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Monday, January 10, 2022

Civil War - 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry - James E. Avery

A few years ago my father gave me a wood tool chest that my Grandfather, George E., had in his possession. My father said Geo was a Blacksmith by trade and did some work for someone who could not pay him so he was given the tool chest for his work. It has nice inlay on the top and on the drawers inside. The engraving on the top says J.E.A. Inside it also has a metal tag that says J.E. Avery.

I did a grave search at the cemetery sites in that area. The Riverside Cemetery in Saugatuck, MI came up with a James E Avery.

In reading the obituary there was something interesting. It says that James E Avery came to Saugatuck in March of 1891 and engaged in the wagon making business with S.C. Reed until the spring of 1897. It then says he left Saugatuck for Ohio and returned to Saugatuck in 1907. It says he was in the hospital from April to December of 1911 when he passed away.

My grandfather is buried in the same cemetery (Riverside Cemetery) and I read his obituary. It said Geo apprenticed himself (circa 1910) to a blacksmith (Samuel C. Reed) who operated blacksmith shops in Saugatuck and Douglas.

I thought my grandfather may have known James Avery as both lived in Saugatuck. Both worked for Samuel C Reed so there could be a connection. There was approximately 2 years of overlap from when my grandfather started working as a blacksmith at SC Reed and J.E Avery’s death. James may have done woodworking from his time making wagons. James could have paid with the chest as payment for services rendered.

I looked at the metal tag again. It says J.E. Avery, Toledo O. James Avery’s obituary said he was in Ohio from 1897 to 1906.

The tag has a bird on it. To me the wings look like an eagle but it looks like the bird has something below its mouth. I was not sure what that was.

I kept going with my research and came across a website called 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1861-1864, "Grand Army of the Potomac". Below is the Bio on J. E. Avery.

Avery, James E., Lenawee County. Entered service in Company B, Fourth Infantry, at organization, as Second Lieutenant, June 20, 1861, at Adrian, for 3 years, age 28. Height 5’10½”. Complexion light. Eyes blue. Hair brown. Carriage maker by trade. Commissioned to date May 16, 1861. Mustered June 20, 1861. Commissioned First Lieutenant January 12, 1862. Admitted to Hospital in April 1862 at Yorktown, Virginia, while washing his face in swamp water, a violent inflammation of the right eye occurred rendering him wholly unfit for duty. Totally blind in right eye and almost blind in the left. Sent to Fortress Monroe, surgeon stated it was an ulceration of the cornea, never improved until he died. Resigned and honorably discharged December 4, 1862 by G. O. No. 20 Surgeon Certificate. Died December 23,1911, Old Soldiers Home, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Buried Riverside Cemetery, Saugatuck, Michigan. Born on October 19, 1832 in Mannsville, Jefferson County, New York.

From the web site I emailed George who does research for the 4th and asked him about the chest and tag from J.E. Avery. George replied and we talked by phone.

It turns out George is in charge of seeking out information and grave plots for about 2000 men that served in the 4th Michigan. One of them is James E. Avery. He had medical records and discharge papers with more details on James’ medical condition, etc. He had accurate records on where James lived after the war. I emailed him a photo of the tag and one of the tool box and asked for his opinion.

He started with the tag and felt it was not civil war but after the civil war. It lacked Regiment information, etc. used for identification that actual Civil war tags would have. His records indicated James lived in Toledo from 1867 – 1877 and that would fall in line with the Toledo, OH reference.

George said the tag was well worn indicating lots of use. He thought it was most likely a pocket watch fob. He said it could have been something stamped out at a 4th reunion, gathering, etc. He said it could have come from a flag or cloth and attached through the hole in the tag but that would not explain the wear of the tag so he was more comfortable with it being a watch fob.

I sent him a picture of the unopened chest. George called it a box and said he had seen them before. He described the inside of the box to me without having seen the pictures I took. Military records indicate James was a Carriage Maker by trade before he entered the military in 1861. George said in those days a Master Woodworkers first project was to make there own tool box. They used them to display their handiwork and carry tools. Based on military medical records and discharge papers James Avery became completely blind in his right eye and could not distinguish people more than 10 feet away with his left eye. George felt James would not be able to do the detail inlay on the box so he thought it was made before he was commissioned (pre 1861). George said this would have been a very important and personal piece to a Master Woodworker.

