Thursday, April 28, 2016

Strange Travels from Schenectady, Part 2: Walking from Schenectady to San Francisco

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

If doctors told you that outdoor life could help your children who are having health issues, would you take that to mean walking from Schenectady to San Francisco?  That is what the Fenton Family of Schenectady set out to do.  Physicians told Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Fenton that their son Gilbert, 18, and two of their other children considered to be in failing health would benefit from spending time outside.  The family decided that the warm air of the Pacific Coast would be the best place for their children and began to plan their trip.

The Fenton Family as they set off on their trip to San Francisco. Courtesy of the
Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library.
The nine members of the family left city life behind and set off on their cross country adventure to follow the Sunset Trail to San Francisco on May 1st, 1913.  They planned to walk across the state to Buffalo and follow the southern shore of Lake Erie to Chicago.  From there they would head south on the Sunset, or Santa Fe route.  They expected to reach Kansas City by fall and spend the winter there.  In the spring, they would set off again to La Junta Colorado then south to Las Vegas and Phoenix before heading west to Los Angeles and finally north to San Francisco.  Mr. Fenton estimated that they would average 15 to 20 miles a day and the trip could take up to two years.

The trip would be made in a typical Prairie Schooner or “Watson Wagon” pulled by a single horse until reaching Buffalo. There, they would supplant the horse with a team.  The schooner was six feet wide and ten feet long.  Under the wagon was a suspended wooden box containing the tools needed for the trip.  They carried two tents for sleeping, a cooking stove and provisions enough to carry them from one city to the next.  The family dressed in the western ranch style of the day.  The Fentons had postcards made of themselves with their wagon and depended on the sale of the cards for their livelihood along the way. One of these postcards can be found in the Wayne Tucker postcard collection.  On both sides of the wagon were signs reading “The Fenton Family. Walking from Schenectady NY to San Francisco California May 1st, 1913. We are dependent on the sale of post cards and books for our living.”

Article/advertisement of Taniac, a cure-all.
Gilbert Fenton Is quoted in the article saying
"Off and on for eight years I have been
bothered with rheumatism...Taniac gave
me very good relief." Courtesy of Old
Fulton NY Postcards.

The family consisted of Reuben and Lottie Fenton and their children: Henry, 23; Edgar, 20; Gilbert, 18; Ruth, 15; Helen, 8; Sidney, 7 and Marguerite, 5. They also had a dog that went along for the journey.  According to the rules of the family, the menfolk would walk all the way but Mrs. Fenton and the children could ride “according to their pleasure”.  At night, Mr. and Mrs. Fenton and they four youngest children would sleep in the wagon and the older boys would tent alongside. 

Did the family reach San Francisco?  We don’t know for sure but assume not.  There is a newspaper article from the Geneva Daily Times dated June 5, 1913 reporting the family reached Waterloo NY and were still traveling.  No other documentation can be found of them reaching another destination.  However, an article from the May 24, 1917 Schenectady Gazette has a still ailing Gilbert working at GE and promoting a product that helped his rheumatism and stomach.  Another article has family members attending Edgar’s 31st birthday party in Schenectady in 1924. Reuben, Lottie and their children Sidney and Margaret were living in Albany at the time of the 1920 census and he was working as a machinist at General Electric, a job he also held in 1910 according to that census.  Two members of the family did eventually move west.  The 1930 census finds Edgar and his wife, Irma, living in Detroit.  Gilbert and his wife, Tressa, lived with them as boarders and the two brothers both worked as machinists in an auto parts factory. 

Similar to the Fenton family were three young men who named themselves the Schaugh-naugh-ta-da Hiking Trio. They set out on a trip from Schenectady to Chicago on September 18, 1911. Much less is known about the trio than the Fenton family, but we do have a postcard of them taken before they set out on their journey.

Postcard of the Schaugh-naugh-ta-da hiking trio before they left from
Schenectady's City Hall on September 18, 1911. Courtesy of the
Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Strange Travels from Schenectady, Part 1: Canoeing to Oklahoma and Beyond

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff.

