Back in the Sullivan saddle…


It’s been a long time since I’ve either had the time to post or exciting story to post. I am still short in the time department, but I have had a significant find and wanted to share it out with the family.

John William Sullivan was my great grandfather and by most accounts a family deserter and minstrel man. I recently uncovered more truths about him which has provided a newfound respect for the man that I didn’t have before. This respect was for his military career. I wanted to fill in gaps of time that I couldn’t locate him in between census records. I took a shot at the 1900 census one last time because we did know he served during the Spanish American War due to gravestone info. I scrolled down the long list of John Sullivans (and there are many!) and saw location Washington Barracks, Washington DC. Well, anything was possible!

I clicked the record open and it read like a most obvious piece of information. John W Sullivan, check. Binghamton, NY, check. 7 Sherman Place, CHECK! I found him! He was in the federal census as a private and residing at the Washington Barracks which is the Marines HQ in D.C. It has been home to other arms of the military who were preparing for deployment. This record also listed what I needed to truly confirm, Battery M, 7th Regiment, Field Artillery. Now I had what I needed to move forward.

Over the Christmas break last year, I sent away for his possible military records. Everything came up zilch except for a file number provided and direction to write to the Dept of Veterans Affairs. I waited on that and am so glad because of the new info I found.

Battery M, 7th Field Artillery was an additional regiment to the Army due tothe declaration of war with Spain as our military strength was at a deficit. This particular regiment was sent to Puerto Rico to fend of the Spaniards. Google it, there’s some interesting info out there. In one of the books published about the war, I did learn that this regiment was renamed, read on…

I couldn’t understand why his gravestone was incribed (don’t laugh) “15 Bat F Art”. Along with having the incorrect year of death 1930 (actual 1929), I could never reconcile this regiment with the SpanAm war. I learned from an online copy of a book published about the war that this regiment had been renamed to the 15th Battery Light Field Artillery. Check! Digging deeper I went back to a file I kept in my shoebox of an enlistment record.

I read it again in disbelief that my great grandfather’s occupation was listed as jockey and he was 5′ 4″ (huh my Grampa was so tall!) but according to my mother’s historical account from her own research a long time ago, John’s brother Thomas owned a racehorse so this could make sense here. This record not only provides enlistment details, but discharge details as well. His regiment was listed as the 7th and then as 15th, perfect!

His discharge details require some deciphering though. It appears he ended his service Dec 15 1902 and was discharged from Angel Island, CA still as a Private but in fair condition. Could this also mean he served during the Phillipine Insurrection?? I have yet to determine it but it would appear as the reason he was in California at all.

There are several return from post records in 1900 to go along with the census. He was in and out of Walter Reed hospital from May-Aug that year. I don’t know the reason why. Once released from service in 1902, he appeared in the Binghamton city directories from 1903-1906 with USA as occupation a couple of years and then as a shoeworker. In 1907 he was removed to Rochester.

I do have newspaper clippings in 1904 of his time with the Binghamton Minstrels and York State Minstrels.

He surfaces between 1905-1908 in Syracuse newspaper clipping as having attended Valentines parties where he would be mentioned with a certain Mary Thompson whom he eventually marry. He (along with Mary) was also mentioned in stories about the shoeworker union strikes at the time and eventually left for Rockland, MA to work the booming shoe factories there.

Mary also went to MA, but to Brockton as her twin sister Sarah had moved there with new husband Frank in 1909. There they were shoeworkers and in October 11, 1911 Mary and John wed in Brockton. They returned soon after as my grandfather John Edward was born in Binghamton in 1913.

They didn’t stay together very long after their return however they both were shoeworkers at Endicott Johnson. He went on to be part of the EJ Minstrels and various other mintrel shows (Holy Name Minstrels) as a hoofer and singer in blackface. He moved to Elmira, NY for a while where he registered for the draft in 1918 for WWI. Occupation this time, bartender.

I can’t be sure now if he actually was drafted for WWI or not, but at least I have more concrete information to send with my request to the VA. I can’t locate him in any city directories after this time either. in 1921 he is still performing in minstrel shows.

The trail ends with his passing in Albany, NY in 1929 at St. Peter’s hospital. His funeral was held at his sister Nellie (Sullivan) Ryan’s home. He is buried in St. Patrick’s cemetery in Binghamton.

I can’t wait to discover more and hopefully gain new information from the VA. But in the meantime, I am glad to be back in the saddle like my great grandfather and get this info out to the family.