John R. Price was born on July 1, 1816, in South Amboy, Middlesex County, New Jersey, the son of Xerxes (1777-1845) and Nancy (Letts, d. 1829).
At the age of 15 John decided to go to sea and went to Brooklyn, New York to undertake a 3-year cruise aboard the Hornet. He was dissuaded from this venture and instead became an apprentice carpenter, moving to Batavia, Genesee County, New York, in 1831. (In 1830 his father, who had worked as a potter, was still living in South Amboy.)
In 1834 he headed west to Michigan and settled in Sandstone, Jackson County, where he worked as a carpenter, and three years later, in 1837, he moved to Albion, Calhoun County, where he engaged in the manufacture of fanning-mills.
In 1843 he took up farming, and on March 15, 1843, he married Jane Powell (1818-1904) in Marengo, Calhoun County. They had at least four children: Mrs. Clara Wood; Mrs. Mary J. Twait; Elizabeth J. or Ella J. (probably Jane E., 1857-1863), and William A. (b. 1860)
In 1847 John moved to Lansing and, according to the Portrait and Biographical Album of Ingham and Livingston Counties, “in June he bought a tract of land all covered with timber, upon which he built a house and in February of the next year removed hither. This is the same place where he now resides and it comprises 4 acres within the limits of Lansing and near to the business portion of North Lansing.” He would also acquire a farm in Olive, Clinton County, although he continued his interest in the business of manufacturing fanning-mills, and he operated a “Seymour” saw-mill in North Lansing for less than two years. In 1850 he was a fanning-mill maker living his wife and child in Lansing, and in 1860 he was living with his wife and children in Lansing, First Ward.
By the late 1850s John had taken an interest in the organization of a militia company in Lansing, and on March 4, 1859, was elected and commissioned captain of a newly formed company in Lansing, the “Williams’ Rifles” (possibly named after General Alpheus S. Williams, one of the leading figures in the Michigan militia movement in the late 1850s).
“We understand,” wrote the Grand Rapids Enquirer on March 25, “that a new Rifle Corps has been raised at Lower Town, numbering forty men, to be armed with Minnie Rifles, and the new patent Spring Sabre bayonet. The bayonets can be detached and worn as side arms. The above is a new arm, and there are only forty in the State. A list of officers has not been received, but we learn that John R. Price, Esq., has been elected Captain, and Mr. Robinson, 2d Lieutenant. Success to them.” Although the “Rifles” was placed in the first class of companies in the Michigan State Militia by the end of 1860, it nevertheless ranked seventeenth in order of merit out of a total of nineteen recognized militia companies statewide.
When was broke out in 1861, the Williams’ Rifles naturally served as the focal point for those men in the Lansing area who desired to enlist, and on April 30 the Enquirer wrote that at present the “Two military companies at Lansing are already full. The ‘Williams Rifles’, Captain John R. Price, have over 90 men on their roll. Another company is being formed. Miss Jennie Hayes of Lansing, has offered her services as nurse in one of the Michigan Volunteer Regiments.”
By the first week of May “The Williams Rifles of Lansing,” reported the Enquirer, were “fully officered and manned; and, as we learn, have been appointed to fill the vacancy created in the Third Regiment, by the disbanding of the Portland company. The Lansing State Republican says: ‘We learn this company has received orders to march immediately to Cantonment Anderson, city of Grand Rapids. Now let the citizens of Lansing show their liberality by giving them such aid as they may need to enable them to respond at once to the requisition.’”
The “Rifles” boarded the Ramshorn on the morning of Monday, May 6, and ate dinner at Owosso. According to one eyewitness report “Everywhere along the route cheers and hearty greetings saluted them. At St. Johns a large multitude had assembled, with the Brass band, and saluted us with enthusiastic cheering, the band playing various national anthems.” The company arrived at Grand Rapids about 7:00 p.m. “and immediately preceded to ‘Cantonment Anderson,’ under the lead of Q.M. [Robert] Collins. They had their arms with them, and presented a fine and soldierly appearance. -- We are informed that the ranks of this company are more than full. Several of the prominent citizens of Lansing accompanied this troop to our city.” Price was 44 years old when he enlisted as Captain of Company G.
Ten days after their arrival at “Cantonment Anderson,” one of the members of the “Rifles” wrote home to Lansing describing their accommodations.
“Camp Anderson occupies the County fair grounds, 1 and a half miles from the center of the business portion of the city. It comprises about 40 acres, surrounded by high paling, with convenient buildings for quarters and men's rooms. The ground is oak openings, high and dry, with a well of fine soft water. A more convenient and healthy location could not have been selected.
