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Several white men from Orleans served with ‘Colored Troops’ during the Civil War

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 23 March 2019 at 9:09 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 12

Maj. Marion Patterson, 22nd U.S.C.T. & 19th U.S.C.T.

The recent vote by the Hoag Library Board of Trustees to sell the 26th U.S. Colored Troops “National Color” in March has raised questions about local connections to that particular unit and other Colored Infantry regiments. U.S.C.T. regiments, established under the direction of the Bureau for Colored Troops, appointed white officers to lead black soldiers.

According to a dissertation entitled “The Selection and Preparation of White Officers for the Command of Black Troops in the American Civil War,” by Paul Renard, the government utilized various methods of electing officers to lead U.S.C.T. regiments. Early U.S.C.T. regiment officers were selected by a board of divisional officers while others were selected in a process similar to white regiments. Renard argues that the selection of officers through an examination board overseen by the Bureau for Colored Troops was the most effective method used.

Racism permeated throughout the Union Army, which refused equal pay to black soldiers and relegated segregated units to manual labor behind the front lines. Early efforts to allow freedmen and escaped slaves to enlist in the ranks of the Union Army were met with harsh opposition by political forces. Despite this, primary source evidence suggests that a large number of the commissioned officers appointed to lead these regiments held a degree of racial liberalism that was not seen in white regiments. Many white officers were abolitionists who believed in freedom and equal rights for the men they commanded. They viewed military service as a means for black soldiers to rise against their former masters; men who truly had something to fight for.

However, it is impossible to create a generalization considering that military life for men in segregated regiments was reminiscent of slavery; relegated to manual labor, and still under the command of a white master. Men within these regiments had no hope of working their way up the ranks, would never lead their own regiments, and yet their lives were at far greater risk than white enlisted soldiers. Still, it is worth calling attention to the complex relationship between white officers and the black soldiers they led. Perusing the pages of the local town clerks’ registers of Union soldiers, at least eight local men received commissions to lead black regiments; two of those men received commissions with the 26th U.S.C.T.

Charles Henry Mattison was born March 27, 1837, at Barre to Alvah Mattison and Orpha Bull. Raised on the farm in his hometown, Mattison enlisted with Company D of the 151st New York Infantry on September 9, 1861, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He received a commission as a second lieutenant with the regiment but turned it down, later receiving a commission with the 26th U.S.C.T. at the same rank. He reported for duty on January 14, 1864, and was later promoted to first lieutenant and adjutant. He was with his regiment during a skirmish at St. John’s Island on January 5, 1864, and the Battle of Bloody Bridge on July 7th when 1,000 soldiers of the 26th U.S.C.T. fought an inconsequential battle; 2,000 Confederate soldiers fended off a Union force of 8,000 men.

After the war, Mattison returned to Barre Center where he purchased a wagon and blacksmith shop. Three years later he purchased the farm of his father-in-law, Hiram Fargo. He was elected as the Barre Town Clerk after the war and was responsible for recording the names of those fellow soldiers who served in defense of the Union cause. He was elected Barre Town Supervisor and later to the NYS Assembly in 1878, serving in that position for one year. Upon his death on March 23, 1883, the Grand Army of the Republic Post in Albion held a large memorial service and for years after his death, the local post would memorialize the anniversary of his passing.

Harmon Leroy Salisbury was born around 1838 at Clarendon to George Salisbury and Amanda Annis. He enlisted with Company G of the 151st New York Infantry on August 26, 1862 at Clarendon. He remained with the regiment for just over one year, receiving a promotion to the rank of sergeant before his discharge on January 28, 1864, by reason of promotion to captain with the 26th U.S.C.T. Like Mattison, Salisbury was with the regiment at St. John’s Island and Bloody Bridge in July of 1864. After the war, Salisbury moved to Vienna, Virginia, where he purchased a large parcel of land. Valued at $16,500 in 1870, he split his land into lots and sold parcels to freedmen on easy credit and generous mortgages. He provided black workers with a fair living wage and donated a parcel of land for used as a cemetery by the black community in that area. He died in 1913 and was buried at Merrifield Cemetery in Merrifield, VA.

