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Thursday, July 7, 2016

John Dubuisson Sr 1825–1909 / US Colored Troop Veteran - 100th US Colored Infantry

John Dubuisson, Sr. was a US Colored Troop veteran who was born in Mississippi (or perhaps North or South Carolina) on August 14, 1825
Documents showing slave register for C. L. Dubuisson

I strongly suspect that he was born in Mississippi - and probably belonged at one point to a slaveholder named Charles Lagruenne Dubuisson in Yazoo, Mississippi who owned 101 slaves in the 1850 census including a 24 man who could have been John Dubuisson. The name Dubuisson is very rare and since he later states that he is from Mississippi and so were his parents, it does seem to indicate that he could have been from this plantation.

He enlisted in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sept. 23, 1864 in the 100th Colored Infantry, Company C. His company rolls describe him as a 35 year old laborer and a “mulatto” (biracial). Additionally, if correct, he was quite short and under the minimum height requirement usually required of 5 feet tall – his company descriptive book says that he was only 4’7” tall although he must have been his full height at 35 years old.

According to his military records, John served as a substitute for Theodore Bunnell - a "drafted man". This was not uncommon - a white man who was drafted would sometimes pay a black man to serve in his place. I can't find any other records regarding this - but I did find a Theodore Bunnel listed in the Cincinnati, Ohio draft rolls.

The 100th US Colored Infantry was organized in Kentucky from May 3, to June 1, 1864. If John enlisted at the end of September 1864, this was after the regiment was formed. Its not clear to me how Private Dubuisson managed to get to 
Cincinnati in order to enlist.  Ohio was a free state before the War, so perhaps he had fled there before the War broke out seeking freedom?  I also noted that a C. J. Dubuisson (not C L) from Yazoo, Mississippi is listed as a Confederate soldier - perhaps John was taken as a body servant to war and then escaped and decided to enlist on the Union side?  Its impossible to know, but fun to speculate about all the possibilities.

 Many of his individual muster cards are missing so its hard to know for sure exactly what Private Dubuisson's military service consisted of, but we know that the 100th US Colored Infantry provided guard duty on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad in Tennessee until December, 1864 and he was likely a part of that work. Additionally, they were involved in:
  • a skirmish on the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad September 4, 1864
  • action at Johnsonville November 4-5, 1864.
  • the Battle of Nashville, Tenn., December 15-16, 1864 and Overton Hill December 16, 1864.
Following the Battle of Nashville an officer of the 100th USCT surveyed the battlefield and stated, “The blood of the white and black men has flown freely together for the great cause which is to give freedom, unity, manhood and peace to all men, whatever birth or complexion.” [The Tennessee Campaign of 1864, Steven E. Woodworth, Charles D Grear, SIU Press, Jan 5, 2016, p. 155; Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: The Free Press, 1990), 160]

The 100th US Colored Infantry was also involved in the:
  • pursuit of General John Bell Hood to the Tennessee River December 17-28, 1864. 
  • and they were again assigned to guard duty on Nashville & Northwestern Railroad from January 16, 1865 until December, 1865.
During that last assignment when his regiment was on guard duty, his January 28, 1865 muster card shows that he "joined recruit." On that same date he appears on the returns as follows: "recruit from depot in Nashville, Tennessee" I'm not sure what this means - does it mean he was recruiting other enlistees? or picked up the recruits from the depot and he joined the company at the depot?

Later that year, on Nov. 30, 1865 Private Dubuisson was detailed as a messenger and mail carrier at Headquarters, Camp of Instruction, Benton Barracks, Missouri.

On Dec. 26, 1866 Private Dubuisson mustered out of the US Colored Troops along with his regiment in Nashville.

Just a month later on Jan 13, 1867, John married Elizabeth Johnson in Williamson County, Tennessee. This makes me wonder if he had been living in Tennessee earlier and knew her before the War broke out.  If not, perhaps they met when he was stationed in Nashville and perhaps she was a contraband there?

Next we find the couple in the 1870 Census - John is a 45 years old, a carpenter and is married to "Bettie" 35, a domestic servant. They have two children Lena 8 and John Jr. 1. They are all listed as "mulatto" or biracial. They appear to be living with the Blip family as well as some others. The fact that Lena is 8 also makes me think that they had a relationship that predated the War - and the gap in the age of the children, is accounted for by his absence during the War. So perhaps John was a slave brought to Williamson County before the War broke out and then escaped to Nashville - or even farther north where he enlisted in Cincinnati? In this Census John says he was born in North Carolina - not South Carolina as his military records states. They are living in District 9 which includes the city of Franklin. Here we first learn that John Sr. can read and write.  Its possible that he learned this during his time in the military - some of the regiments had officers who encouraged the soldiers to learn this skill.

