John J. Lacey was born in 1832 in Cayuga County, New York, the son of Nancy.
John was married to New York native Catharine or “Kate” (1831-1890), and they had at least five children: Mary (b. 1855), Frank (b. 1857), Cora (b. 1860), Rosa (b. 1867) and Katie (b. 1869).
John left New York and moved westward, and eventually he and his wife settled in Illinois by 1855. By 1857 they had moved to Michigan, and in 1860 John was working as a day laborer and blacksmith living with his wife and their children in Algoma, Kent County.
He stood 5’10” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was 29 years old and possibly living in Montcalm County when he enlisted in Company F on May 13, 1861. (He was possibly related to Hezekiah Lacey who enlisted in Company G, but who was also born in Cayuga County, New York.) John was discharged on July 30, 1861, at Arlington Heights, Virginia, for “tic dalereaux” (a nervous disorder).
It is possible that John reentered the military in Company K, Second Wisconsin cavalry.
In any case, John eventually returned to Kent County and by 1870 he was working as a blacksmith and living with his family in Cannon, Kent County. He was still working as a blacksmith and living with his family in Cannon in 1880. John also worked as a well-digger, and by 1889 he was possibly boarding at 44 Queen Street in Grand Rapids.
John died from accidental suffocation on Friday morning, June 21, 1889, in Plainfield, Kent County. On Friday morning, at about 8:30, Lacey
was digging a well on the farm of Mr. Armistead, which is about a mile and a half north of the [Michigan Soldiers’ Home] on the Plainfield gravel road. He was employed by a stock company of the name of [W. H. H.] Davis & company, who take contracts of digging wells, etc., and do the work by what is called a patent process. The only thing new about their system is the method of curbing. Instead of the old way of building wooden curbing inside the well to keep the earth from falling in, a new device has been substituted. This is of several sheet iron frames or hoops, made so that they can be fitted to the inside of a well. They are usually placed about two feet apart, but there is nothing between them or to prevent the earth caving in between the hoops.
A man named Frank Ford was helping Lacey and the well had been dug to a depth of about 20 feet. Lacey was digging at the bottom of the pit and passing the earth up in a bucket, by means of a rope to Ford, who was at the top. About 8:30 a bucket was passed up and Ford had just turned away to empty it when he heard a yell, and turned just in time to see the earth moving into the hole from the sides. It had become started in such a manner between the hoops and, once started, took everything with it into the hole, hoops and all. In an instant the hole was filled and Ford saw his companion buried alive before his eyes. He at once gave the alarm and several passers by hurried to the spot. More spades were procured and many willing hands joined in the work of rescue. But it was a long and tedious job. The men worked with speed and energy, and as fast as one was tired out another would take his place. A number of old soldiers from the home learned of the affair and hastening to the spot joined in the work. The soil is a light sand and the workers were compelled to dig a hole about 30 feet in diameter to avoid another cave in, having no time to stop to erect curbing. After three and one half hours work the body was reached and life was extinct. The man was found standing in an upright position with his hand grasping the rope high over his head, as if he had made one last effort to escape before the mass of earth struck him.
Coroner Locher was summoned, but he decided it was unnecessary to empanel a jury, and after viewing the remains and examining the witnesses, decided that death was caused by accidental caving in of the earth around the well.
Lacey’s remains were taken to Rockford, Kent County for the funeral service, and he was buried in Cannonsburg cemetery.
It is probable that his widow Catharine was the same Catharine Lacey who applied for a widow’s pension on August 8, 1890 (application no. 472633), but it is not known if the certificate was ever granted. She may have been living in Morley, Mecosta County in 1890.