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AfriGeneas States Research Forum

Re: [NJ] Roberts-Doremus-Jones-Skidmore & related

Yes, it’s an interesting puzzle, isn’t it? Have you looked at the military record for Sylvester Doremus in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System database?

According to this record, Sylvester Doremus, rated as a landsman, was a man with a “colored” complexion, born in England. He enlisted in New York in 1864 and served on the Minnesota and the Albemarle. I don’t know if he is the same Sylvester Doremus, born in Scotland, who served on the Agawam.

By the end of the Civil War, the Union navy was about 20 percent black, while the Union army was 10 percent black, according to William Gould, Diary of a Contraband (67-72). About 646 foreign-born black sailors served in the Union navy in 1864, according to William Still, Raiders and Blockaders (56-57),

I have found two men of similar age named Sylvester Doremus in census records (1860-80):

1. Selvestus Dreamers/Sylvester Doremus, a black man born in New Jersey (about 1837-39) who lived in Westfield and Rahway, NJ. He was counted as a free farm laborer in 1860; apparently unemployed in 1870; a gardener in 1880. His parents are unknown, but he may be related to other black and biracial NJ residents with Doremus surname. Several of his African-American neighbors and possible relatives appear to be Civil War army or navy veterans.

2. Sylvester Doremus, a white man born in Michigan (1839). He is the father of Frank Ellsworth Doremus, U.S. Representative 1911-21 and mayor of Detroit in 1923-24. Sylvester’s father, John Doremus, a Michigan farmer, was born in New York (about 1812). Sylvester’s mother, according to the census, was born in England; but his father’s wife in 1860, Susan, was born in Canada. Sylvester’s occupation in 1870 was photographer, suggesting that he worked with his probable relative, NJ-born John P. Doremus (1827-90), who had a photography studio in Paterson, NJ as well as the “Floating Photographic Studio and Gallery” on the Mississippi River in the 1870s. A son of J.P. Doremus, Leonard, was born in Iowa in 1857. Leonard and his son Walter also worked as photographers in Paterson in 1900. Sylvester’s son Frank was born in 1865 in Pennsylvania.

I don’t know if these men were connected, other than having the same name and being born around the same time, in two different states—an interesting coincidence. Both have connections to New Jersey, where the black Sylvester lived 1860-80 and where the white Sylvester apparently had relatives. I had thought it more likely that Sylvester Doremus, the black man in the census, was the Union navy sailor. The military record indicates that he was “colored.” He lived near New York and had connections to other Civil War veterans. I have speculated that he might have joined in part to earn the enlistment bonus that the Union navy began to pay in July 1864. However, the birthplace of Frank E. Doremus indicates that at least his mother, Sarah, was living on the East Coast in 1865. Also it appears that Sylvester Doremus of Michigan might have worked as a photographer with John P. Doremus of Paterson, NJ. So both Sylvesters could have been in the northeast during the Civil War, and the MI-born Sylvester had a mother born in England (or Canada). It is possible that both the white and the black Sylvester Doremus served in the navy, one on the Minnesota and Albemarle, the other on the Agawam. Perhaps there was a third Sylvester Doremus, born in England or Scotland, who was not counted in the U.S. census. Possibly he died or returned home after the Civil War.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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