Monday, May 17, 2021

In his Brother's Footsteps


Item: I give and bequeath to Joseph Henry Harrison my nephew and son of [J.] H. Ijams all the balance of the proceeds of my real, personal or mixed estate of which I may be possessed at my death and which shall remain after paying the above specified legacies as named in this will.

It was 1845 when Isaac Ijams drew up his will, granting legacies to his wife and her son—Isaac's stepson, as he had no children of his own—and bequeathing the remainder to various nephews living in the extended Ijams family's adopted home in Fairfield County, Ohio.

Not forty years later, the youngest of his brother Joseph's sons—also named Joseph, who received the most generous proportion of his uncle's estate—was dead. But in that dash between the junior Joseph Ijams' birth in 1840 and his death in 1882, he lived a life which gave to others in three widely removed locations. His was a legacy which sprang from following in the footsteps of his own brother's example. And, oddly enough, it is likely from that younger Ijams descendant's life that we even know how to pronounce that unusual surname.

At the time of his uncle Isaac Ijams' passing, the junior Joseph was barely five years of age. How his uncle would have been prescient enough to foretell the child's future, I can't say—or perhaps specifically due to the generous legacy the younger Joseph was about to receive, it made such a future possible for the boy.

As it turned out, not only his uncle's generosity, but the influence poured into his life by others in his family likely shaped his shortened life. For whatever reason, by the time of the 1850 census, Joseph Henry Harrison Ijams and his family had left Fairfield County, where the extended Ijams clan had migrated from Maryland, to settle in Ohio's Morgan County. There, as had occurred to his older brother, the family of Joseph's future spouse had also settled—although by 1850, his future bride was a mere three years of age.

Predictably, when Joseph's family later moved from Ohio to Iowa City, Joseph moved with them. By the time of the 1860 census, Joseph was in his brother William's household, along with the extended family. At age nineteen, he was listed as a student, and we discover from other records why: Joseph H. H. Ijams was attending classes at the University of Iowa.

At the close of the upheaval of the American Civil War, Joseph could be found in Washington, D. C., where he was in the employ of an organization then known as the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. That was in 1865, after he had been appointed as an instructor and moved from his teaching position at his brother's school in Iowa City to the nation's capital.

The Columbia Institution was then under the direction of Edward Miner Gallaudet, son of the renowned educator, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, for whom the college-level division of the Columbia Institution later took its name as Gallaudet College and, eventually, Gallaudet University.

Joseph did not remain at his instructor's post in Washington, D. C., for long. An opportunity beckoned when, at the close of the war, a similar institution in Tennessee decided to re-open its doors. By 1867, Joseph was listed as principal of the Tennessee School for the deaf in Knoxville.

On June 29, 1868, in Knoxville, Joseph made some matrimonial promises to the young girl who had, back in 1850, lived in the same county in Ohio as Joseph's family. 

The wedding vows were solemnized, likely, by Mary Aiken's father William, a Presbyterian minister.

The young Ijams family grew with the addition of their firstborn son in the following year, and three more children by the time of the 1880 census. For the youngest, however—Caroline, born in June of 1882—Joseph would not even amount to a hazy memory; by the Christmas holiday of that same year, her father would be suddenly gone.

Above image of Isaac Ijams' will courtesy of, and images of the Joseph Ijams and Mary Aiken marriage record courtesy of


  1. Did I miss a story explaining this family’s interest in and dedication to the deaf?

    1. Wendy, this should fill in some of the blanks for you: Joseph's older brother William was co-founder of a school in Iowa City which eventually became the Iowa School for the Deaf. I suspect that was the school Joseph was teaching at when he was appointed to the position of instructor in Washington, D.C.

    2. OK that’s what I understood. I wondered if there was some family member who was deaf that might explain why they started a school for the deaf. Maybe they just saw a need?

    3. Interesting that you bring that up, Wendy. I had noticed one odd indication in the 1870 census, but didn't see it repeated in any other enumeration: that Joseph had a stray (?) mark in the column indicating a variety of conditions, including being deaf--as did several others on the same page. However, looking to the bottom of the page, where the students were listed, the column actually bore the entry, "D+D" rather than just a tick mark. At this point, I actually don't have the slightest idea what drew him to this specialization.


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