Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moses Smith, Black Canadian Born Soldier in Civil War

Through a recent study of the birthplaces and enlistment locations of a select group of soldiers in Company B of USCT 1 Calvary, I discovered a black Canadian born soldier who enlisted in Buffalo, NY in October 1864 and was transferred to a Virginia Based United States Colored Troop Regiment a few days after his enlistment. This discovery is quite intriguing and the curious side of me wants to know more about this soldier. And so I start the research process of this soldier with a basic genealogy step which is to “WRITE DOWN WHAT I KNOW.” I hope that by posting this summary on my blog that others who are more knowledgeable of Canada, New York, and Civil War research can give me tips on further researching the life of this soldier. The information below was obtained from the Civil War Union Service Record for Moses Smith, USCT 1 Calvary.


Moses Smith was born in Canada around 1843. Although his record does not name a province in Canada, a strong possibility is “Ontario” since it borders Buffalo, NY the location where Moses enlisted. On his Union Civil War service record, his physical characteristics were noted as “5 foot, 3-1/2 inches tall, with black complexion, eyes, and hair”. His occupation was listed as a Laborer.

Moses Smith mustered into the military as a “Recruit” on October 3, 1864 in Buffalo, NY under Captain Ruggans. He was 21 at the time of his enlistment. Three days later on October 6, 1864, Moses was “forwarded or transferred to the “United States Color Troop 1 Calvary which had been organized in Camp Hamilton, VA in December 1863. Moses Smith received a bounty of $100 and $25.75 for clothing for his military service.

Remarks in the service records suggest that Moses Smith was a musician because it indicates transfers and duty in the “reglt band.” (I assume that the reference to “band” refers to a musical group and not some other type of military group.) There is also a remark about a special order 32 dated Jan 9, 1865.

Moses Smith was mustered out of the military on February 4, 1866 in Brazos Santiago, TX along with his regiment, USCT 1 Calvary.

The part of this story which sparks my interest the most is Moses' Canadian roots and I hope to discover more about this black Smith family living in Canada during the 1800s.


  1. Drusilla;
    This is an intriguing story, for many reasons, and I immediately jumped in to see if I could find anything to add to this. My LEE family is Canadian, and once they left Ontario, they moved to Buffalo, and my JACKSON ancestors (from VA) operated a hotel in Niagara Falls, NY, so I know the area quite well. My Jackson gggf bought his meats in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and carried it back, across the bridge, by wagon. The Canadian/U.S. border was quite open back then, and my LEE gggf never naturalized when he moved to Buffalo, but voted in every election held, until his death. This practice was very common back then, and since border crossings weren't recorded until the very late 1800s (ca. 1895), if your ancestor was born in Canada and moved to the U.S., it's probable that you won't find any sort of immigration or naturalization papers.

    My first thought was to find him in the 1861 Canadian Census, but he wasn't there. There were over 500 black Smiths/Smyths enumerated in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick that year (Nova Scotia didn't ask for race in 1861), but no MOSE or MOSES, and no "M" close enough in age.

    Okay, so maybe he'd already moved to the Buffalo area. Google Books has a pretty good selection of Buffalo city directories for that era, and in 1862, there are two Moses Smiths, as follows:
    Thomas' Buffalo City Directory, p. 319
    SMITH, Moses, lumber yard, 536 Washington, h. 331 Washington
    SMITH, Moses J., second hand clothing, 1 Commercial, h. 13 Carroll

    Buffalo city directories, at that time, didn't make any notation of race, so I have no way of knowing if either of these Moseses were black.

    In the 1864 Thomas' Buffalo City Directory, p. 308, the first Moses Smith is now listed as a lumber dealer, while Moses J.'s listing remains the same.

    NOW, your moses was taken out of state, to TX, where he mustered out in 1866, so I looked to see if there were any changes with the Buffalo city directories during those years, and found that in the 1865 Thomas' Buffalo City Directory, p, 306:
    SMITH, Moses, clothier, cor. Commercial and Terrace, h. 13 Carroll
    SMITH, Moses, lumber dealer, 536 Main and 536 Washington, h. 331 Washington
    SMITH, Moses J. second hand clothing, cor. Commercial and Terrace, and 2 Commercial, h. 13 Carroll.

    Now that it appears that these Moses Smiths remained in Buffalo when we know your Moses was gone, fighting in the War, I suppose we can rule them out as possible hits.

    BACK TO CANADA - I then back tracked to the 1851 Canadian Census, but could find no black Moses Smiths, though from my own experience, the census enumerators didn't do the best job of listing race in 1851. There were two Moses Smiths, living in Ontario, both b. 1840 in Canada, one the son of Thomas and Catherine (both b. in the U.S), and their five children, all b. C.W. (Canada West ... now Ontario); and the other Moses, the son of German immigrants.

    In a nutshell, my friend, I'm sorry, but I can find nothing on this black Moses Smith. ... sigh.

  2. I found this post interesting because I have been researching my husband's great grandfather's Civil War Service Record and Pension File. He was from Craven County, NC and a member of the 14th Heavy Artillery USCT, stationed at Fort Macon, Beaufort, NC.

    One thought I had was to eventually apply for the Pension Files of all those who were in his unit who acted as witnesses in his case.

    I hope you'll stop by my blog...