Sylvester Gay was born in November of 1828 in Pennsylvania.
Sylvester was 32 years old and probably living in Allegan County, Michigan, when he enlisted in Company I on May 13, 1861. According to one source, he was among the second wave of recruits to come out of Ottawa County and did not in fact enlist until the end of May, along with Albert Hamlin, Calvin Hall, Nelson Davis and David Davis, Joseph Payne, Albert Gardner, James Rhodes, Perry Goshorn, Joseph Solder (Josiah Schuler), Quincy Lamereaux, William Suret and John Ward.
He was reported absent sick in a general hospital from August of 1862 through October of 1863, although he may in fact have been transferred to the Veterans’ Reserve Corps on July 1, 1863, at Washington, DC.
Sometime in the fall of 1863 Sylvester was arrested, charged with being drunk while on duty and court-martialed at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was confined at Harrisburg for seven months, and in March or April of 1864 was confined in the Old Capitol prison in Washington, DC.
On May 16, 1864, Michigan Congressman Francis Kellogg, from Grand Rapids, wrote to the Secretary of War requesting him to investigate Gay’s case.
Kellogg had been told that Gay had been imprisoned without a trial. “Sylvester Gay,” Kellogg wrote, “formerly of the Third Michigan infantry -- latterly of the Invalid Corps is in the Old Capitol Prison whither he was sent April 28th without sentence. Previous to this he had been imprisoned seven months at Harrisburg -- all if I am correctly informed before any trial. His crime was being intoxicated while on duty I am told. All pay and allowances stopped & part of his family at home have been sent to the Poor House. Has he not been punished enough -- Mr. Secretary please have his case looked into -- perhaps you will think best to order him where there is fighting to be done.”
On May 18, 1864, a colonel from the War Department replied to Kellogg.“I have the honor,” he wrote, “to acknowledge the receipt of your communication to the Secretary of War in which you request inquiry to be made into the case of Sylvester Gay of the Vet Reserve Corps, confined in the Old Capitol Prison, and, as you are informed, without having had a trial. In reply I beg to inform you that it appears that the soldier was tried by Court Martial at Harrisburg, Penn, convicted and is now serving imprisonment under sentence.” According to a War Department letter of November 4, 1864, Gay was discharged on September 24, 1864.
It is unknown if Sylvester ever returned to western Michigan.
By 1870 he was working as a saddler and living with a farmer named Thomas Hanley in Nawakum, Lewis County, Washington and in 1871 he was working as a farmer and living with the Allred family in Lewis County, Washington. In 1873 he was listed as married and working as a saddler and harness maker living in Thurston, Washington. By 1880 he was working as a harness maker and living as a single man with the Samuel Miller family of Alpheus Wooster family in Mason County, Washington. In 1887 he was working as a harness maker, single and living in Skagit, Washington. In 1900 he was listed as a widower and working as a servant and farm laborer for Elizabeth Tingley in Skagit, Washington.
In the Grand Army of the Republic Annual Encampment Journal for 1888, one James Gay of Alaska, Kent County published an inquiry seeking the whereabouts of Sylvester, formerly of Company I, 3rd Michigan Infantry who was supposed to be living near Seattle, Washington territory. Sylvester was still living in Washington in 1907 when he applied for and received a pension (no. 1151514).
Sylvester died on May 14, 1909, in Skagit, Washington and is buried in Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Skagit.