Marion Patterson, born May 11, 1840, at Clarendon to Calvin Patterson and Julia Ann Matson, enlisted as a private with the 13th New York Infantry at Rochester on April 30, 1861; he was discharged as a “minor” on September 7, 1861. He returned home to teach school for a year and enlisted with the 11th New York Heavy Artillery on his birthday in 1863. Unable to fill the full regimental quota, the unit was merged with the 4th New York Heavy Artillery and Patterson was promoted to the rank of sergeant. On December 9, 1863, he received an appointment as first lieutenant with the 22nd U.S.C.T. and later was appointed to fill a vacancy as captain with the 19th U.S.C.T.

According to one account, his promotion to captain came as the result of his daring rescue of the regimental colors during the Second Battle of Fair Oaks in October of 1864. At the end of the war, Patterson was placed on general court martial as a Judge Advocate, a position he held for some time. At the conclusion of his service, he returned to Western New York where he married his wife, Eliza Van Wagoner, at Lockport before relocating to Kansas in 1871. He worked a large farm there, raising livestock, and was elected to the Kansas State Legislature in 1891.

Wallace Myron Sterling, born June 26, 1840, at Gaines to Alphonso Sterling and Mary Horton, answered the call to service on May 11, 1861. He was mustered into service on May 22, 1861, with Company D of the 28th New York Infantry. On May 25, 1862, he was captured at the Battle of Winchester and paroled three days later. After his release, he was sent home on furlough for an undisclosed amount of time. According to a published account of the Sterling family genealogy, Wallace had placed his unloaded musket behind a door in the house. His older brother loaded the gun and ventured out on a woodchuck hunt in the afternoon. Upon his return and being unsuccessful in his adventure, the brother placed the gun in its place behind the door. Later that evening, Mary Jane, a 19-year-old sister, asked Wallace to demonstrate the manual of arms. He mimicked the loading of the rifle, aimed, and she gave the command to “fire!” He pulled the trigger, discharging the musket ball into her head. The accidental death of his sister plagued him with sadness for the rest of his life.

After his discharge from the 28th New York Infantry, he reenlisted with Company B of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery in July of 1863. The following month he was presented a commission as second lieutenant with the 1st U.S.C.T. from President Lincoln, an opportunity he accepted nine days later. In July of 1864, Sterling submitted his resignation with supporting documentation from an examining surgeon. Dr. Willoughby wrote, “…he is suffering from great mental depression, caused by his having, by accident, caused the death of a sister, more than a year ago, since which time he has had fits of mental disturbance, being at times partially insane.” The surgeon believed that the condition would become permanent should he remain in the service. After the war, he relocated to Elysian, Minnesota where he served as the local postmaster and justice of the peace.

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Yates man worked on the Panama Canal project

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 16 March 2019 at 9:06 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Volume 5, Issue 11

On occasion I stumble across rather interesting photographs that grab my attention; either the image itself is intriguing or the inscription contains a fascinating tidbit of information. While uncovering a box of photographs and albums, I discovered an image with the inscription “F. J. Wickham Lyndonville, N.Y. this man went to Panama and helped build the Panama Canal.” So who was Mr. F. J. Wickham and how did he end up in Panama?

Born to Samuel Kenyon Wickham in Yates, Jeremiah Fernando Wickham grew up in Orleans County with his brothers George and Dewitt working the family farm and attending the district schools of the area. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 both Dewitt and Jeremiah enlisted with the 8th New York Heavy Artillery, but Jeremiah despised his first name (his grandfather’s name) and elected to enlist under his middle name. He served the duration of the war while earning the rank of corporal, his brother Dewitt rising to the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, the brothers had a falling out over a business decision which proved problematic for Fernando when applying for his pension. Using his middle name to enlist instead of his first, he was required to provide a deposition proving who he was, which he requested of his brother who then refused to do so; that is, until a special investigator showed up at his home to request it. Fernando returned to Yates where he lived on the county line, working as a carpenter by trade. His military service helped earn employment with the U.S. Government, working as an inspector of the shores of Lake Ontario up until the 1890s when he was employed as a breakwater inspector in Buffalo.

The specifics regarding his employment with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) are unknown, but in 1905 he was sent to Colón, Panama as a superintendent on the Panama Canal project. The 48-mile wide canal started in 1881 by the French was an expansive project taken over by the U.S. in 1904 when President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the purchase of the Panama Railroad and French excavation equipment at a cost of $40 million.

Upon his arrival, Wickham wrote home to describe his trip to this foreign area. The ship departed New York City on June 21, 1905 with forty passengers on board, most traveling with the ICC. While traveling to Cuba, he recalled seeing a “nearly fifty-foot whale” and a school of porpoise that traveled with the ship for a few hundred yards. The arrival of the vessel at the Port of Colón was startling as the conditions of the town were extremely poor.