Richard Strevell and Raymond Borden liked to paddle.  In the winter of 1907, they paddled 900 miles through the lake country of Florida in a 16 foot canoe.  In 1908 they decided to go big.  They set their sights on an 18 month voyage in the same canoe leaving from Schenectady. Strevell, 28, was a machinist at General Electric, living on Congress Street.  Borden, 23, was a painter living on South Ferry Street.  They were described as “hardy young men all ready for the occasion” which they would have to be for what they had planned.

Richard Strevell and Raymond Borden getting ready for their trip. Courtesy of the
Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library.
At 3pm on Monday, August 3rd, 1908, over 1000 people witnessed their departure by way of the Erie Canal.  To help finance their trip, they sold “postals” of themselves with their canoe, one of which made its way into the Wayne Tucker postcard collection. Their canoe was 16 feet long and made of cedar and canvas.  It had a 33 inch beam and weighed 600 pounds loaded, including Strevell and Borden, 51 pounds unloaded.  In the space between the beams was a watertight compartment for groceries and provisions.  They filled every available nook and cranny with items needed for the trip including complete camping and cooking outfits. From either end of the canoe, pennants of the Old Fort Club waved in the breeze.

Their itinerary was ambitious.  They would start off for Buffalo by way of the Erie Canal.  From there, they would paddle inside the breakwaters of Lake Erie to the St. Clair River to Lake Michigan.  Then they would travel up the lakes as far as Green Bay Wisconsin, taking the Fox River then the Wisconsin River inland, eventually reaching Oklahoma by December where they would winter on a ranch in Oatka.  This leg of the journey would be 4000 miles.
The Union Street bridge over the Erie Canal where you could have lined up
to watch our ambitious paddlers row their way towards Oklahoma.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection
Once navigation opened again, they planned another 6000 mile odyssey.  They would take the Arkansas River and drainage canals to the Mississippi and then head south to New Orleans.  From there they would paddle to Key West through the Gulf of Mexico and then cruise up the Atlantic just inside the breakwater to New York.  They would then go up the Hudson River to Albany returning to Schenectady by way of the Erie Canal in early 1910. They said the trip was for “pleasure and recreation”.

Did they make it?  We don’t know.  Newspaper reports have them arriving in Buffalo on August 21st.  In Buffalo, they hooked up with William Adams who had canoed there from Boston with a friend who abandoned the journey at that point.   They were also intent on reaching New Orleans. The next mention of the trio is from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, not part of their original itinerary.  They must have rethought their route and taken waterways south, most likely the Alleghany River, from Lake Erie.  While in Pittsburgh, they were seeking advice from local river pilots on streams to be traversed and general conditions of various routes.  They told a local reporter that they camped along river ways at night and by hunting and fishing for food were able to hold their expenses down to 25 cents a day for each man.  They secured money through sales of their postcards and “by any means offered en route”.  They planned to travel west on the Ohio River from Pennsylvania and a fourth man was expected to join their party further down the river. 
The Junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, a possible route of the Strevell and Borden.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress (
From there, the trail goes cold.  No other articles have been found to ascertain whether they completed their journey.  A small notice in the Schenectady Gazette finds Richard Strevell visiting his cousin in Schenectady in 1913 from his home in Iowa.  Did he paddle there?  His 1918 World War I draft card has him living in Seminole, Florida with fishing listed as his profession.  He stayed in Florida for the rest of his life. He was a school bus driver according to the 1930 census and a store merchant at age 60 on the 1940 census.  Sometime between 1930 and 1940 he married Florence who worked with him in their store.  He died in Florida in 1964 at age 84.  I haven’t been able to locate any information as to what became of Raymond Borden but we will keep looking! 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Strongmen of Schenectady

