Who Was Wilber Thomas Dayton, Sr?

DFH Volume 1 Issue 13

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Wilber & Jessie Belle Dayton
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Wilber was the patriarch of all the modern-day Daytons in our lineage.  Nearly all the people featured in this newsletter, and the subscription list for this newsletter, descend from him.  He was born October 30, 1870, on Hadley Hill, in Saratoga County, New York, to Charles and Nancy Dayton.  He didn’t have much of a childhood.  He was forced to become an adult when he was orphaned at the age of 13.  In those days, there were no government social services or welfare programs.  So, he and 3 of his 4 siblings ran the family farm in order to survive.  His older brother Jim, two younger sisters, Jennie and Carrie and he lived together at the farm.  The sibling’s oldest brother, Delbert had moved to Iowa so he was unavailable to help them.  Family lore has it that Wilber quit school when he was 13.  The teacher ran out of new material towards the end of the school year and so started teaching the same material over again.  Wilber had “learned that already” so he decided he had more important things to do.  According to his daughter, Flossie, he once stopped going to church one summer because he didn’t have any shoes to wear.  Wilber stayed at the farm until he was married to Jessie Belle White on August 31, 1904.

After he and his siblings sold the farm, he had enough assets to buy and sell several properties around Hadley, Luzerne and Corinth. They settled down at Mechanic St. in Corinth around 1920.  In his early life, he mainly cut pulp wood and sold it to International Paper Company in Corinth.  Paul marvels at the fact that Wilber cut all the pulpwood with an axe.  No saw.  No machines! He must have had extraordinary strength and endurance. My dad called him, “all man.”  Later, he was employed by the paper company in Corinth where he worked until he was in his 70’s.  Wilber never owned or drove a car.  He never even had a driver’s license.  He did have a horse and buggy until probably about 1915-1920.  At one point, he had a horse named Pontiac that ran away.  Grampa knew right where to search—down the road a short distance a water trough had summoned his errant beast.  He was thirsty.  

He and Jessie reared five children.  In birth order, they were Florence (Flossie), Charles (Chop), Chester (Chip), Wilber Jr. (Wib), and Paul.  Wilber and Jessie and their children were faithful members of the Wesleyan Methodist church in Corinth. Wilber never had an opportunity to learn social skills, because he wasn’t around adults growing up, he was shy and withdrawn his entire life.  Some, including my dad (Paul), suspected that he may have also suffered from clinical depression.  Unwelcome personality traits are often misinterpreted or ignored.

The following is a page from his pastor’s diary, written at that time, clarifying some of the behavior he often exhibited.  This is what he said about Wilber:

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I can’t imagine grampa was offended by his pastor.  My belief is that grampa had several psychiatric conditions, which manifested themselves in some of his undesirable behaviors. At that moment, grampa was frightened by people. So was his daughter Flossie, who quit school teaching, her love and passion for many years, because she had an inability to cope. I have struggled with similar reactions to stressful situations and are well aware of the merciful benefits of medication. Full acceptance of a need, and the availability of services and treatment for personality disorders is fairly recent.

This tempers my personal take on grandpa’s episode with his pastor.  People often let mental issues fester and simmer without seeking treatment; the issues don’t get better, and they don’t go away. It’s possible that we Dayton’s have a predisposition to malfunctions of many types, inherited from Wilber Dayton, Sr.  I hope you will forgive me for making that observation about our family, but it needs to be said and understood.

Wilber left the family rearing and discipline to Jessie Belle, who he called “Jess”.  He was an extraordinarily good gardener (see Volume 1 Issue 1 of this weekly newsletter).  I remember his well-stocked food staples in a separate room in his root cellar.  Wilber was well known around the small mill town of Corinth, with a reputation for honesty and a hard work ethic.  He died July 18, 1957 at his home. His death certificate sites hypertension-Cardiovascular Disease as the cause of death.  That may be medical jargon for saying he died of old age. He was an honorable man who “wore himself out!”  A crowd attended his viewing in the living room of Paul Dayton’s home, including the Roman Catholic priest who mentioned what an industrious man of integrity he was.  I know it’s fashionable to say something like that of the dead.  The big difference in this case, though, is that he was!

At Wilber and Jessie’s passing, here is their parental scorecard …their legacy:

  • Flossie-School teacher -A.B. degree from what was to become SUNY/Albany;
  • Charles-pastor and superintendent of his northern district;
  • Chester-Business Entrepreneur, co-owner of Dayton Brother’s Sawmill;
  • Wilber-Th.D.-Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, theologian, professor, pastor, writer, lecturer;
  • Paul-Business Entrepreneur, co-owner of Dayton Brother’s Sawmill.

Not bad for poorly educated, poverty level, orphaned child/man.  How could it happen? In a Christ-centered home with integrity, generosity, consistency and LOVE!

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