“On Tuesday [May 7] our company was inspected by the Surgeon, and 33 were passed by the Surgeon, took the constitutional oath, and were mustered into service.
“The officers are gentlemanly, and assiduous in their efforts to make the third Regiments thoroughly efficient, and in this city they are heartily seconded by the volunteers.
“All our boys ask is, that they be allowed to remain in the camp for drill and martial exercise until they are called into the field. They like the location, the officers, and the fare, are satisfied that every effort will be made to render their camp as comfortable as a camp can be made.”
Near the end of May, Captain Price, who had been ill for some time, returned to his home in Lansing. On June 5, the Republican wrote that Price, “who has been in the city for the past ten days, left for Grand Rapids yesterday. He has, during his absence, obtained some forty recruits for the Third Regiment, all from this place and Owosso. He reports the soldiers in good spirits, and spoiling for a fight. We learn that only about thirty more men are wanted to fill up the Regiment.”
Due to continued ill health, however, Price was forced to remain in Grand Rapids when the Regiment departed for the east on June 13, 1861, and he superintended the three dozen or so men from the Regiment who also remained behind due to sickness. On June 16 the Detroit Free Press reported “There are now in Grand Rapids about 35 members of the Third Regiment, who were on the sick list, and were not able to leave with their Regiment. They are under the care of Doctors Platt and Aldrich, and will go forward as soon as able, with a few others who are yet absent on furlough. Capt. Price has been left in charge of these men, with orders to join the Third Regiment as soon as circumstances will permit.”
Third Michigan Adjutant Edward Earle, who had also remained behind in Grand Rapids on June 13, 1861, wrote on June 22 to Adjutant General Robertson. Earle was responding to an inquiry from Robertson over the status of the soldiers remaining in Grand Rapids. “I would state [the Adjutant wrote] that in all probability there will not be over twenty (20) men that will be enabled to leave with me on Monday next [June 24]. A number of our men are now on furlough. Some of which do not expire until Tuesday next [June 25]. These furloughs were given to men who had been sick, and would not be able to go. The certificate of the Surgeon I will bring with me. -- Captain Price wishes to know what disposition is to be made of those left behind, and whether he is to remain here or go on. He will be in Detroit Monday evening. We shall leave on the 11:20 train Monday morning and suppose arrangements will be made for our transportation.”
There seemed to be a persistent lack of communication between Detroit and Grand Rapids. On July 1 the Michigan state Adjutant General Robertson wrote to Captain J. W. Pierce in Grand Rapids, “Will you please inform me how many men of the Third Regiment are ready to leave for Washington. I have no report from Captain Price since he went back to Grand Rapids.” Two days later, on July 3, Price placed the following notice in the local papers: “All soldiers of the 3rd Regiment out on furlough or otherwise, are requested to report themselves at the Bronson House, Grand Rapids, immediately.”
Price then wrote to the Adjutant General on July 4, 1861, remarking that “I expected to have reported myself long before this time to you from Grand Rapids and have put of[f] from day to day to report from here hoping that I should be well enough to go there[.] I came home to stop a day or so and was taking [sic] with a fever and have some fever yet but am able to get up some today I think I shall be able to go in a day or two. I have written all most every day to the Rapids and received a letter this morning stating that there would be some 10 or 12 [men] well and ready to go by the first of the week[.] There are three here that say they will be able to go by Tuesday next. Sergt. Wilkinson says that there are two that won't be able to go then at the Rapids. I have to ask pardon for my tardiness in responding myself to your honor [as] you asked me to do.”
Price’s failure to leave with the Regiment in June caused some controversy in his own hometown. Writing shortly after the Regiment left Grand Rapids the Lansing Journal charged that Captain Price had no intention of going forward thus impugning his bravery. The Eagle felt constrained to defend Price. It wrote that while it was “true at one time,” but
with a reservation. He intended to remain with the Company unless satisfactory officers -- satisfactory alike to the Regimental staff and to the members of the Company -- could be chosen. Two of the members of his family have been unwell for several months past; one of the constantly and seriously unwell. At the same time was he engaged in a business which required close and active superintendence. It is not strange, therefore, under all these circumstances, that he should have preferred to remain at home. He was desirous, from patriotic motives to march South with the Regiment; but, if his presence could be dispensed with, duty required attendance upon his family. Hence, it was true that he did not at first anticipate that his presence would be absolutely required with his Company. But, from the first day of his arrival in Grand Rapids, the Regimental staff, and the men under his command, united in a strong desire that he should retain his position. In obedience to that desire he has done so; and, probably, when those words meet the reader's eyes, Captain Price will be on his way towards Washington, in charge of such men as are able to travel, who were left behind in this city, through sickness or otherwise, when the Regiment departed. He has fully equipped and prepared himself for the campaign, and will be again at the head of his company. He was ordered to remain in this city, by his superior officers, to take charge of the men left behind, and to see to the return of the articles which were loaned for the use of the soldiers at Cantonment Anderson. In all that he has done, he has pursued on the strict line of his duty; and none but the most fault-finding or malevolent could be induced to assail him in the manner in which the editor of the Lansing Journal has chosen to do in the article head, “A Disgraceful Affair.”
