Sunday, July 10, 2011
[Picture by Kari Petersen, 2010]
The first record I can find for Samuel Davis is his service record. He enlisted in a Kansas Volunteer Colored Infantry on January 4, 1863. 1 On any other service record this may not have seemed significant, but for Mr. Davis, this means that his first legal act as a free man was to join the fight to ensure his freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation had been enacted only three days before.
The Kansas Colored Infantry units were soon combined with other Colored Infantry and he was mustered into Company K of the 79th U.S. Colored Infantry. Kansas had been a free state before the war and it is likely that during the war, Samuel Davis had fled from a neighboring slave state, such as Missouri. Given the haste with which he enlisted, I even imagine he would have already been working for the US Army in some capacity.
The army, for many newly freed black men, was an opportunity too good to pass up. The opportunity to make some money, along with rations and clothing, would have been welcomed by men for whom other means of livelihood were scarce. Mr. Davis found the opportunities in the army enticing, it seems, since he reenlisted after the war and spent a good portion of the reconstruction period stationed in Texas with the 24th US Colored Infantry. 2 Throughout his service he served as a musician, and was promoted to Principal Musician, during his last term of service. 3
As with my other veterans, I started with the information I could find on the gravestone. Finding the paperwork about the gravestone gave me his date of death, and confirmed the regimental information on the stone. 4 Then searching for a pension was the next step, which provided me with a widow's name: Hannah. 5
Common names are the curse of genealogists. It can be very difficult to find the correct Tom Jones or James Smith, and so it is important to look for other clues. In this case, the fact that he is black and his wife's name was Hannah did help to distinguish him from other people in the records, but not enough to make me comfortable that a particular census record might have been about him. So I turned to my next possible mine of information: the local newspaper.
With a date of death, I can often find a death notice. However, I have sometimes found that the usual routes of finding information do not always apply to African Americans back in the 1800s. Most of the media was owned by white interests who were not invested in printing things about people of color, unless it was a very particular version of those people that it portrayed. But with Samuel Davis, I got lucky.
The Oakland Tribune released a paid notice about his funeral which also tells us that he was born in Florida. 6 This is the type of information that would make Samuel Davis more clearly identifiable.
He is listed in the 1870 US Federal Census at his army post.7 But in the 1880 US Federal Census, he is living in Maverick, Texas with his wife, Hannah. He is working as a Freighter and his wife keeps house. 8 They are the only black couple listed on the census sheet upon which they appeared.
I don't know why they moved to California, although the railroad and jobs associated with it were big draws for many African American men. They could get jobs as porters on the cars which brought in good money, and the work was often not as dangerous as some of the railroad jobs. At some point, I will request his pension files and, perhaps, learn more about what brought him here and if they had any children before he died.
But I know that he died in Oakland. According to an article about his death in the San Francisco Chronicle, he died of an epileptic seizure out on the street.9 He was a member of the G. A. R., Lyon Post No. 8 in Oakland, and the services for his funeral were held under their auspices. 10
1 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
2 Year: 1870; Census Place: Fort Clark US Military Res., Kinney, Texas; Roll: M593_1594; Page: 173B; Image: 350; Family History Library Film: 553093. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
3 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
4 Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
5 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
6 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Tuesday, October 11, 1898, pg. 2.
7 Year: 1870; Census Place: Fort Clark US Military Res., Kinney, Texas; Roll: M593_1594; Page: 173B; Image: 350; Family History Library Film: 553093. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
8 Year: 1880; Census Place: Precinct 2, Maverick, Texas; Roll: 1319; Page: 58B; Enumeration District: 106; Family History Library Film: 1255319. Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
9 San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 1898, pg. 7.
10 Mountain View Cemetery Records, Book 4, pg. 288.