The next information we have about the family is from the 1880 Census -- by now the family has grown. John and Bettie are still living in District 9 (City of Franklin) of Williamson County - but this time they are sharing a house with Bettie's father - Virgil Johnson (75 years old) who is a shoe maker. John (now 50) is still working as a carpenter and Bettie (45) is keeping house and raising their children Lena (18 - who works as a domestic servant), and twins Dan and Mary Lou (7) who have been born since the last census. John Jr. is no longer with the family - perhaps he has died, which sadly was not uncommon at this time or is he really Charles "Elmo" who later appears as a son of about the same age. But if he is - where is he?  I can't find him living with another family anywhere else in Williamson County.  In this Census, John Sr. says that he is from Mississippi (not South Carolina as his military records state, and not North Carolina as the 1870 census states). It also states that both his parents were from Mississippi. They are all living next door to Bettie's brother Lewis and his wife - Lewis is a stone mason.

In 1890, the Federal Census is missing, however Union veterans were eligible to be counted on a special census. John is not counted on this census either, though. Many of his fellow US Colored Troop veterans were also not on this census - I don't know if they chose not to identify themselves as veterans or if they don't appear for some other reason such as a bias against counting USCT veterans as not being 'real' Union veterans.

On May 3, 1892 John Sr. filed for an invalid's pension from the federal government, and again on June 10, 1907.

On July 9, 1909 he died in Franklin, Tennessee. He is buried at the
African-American Toussaint L'Overture Cemetery where he has two headstones - a joint one with his wife Bettie (who died in 1930), and a military one recognizing his service in the 100th US Colored Infantry.  I suspect the military headstone was placed first - when he died, and the joint one was placed later.

His obituary appeared in the African American Nashville Globe newspaper on July 30, 1909.  Its intriguing that he speaks of a "separation" - perhaps he had been from Williamson County after all?  But one thing is for sure, his family loved him and he is missed.

However, his legacy does not end here. John and Bettie's children - despite being born in the shadow of the Civil War - go on to have very successful lives and careers.

Charles Elmo Dubuisson. Charles "Elmo" was born around 1871 in Tennessee and several references state that he is Dan Dubisson's brother - making him John and Bettie's son.  However he does not appear on a Census record in Tennessee (unless this is John Jr who appeared in the 1870 but not the 1880 Census).  

I have found a few references to the fact that Dan and Elmo moved to Little Rock together when they were 12 and 13 years old respectively - and I found that hard to believe.  But recently, I found a reference in a newspaper to Elmo Dubisson winning an award in March 1884 (when he would have been 13 years old) for "progress in penmanship" in the sixth grade class at Union School in Little Rock, Arkansas - a school established by Quakers for African American students. 

This would explain why Dan and Elmo are missing from the Census records in Tennessee, if they had gone to Arkansas.  And perhaps Elmo came back to Tennessee as an older teen or young adult because his daughter Genevieve is born in Tennessee when he was 20 and he appears on a marriage license when he is married in Williamson County on June 26, 1897 when he is 26 years old to Susie Lee Buchanan.  

You might notice that both Charles "Elmo" and his witness - who I believe is his younger brother Daniel Jay - sign their names, rather than using an X - which indicates that they, like their father, can both write and read and that they were both in Williamson County at this time.

It seems as though immediately after the wedding, Elmo (and perhaps his wife Susie and daughter Genevieve) move (back?) to Little Rock, Arkansas because Elmo appears in the 1897-1898 City Directory as a porter for the Citizens Bank. In the 1902 City Directory, Elmo is working as a porter for the Citizens Bank and his younger brother Daniel is working as a bartender. The last name's spelling seems to have settled into Dubisson (rather than Dubuisson) by this time.

In the 1910 Census Elmo, Susie and Genevieve are all living in Little Rock. We find out at this point that Elmo had a marriage before his marriage to Susie, that they have been married for 13 years, and that Susie has not had any biological children - so Genevieve must be the daughter of his first relationship. (I haven't found any other evidence of a marriage.) Also, they own their home at 2600 Spring Street in Little Rock. Elmo is working as a porter for a bank - Susie and 18 year old Genevieve (Jennie V) are not working.

At some point Elmo must have converted to Episcopalianism -or maybe always was? In 1911, the eight "colored" missions of Arkansas were served by one black priest, a priest-in-charge of one parish, and three lay readers at different parishes including C. Elmo Dubisson of St. Phillips in Little Rock. According to the book, "Black Bishop: Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church", Dubisson was,

"a merchant from a family of morticians. Although he had aspired to Holy Orders, and had been a postulant since 1911, he had never quite made the transition to the vocational ministry. . . . Apparently, Dubisson experienced a change of heart about the vocational ministry in 1917, and asked that his name be withdrawn from the list of postulants. He remained a pillar of St. Phillip's for practically all of his adult life." 

In June 1916 this article appeared in the local newspaper - life owning a pool hall must have been interesting!

In June 1920 Elmo took out a permit to build 50 feet of concrete sidewalk in front of 105 West 26th Street - I wonder where this was? his house? a new business?

In 1922 Elmo apparently opened a grocery store in addition to operating the pool hall.

In 1929, Elmo died at the age of only 58 years old. He is buried in the Oakland and Fraternal Historic Cemetery Park in Little Rock.  By all accounts, Elmo led a very rich and successful life and was a pillar of the community in Little Rock.