The Lansing Journal also questioned the motives of the city of Grand Rapids in the organizing of the various companies of the Third Regiment. The Eagle wrote in response to these charges,
Not content with thus abusing one of its own reputable citizens, the Lansing paper sees fit to can an undeserved slur upon our city. It represents that one of Grand Rapids’ “ambitious citizens” obtained the command of the Lansing company. There is not the least shadow of truth in this report. The Williams' Rifles [Company G] have no other officers except those whom the members of the company have voluntarily elected, and none who is a citizen of Grand Rapids. The only foundation for such a statement, is, probably, an expression which was obtained from the company several weeks ago. -- At a time when Captain Price supposed that circumstances would not allow him to retain his command, he desired an expression of the company as to whom they desired for his successor, in case he felt impelled to resign. We understood, at the time, that the men named only two persons, both of whom were citizens of Grand Rapids, and Lieutenants in the Third Regiment. If the Lansing company is ever officered or commanded by any citizen of this place, the Journal editor may rest assured that it will only be in obeyance to the wishes and request of the men, who are members of the Williams' Rifles.
The editor of the Journal has evidently allowed himself to be imposed upon, as some others have been by some one or more of them who started for the war, but as they approached the actualities of the camp, were taken off by a kind of white “liver complaint,” and as an excuse for their own disgrace have turned to vilifying those who do not follow their example and the citizens of Grand Rapids generally. We advise our brothers of the quill to be a little more cautious. . . .” and beware any “who attempt to slur the fair name of our valiant officers of our city.”
The article also defended, by inference, the choice of Edwin Pierce to command Company E - the Ionia and Portland boys - and pointed out that Company G, the Lansing group, were both officered by men from Lansing and not from Grand Rapids.
Meanwhile, among some of the men in Company G in Virginia, there developed a serious concern about the absence of officers at the “front.” On July 5, Frank Siverd of Company G wrote to the Republican asking “If Captain Price is not to return, and we little anticipate that he will not, an effort will be made by the company to induce Captain Elder [of the Elder Zouaves] to assume command of the Williams’ Muskets.”
However, on the night of July 9 Price departed for Washington, “in charge,” wrote the Enquirer the following day, “of 12 of those of the 3d Regiment who were left behind on account of sickness. There still remains about a dozen who will go on their way as they are able to.” Price joined the Regiment just before the it departed from its encampment at Chain Bridge, but no sooner had the Regiment departed from its quarters than Price had been taken ill on the march near Vienna, Virginia and was obliged to return to Washington. On July 19 Siverd wrote that Price had been taken sick the first night out from their camp in Washington and returned to Camp Blair, near Chain Bridge.
Charles Church, a private of Company G, was more blunt in his assessment of Price’s behavior since the Regiment left Chain Bridge. He wrote home on August 8 that “Captain Price completely sneaked out,” presumably during the Bull Run affair, and he noted that as of July 20 his company still had no captain.
On July 31, 1861 Price officially resigned on account of disability, and he was succeeded by Lieutenant Robert Jefferds, and in letter dated August 1 Frank Siverd wrote that Lieutenant R. B. Jefferds had been appointed to replace Captain Price, who had resigned. “Captain Price resigned,” said Siverd, “because he could not well do otherwise. He broke down and was really very sick on the first days march. It requires a much stronger constitution than he possesses to withstand the fatigue of a forced march, and we want officers who can always be with us. Price goes to the seashore to recruit.” Siverd further observed that “Full one-half the officers in the Regiment have changed since the Bull Run affair.”
After Price resigned he returned to his home Lansing where he lived the remainder of his life, alternating between his house in the city and his farm in Olive, Clinton County. By 1880 he was working as a house carpenter and living with his wife and children in Lansing’s First Ward.
