Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Abraham Johnson “John” Whitney

Abraham Johnson “John” Whitney was born in 1820 in Canton, Steuben County, New York, the son of Zerah (1784-1873) and Jane (Dermond, 1788-1843).

Abraham’s parents were married in Danby, Tompkins County, New York (where Jane was born) in February of 1808 and quickly settled in Canton, Steuben County, New York where they lived for many years. Zerah 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 about 1840 enlisted in the regular army and was sent to Copper Harbor on Lake Superior. When war broke out in 1847 he was sent to Mexico; he reenlisted, and was sent out to California about 1849. He returned to Michigan shortly afterwards, taking up the trade of farmer.

His father Zerah left New York and eventually settled in Hopkins, Allegan County, Michigan, and by 1850 Zerah and Abraham were both living with Abraham’s older brother Ezra and his family in Cascade, Kent County. By 1860 Abram was probably living in Grand Rapids, Kent County. (He was possibly the uncle of Oscar Whitney who would also join the Third Michigan in 1861.)

Abraham was married perhaps as many as four times, atlhough this cannot be confirmed: He may have been married to one Anne or Annie, to one Julia Morse, and/or to one Virginia Chatterdon. In any case he was married to Englishwoman Frances Bennett (b. 1841) and they probably had at least three children: Larry (b. 1858), Elizabeth (b. 1863) and Willard J. (b. 1877). (Elizabeth had been born in Ontario, Canada.)

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.

Apparently Whitney was generally liked, and the transferal 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 had come east to be with her husband (they had one son). 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 family.

Whitney 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, 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.” Whitney 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, however, Whitney resigned on September 30, 1862.

After he resigned Whitney returned to his home in Grand Rapids. By 1870 he was working as a blind maker and living with his wife Frances and two children in Grand Rapids’ First Ward. By 1880 he was working as a chair maker and living with his wife and son Willard in Grand Rapids’ Fifth 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 Sixth Ward alderman and as a supervisor for the Township of Grand Rapids.

He was a member of the Old Third 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).

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