion of his graduating class' quarter-century reunion in 1877, we learn that William was considered "a high toned Christian gentleman...quiet and unobtrusive, yet sociable and genial" as well as "an excellent student." He had apparently entered the class in his junior year.

By the time of the 1860 census, William had married—to Elizabeth Culbertson in 1856—and relocated to Iowa City, along with his parents and younger brother, also named Joseph. There, William was listed as a teacher.

That detail, however, tells only part of the story, for William was in Iowa by at least 1854. During that earlier year, William had opened a private school in Iowa City for deaf students. Looking closely at the 1860 census, you can spot on the far right column the coding "D+D" for the two students lodging in the Ijams home, indicating they were deaf.

During that year of 1854, William presented his students at an Iowa Hall of Representatives assembly and, along with the politically active deaf advocate Edmund Booth, lobbied the state to establish a school for the deaf. Early the next year, the state established what is now known as the Iowa School for the Deaf, and William served as the school's superintendent for nine years.

Following that service, William turned his attention to the studies of theology, and was ordained a minister in 1865. He served as pastor at several locations, first in Presbyterian congregations, eventually accepting positions in Congregational churches. Though his ministry led him as far as California, he returned to serve in a congregation in Iowa City by 1879.

Even though William died childless in 1893, it is quite certain he bestowed a legacy through his service, as we'll see when we continue with the story of his younger siblings, particularly with the history of his brother Joseph next week.


  1. What a wonderful story you found!

    1. Yes...and it gets even better. Makes me want to fly to Knoxville and do some research!


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