He was living in Lansing in December of 1882 when he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and during the business meeting of the Tenth annual Old Third Michigan Infantry Association reunion in December of 1882, “On Motion, the old banner of the Regiment was turned over to the State Museum at Lansing, and Capt. Price, of that city, appointed a committee to convey it thither.” Price was living in Lansing in 1888 and in the First Ward (North Lansing) in 1890.
No pension seems to be available (probably as a consequence of not having served the minimum 90 days).
On March 16, 1893, the Lansing Sate Republican reported the details of the Fiftieth anniversary celebration held for Price and his wife. “It is very seldom,” wrote the paper,
that as distinguished or a company composed of so many of Lansing's old pioneers assemble together as gathered last evening at the home of J. W. Twaits and wife, 827 Cedar Street north, to celebrate the golden wedding, hence the fiftieth anniversary, of Capt. J. R. Price and his wife, parents of Mrs. Twaits.
Capt. Price, aged 77 years, is a hearty, strong veteran of the war, and has been a resident of Lansing since 1848. At this advanced age he is healthy and strong, and to look at him one would hardly think he had passed three score years. Mrs. Price, aged 75 years, is not as well preserved, yet as the aged couple stood last evening under a bower of flowers and were once more united in holy wedlock, they seemed the picture of health and happiness, standing as they did, their whitened heads bowed before the alter [sic] of Hymen, slowly repeating the words of the minister of the gospel, which one-half century ago bound them together, to battle the trials of this life. Rev. A. S. Zimmerman assisted by Rev. H. S. Jordan and Rev. W. S. Sly, performed the ceremony which took place at 7 o'clock. After the ceremony the entire company seated themselves at the wedding banquet which had been spread in the dining room and for two hours held high festival, toasting the aged couple.
After the wedding feast the spacious parlors once more became a scene of enlivenment, and the remainder of the evening was spent in making the presentations of numerous and costly gifts to the bridal couple. The first gift was the present of Mrs. Price to her husband of a beautiful crazy quilt, the work of her own hands. Among the other presents were several beautiful chairs, a large quantity of gold pieces, and many gold knives, forks and spoons.
The company present included not only many prominent citizens of Lansing, but also a large number of relatives from abroad, numbering in all about 175.
Among the relatives from a distance were Mrs. L. Houghton of New York, niece of the bridal couple; Mrs. Mattie Driggs, Galesburg, Il., niece; Mr. Dean and wife, Cyrus Cowen and wife of Parma, Mich., the ladies being nieces of the couple; Frank Normington of Ionia, nephew; F. R. Parker and wife, niece, of Battle Creek; Mrs. Carry Anderson, sister of the bridegroom, Mrs. M. W. Tanner, niece, of Saginaw; Joseph Powell, brother of the bride, and wife, of Ionia; Rev. Charles Hulbert, of Detroit, cousin; Hon. A. E. Cowles and wife, niece, and Mrs. William Howard, niece, of Mason.
Among the guests of the city who are among the oldest residents of this vicinity, were Joseph Warner and wife, S. L. Kilbourne and wife, S. R. Greene, L. Gillett and wife, Mrs. J. A. Kerr, Mrs. James M. Turner, Mrs. E. Longyear, Mrs. J. Longyear, A. G. Scofield and wife and many others.
During the evening several original poems, written for the occasion, extending congratulations to the aged couple were read, and several very fine musical selections were rendered by the Millard quartet.
In the final years of his life, wrote the Portrait and Biographical Album of Ingham and Livingston Counties, “Those who are the loudest in their own behalf are not always appreciated most highly by their neighbors, and the reverse of this fact is also true, as may be attested to by every one who knows the ‘old Marshal’ of Lansing, Ingham County. Capt. Price, who was Marshal of this city in its first days and held the office until within the last few years,is not a man who speaks his own praises, but he is warmly appreciated by every man, woman and child in this city and his resignation from that office on account of age was deeply regretted. His services to the country are appreciated by those who know his story and genuine regret is felt that technicalities should have derived one who is so worthy from receiving a pension as a token of a nation's gratitude.”
Price served a term on the School Board, was Commissioner for Highways, and served on both grand and petit juries, and was the first Marshal of Lansing. He was also an elder in the Franklin Street Presbyterian church and was at one time Superintendent of the Sunday school. He was, according to the Album, a Republican “of the old-fashioned kind and a true patriot in every sense of the word.”
John took sick in October of 1894, and was confined to his home. He recovered briefly in December, but was again confined to his bed, “and was a patient sufferer until death came to his relief.”
John died of dropsy in his home at 524 North Cedar Street in Lansing on July 11, 1895, and was buried on July 14 in Mt. Hope cemetery, Lansing: 10-95-A.