For my Veterans Day post, let me introduce you to Samuel J. Patterson, my great-great-grandfather. Like another second great-grandfather, James Archer, he fought in the American Civil War on the Union side. Also like James, he survived the war.
He was born on June 28, 1844 in Berwick, Columbia County, PA. His parents were Anthony J Patterson (1818-1894) and Elizabeth Snyder (1811-1883). The 1840 Census list Anthony, Elizabeth, and a girl (Mary) and boy (Simon), both under 10, as “free colored persons.”
However, the 1850 Census lists the whole family, including Samuel, his slightly older sister Catherine, and 20 year-old Joseph, a “boatman,” as mulatto. Elizabeth Snyder, possibly formerly Schneider, may have been Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch). My father’s gene pool was 18% from England and northwest Europe.
The book African Americans in the Wyoming Valley 1778-1990 by Emerson Moss describes the Pattersons as one of the first African American family in the area. In a page 2 story in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader on March 24, 1930, it states that he worked on the canal as a young man.
Samuel’s enlistment date was January 8, 1864, in Boston. He was listed as 5’4 1/2″ tall with black hair and eyes, and had been working as a laborer. Times Leader: “Being enthused with the desire to liberate his enslaved fellow countrymen, Mr. Patterson seized the first opportunity to enlist and joined” the 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Calvary (Colored). He was a private in Company C. The unit was “organized at Camp Meigs, Readville. The battalion moved to Washington, D. C.. then to Camp Casey, near Fort Albany in early May, 1864.”
Why is this significant? “During the American Civil War’s final years, a Union base in Northern Virginia trained hundreds of African American soldiers to fight to end slavery, one of only a few such bases inside a Confederate state. But, Camp Casey has nearly disappeared from history…”
The 1930 Times Leader story: “He was in the Battle of Petersburg, Va. from June 14 to 29, 1864 and was detailed as an orderly for gallantry at the capitulation of Richmond on April 3, ’65.” In June 1865, his unit was “ordered to Texas and duty at Clarksville till October. Mustered out October 31, 1865.”
In the 1870 Census, he had been married to Henrietta Jane Long since December 5, 1867 and they had two children.
By 1880, they had six kids, including Mary Eugenia (1878-1944), commonly called Jean, my great-grandmother. Eugenia would marry Samuel Walker in 1899 and have several children, the oldest of which was Agatha (1902-1964), my father’s mother.
Times Leader, 1930: “In 1880, [Samuel Patterson] took up bicycle repairing and boasted of having been the first negro in Wilkes-Barre to have ridden a bicycle.”
By 1900, Samuel is a tile setter, “one of the finest in this and Lackawanna County,” which he did for 30 years. He was also a plumber “being connected with the firm of B.G. Carpenter” for 20 years.
His Wilkes-Barre, PA, home was owned free and clear. Henrietta, his first wife, died in 1896. He married Sarah Jane Towns on November 29, 1899, but she died in 1904. Four children were home from ages 8 to 26 in 1900.
In 1910, Samuel was still setting tile, living with his new wife Sarah J. “Sadie” Bunley (b. 1868), who he married on May 31, 1908, in Pittsburgh, PA. Only his youngest child, Samuel George, 18, is still at home. By 1920, Samuel was retired and living with only Sadie.
Samuel J. Patterson died on March 23, 1930. He was 85 years, 9 months, and 25 days old, and listed as Wilkes-Barre’s “oldest Negro citizen.” He died from chronic myocarditis and was buried in Wilkes-Barre’s City Cemetery four days later.
The aforementioned newspaper article “Death Claims S.J. Patterson, G.A.R. Veteran” was subtitled “Former Well-Known Tiler and Plumber Answers Final Summons.” He was survived by his widow, six children, 25 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
I am told by a cousin of mine that there was an American Legion Lodge named after him back in the 1920s thru the ’40s. “For some reason it ended.”
The photo above is an undated of Samuel and his family, tweaked by Arthur.