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff

Advertisement for the King Bros. at Proctor's theater
from 1913. Courtesy of Fulton History.
The family of Wayne Tucker recently donated a vast postcard collection to the Grems-Doolittle Library.  Mr. Tucker's collection consists mainly of postcards related to the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County.  There are cards of familiar landmarks as well as of those of places which no longer exist. As one of the volunteers who has been indexing the collection, I can only begin to imagine the time, effort and expense involved for Mr. Tucker to amass this collection.  My work has often been slowed as I've read a message from someone or pondered an image on a card.  In the early 1900's postcards were not only a way to get a message to a loved one, but were used to chronicle blizzards, floods, accidents, fires and events of the day.  People could go to local photography studios to have portraits taken and made into postcards to send to friends and family far away.  They were used in advertising, to announce events as well as to showcase the sights of the city.  I hope to use this space to share some of the interesting and odd postcards that I have come across in this collection. 
Postcard of the King Brothers from the Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection at the
Grems-Doolittle Library.
First up is a postcard advertising The King Brothers, Herculean Comedy Athletes.  These two young men were neither brothers nor named King.  They were both from Schenectady and ran off to join the Ringling Brothers Circus early in the 1900's.  They later found fame and hopefully fortune on the vaudeville circuit of the teens and 1920's. Their real names were Thomas Traver and Robert Shank and they performed hand and head balancing feats, contortion work and “tumbling with a sensational finish”. Their shows also contained a generous dose of comedy.  Newspapers of the day have them performing on Hippodrome stages from Spokane Washington to Atlanta Georgia where they shared the stage with Will Rogers.  They combined feats of strength with playful fun and reportedly were featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not.  An advertisement from October 1913 finds them closer to home performing at the Proctor's theater in Mechanicville.  I'm sure many of their local family and friends were there in the audience to cheer them on. Unfortunately, there isn't much information to be found about what became of Thomas and Robert. On the back of this postcard, someone noted that they served and died in the first World War.  Since the Sacramento Union advertised their upcoming performance at the Sacramento Hippodrome in February of 1921, and the Troy Times had them at Proctors's Theatre in Troy in November of 1922, rumors of their demise were a bit premature!

Advertisement for the King Bros. at Proctor's theater from 1922.
Courtesy of Fulton History.
Thanks to The Oldtime Strongman Blog and Fulton History for information.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Family Treasure

This blog post is by Schenectady County Historical Society member Phyllis Zych Budka. Phyllis, along with Bernice Izzo, publishes the Project to Discover Schenectady County's Eastern European Roots newsletter which can be found at
Fig. 1 Honor Roll of St. Adalbert's
from unknown newspaper.

Opening a large plastic box from the attic, I steeled myself for the memories and emotions that would inevitably emerge.  I sat in the January sunshine and went page by page through my husband, Al’s St. Adalbert’s elementary school scrapbook and realized that it was both a family treasure and an historical document.

 As a scrapbook, it is amazingly complete.  Alfred John Budka (1936 – 1992) aka Freddie by family and Al by those who met him “after 7th grade,” was an only child.  His Mother, Henrietta, kept a record of Al’s kindergarten through 8th grade years at St. Adalbert’s elementary school in Schenectady, New York.  On Henrietta’s death in 1965, this scrapbook and many other family items, were boxed and stored.

 Al and I grew up in the same Mont Pleasant community, about a mile apart.  Al was more than 5 years older than I and 6 years ahead of me in St. Adalbert’s school.  I was surprised to find myself in his scrapbook in a few places: first, a newspaper article from ~1948 (Fig. 1) “Honor Roll Listed at St. Adalbert’s,” has the name Alfred Budka, grade 7, and me, with my surname misspelled, grade 1.  The picture in Figure 2 was taken about 1949, when Al was in 8th grade and I was in 2nd grade.  Also in the picture are my twin cousins, Gerard and Geraldine Zych, who were 2 years behind me in school.  Surrounding the children are the Sisters of the Resurrection, our teachers.  The picture was taken on the 3rd floor of the school building, the room which served as gym, theater, and the place of our wedding reception in 1964.

Fig 2. All grads of St. Adalbert's School from 1948.
As an historical document, this scrapbook describes the life not only of one person, Alfred John Budka, but also captures the life of the community in which Al and I grew up, a community which no longer exists.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Speaker of the Assembly, Ozzie Heck

This post was written by library volunteer Hannah Yetwin.