Any available space in the town was taken up by the machinery left by the French when they abandoned the project in 1894, most of it was deteriorated and unusable. Wickham remarked, “You could not conceive the amount [of equipment] unless you could see it, and then I do not think a person could.” He went on to say, “It was wonderful the amount the French laid out here to abandon, and the small results accomplished with the outlay.”

Wickham was stationed with the architectural department and charged with overseeing the repair of buildings constructed by the French during the previous two decades. It is likely that his work as a carpenter prepared him for this type of employment. Many U.S. papers published stories about the horrors of life in Panama, the terrible health conditions and poor living conditions. Wickham remarked that many men arrived with the expectation of minimal work and high pay, but arrived to find the opposite. Young men were frequently disappointed by the lack of recreational activities; the typical day consisting of work followed by sleep with no time for anything else.

He concluded his letter by writing that his health was good, but that he had already lost some weight, which he said, “I could afford to do that, for I was most too fleshy when I came away.” His wife, Anna Gray Wickham, remained in Orleans County with their daughters and upon his return, the family relocated to Pasadena, California where Fernando died in March of 1923.

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Barre farmer, an immigrant, enlisted with Union Army and later became US citizen

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 9 March 2019 at 8:20 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 10

Johann George Singler, c. 1862

BARRE – This photograph shows Johann George Singler around the time of his enlistment in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Born March 28, 1829 in the territory of Baden to Joseph and Mary Greisbaum, Singler received his common education (equivalent to a high school course in the United States) while in Europe.

At the age of 22 he emigrated to the United States on a 49-day journey across the Atlantic, settling at Cleveland, Ohio. Six months later he traveled to Buffalo where he worked as a carpenter for eight months and finally relocated to the town of Barre sometime around 1853. On February 10, 1855, he married Eva Rupp at Clarendon and the couple raised eight children together on a modest farm in Barre.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Singler enlisted with Company G of the 151st New York Infantry at the age of 33. He was mustered into service on October 22, 1862 and left his wife and four children to care for the farm.

William De Wolf, another member of Company G, later recalled the first call for volunteers at Holley in August of 1862. “The meeting was held in the Academy yard, and though the speakers are not fresh in my mind, I think one was Robinson by name.”

It is likely that Chauncey Robinson, an outspoken abolitionist and resident of Holley, was the speaker De Wolf noted. “The next one was at Hulberton…At this time there was an ice-breaker lying in the Basin at Holley, and we trimmed it up with evergreens and flags, an put planks across for seats. We got a small drum corps, and hired a boy, horse and tow-line and started for the meeting.”

“Company G was composed of as bright a number of young men as ever went into the service of Uncle Sam. They were mostly farmer boys, well brought up and most all educated.”

Although the documentation of Singler’s service is somewhat limited, one published biographical account suggests that he was injured in an accident while driving a team of horses at The Wilderness. As a result, he received a $14.00 per month pension from the government.

After his three years of service Singler was granted his citizenship and in 1868, he relocated his family to Ellington, Wisconsin where he lived out the rest of his life. He lived a simple life, farming a small 40-acre farm in that location which he worked diligently to clear of timber. A Republican in politics, it was claimed that he refused to vote in elections, instead focusing his attention on encouraging qualified candidates to fill positions.

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Historian shares about Holley native who was nurse in WWI

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 March 2019 at 9:14 am

Photo by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Dee Robinson, a reference librarian at the Hoag Library, was the featured speaker on Tuesday during the monthly Take a Bite Out of History talk at the library.

Robinson focused her lecture on Sara Shaw, a Holley native who was a nurse during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Robinson wrote about Shaw in 2000, when Robinson’s book, Historical Amnesia, was published. That book highlighted local women whose contributions and accomplishments were often overlooked.

Robinson found more information about Shaw after the book was published. Robinson said Shaw was well respected as a nurse. She was born in Holley and graduated from the Bellevue School of Nurses in 1896. Two years later she became a Red Cross nurse.

She was sent to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War.

She worked for the Bellevue Hospital nursing staff from 1909 to 1941, taking a leave of absence during World War I. She was a supervising nurse in Italy, in charge of 37 nurses.

After the war, she returned to Bellevue and worked several years as the head nurse of the tuberculosis division of Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

She died at age 76 on Feb. 5, 1948 in New York City and is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Holley.

