John Jacob Helder was born on May 24, 1842, in either the Netherlands or in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan.
John was probably the same “Jacob “ Helder who in 1860 was working as a shoemaker and living with another shoemaker named Robert Tapping and his family in Tyrone, Kent County; Jacob owned some $500 worth of real estate.
In any case, John stood 5’9” with dark eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 19 years old and probably residing in Kent County when he enlisted in Company B on May 13, 1861. He was discharged for hypertrophy of the heart on September 18, 1861 at Arlington Heights, Virginia.
After he was discharged from the army John returned to Michigan where he reentered the service in Company B, Fourteenth Michigan infantry on October 21, 1861, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, and was mustered on January 7, 1862, probably at Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, where the regiment was organized between January 7 and February 18, 1862.
He reportedly deserted on either January 9 or February 18 at Ypsilanti, although according to sworn statements given in later years by former comrades of the Fourteenth he was apparently sick from at least April of 1862 through April of 1863. (The regiment left Michigan for St. Louis, Missouri, on April 17, 1862.) In any case, there is no further record of his military service.
Many years later Helder sought to expunge the record of the desertion charge. In desperation to find witnesses to testify as to his war record, on December 19, 1918, he wrote a pleading letter to the Pension Commissioner at the War Department. “I am very glad,” he wrote,
to receive from you, through our Senator the Hon. James H. Jarvis, your letter to him concerning my war record, as it gives me yet a shadow of a chance to aid me to find some one out of that co. B that is yet alive, and is on the pension roll, if you could draw from the role the names of the men that is [sic] drawing pensions, while with the the squad. While with the squad some ten days or maybe two weeks I acted as orderly Sargent [sic] and attended to the roll call mornings and evenings, and some of the boys understood my condition, as I was yet unable to stand much drilling, that I had to give up marching, that some of them took an interest in me, and asked me how it happened that I was in that condition as I have written to all the names that was on the state muster roll at Lansing in Mich. and have never been able to receive a [sic] answer. I begin almost to despare [sic] of finding anyone that knows anything about me excepting Kelly the recruiting Sargent [sic] and old Dr. Saunders and they are both dead. But there may be some one of the men in your list from that squad of 22 men that is drawing a pension and if you would or could draw off there [sic] name[s and] address[es] it may proof [sic] of value to me. I would be so glad to be able to clear me from that charge of desertion. Its as false a lie as anything could be made against a innocent poor parentless boy as I wanted to go as they had promised to give me my place and they had 4 other boys promised the same place. I would be so glad if could aid me in this.
It is not known if John ever returned to Michigan after the war.
He was apparently residing in Ontario, Canada, when he married his first wife, Canadian native Adelaide Ramsey (1848-1903) on November 9, 1864 in Dundas, Ontario, and they had at least three children: William (b. 1866), Frank (b. 1868) and Paul (1870-72).
He was living in Buffalo and Dunkirk, New York around 1865, then moved on to Chicago and eventually settled in Elgin, Illinois around 1866. By 1870 John was working as a shoemaker and living with his wife and two sons in Elgin in 1870. In fact John lived in Elgin from 1866 to 1912: in 1907 at 210 Dexter Street when he married a second time to a widow, Illinois native Nellie Hadlock Samuelson (b. 1859) on June 5, and in Elgin’s First Ward in 1910 and in 1912 at 113 Cherry Street. In 1915 he was living in Elgin at 161 Melrose Avenue, and in 1918 at 158 N. Chamming Street, and he and Nellie were still living in Elgin in 1920.
In 1862 John applied for and received pension no. 360,600.
John died in Elgin on August 24, 1922, and was presumably buried in Elgin.