Photo of O.D. Heck in the January
3, 1945 issue of the Union-Star
Oswald D. Heck, a native of Schenectady, was a lawyer and politician and perhaps New York State’s most influential legislator of the 20th century. The name “O.D. Heck” may be familiar to area residents as the name of the now closed center for developmental disabilities on Balltown Road in Niskayuna, a target of tragic controversy in recent years, but its namesake, Oswald D. Heck, had a longstanding career as an assemblyman filled with positive social impact throughout New York State. As a liberal Republican, he served as Speaker of the House under four governors. Heck’s actions throughout his tenure redefined Republicans as moderate liberals and progressives, in line with Republican governors Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. He described his philosophy as a conservative attitude in economics and a gentle, understanding attitude in human relations, and had an impressive ability to build support for controversial measures. He is also the longest-tenured Assembly speaker in New York State history; the only other speaker who came close to surpassing his tenure was Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty of federal corruption charges and was forced to forfeit his Assembly seat in 2015. Heck served as Assembly speaker until his death in 1959.

Heck was born in 1902 in Schenectady, NY, to Magdalena Wurster Heck and Oswald E. Heck. His father was the editor of Schenectady’s German language newspaper as well as a poet who published Leben und Weben, or Life and its Weavings, in the early 1920’s which was a collection of poetry on moral, religious and philosophical problems (Check out previous post Newspapers of Schenectady's Immigrants for more on Oswald E. Heck). Oswald Jr. was a graduate of Union College and attended Albany Law School but left in a dispute with a school official who considered him to be too liberal. He completed his legal education by educating himself, and was admitted to the state bar in 1928.
Heck and his wife Beulah studying the results of the 1950 Assembly race.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library clippings file. 
Heck began his unprecedented tenure as speaker in 1937. No one had held the post for more than 10 years at that point, and at the time of his election in office, he was only 34 – the youngest to hold the position in 30 years. During his inaugural year as Speaker, he rallied fellow Assembly Republicans to overthrow the incumbent speaker who blocked the necessary legislation to qualify the state for federal funding of programs passed through Social Security. From 1937 to 1941, he led a successful battle against Democratic governor Herbert Lehman to achieve legislative control over the state budget. In 1942, he worked towards state financial assistance for education in Schenectady County, increasing from $1,220,000 in 1942 to an estimated $5,495,000 in 1958-59. In addition, he created 30,000 scholarships and a student loan fund which broadened the opportunity for higher education for students of Schenectady. During World War II, Heck headed the state’s childcare program that provided childcare for mothers employed in defense plants, and at its height in 1945, more than 10,800 children were enrolled throughout New York State.
Closing of Ettore Mancuso's speech on his radio program "The Italian Hour".
Mancuso was very influential with Schenectady's Italian-American community and was
heavily in favor of Heck over Samuel Stratton in the 1950 Speaker of the Assembly race.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection
In 1944, a bill to replace a supervisor’s board with a single superintendent of education in New York City appeared near the end of the last day of that year’s session. Governor Thomas Dewey insisted on passage, but the teachers union opposed it. Republican assemblymen tried to duck out of the chamber to avoid going on record, but Heck ordered the sergeant at arms to round up the missing legislators, closed the door, and called for a vote. The bill was passed after one assemblyman was discovered hiding under his desk and reluctantly voted for the bill after Heck discovered him.
Left to right: Sheriff Ernest Blanchard, Lieutenant Governor
Thomas W. Wallace, and Speaker of the Assembly Oswald Heck.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.  
He was also instrumental in making New York the first state to enact an important civil rights legislation; in 1945, when the Assembly debated Ives-Quinn Anti-Discrimination Bill instituted by Thomas Dewey to ban employment discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color and ethnicity, Heck left the speaker’s podium and went to the floor to make a powerful appeal for passage. New York became the first state to enact this legislation, and it also became the first state to establish permanent agency to enforce such legislation, now known as the State Commission against Discrimination. In 1968, the Ives-Quinn Anti-Discrimination Law was renamed the Human Rights Law, and the State Commission Against Discrimination was renamed the New York State Division of Human Rights. The Law has been expanded over the years to stay current with changing American culture and the evolving needs of New Yorkers.