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Hoag Library may sell historic flag from Civil War worth an estimated $20K

Photos by Tom Rivers: This flag for an African-American unit that fought in the Civil War has 35 stars. That’s how many stars were on the flag for two years from 1863 to 1865.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 March 2019 at 8:47 pm

Unknown how flag for regiment of ‘Colored Troops’ came into library’s possession

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the possible connection with the regiment’s officer from Barre.)

ALBION – For many decades a flag from the Civil War was up in the attic of the Swan Library in Albion, unbeknownst to the community and library staff.

That flag was used by an African-American regiment from New York – the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops.

Betty Sue Miller, director of Hoag Library, holds the American flag for the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops. She believes the flag was put in the frame to help preserve it in the 1950s. The flag was discovered in the attic of the former Swan Library.

“It spent many years in the attic of the Swan Library,” Betty Sue Miller, library director, said about the flag. “There were things there that hadn’t been looked at for years.”

The Hoag Library opened in July 2012. The old library also was mostly cleared out around that time. That building was the library’s home since 1900. When library staff were going through the items in the attic they found the old flag, which was in a frame.

The flag was moved to Hoag and put in a room with other community relics, mostly old books of local interest and history. There is a photograph by Matthew Brady, the famed Civil War photographer, and some other interesting local items, including signs from the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

Some library users knew about the flag and suggested that it be displayed or sold to someone who would appreciate it, perhaps a museum about African-American history.

The library reached out to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas. The company estimated the flag is worth $20,000. Heritage wants to handle a sale for the flag and would promote it as a signature piece for an upcoming auction about Americana, Miller said. Heritage agreed to sell the flag for a 5 percent commission, well below its normal rate.

The library’s board of trustees are expected to vote on the issue at its 7 p.m. meeting on March 13. Miller said the board is inclined to sell the flag because there isn’t a positive connection to the county. Hoag Library also isn’t a museum and preserving and displaying the flag isn’t part of the library mission, Miller said.

The impeachment parchment, given as a gift by a former governor

Photo by Bruce Landis (Photos by Bruce) – As governor of Georgia, Albion native Rufus Bullock was presented this list, showing the original signatures of members of Congress who voted to impeach Andrew Johnson on Feb. 24, 1968. Bullock donated the 17-inch-by-23-inch notice, written on parchment, to Swan Library in 1903, four years before he died.

The library has wrestled with a similar issue before. It was a decade ago when the former Swan Library considered selling a document from the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.

Rufus Bullock, a former Albion resident, was governor of Georgia when Johnson was impeached. Johnson as governor was given an impeachment notice signed by the 126 members of House of Representatives who voted Feb. 24, 1868, to impeach Johnson for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Forty-seven House members opposed the ousting.

Bullock moved back to Albion in his later years and gave the impeachment notice to Swan Library in 1903. The library had only been open for three years at that point. Bullock died at age 73 on April 27, 1907, and is buried near the tower at Mount Albion Cemetery.

For a century that document sat in the attic at Swan Library. Librarians were aware of that piece of history and kept it safe.

But when the community was looking to build a library, Swan leaders thought the impeachment notice might fetch a big dollar and could help get the new building built. Some speculated the document might be worth a million dollars or more.

Library leaders at the time sent a photo of the impeachment parchment and a description to Sotheby’s, the famous international auction house. Its assessment of the document: about $15,000 to $25,000 – a nice sum but library leaders decided it wasn’t a difference maker for the library.

Miller, speaking today, also said that document had a known community connection, given by a native son who loved the new library, the first in the Albion community. That’s why the library decided to keep it.

The Bullock gift occasionally comes out of storage for a display or as part of a historical discussion.

No certain provenance for flag

With antiques, the story behind the items – their provenance – is very important. There is a lot of missing information with the Civil War flag, including critical facts such as who gave it to the library and why.

Miller supports selling the flag and using the proceeds to benefit local history efforts at the Hoag. She would like to see old newspapers from the community be scanned and entered into an on-line database, for one project.

Some facts are known about the United States Colored Troops. There were three regiments of black troops from New York – 4,125 soldiers altogether – that served in the Civil War.

The Union had 178,895 soldiers in the Colored Troops from about 175 regiments during the last two years of the war. Their service bolstered the Union war effort at a critical time.

Miller believes the flag should be treasured and she wants to see it go to a place where it would be prominently displayed, diligently preserved and deeply appreciated.