Daniel Jay Dubisson. As discussed above, I found references stating that Daniel moved to Little Rock with Elmo when he was 12 and became a "mixologist" working in a saloon.  But the first records that I can find for him in Little Rock in 1902 show Daniel in his 20s and already married to his wife Clara Stacker (who was born in Tennessee) and working as a bartender for the African-American Gabe Lyons & Co. saloon. 

This is the only picture I was able to find of Daniel Jay Dubisson. 

By 1910, Daniel and Clara have purchased their own home in Little Rock. Daniel is still bartending in a saloon. They are both listed as "mulatto"or biracial, and have been married for 8 years - which means they would have married right around the time they arrived in Little Rock.

Around 1915 when Daniel Dubisson was about 44 years old he transitioned into the funeral home business. According to the Arkansas Records Catalog, in 1915 the African-American funeral home company Dubisson & Goodrich was formed. The company’s founders were Daniel Joy Dubisson and Fred J. Goodrich. The business was located at that time on Louisiana Street, between 4th and 5th Streets in Little Rock.

On November 16, 1916 this item appeared in the Daily Arkansas Gazette newspaper - so apparently the brothers Daniel and Elmo had their businesses next door to each other.

Around 1919 a fire destroyed the original funeral home building on Louisiana Street. According to this reference that I found in the Texas Trade Review and Industrial Record, the loss was about $40,000 - apparently shared among several businesses.

Since Elmo's original employer was listed as Gabe Lyons, and we know that the funeral home and Elmo's pool hall were next door to each other, I wonder if Elmo also lost his business at the same time. 

When that building burned, Dubisson & Goodrich moved to 409 Spring Street. This announcement in the paper alerted patrons to the relocation in August 1919.

The company does not seem to have suffered terribly from the fire - as is evidenced by its purchase of Little Rock's first combination hearse-ambulance - made by the Dodge Brothers Company- in September 1920.

In 1921 Dan and Clara adopted their only child, a daughter - Geraldine Elizabeth, when she was about 3 years old. The funeral home business 
Dubisson & Goodrich steadily grew until the death of Mr. Goodrich in 1924, after which the company was renamed "Dubisson & Company" and became an important factor in the business life of Little Rock. The business relocated several times, including a move to 628 West 8th Street and then to 814 West 9th Street (9th Street was once Little Rock’s black business district). Finally in 1928 the business moved to 905 Gaines Street, where Dubisson Company remained until April 1967.

After taking sole control of the business, Dan's life began a year of losses - beginning on October 18, 1929 with the death of Dan's brother Elmo.  Just a month later, on November 13, 1929, Dan's wife Clara died leaving him to raise Geraldine by himself.  It appears as though his twin sister Mary Lou (who never married) came from Franklin, Tennessee to live with him in Little Rock and help at this point.  By April 10, 1930 she is living with Dan and 11 year old Geraldine at their home at 1117 Spring Street in Little Rock.  Then on June 5, 1930 Dan and Mary Lou's mother Bettie Johnson dies back in Franklin. Being in the funeral home business it seems clear that Dan arranged for his parents to have a beautiful double headstone installed in the African-American cemetery in Franklin.

Within six months, Dan has remarried - on November 28, 1930 58-year old Dan marries 54 year old Lula Sue Bryant of Forrest City, St. Francis, Arkansas.  Just as Clara had been, Lula becomes an important part of the company.

The business continues to thrive and was incorporated in January 1932, and they added an Insurance Company under the leadership of Dan's second wife Lula.  Around this time period, the Dubisson family moved to 1500 Ringo Street in the Dunbar neighborhood of Little Rock. The Prairie-style home was much-admired in this African-American neighborhood and became the hub of social events of that area. 

According to this home's application to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places (which was approved in 1999):

It was while the Dubissons lived at 1500 Ringo that the house became known as hub of social events in that area, as well as the "ideal" residence that young African Americans wished they could have-or at least could visit. Its architectural style and the quality of its construction materials set it apart from all of its neighbors, as did its expansive lawn-which was maintained during the Dubisson era by a "yardman" who lived above the two-car garage. At a time when even famous African Americans were barred from Little Rock's best downtown hotels, the Bush-Dubisson House provided overnight accommodations for Marian Anderson and other notables.

During the 1930s to 1942 the Dubisson family business enterprises sponsored The Dubisson Tigers - a Negro League baseball team - in Little Rock. The team was likely broken up by the outbreak of World War II, but returned in 1947 under a new name, the C and C Hotel Stars.

Photo from Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia Flickr page
In 1950, Dan's second wife Lula passed away.  Two years later, on July 10, 1952 Dan Dubisson also died.  Their daughter Geraldine took the helm of the company for many years.  In the Spring of 1986, Dubisson Funeral Home was acquired by the Miller Company of Monroe, Louisiana.

This video tells the story of the history of the 
Dubisson Funeral Home and includes some video of the business.

In 1955, Dan's twin sister Mary Lou passed away.  I have not been able to find out what happened to the oldest of the four siblings - Lena.  The last we heard of her was when she was 18 years old and still living with her parents, siblings and grandfather in Franklin.  I have not been able to find any marriage, census or death records for her.