In 1958, Heck made a drive for his party’s gubernatorial nomination. Heck dreamed of running for governor himself, was driven by the less-than-noble partisan moves of Averell Harriman and Herbert Lehmen, and was mentioned frequently as a potential nominee to oppose Harriman’s bid for re-election. However, he was disabled by a circulatory ailment in his feet, and he threw his support to Nelson Rockefeller who was nominated and elected.  
Photo of Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas E. Dewey as they enter Heck's funeral. Courtesy of a May 26, 1959 Daily Gazette article found at Fulton New York Postcards.
Oswald D. Heck served as Speaker of the New York State Assembly until his untimely death by heart attack in 1959, and was buried at Vale Cemetery. His funeral took place at the Nott Memorial at Union College, and was attended by Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas Dewey, as well as hundreds of the top legislators and leaders of the state and local citizens. Based on his history of willingness to compromise and reach across party lines to come up with solutions to problems, the state Legislature could learn a lot from Heck’s leadership style. Citizens tend to judge the legislature by what they read or hear about its leaders; the legal, ethical and moral standards exhibited by legislative leaders set the tone for how legislators approach their public responsibilities. During Heck’s tenure, scandals were rare and public confidence was high. The principles he supported – cost efficient but responsible government, avoiding impasse and moving legislation along, and partisanship aligned behind public good – are valid and timely today.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Plucked from the Fire, the story of Julia A.J. Foote

The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.C) was founded in 1794 as a response to racial discrimination in the American Methodist Church when officials at St. George’s MEC pulled members of the Free African Society off their knees while praying. These members desired a congregation where they would not be discriminated against while trying to pray and formed the Bethel A.M.E.C. The A.M.E.C. spread throughout the Northeast and by 1837, Schenectady’s first A.M.E. congregation was formed, the Duryee Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. Schenectady was the birthplace of first female ordained deacon in the A.M.E. Zion Church, Julia A.J. Foote. Her autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch gives a harrowing account of her early life in Schenectady and the struggles she faced throughout her life as a black female preacher. It's also an engaging read and a lot of Julia's beliefs are surprisingly modern, such as her views on gender and racial equality.
Sketch of the A.M.E. Church in Schenectady from the
April 25, 1908 issue of the Daily Gazette.
According to her autobiography, Julia’s father and mother were slaves. In a tragic turn of events, her father was actually born free but was stolen as a child and enslaved. Her mother was born a slave in New York. Julia’s father eventually saved enough to buy his family from slavery. Her parents were Methodists and would regularly attend the Methodist Church in Schenectady where blacks were required to sit in certain seats and had to wait till every white person finished communion. She remarks on the vast inequality in the Church, saying “How many at the present day profess great spirituality, and even holiness, and yet are deluded by a spirit of error, which leads them to say to the poor and the colored ones among them, 'Stand back a little—I am holier than thou.'"

Julia A.J. Foote as shown
in her autobiography.

Many of the chapters in Julia’s autobiography act as a parable that relates back to her faith and spiritual beliefs. Chapter six tells the story of the hanging of her teacher, her reaction to it, and how it formed her beliefs. When Julia was ten, she was sent to live with the Prime family in Glenville who sent her to be taught by John Van Patten in Rotterdam. She was a quick study in reading and writing due to her “great anxiety to read the Testament.” However, she wasn't able to be taught by Mr. Van Patten for very long. Mr. Van Patten shot and killed a paramour who insulted him and was hung for his crimes. Julia witnessed the hanging and it shook her, “The remembrance of this scene left such an impression upon my mind that I could not sleep for many a night.” The hanging of her former teacher formed her belief that the taking of any life, even “a life for a life, as many believe God commands,” was a horrible, barbarous thing.

Her family eventually moved to Albany to join the A.M.E. Zion Church where her faith was reignited. She married George Foote at the age of eighteen and moved to Boston. In Boston, she was dedicated to informal evangelizing in her community. Foote believed that she had been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and was destined to become a preacher. This was a highly controversial belief that challenged Christian tradition, as well as many American beliefs. Her mother, husband, and minister of her church all disapproved of Julia’s public preaching. Not even the lack of higher support from higher church authorities could sway Julia from preaching, and she began an independent preaching career.
"When Paul said, ‘Help those women who labor with me in the Gospel,’ he certainly meant that they did more than to pour out tea!”- Julia A. J. Foote