Historian: Barre man led the regiment and likely brought flag back to the Albion community

The county historian believes the flag likely was in possession of a Barre man, who was a commissioned officer with the 26th USCT.

Charles H. Mattison of Barre was a 1st Lt. and adjutant for the regiment. He enlisted with the 151st NY Infantry to start, but turned down a commission with the 151st and then took a commission in 1864 with the 26th USCT, said Matt Ballard, the county historian.

Those regiments were led by officers who were white.

“It would make sense that a commissioned officer and adjutant would have a regimental flag,” Ballard said.

Mattison is buried at Mt. Albion and his wife died in 1910. Ballard thinks Mattison likely had the flag and his wife left it to the library, which was becoming “a defacto repository for local historical artifacts.”

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Pullman’s reputation was tarnished due to tough conditions for his workers

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 2 March 2019 at 7:54 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 9

“The Condition of the Laboring Man at Pullman” – Political Cartoon, circa 1894.

March 3rd marks the 188th birthday of George Mortimer Pullman, born in 1831 to James Lewis and Emily Caroline Minton Pullman. In 1845, George had reached the age of 14 and received a sufficient level of education in the common schools to enter the workforce. It was around this time that James Pullman brought his family to Albion, “where he became widely known as a useful and upright citizen,” according to W. B. Cook.

The untimely death of James in 1853 forced George to care for his mother and younger siblings. Working as a cabinetmaker, Pullman was best known locally for building furniture in a business that would eventually transition through the hands of George Ough, to the partnership of Reynolds & Flintham, to J. B. Merrill, and eventually transition to the business formerly known as Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Home.

It was during an 1853 construction project along the Erie Canal that Pullman developed a reputation for himself as a master contractor. Using a tool developed by his father, Pullman was able to move several large buildings to make way for the widening of the canal prism. Two years later he and Charles H. Moore traveled to Chicago where they performed similar work, raising buildings to prevent flooding.

In the late 1850s, Pullman entered into a partnership with Ben Field, who became one of the primary financiers of the sleeper car experiment. Field would eventually sell out his interests to Pullman in order to pursue politics and, of course, the latter “made out like a bandit.”

The story of George Pullman is often romanticized, telling the story of a great inventor with a brilliant mind for business. Instead, we should view Pullman’s career in a critical light. One defined by the treatment of his employees.

This political cartoon, entitled “The Condition of the Laboring Man at Pullman,” provides insight into the public’s perception of Pullman. In this cartoon, an employee is pressed between the weights of high rent and low wages; the upper press reads, “Capitalism, Monopoly, Plutocracy, Wage Slavery.” A hefty George Pullman is operating the t-screw on the press, his weight indicative of an exorbitant lifestyle fueled by wealth and greed.

In 1880, Pullman purchased 4,000 acres of land at Lake Calumet and employed Solon Spencer Beman to design a factory for manufacturing sleeper cars. It was Pullman’s idea to construct a company town for his employees, equipped with housing, stores, churches, and entertainment venues. The utopian-like community was void of vices that Pullman perceived to damage society, including saloons, in an effort to increase worker loyalty.

Unfortunately for Pullman’s employees, he ruled like an autocrat, prohibiting the publication of independent newspapers, town meetings, and open discussion. He was known to inspect the homes of workers for cleanliness, terminating leases on 10-days’ notice if conditions did not match his standards. Richard Ely, in an 1885 edition of Harper’s Weekly, wrote “The power of [Otto von] Bismarck in Germany is utterly insignificant when compared with the power of the ruling authority of the Pullman Palace Car Company…”

Ely later wrote, “It should be constantly borne in mind that all investments and outlays in Pullman are intended to yield financial returns satisfactory from a purely business point of view.” This was validated during the Panic of 1893 when Pullman cut wages in the face of decreasing demand for sleeper cars. His failure to adjust rent accordingly led to one of the largest strikes in the history of the United States.

Joining with the American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, Pullman workers refused to work, blocked rail tracks, and threatened strike breakers. A spike in national attention led to an injunction ordering the strikers back to work, which Debs ignored. As a result, President Grover Cleveland dispatched 12,000 federal troops to end the strike leading to the deaths of 30 workers. Pullman’s reputation was tarnished as a result and his company town labeled “un-American.” Public opinion supported the use of federal troops to end the strike while the national media labeled strikers as foreigners and anarchists.

