James Wallace: A Stonemason, Farmer, Laborer and Civil War Veteran

Ancestors of James Wallace
When James Wallace was born June 11, 1840 he was the fourth child, of fifteen, and third son of his parents Samuel and Emily (Green) Wallace. One of his brothers had died before his birth, so he was greeted by his older brother Samuel and sister Sarah.

Both Wallace and Wallis are used in the records as the surname of this family. I will refer to the family as Wallace, which was more frequently used in latter generations.

When James was born in 1840, Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States. Two years earlier the Cherokee Indians were forced off their farms and homes in the Southeast, and sent to Oklahoma, many dying along the way. In 1839, United States authorities took custody of the slave trading ship Amistad, and in 1841 the Supreme Court ruled that kidnapping and transporting Africans were against International treaties regarding the slave trade. and the Africans must be freed. The United States was in a major recession, which began during the Panic of 1837 and lasted until the mid-1840s. The Presidential election of 1840 saw Martin van Buren defeated by William Henry Harrison.

The Wallace family was one of the earliest black families to settle in Monson, Massachusetts. Monson is located is southwestern Massachusetts. It was incorporated in 1775, when it was separated from Brimfield. Monson was primarily a farming community in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the 19th and 20th centuries, and particularly with the addition of a railroad through the town in the mid-1800s, industry began to develop. Major industry included woolen mills and a granite quarry. Palmer borders Monson on the north, Brimfield and Wales on the east, Stafford, Connecticut on the south, and Hampden and Wilbraham on the west.

In 1840, 3,146 individuals lived in Monson. This included 26 individuals of color. There were three black families – the Wallis, Powers and Johnson families. Twenty-one of the persons of color lived in these three families. The other five non-white individuals lived in white households. By 1850 the number of blacks in the town had increased to 65.

James’ parents owned their own small farm, which was located near the other black families in town. His father, as well as his brothers, worked for other farmers in the area, in addition to farming their own land. His mother, and probably his sisters, worked for other families in town, doing laundry and housekeeping.

James grew up working on the local farms, and hanging out with his neighbors and friends. However, when he was 15 he was living in the House of Corrections in Springfield as an inmate. I have not found information on why he was incarcerated, or for how long. By 1860 he was once again at home living with his parents.

On March 3, 1863 James enlisted in the Army as a Private, and served in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, Company A during the remainder of the Civil War. The Massachusetts 54th was the first troop of black soldiers organized in the North, and in Massachusetts. His enlistment records say that he was 5’7” tall, with brown complexion and dark eyes and hair.

He proudly served his country. He participated in the siege of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The 54th suffered a large number of casualties in this battle, his brother was wounded, and one of his friends from Monson was killed. During his service, he saw battle, marched throughout the South, including South Carolina and Florida, and suffered many of the illnesses soldiers encountered in the Southern climates, including malaria and smallpox. He was mustered out of service on August 20, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.

After discharge from the Army, he returned to his parents’ home and spent the next three months in bed. It appeared that he had malaria and he was treated by a local doctor. It was about two years before he could begin working again, but he was never able to work at the same level that he worked before the War. He worked as a farmer, laborer and a stone mason.

There were at least three women in his life in the late 1860s, as indicated by birth records in which he was listed as the father. I’m sure that got a little complicated in such a small town!

Johanna Murphy, white and born in Ireland, and James had a baby girl born March 6, 1868. The baby died April 29, 1868 from inflammation of the bowels. In 1870, Johanna was living in the home of Henry Wallace, uncle of James, and Henry’s son Henry C., cousin of James. No additional information was found on Johanna.

James and Anna Marie Gibbons began their relationship about this time, and their daughter, Martha H. was born May 2, 1869. James and Anna would not marry until January 10, 1895.

His first marriage was to Mary Longto. Although there is no documentation of the marriage in the town records, the clerk stated in James’ affidavit for his pension that the records were incomplete, with many missing. James indicated he had been married previously when he and Anna applied for a marriage license.

Mary Longto was born about 1848 in Canada (Some records say she was born in Malone, New York which is on the Canadian border), and was white. They probably married between 1869 and 1870. In 1870, they were living together and he was working on a farm and she was home taking care of the house. James and Mary had at least five children.

  1. Ellen “Ella” Louisa was born in December 1870. She married Walter E. Brooks on May 12, 1897 in Boston. Walter worked as a waiter in Boston hotel restaurants. They had one son, Earl Henry Brooks. Earl served in the Army during World War II. I haven’t found a record of Ella’s death, but believe it was between 1930 and 1932.
  2. Baby girl was born, and died, December 19, 1871.
  3.  Henry Frank was born December 25, 1874, and died October 13, 1880 from the croup.
  4. Edwin was born in March 1877, and died October 24, 1878 from typhoid fever.
  5. Alice C. was born December 21, 1879, and died before 1918. She is not listed as a surviving child in her father’s obituary.

There might be one additional child. The 1880 census lists Frank, 6 years old, and Henry, 5 years old. I cannot find additional information on both boys. How heartbreaking it must be to lose so many of your children at such an early age. I can only find records of one child living to adulthood – Ella Louisa.

No death records have been found for Mary. She probably died before 1895, and James and Anna’s marriage.

James first applied for a disability pension as a result of his military service in 1888. He claimed rheumatism, varioloid (mild form of smallpox), fever and ague (malaria, resulting in fevers, sweating) as the reason for disability. In his application, he began having problems with rheumatism beginning in January 1864 during a march from Jacksonville, Florida toward Lake City. The cause was sleeping on the ground and exposure. In April 1865 he had varioloid and was sent to the hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. He was hospitalized about 12 days. He received light duty at that time until the close of war. He had his first attack of fever and ague at Gallops Island near Boston about three days before discharge. His application was denied.

He again applied for a disability pension in 1901, 1903, 1904 and it was finally approved in 1905 because he was over 62 years of age. All examinations said he was not sufficiently disabled in order to collect a pension. However, the final physical in the pension records stated there were significant effects and limitations because of rheumatism and other conditions caused by aging and the type of work he did. Later applications also stated that he had consumption (tuberculosis).

James was unable to write his name at the time he joined the army. He learned how to write after his discharge. However, according to affidavits included in the pension records, he did attend school. He does not say how many years he completed.

By 1901 he and his wife Anna were renting their home in Palmer on Dublin Street near the railroad road tracks. He and Anna continued to live in various residences on Dublin Street until his death. James was 78 years old when he died on May 19, 1918 from chronic intestinal nephritis, which would have resulted in kidney failure. He had been ill for two years.

Death of James Wallis

James Wallis, 77, died Tuesday morning at 2:45 at his home on Dublin street. He was a veteran of the Civil war, serving in Co. A of the 34th (54th) Massachusetts regiment, and a well known Negro resident of the town for years. Besides his widow he leaves three sisters, Miss Mary Wallis of Palmer, Mrs. Sarah Lawtor of Onset and Mrs. Betsey Thompson of Springfield, and two daughters, Mrs. Louise Brooks of Boston and Mrs. Charles Andrews of Palmer. The funeral was held from Phillips’ undertaking rooms this afternoon at 2 o’clock, with burial in Monson.
The Palmer Journal, Friday, May 31, 1918

James is buried at Hillside Cemetery, Monson in a lot owned by the Marcus Keep Post G.A.R. Lot 115, Section 9. This lot and grave is in the center section of the graveyard near the road.

Jas Wallis

The next story will be on Samuel Wallace and Emily Green, the parents of James.

Sunny today and the temperature has hit 60 degrees! Flowers are beginning to bloom and Spring is on its way. Have a great week.


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