Looking Back: Diary of Danville man's ancestor finds its way home
The Rev. Neal McDougal Gordon¿s pastorship at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church began in 1841 and served for 26 years. (Photo/Brenda S. Edwards / October 2, 2011)
Neal Gordon of Danville got the ancient book Sept. 11 during the annual reunion at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Jessamine County.
The diary was found in the library of Bayless Memorial Presbyterian Church in Grayson more than 20 years ago, and was believed to have been written by the Rev. John Clark Bayless, for whom the church is named.
However, the true author was discovered using information from the document and microfilmed records of the ship on which Gordon made the return voyage.
A request to the Presbyterian Historical Society for information about Rev. Gordon yielded the sketch, which confirmed his attendance at the London Conference.
Bayless and Rev. Gordon were contemporaries, but the circumstances under which the diary came to the church library remain unknown.
During a trip to Kentucky many years ago, Walt and Judy Bayless of Bellingham, Wash., were in Grayson, Ky., and joined in the worship service at the church. They accepted the minister’s gracious invitation to have dinner at his home.
It was during this visit that the minister gave Walt Bayless a diary, which he said had been written by John Clark Bayless.
“You can imagine how thrilled we were,” Bayless said.
John Clark was Walt’s great-great-grandfather.
“The handwriting proved a challenge to decipher, but we diligently transcribed the diary into the computer,” Bayless said. “It wasn’t long before certain references in the diary didn’t fit with the details that we knew of John Clark Bayless’ life.”
The diary didn’t include a name or year. All the entries began simply with month and day, and the author always noted each Sunday as “the Sabbath.”
The first entry was on May 21, when Gordon left for Cincinnati. He arrived the next day, and an entry said he met two old friends he had not seen since 1837. The entry gave them the first clue as to a year when the diary was begun.
The second clue was a June 7 entry, which read, “One year ago today, my beloved Martha was taken sick.”
The Baylesses knew nothing of a Martha and wondered if possibly she was a first wife who no one knew about. John Clark Bayless married wife Rosa Lewis in 1843 — so when might he have had this other family?
“Now we were determined to find out the year it was written,” Bayless said. “Our next hint came from his visit to what is now Washington, D.C. The diary entry read, ‘Went over to Washington City. Saw John Q. Adams, D. Webster, John C. Calhoun and other distinguished men.’”
Bayless said she turned to the encyclopedia to look for common dates when all three men were in Washington, and narrowed it down to 1837-1848.
The June 8th entry gave them the first indication of his destination: “Went on board the ship Mediator bound for London.”
Another clue came with his entry that the Oregon difficulty had been settled. Then came a reference to the Mexican-American War with this entry: “I learn that our countrymen have taken possession of California. It seems a revolution is going on in Mexico. Santa Anna is probably in power by this time. I fear for such an extension of our country.”