Pullman suffered a heart attack in 1897. His family was paranoid that railroad laborers would desecrate his body and went to extreme lengths to protect his final resting place. Placed in a lead-lined coffin, he was sealed in a block of concrete and then lowered into the ground. The grave was then covered with asphalt and tar paper, covered with a layer of concrete, surrounded by steel rails, and once again covered with concrete; the entire process took two days.

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Medina native was member of famed 54th Massachusetts

The Battle of Olustee, Chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 16 February 2019 at 8:14 am

Soldier endured gruesome conditions at Andersonville, POW camp

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 7

Isaac Hawkins represents a significant tale in the progression of the involvement of black soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War. The son of Richard and Caroline Hawkins, Isaac was born at Medina in 1843. As indicated by early census records, Richard was a grocer who was enumerated immediately before John Ryan, the pioneer stone mason who opened the first commercial sandstone quarry in Medina.

An 1842 deed shows that Hawkins purchased a parcel of land from David Evans for the sum of $200 at the point where West Street crossed over the Erie Canal (lot 41). This lot would have sat near the current intersection of Glenwood and Ryan streets.

It is likely that Isaac was born on this site, working for his father as a young man before the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1863, the 20-year-old Hawkins enlisted at Medina and was placed with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the unit once under the command of Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was killed at Ft. Wagner on July 18, 1863, months before Hawkins enlisted with the Union Army. However, Isaac was with the regiment for approximately two months when the unit engaged Confederate troops in Baker County, Florida at the Battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864 (the only major battle fought in Florida).

Isaac survived the battle, which claimed the lives of over 200 Union troops, but was captured and sent to Andersonville as a prisoner. The camp became infamous for its poor and inhumane treatment of white prisoners, who were given bread made from ground corn cobs, maggot-filled meat, and rotten vegetables. Blankets were scarce, tents were often non-existent, and men were forced to defecate in areas that contaminated drinking water.

One can imagine that the treatment of African American prisoners was far worse. In his pension documents, Hawkins noted that he received 250 lashes for forging a pass; he was stripped naked, forced to lie across a log, and whipped from head to foot. He was shackled and returned to work in the graveyard, where he was threatened with similar treatment if he stopped working for even a few moments. Following the war, this particular event was referenced by two witnesses in the trial of Henry Wirz. This testimony and the testimony of other prisoners resulted in Wirz’s sentence to death by hanging.

In addition to the whipping he received while at Andersonville, it was recorded that he had suffered a sabre wound to his arm and a gunshot wound to his arm and foot; the latter injury mangled his foot and required the use of a cane for the remainder of his life. His brother, Charles R. Hawkins, also enlisted in the Union Army in November of 1864 at the age of sixteen and removed to New Jersey following the war where he worked as a barber. His brother Walter relocated to Pennsylvania and worked the same profession. As for Isaac, he later removed to Washington, D.C. where he died on August 25, 1902; he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Participants sought for 4th annual Heritage Festival

Photos by Tom Rivers: The 2017 Heritage Festival included commemorative buttons with the themes of the Erie Canal, the military, cobblestone & sandstone, and “Legends and Lore, Spirits and Supernatural.” There won’t be buttons this year, but organizers are hoping for more events and participation from the community.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 February 2019 at 2:55 pm

The Orleans County Heritage Festival will return on Sept. 6-15 with some changes.

The festival in its first three years was led by Genesee Community College. GCC won’t be leading the charge this time, but may be involved with an event.

It’s still early in the planning process. Organizers welcome participation from the community, including churches, businesses, civic organization and residents who would be willing to host a tour or historical display. A business or organization celebrating a milestone anniversary this year might want to showcase its facility, said Doug Farley, director of the Cobblestone Museum. He is one of the coordinators of the Heritage Festival along with Erin Anheier of the Clarendon Historical Society, Dawn Borchet and Lynne Menz of the Orleans County Tourism Department, and Matt Ballard of the Orleans County Municipal Historians Association.

“This is a chance for the entire to work together on a history-related project,” Farley said. “We see the value of the heritage Festival. It’s something we shouldn’t give up on.

GCC hosted a Civil War Encampment in Medina for three years before hosting some of the events for the Orleans County Heritage Festival. This photo shows re-enactors mounting a charge during a mock battle in April 2015 outside the Medina campus center. Some re-enactors returned for the Heritage Festival in 2016.

Farley said the county has many historic sites and heritage-minded residents and organizations, as well as other interesting sites.

