Immigrant, Soldier, Builder

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Gustavus H. Black, Civil War soldier

Gustavus H. Black (1840-1926), my second great grand uncle, emigrated with his family on the ship Glen from Sligo, Ireland in 1849 during the Potato Famine.  The family settled in Washington, CT, where they had a farm.  Gustavus attended the Gunnery School in Washington and later attended the Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie NY.  When the Civil War came, Gusavus was one of three Black brothers, among other Gunnery students and Washington men, who enlisted in the Union Army. He served in Company H 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Regiment D.  Because of injury or illness, he recovered from near death in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, before returning home.

In a letter to his brother William, Feb. 13, 1918, Gustavus wrote: “The civil war made a change in the United States, and in the whole world… This was what I enlisted for and at the Gunnery… I was called the Black abolitionist, and when Rome Ford bid me good by, he said, no you will not free the slaves, we will have slaves to work for us here on our farms. But I said, no Rome, if I live to come back, the black race will be as free as you and me, and when I did go back home I told him, I told you the truth. Our Declaration of Independence tells the truth now, but it did not before, “all men free and equal.” Thanks to our Heavenly Father. ”

After the war, he married Sarah E. Brewster whose family descended from the Mayflower Brewster’s, and they had seven children. Two daughters died very young, before the family went west.  They left for the Dakota Territory in 1881, where Gustavus had a soldier’s homestead grant.  He and his family is listed in the 1885 census in the Dakota territory, accessible on  There are records of his land claim.  He writes this to William, Dec. 10, 1906, recalling the day that he staked his claim: “Snow two feet deep. Thermometer 23 below. Away we went, out on the Yon Totten trail 9 1/2 miles. The last 1/2 mile I had to rake the road for the horses to haul the load. Got there 11 AM. Pulled off my buffalo coat and went to work, laid the sill — floor beams–laid the floor, set up the studding 9 feet front 7 feet back, enclosed it, put the roof on, cut a hole through the roof, put up my stove, built a fire, thawed out my whiskers and eat my diner after dark…”1785192 (1)

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Gustavus H. Black family gravestone, Hillside Cemetery, Middletown NY.

In 1891, the Blacks moved back East and settled in Middletown, New York. Gustavus was very religious and a member of the Congregational Church like many of his relatives.  He had a successful building business in  Middletown. He designed and built many homes.  His own house had a large garden of cherry trees and other fruits and vegetables and a carpentry shop at 13 Bonnell Street.  Only his daughter Isadore Jean Black survived him.  She was in touch with relatives and visited my grandparents in Ridgewood, NJ, and family in Watertown, CT, according to local newspapers.

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