May 31 2017 04:16 PM

Local grave markers reveal an obscured history of the Civil War

memorial day one
History well remembers Gen. John Logan, a politician — he was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1884 — and a general in the Union Army in the Civil War. As the 3rd commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War vets, he declared the first national Decoration Day, a precursor to the Memorial Day national holiday. A memorial at the entrance to Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lansing commemorates his achievements.

But inside the cemetery are interred a rich mix of men and women with ties to the Civil War who are not as famous as Logan but whose stories deepen the understanding of the issues of the war and the post-war era.

Working with former Ingham County Historical Commissioner Jesse Lasorda, we’ve identified the stories of five residents of Lansing whose obscure histories help reveal a deeper, richer picture of the tapestry of life in that era.

Lucy Karney
Former slave

Karney was born into slavery before the United States was even a country. On Jan. 2, 1762, she came into the world in Monmouth

Falls, Monmouth County, New Jersey, where she would serve as a slave. (New Jersey abolished slavery in 1804.) She died Dec. 29, 1879, just short of her 118th birthday. Her grave sits at the nook obetween two Mt. Hope Cemetery roads, just below the Veteran’s Section. It’s shaded by a tree.

Lasorda helped uncover Karney’s story a decade ago. “So really, at the end of the day, it’s difficult to find a whole lot of information on her except for what the press at the time had put in the papers,” he said.

Her story was first told in the State Republican, a forerunner to the Lansing State Journal, he said. He was able to verify some of Karney’s life with census records, but he noted the birthday and age remain a potential question. Why? Records related to the census of slaves were kept in less order than those of the white privileged class in Colonial and post-Revolution America.

Karney, who had red hair, even claimed to have seen George Washington when she was a little girl working on a New Jersey plantation. on her plantation.

When Lasorda first found Karney’s story, her grave was unmarked. He began telling her story.

“She had no headstone,” he recalled. “And mysteriously a headstone appears on her grave site. I have a good hunch who did it. I’m not going to say. But I’ve pretty good idea who had done it.”


John Taylor
Michigan 102nd Colored Infantry

Lasorda noted that not all the Union soldiers’ final resting places are known. And that’s when he told the story of John Taylor.

Taylor served in the Union Army and moved to Lansing. In the years following the war, he did piecemeal work, including farm work. In 1866, he did some work for Daniel Buck, who would go on to become mayor of Lansing. But Buck refused to pay Taylor for his work, so Taylor showed up at the farm, armed himself with an ax handle and had a run-in with Buck’s family. In the chaos, Taylor bumped heads with a young girl in the Buck household.

He was arrested and taken to the jail in Mason, Lasorda said. A mob formed, overpowered the sheriff and removed Taylor. He was taken to a location in Mason, believed to be near the depot, and lynched.

His body was buried on a farm in the area. The wife of the farmer “mentally could not deal with knowing that he was buried on their property,” Lasorda said. As a result, Taylor’s body was exhumed and moved. To where? That’s lost to time. There’s rumor, of course. Maybe his body is buried in a gravel pit between Mason and Holt. Maybe it was stripped of flesh and used by Michigan Agricultural College for anatomy classes.

Harrison Trent
Sailor, USS Colorado and the USS Alabama

As a man of color, Trent would have served in a service role on naval ships, Lasorda noted.

“They were probably going to do things like take care of naval officers’ quarters, those kinds of things,” Lasorda said. “Or they were going to cook.”

Little is known about Trent’s service in the Navy or of his civilian life. As often happens with people of color and with few means, his death is better documented.

Trent ran a bakery on Sycamore Street but its location has since been lost to history. But according to an obituary Lasorda has reviewed, Harrison was “swindled” in a land deal.

“He was supposedly swindled out of some property that he he had owned and he was very despondent about it, walked up to the top of the bridge on Kalamazoo Street, which is pretty hilly, or at least has a pitch to it at the top,” Lasorda recounted, “and filled his pockets either with bricks or stones. And he took his life and he jumped into the river. A sad ending to a naval veteran.”’ Friends of Lansing’s Historic Cemeteries’ notes from its annual walking tour of Mt. Hope Cemetery from 2012 said, “His body was found erect in the Grand River when he committed suicide, 84 cents in his pocket.”


Franklin L. Hull

Read’s Company, Mass. 3rd Cavalry and Company B Mass. 4th Cavalry


Unknown to Lasorda and others working to rededicate the Grand Army of the Republic Soldiers’ Monument Lot in 2007, a green strip of lawn leading into the memorial section was not a pathway for mowing, it was Hull’s unmarked grave from 1892. Hull, according to an obituary published originally in the State Republican, and reprinted in the Rededication Program in 2007, ran a popcorn stand until he was 70.

“Hull was addicted to drink and had been on a spree for several days prior to his death,” the paper reported. He’d been found at the end of that spree in an outhouse. He’d taken a large dose of arsenic, and succumbed a to the poisoning a few hours later. In his pocket was a suicide note.

“Dear sir,” the note read. “Please see that I am buried by the state. I have lived as long as I can. I have nothing to live for, and my wife I leave to the care of the people of God so that she won’t go to the poorhouse. I have lost all that I have and am discouraged and do not want to live. So farewell to all on earth.”

Lasorda said the public record is unclear as to why Hull, a poor white man, had been buried without a marker. But he thinks it was likely because Hull had taken his own life. The headstone that honors him today was put in place in 2007.

George W. Henderson
Michigan 102nd Colored Infantry

As the son of a black fugitive, Henderson knew he was raised to stand up for freedom. He enlisted in the army at age 17 and became a sergeant in the storied Michigan 102nd Colored Infantry.

His father was not just any escaped slave. He was one of over 40 who stole away from Kentucky before slaveholders could transfer them deeper south to pick cotton. They were rescued by the Underground Railroad and ended up in Cass County. But Thomas and his fellow escapees were not free of the terror of slaveholders yet. After a spy, masquerading as an abolitionist journalist, toured the Quaker camp where Thomas Henderson and others were living, he returned to Kentucky and informed the slaveholders.

In August 1847, those slaveholders raided the camp. Dozens of fugitives fled, but Thomas was among those detained. But the Quakers who were protecting them were warned by a man who escaped the raid and raised an alarm. They arrived in time to confront the slaveholders and arrest them. They were placed on trial for destruction of property and breaking and entering. The trial determined the slaves were not property under Michigan law and the slaveholders were sent packing. The incident has become known as The Kentucky Raid.

Thomas’ son served with honor in the Michigan 102nd, and returned to Michigan after the war. He met his wife, Frances Stewart, and married her in Detroit in 1866. The couple had two children, Estella and Cora May. But neither child lived past age 10.

Henderson, however, became a leader in the Lansing community. He was instrumental in organizing the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Pine Street. He also owned and operated a barber shop at 1214 N. Turner St. in what is now Old Town Lansing.

In addition, he ran an all African American band in town and provided music lessons in his home. His home, which was originally located where the Presbyterian church now sits at Washington and Grand River avenues, was moved to 1232 N. Capitol Ave. That building is still standing.