He and the organizers want to feature an activity at least daily during the 10-day festival.

“We are hoping that the festival will be a way to highlight many individual events under one banner,” he said.

Businesses, organizations and churches could participate simply by creating a display in their foyer, offering a tour of their facilities, or hosting an organ or historic instrument demonstration. Historian are welcome to put together an exhibit in their town hall.

People and organizations interested in participating can send information to Farley at He would like a brief description of the event by March 1.

This year’s event won’t include printed brochures, commemorative buttons, and a big kickoff celebration.

“Our goal is to keep it simple and attract as many willing participants as we can from Orleans County,” Farley said. “Really, the possibility is endless.”

There is no fee to submit an event, and each organization is completely in charge of their own event.

“We ask that they work together with us to try to fill up the festival with different events throughout the period,” Farley said.

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Many doors closed to abolitionist who toured Orleans County in 1849 with anti-slavery message

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 9 February 2019 at 9:04 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 4, No. 4

Frederick Douglass

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, I was researching local African American families in Orleans County and attempting to assemble an understanding of this particular topic in local history. Without a doubt, it is an area that requires deeper research and is indicative of larger gaps in our understanding of how history was traditionally recorded; ideas of power and disparity. I thought it pertinent to recall some early pieces of abolitionist history in our area.

In 2015, the Orleans Renaissance Group erected a historic marker in Medina to commemorate the site of an address delivered by Frederick Douglass entitled “We Are Not Yet Quite Free,” on August 3, 1869. As the marker notes, a large crowd traveled from across New York to hear the renowned abolitionist speak; the engagement was focused on celebrating the 30th anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies.

This particular event was not the first time that Douglass spoke in Orleans County. Four years earlier on October 2, 1865, Douglass spoke at Bent’s Hall on the subject of Lincoln’s assassination and its lessons. As Douglass so eloquently spoke, “Some of our friends seem to think our emancipation complete and our claims upon them at an end. A greater mistake could hardly be made. The colored people of the United States are still the victims of special and peculiar hardships, abuses and oppressions, and we still need time, labor and favorable events to work out our perfect deliverance.”

Combing through issues of The North Star, published by Douglass in Rochester, we find that men and women traveled throughout the area lecturing on the antislavery cause. John S. Jacobs, the brother of abolitionist lecturer, reformer, and escaped slave Harriet Jacobs, visited Orleans County in March and April of 1849. Upon the completion of his lecture circuit, he addressed a lengthy letter to Frederick Douglass which appeared in The North Star on April 20, 1849. The words expressed by Jacobs reflect poorly on our area’s willingness to lend an ear to the abolitionist cause.

On March 19, 1849, Jacobs arrived at Clarendon and spoke to a small audience at the Universalist Church, followed by a visit the next day at “Southbarr,” or South Barre as we would call it. While attending a religious meeting held in the local school house, Jacobs asked the Rev. Albert H. Gaston of the Presbyterian Church if he could speak to the congregation at Barre Center. Gaston noted that a revival was taking place and that the “introduction of the subject of Slavery, Peace, Temperance, or anything calculated to draw off their minds from the importance of getting religion,” was unacceptable. Jacobs notes that a man referred to as Mr. O. T. Burns agreed with Gaston, stating that he “knew that we (abolitionists) said some hard things of slaveholders that they did not deserve; he said they were kind and hospitable.”

Trips to Pine Hill, Oakfield, and Barre followed before a visit to Albion on March 24th. Jacobs notes that no effort was made to arrange a meeting and that the Court House was “the only public building that is not barred against the cause of the oppressed,” a building which was “newly painted.” A deacon in the Presbyterian Church attempted to arrange for use of the building for a lecture, but the Rev. William McHarg objected. The deacon in turn referred Jacobs to Eagle Harbor where he “would find friends and an antislavery church.” He spoke to a small group that had assembled for morning worship – muddy streets made it impossible to travel by foot.

This trip was followed by a stop at West Gaines and then Johnson’s Creek, where Jacobs was required to pay fifty cents to the local church for the privilege of opening the building for a lecture. Other lectures followed at Ridgeway Corners, Lyndonville, and Medina, the latter having a large gathering of pro-Zachary Taylor Whigs, much to the chagrin of the visitor. After attempts to gather a crowd at Gaines and Albion, he returned to the Methodist Church at Eagle Harbor on April 7th where he spoke to a large, disorderly crowd made up of canal boatmen “whose highest idea of manliness seemed to be disturbance.” His final stop at Holley on the 8th of April was met by a Presbyterian minister who kindly waived an evening meeting so that Jacobs would have the benefit of a full house.