Julia traveled throughout upstate New York with other A.M.E. ministers and worked her way west to Ohio and Michigan, often attracting crowds of thousands of both white and black Americans. Her sermons would often focus on the evils of racism and sexism. She was the first woman ordained as a deacon in 1894 and was the second to hold the office of elder in the A.M.E. denomination in 1900. Julia died on November 22, 1901 and was buried in the Cypress Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Journey of Jared Jackson, Civil War Soldier

This blog post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone

African-American Ancestral Burial Ground
at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady. Courtesy
of Diane Leone.
Within Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery lies the African-American Ancestral Burial Ground.  Among the interred is Jared Jackson, a Civil War soldier whose story was uncovered only in recent years, through the efforts of social studies teacher and local historian Neil Yetwin. (See this article in The Gazette from May 3, 2003 for more information).  Jackson’s story is not only that of an individual, but is also representative of the many African-American soldiers who served honorably in the Civil War, and whose lives were shaped by the pernicious forces of slavery and racism.

Veterans Plaque in Vale cemetery. Courtesy
of Diane Leone
Jared Jackson was born in Bethlehem, New York on May 20, 1840, the son of George and Jane Ann Jackson, who migrated from New York City after New York State abolished slavery in 1827.  They worked as tenant farmers.  Jared too was a farmer, and only twenty-three years old when he enlisted to fight for the Union.
Efforts to include African-Americans in the Union military bore fruit after Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863.  On May 22 of that year, the War Department issued Order 143, which established the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  After enlisting in Albany on December 14, 1863 Jackson became a soldier in Company N of the New York 20th Regiment of the USCT.
New York’s three regiments--the 20th, 26th, and 31st—comprised 4,125 troops.  Apparently, most of the 20th received basic training at Riker’s Island in New York City; the rest at the Elmira Military and Draft Rendezvous.  On March 5, in a racially charged New York City, two groups convened as the 20th Regiment and were given a rousing send-off in Union Square, where the one-thousand recruits marched past an enthusiastic crowd, before being conveyed to the USS Ericsson on their way to New Orleans. 

Presentation of colors to the 20th United States Colored Infantry in New York City.
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Although African-American men were now serving in the military, not everyone agreed on what their role should be.  Even some whites who supported freedom for blacks viewed them as intellectually inferior and lacking in the discipline needed for soldiering.  Racism was a factor within the US military as well.  Black soldiers were disproportionately given garrison duty, and forced to serve as cooks and laborers, as was Jackson.  Furthermore, in contrast to their white counterparts, who received $13 per month plus a clothing allowance, African-American recruits were paid $10 per month--whether they served as laborers or soldiers--minus a $3 clothing allowance.  As noted by William Seraile, author New York’s Black Regiments During the Civil War, members of the 20th Regiment would have paid $24.50 for clothing and supplies prior to their first posting in New Orleans.  In June of 1864 Congress granted equal pay to black troops, with certain restrictions.  Finally, on March 3, 1865, Congress passed a sweeping law approving equal pay for blacks.  Seraile points out however, that pay was quite irregular, many men going for months without compensation.
While information on Jackson is limited, we can flesh out the 20th Regiment in which he first served.  According to Seraile’s study of government records, of the 1,325 recruits, over half (712) were born in New York State, as was Jackson.  Farmers like Jackson made up the second largest contingent (340), surpassed only by laborers (616).  The twenty-three year-old was part of the majority age cohort; 52% of the men were in their twenties. 
We know that USCT regiments were led by white officers.  Very few black men were appointed to the rank of commissioned officer, the most notable exceptions being the regimental chaplains.  In New York State, there were no black commissioned line officers.  On the other hand, blacks did serve as non-commissioned officers, often replacing whites in these positions as time went on.  Jackson, in fact, was made a corporal.  In his African-American Soldiers in the Civil War: USCT 1862-1866, Mark Lardas notes that training brought out qualities needed in NCOs, such as literacy, leadership potential, and intelligence.  We can assume that Jared Jackson must have distinguished himself to merit this promotion.