I sent him pictures of the inside that confirmed this. He especially liked the inlay of the shields on the inside treys. I told him my grandfather was a blacksmith and put the iron frame on the lid to help protect the box as he used it. He felt that the metal on the corners was something from my grandfather also as a woodworker would pride himself on strong corner joints and would not use metal reinforcements. I asked if we should repaint or strip the paint. He said the paint could be original or put on by my grandfather so he suggested leaving it or at least have someone look at it to verify the originality of the paint.

George said James was discharged on December 4, 1862. A week after his discharge the 4th Michigan fought in Fredericksburg, VA, Chancellorsville, VA, and then Gettysburg, PA. There were many casualties, especially at Gettysburg.

Note about the chest … my father said my grandfather forged and added the metal strips around the top for strength and protection as he used the chest. He also added casters so the chest could be moved easily as it is very heavy. There are 8 treys inside. The center has a lid that slides open to reveal a lower compartment. Each trey can slide to the center exposing the trey below. When all treys on one side are moved to the middle there is a compartment below for storing larger items. The top treys have locking mechanisms but we have no key.

I still have some tools from my grandfather inside the chest. A couple levels (they say Stanley Rule & Level Co., New Britain, Conn.), wood chisels, and a measuring tool my father said they used to measure how many board feet a logged tree would produce. I remember being told when Chicago had the bad fires lots of timber used to rebuild came from or through the Saugatuck/Douglas, MI area.

UPDATE: In my continued search for information on James E. Avery, I found a website titled “Descendants of Stukely Westcott”.
James E. Avery is a descendant of Stukely Westcott. It appears Stukely was one of the original settlers coming to America in 1635.

Rhoda Westcott is listed as person number 127. She is in the “Generation No. 7” list. She Married Daniel Brown Avery of New York State. They had 5 children. Number 3 is listed as JAMES E. AVERY, b. Oct 19, 1832. This matches the Obituary for James E Avery in Saugatuck. I guess that would make him 8th Generation.

127.RHODA7 WESTCOTT (PRESERVED6, GEORGE WASHINGTON5, GEORGE WASHINGTON4, JEREMIAH3, JEREMIAH2, STUKELY1) was born Feb 21, 1803 in Middletown, Windsor Co, Vermont, and died 1873.She married DANIEL BROWN AVERY81 May 22, 1825 in Pitcairn, St. Lawrence Co, New York82, son of ? AVERY and SALLY RUDDOX.
Notes for D
Brother of Betsey Avery, wife of David Westcott of Ephraim Westcott. (Book of Appendices, Stukely Westcott, Vol. 2, Pg. 172, 1939)
Children of R
i.SARAH A.8 AVERY, b. Sep 19, 1826; m. S.N. PHELPS.
ii.WILLIAM CORNELIUS AVERY, b. Dec 16, 1829; m. REBECCA JANE BRONSON, Apr 18, 186682.
iii.JAMES E. AVERY, b. Oct 19, 1832.
iv.FANNIE M. AVERY, b. Jul 23, 1837; m. GEORGE H. FIE.
v.RHODA AVERY82, b. 1840.

James E Avery Obituary:

Sarah Avery Phelps (Sister) lived in Saugatuck at one point and is buried in Riverside Cemetery also.

Stukely Westcott had some interesting friends including Roger Williams (Roger Williams University). Stukely and Roger were two of the original members who helped organize the first Baptist Church in America, the old First Baptist Church of Providence, that was founded March, 1639.

Stukely’s daughter Damaris Westcott Arnold (married Benedict Arnold) became the "First Lady of the Colony" when her husband succeeded Roger Williams in 1644 as President of the Colony and again in 1663, when he was named Governor under the Charter granted by King Charles II.

They also reference a Lewis Jr. (relative) who was knighted by James I in 1603, and in 1617, was appointed guardian of Thomas Rolf, infant son of John Rolf and his wife, the American Indian Princess, Pocahontas.

James E. Avery had some interesting American heritage.