He concluded the letter by writing, “At no time during my laboring in the cause as a lecturer, have I found so few friends, as on the present occasion. In some of these towns, it has been more than a year since the slaves of this land have had anyone to tell of their wrongs.”

Over the coming years, multiple visits by William J. Watkins, Charles Lenox Remond, and Frederick Douglass to communities throughout Orleans County gave rise to changing mentalities on the disease of slavery.

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This week’s bad weather no match for the Blizzard of ’77

By Matthew Ballard, Orleans County Historian Posted 2 February 2019 at 7:23 am

“Overlooked Orleans” – Vol. 5, No. 5

This photograph, taken by Peter Fleckenstein, shows a Hough 100 Loader removing snow on East Shelby Road on February 3, 1977. Fleckenstein was a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for clearing a large portion of roads in Orleans County after the blizzard.

A couple feet of snow, sub-zero temperatures, and 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts makes for an unbearable week of Western New York weather. Although for many long-time residents of Orleans County, these winter storms are dwarfed by the fierce Blizzard of ’77.

Growing up in Western New York, the “Great Blizzard” as I will call it, is the stuff of legend. Over eight feet of snow accumulation in some areas, peak wind gusts topping out at 69 miles per hour, and snow drifts reaching 30 or 40 feet in height; it is likely that no winter storm will ever challenge the Blizzard of ’77.

The brutal winter weather system hit Western New York on the morning of January 28th and continued into Tuesday, February 1st. Frigid temps reaching -70 degrees Fahrenheit and excessive winds packed snow so tightly that road travel was impossible. Drivers found themselves stranded in cars along the road, snowdrifts blocked some families from leaving their homes, and others remained snowed in at work.

The best stories about the Blizzard of ’77 are told by those that lived through it. Those events still exist within recent memory and without question, each person who lived in Orleans County during that terrible storm has a story to share. In 1997, the Medina Journal-Register printed some of those stories:

Don White, Orleans County Sheriff, recalled camping out in his office during the storm while deputies worked overtime to respond to the hundreds of phone calls from residents asking for help. “The ones that were in, were in. The ones that were out, were out,” he said, referring to those deputies who could were unable to travel to work. Some men accumulated over 100 hours of overtime over the course of five days.

Dennis Drought recalled returning to Albion with his wife along Rt. 31 when the road visibility dropped to zero. “We got as far as Dr. Glidden’s home which was just west of Mount Albion Cemetery on the south side of the road…we were the first of what ended up being about 86 people to seek shelter in the Glidden home.” He went on to write, “I got our toboggan out and went to several of our neighbors getting lists of what they needed from the store. I then went to what was then Super Duper…for supplies. Dick Pilon saw what I was doing and told me I could get all I needed for the people and if I needed credit to open an account. I ended up with a bill of about $500 which most of the neighbors helped pay.”

Glenn Hill wrote about his trip to pick up a load of hay north of Rt. 18 before the storm started. “Returning home the sun disappeared and the sky was becoming black…As I approached the canal bridge on Bates Road things started to tear loose. The wind picked up to a gale force and the truck started to rock. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and at one time I could feel the truck being lifted.” Delivering the load to his barn, he “decided that anyone who would get a load of baled hay in a blizzard had to have been ‘a brick short of a load’ or been left out in the sun too long.”

In one final story, Dorinne Prest recalled her efforts to get home from her shift at Lipton’s in Albion. “…At our two o’clock break the weather was awful. You couldn’t even see across the street…I called home and told my husband Ken I might not make it home. He said not to worry that he would come and get me.” Her husband borrowed a neighbor’s snowmobile and trekked to Albion to pick her up.

“We headed out and got as far as the Old Folks Home and our snowmobile quit…My husband said grab the machine and we will toss it up in a snow bank so the plow won’t run it over. Just then two young fellows pulled up and said get in the truck and we will take you back to town. To this day I don’t know who they are but by god they saved our lives.” The couple stayed at Lipton’s overnight and started out the next morning. “We drove over cars and trucks…When we got to Knowlesville Agway we stopped on top of this huge snow pile. It was so high I could have touched the top of the telephone pole…Ken said hold on, we’re going over. When we got to the other side of the pile there were two ten wheelers and a pay loader trying to dig through it.”

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