Title: Navy Seaman, Civil War; firefighter
Birthdate: December 11, 1840
Death Date: July 19, 1895
Plot Location: Section 130, Row E, Lot 22
Details on John’s start in life and family background are not known but at age 18 he joined the Navy in the summer heat of 1859. He was on board the USS Congress, flagship of the Brazil Squadron, as it headed for a change of climate in the Southern Hemisphere. The mission was to protect American commerce in the south Atlantic, but the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brought the ship home early. She was assigned to the Atlantic Blockading Squadron that September to block the port at Newport News, Virginia.
John was discharged January 13, 1862, which worked out well for him but not as well for his former buddies. Just a few weeks later the Congress was attacked by the ironclad CSS Virginia (rebuilt from the former USS Merrimack) after it ran aground. The commanding officer, Joseph Smith, raised the white flag but the Virginia set his ship ablaze, killing him and 120 of his men. The next day the world’s first battle of the ironclads took place with the arrival of the USS Monitor.
It’s not clear what John did for the next five years but he clearly fell for a girl named Christiana Maria Baker, whom he married in 1867. They endured a heartbreaking cycle of welcoming a new life and having to lay it to rest, as six of their eight children did not live past the age of 5. Between two children dying in 1880 and two who died in 1888 and 1890, both of her parents also died. Well acquainted with grief but not deterred by it, she operated a restaurant for a number of years in the 1890s.
John started working for the Post Office about the time of his wedding. He was a letter carrier throughout the 1870s until 1887 when he joined the Fire Department as a hoseman with Engine Company 34. By 1895 he was with Engine 18. A fire broke out at a stable on Lancaster Avenue and while riding the horse cart to the scene, John was thrown off and died from having his neck broken.
Christiana applied for a widow’s pension and buried him in the family plot they used for their children. Most of them were baptized in the Methodist Church, so it was appropriate they purchased a lot in the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church section at Mount Moriah. Four months later, John’s fellow firefighters honored him with a marble slab place at his grave.
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