Prison Camp in Elmira, New York. Courtesy of the
New York State Archives
Jackson’s regiment was sent to Louisiana to do menial labor.  William Seraile explains that many soldiers became ill, the combined results of subtropical conditions, poorly cooked food, lack of proper nutrition, and unsanitary conditions, exacerbated by inadequate health care.  Two hundred of these men, including Jackson, were sent to Elmira Prison Camp, newly created from what had previously been a military depot where recruits like Jackson underwent basic training.  Made to hold five thousand prisoners, in its one-year existence it housed over twelve thousand in abysmal conditions that resulted in a 24% death rate, primarily from diseases, malnutrition, and exposure to the elements.  Among its inmates, the prison came to be known aptly as “Hellmira.” Michael Horigan offers a fascinating account of the prison in Elmira: Death Camp of the North.  For a brief overview of this facility, see “When Hell Was in Elmira: Civil War Prison Camp 150 Years Later,” by Keri Blakinger.
Member of the U.S.
Colored Troops
Guarding a Confederate
prisoner at Elmira. Courtesy
of the Chemung County
Historical Society.
Jackson’s group, which arrived in mid-July, was tasked with guarding the Confederate prisoners, who showed their resentment by spitting, and hurling insults, including racial slurs in the guards’ direction.  In spite of these circumstances, the guards carried out their duties professionally.  In October 1864, ten prisoners managed to escape via tunnel, in one of the most amazing breakouts in the war.  According to Neil Yetwin, although white guards who had fallen asleep on duty were actually responsible, the 20th was blamed.  As a result, they were sent to South Carolina and Louisiana as laborers. Corporal Jackson at this point was transferred to Company H of the 26th Regiment, based in Beaufort, South Carolina.  Although primarily involved in skirmishes, they did participate in several battles, including the Battle of Honey Hill on November 30, 1864.  Records indicate that Jackson hurt his back while unloading a naval vessel on November 1, 1864.   He was discharged from the military on August 28, 1865.
William Seraile refers to a homecoming celebration reported in the Albany News at the time. On September 19, 1865, two hundred black residents of the city met with soldiers discharged from the 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteers and the 26th Regiment of the USCT. One wonders whether the young corporal attended the reception held in the soldiers’ honor.
In his new civilian life, Jackson returned temporarily to his family in Bethlehem, then moved to Schenectady and married Hannah E. Wendell in 1866.  After trying his hand at running a stable near Fonda, he settled down as a laborer in Schenectady.  He and Hannah purchased a house and had a daughter, Lucrecia.  She and her husband, Theodore Springstead, gave Jared and Hannah four grandchildren. 

In spite of having served the Union honorably, Jackson, along with many veterans—particularly African-Americans—were deprived of their disability pensions for many years.  In Sven E. Wilson’s insightful article, “Prejudice & Policy: Racial Discrimination in the Union Army Disability Pension System, 1865-1906,”he states that the application process was burdensome and expensive, which automatically put many poor, uneducated blacks at a disadvantage.  Even when they applied, many African-Americans had difficulties.  Despite a higher mortality rate due to disease, during the war they were not hospitalized for illness as frequently as their white counterparts; consequently, they often could not provide the certification needed to verify their claims. Complicating the situation was the tendency of pension bureau employees to more frequently give white applicants the benefit of the doubt in cases of uncertainty. 
At last, in September of 1888, after many years of waiting, Jackson received the $12 monthly payment to which he was entitled. It is possible that he applied based on his back injury mentioned earlier.  In an unkind twist of fate, Jackson expired soon after, on November 21, 1888, of “consumption and liver disease,” as listed on his death certificate.  He was laid to rest on November 25.
African-American Civil War Memorial
in Washington, DC. Courtesy of Peter Fitzgerald.
Jared Jackson is only one example of the thousands of African-Americans who served their country in the Civil War. As Marsha Mortimore notes in her pamphlet, The Early African American Presence in the City of Schenectady (June 2014), three other Schenectady soldiers from the 26th Regiment have been identified: William Childers, John Dickenson, and Peter Sampson.  Although no details are available for two of these men, Childers served in Company H of the 26th Regiment, as did Jackson.  He saw action at the Battle of Bloody Bridge, St. John’s Island, in South Carolina.  He too lived in Schenectady after the war, but, unlike Jackson, Childers lived to the ripe old age of 90. 
All of these veterans’ names are listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.  We owe a debt of gratitude to them, and to all of the approximately 200,000 black soldiers and sailors who heeded the call of Frederick Douglass:
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow....I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.