Abraham Johnson “John” Whitney was born on January 13, 1820, in Canton, Steuben County, New York, the son of Connecticut native Zerah Whitney (1784-1873) and Jane Demond (1788-1843).
Abraham’s parents were married in Danby, Tompkins County, New York (where Jane was born) in February of 1808 and soon settled in Canton, Steuben County, New York. Zerah eventually moved his family west and by 1832 they were living in Buffalo, Erie County, New York where he was working as a tanner on Ohio Street.
Abraham came to Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan in 1834 or 1836 and in 1840 enlisted in the regular army. He was sent to Copper Harbor on Lake Superior, when war broke out he was sent to Mexico. According to another source, when the war with Mexico broke out Abraham enlisted for five years in the 2nd U.S. Infantry, took part in the battle of Monterrey under Genral Zachary Taylor, served under General Winfield Scott and fought in the battles of Vera Cruz, Contreras, Churubusco, Chepaultepec and Molino del Rey. After he was discharged form the army Abraham returned briefly to New York before heaidng out to California where he spent 18 months mining for gold. He eventually came to Whitneyville, Michigan, taking up the trade of farmer.
His father Zerah left New York and eventually settled in Hopkins, Allegan County, Michigan. By 1850 Zerah and Abraham were both living with Abraham’s older brother Ezra and his family in Cascade, Kent County.
Abraham married Julia Ann Morse (1833-1865), on April 26, 1852, in Whitneyville. She was the daughter of Benjamin Morse and sister of William Morse both of Lowell, Kent County. William would join the 3rd Michigan during the war as would his cousin, another Benjamin Morse, also from Lowell. Abraham was the uncle of Oscar Whitney who would also join the 3rd Michigan in 1861.
By 1860 Abraham (listed as “A. J. Whiting”) was working as a master carpenter (with $1,200 in real estate and $400 in personal property) and living in Lowell, Kent County, with his wife Julia and two young girls: Adelaide and HelenWhitney. They were all living with Julia’s parents.
He was 41 years old and possibly living in Hastings, Barry County when he enlisted as Second Lieutenant of Company I on May 13, 1861, commissioned First Lieutenant on August 1, 1861, and transferred to Company G, replacing Lieutenant Robert Jefferds. Whitney very possibly joined Company G sometime in late July, and in fact, on August 1, Frank Siverd of Company G, wrote to the Republican that Whitney had just replaced Jefferds as First Lieutenant.
Whitney was generally liked, and the transfer caused no problems within Company G. Charles Church of Company G wrote home on August 8, 1861, that “Our first Lieutenant is a Lieutenant out of Co. I. He is a good one.” And George Miller of Company A wrote home three days later that “John Whitney has been promoted to First Lieutenant of company G. He makes a good officer and is universally like by his men which I find is a great difference from some of those who held this station.” Siverd agreed. He wrote on September 8 that “Lieutenant Whitney commands the company, and is deservedly popular, he knows neither fear nor favor, and when he becomes a little better acquainted with the character of the men he has to deal with, will be entirely successful as a commanding officer.”
Sometime in 1861 Whitney’s wife come east to be with her husband. George Miller wrote home on November 11, 1861, that he had just seen “Lieutenant Whitney’s wife the other day. She has got to be quite a lady.” He added that “Whitney is acting as Captain of company G.” Miller wrote his parents that on December 28 that Whitney, accompanied by his wife, left that day for Michigan on recruiting service, and that Whitney would stop by to see his [George’s] family.
Abraham arrived in Detroit on the morning of January 1, 1862, “and reported himself,” wrote the Free Press, “to Colonel Backus, who has all the recruiting in this state, under his supervision. By his directions Lieut. Whitney will shortly be assigned his headquarters, and those wishing to enlist in a first-class Regiment of infantry cannot do better than apply to the Lieutenant for admission to the Third.” George Miller certainly hoped so. He wrote home on January 15, 1862, “I presume Whitney will get some of those fellows at home out here. I hope he will, I should like to see somebody from there first rate.” And on February 11, Frank Siverd wrote to Republican that Whitney was in Michigan “on the recruiting service, and would be glad to receive the names of any who are desirous of entering immediately into active service. ”
By the time the Virginia “Peninsular” campaign began in the spring of 1862, Whitney had rejoined his company. Siverd informed the Republican on May 2 that “Captain Jefferds, Lieutenant Whitney and H. L. Thayer arrived in camp recently. The two latter, from Michigan, were most warmly welcomed.”
Abraham was wounded slightly in the arm by gunfire on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia, and shortly afterwards commissioned Captain of Company G on June 9, 1862, officially replacing Captain Jefferds. He was absent with leave from July 6, and according to Homer Thayer of Company G, as of at least July 5, Whitney was “sick and at the hospital at Fortress Monroe, but writes me that he will soon be back to join his company.” In fact, Abraham resigned on September 30, 1862.
After he resigned Whitney returned Michigan. By the summer of 1863 when he registered for the draft he was working as a farmer in Lowell; no mention of his prior military service in the record, however.
After Julia died in 1865, Abraham reportedly married New York native Virginia Amanda Chatterdon (d. 1868), on November 17, 1866, in Muskegon, Muskegon County. (Abraham may have been living in Musekgon at the time; in any case, Virginia was from Lowell, Kent County.)
After his wife died in Muskegon, Abraham settled in Grand Rapids.
He was probably living in Grand Rapids when he married Englishwoman Frances Bennett (1839-1909), on May 18, 1870, in Grand Rapids, and they probably had at least one child: Willard Johnson (1876-1954).
By 1870 he was working as a blinds maker and living with his wife Frances and two children in Grand Rapids’ 1st Ward: Larry (b. 1858) and Elizabeth (b. 1863; Elizabeth had been born in Ontario, Canada.) By 1880 he was working as a chair maker and living with his wife and son Willard in Grand Rapids’ 5th Ward. He was living in Grand Rapids in 1888 and 1890, indeed he probably lived out the remainder of his life in Grand Rapids, serving as 6th Ward alderman and as a supervisor for the Township of Grand Rapids.
He was a member of the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry Association, and inducted into the Old Settlers’ Association in January of 1880. He was also probably a member of the Universalist church. He received pension no. 117,186, dated June of 1871, drawing $4.00 in 1883.
Abram died of malarial fever around midnight Wednesday-Thursday, March 11-12, 1891, at his home at 82 Monroe Street in Grand Rapids, and the funeral service was held at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Universalist church. He was buried in Greenwood cemetery: section E lot 44.
In April of 1891 Frances was living in Michigan when she applied for and received a pension (no. 357977). By 1900 she was living in Grand Rapids’ 6th Ward; her son Willard and his wife Carrie were also living with her.