John Dart

John Dart was born around 1822 in Vermont.

According to John’s wife, John’s parents left Vermont and moved to Milford, Michigan when he was still a boy, although John subsequently came back east to New York State to live with his sister at Riga, Genesee County, New York. (His older brother Elijah did indeed move to Michigan in the late 1830s and was reportedly married in Washtenaw County, Michigan in 1838, was living in Washtenaw County in 1840 and he settled in Grand Rapids, Kent County in 1841.)

John married New York native Mary E. Sparling (1820-1912), at the home of her cousin, Sylvina Terry in Castile, then Genesee County, now Wyoming County, New York, on May 20, 1844, and they had at least two children: Fred (b. 1855) and William (b. 1859).

John and his family moved from New York and by 1849 they had moved to Ionia County, Michigan and by 1850 had settled in Lyons, Ionia County, Michigan where John was apparently unemployed.

Sometime in the early 1850s John moved his family to Grand Rapids, Kent County, following his brother Elijah who had moved there in 1850. By the summer of 1855 John joined with a number of other Grand Rapids men in forming a militia company on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids. On July 22, Captain Lucius Patterson organized the Grand Rapids Artillery (GRA) on the west side, and he was assisted by Lieutenants Baker Borden, William K. Wheeler, and Alfred B. Turner, and Sergeants Silas Hall, Wilson Jones, Gideon Colton and one “Johann” Dart. (Borden and Jones would both join the Third Michigan in 1861.)

In 1859-60 John was living on the northwest corner of Leonard and Front Streets in Grand Rapids on the west side of the river, and by 1860 he and his family were living in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward and he was working as a teamster, probably running his own wagon business.

John stood 6’0” with blue eyes, dark hair and a light complexion, and was 39 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Sixth Corporal of Company B on May 13, 1861. (The company was commanded by Captain Baker Borden and made up in large part by former members of the prewar GRA).

According to Alfred Pew, who also served in Company B, John was detailed to drive the regimental ambulance and Pew, who would serve as Sergeant, Lieutenant and then Captain of Company B, he “did not think [John] did any duty with the company.” At some point it seems he was reduced to the ranks since in July of 1862 he was reported as a Private working in the Brigade commissary department. In any case, he was absent sick in the hospital in August and discharged for chronic rheumatism on September 29, 1862, at Upton’s Hill, Virginia.

After his discharge John probably returned to Grand Rapids, and in 1865-66 was working as a drayman and residing at no. 42 Lincoln Street on the west side of the Grand river. He also worked for some years as a carpenter.

According to Mrs. Thomas Bennett, a niece of Mary’s, she learned from her mother (Mary’s sister, Mrs. Ira Gilmore) that “it was common knowledge with members of the family that when the soldier came home from the army he gave his wife a disease that affected her health and that a son born later was blind at birth and had sores about his eyes that troubled [him] for years.” The report went on to state that this story provided “insight to the soldier’s character and reason for him leaving home. It is hardly probably that he improved any after leaving [his wife Mary] and the rumor that he had a woman (or women) with him is probably well founded.”

Indeed, there may be something to this story. According to John sometime around 1869 or 1870 he and Mary separated. John stated in 1900 that he and Mary had “not lived together as man and wife for about thirty years. That she voluntarily left and deserted [him] and refused to live with him.”

In 1904 Mary testified that she

Never had any intimation that my husband [John] left here with a woman. I never knew of him being intimate with a woman while he was living with me. He and I lived together until he started away to follow the fairs. I have never heard it intimated that he had a woman with him when he was out west. I saw my two nieces from Nebraska when were here visiting and they said he was out there hanging around until they got sick and tired of him and turned him out but neither of them ever told me that he had a woman with him. I don’t know where they are but their father Ira Gilmore lives at Lyons, Mich. The girls are Clara and Emma. It was 2 or 3 years after he left here when these girls wrote home that he was out there and that was the first I had heard of him after he left here.

Furthermore, Mary testified that in fact

We lived together continuously until 1879. My husband was a great man to have a stand at the fairs, to sell pies & cakes & beer and that year I tried to persuade him not to do so for he always lost money at it but he went around following up the fairs he had a swing or something of the kind and I did not hear from him for about four years when he wrote me from somewhere in Nebraska and that was the only letter I got from him but I heard from nieces out there both now dead that he would be there occasionally and would say he was coming home but he did not and they both turned him out. . . . I never heard that Mr. Dart had another woman with him and I never heard that he ever got a divorce [from Mary] and I have no reason to believe that he ever got a divorce. He came back here in 1890 and I was then living with Mrs. Hobart and was in very poor health. He wanted to go to housekeeping but he had no money to do it and I could not then make our living with my needle as I had always done before so he lived with his brother Elijah Dart now dead until 1892 when he came to the soldier’s Home [in Grand Rapids] and when this annex was dedicated I came here. That was in February 1894. Mr. Dart did not stay here regularly. He would go out when he got any money to spend. Then when Col. [George E.] Judd in as [Home] commandant they did not agree. They served together in the army so finally Col. Judd gave him a dishonorable discharge and he went to the Nebraska Soldiers’ Home and died there. While Mr. Dart was in this house he would usually give me five or ten dollars when he drew his pension. . . .

According to John’s nephew Byron Dart (Elijah’s son), John “did not use his wife right and I cut his acquaintance. I used to see him on the Street here when he was in the Soldier’s Home [in Grand Rapids] but I did not know much about him. I never heard that either of them were divorced and I am quite positive there was no divorce but I have not a doubt that he lived with some other woman when he was away for he was that kind of man.”

Byron also noted that “Aunt Mary was always a good honest woman, exceptionally so and I know that she never applied for a divorce.”

By 1884 he was probably residing in Utah when he applied for and received a pension (no. 512491).

Around 1887 John settled in Nebraska, in the vicinity of Beatrice, and he spent quite a bit of time in both Gage and Seward counties. According to Katharine Shephard who kept a hotel in Grand Island, Nebraska, during this time, John stayed at her hotel “off and on.” “At one time he was sick,” she said,

at my place for about a month, and his wife came to see him and mended his clothes for him. As near as I can recall his wife came from Michigan. I can not say what her name was, he called her Mrs. Dart, and introduced her to me as his wife and I have all the reason to believe she was his wife, from the pleading I heard her do with him to go home with her. He would not go home with her for the reason that he liked Nebraska better and had gained a residence in the state as he had lost his residence in Michigan. I am sure that his wife was at my place twice. She sat with him and gave him medicine and mended his clothes. I do not think that they occupied the same bed during any of her stays at my place, at one time he was too sick and the other time he went to the Soldier’s Home to stay, so they did not occupy the same bed that time, although he called her wife and treated her as such, and introduced her as such. I do not know that John Dart ever applied for a divorce from his wife. I have never heard him say that he did or intended to, and it is my opinion that he never did. I never knew him to have money enough to pay the costs in a suit of that kind. I think that in the winter of 1892 he left her and went to Omaha, Nebraska. He was gone about a week when he came back, and he told me that he had been to Omaha and had married a woman and got $500 of his money. I asked him where the woman was, and he replied: ‘I don’ give a damn, I’ve got the money.’ He did not tell me what the woman’s name was. He stayed about a week and went away again, said he was going to the Black Hills, did not hear any more of him for a year or two, when I met him at a Soldier’s Reunion here in Grand island I think. When he told me that he had married the married in Omaha I asked him if he was not afraid of arrest, having a wife living, and he said he did not care. He had the money and that [is] what he was after. I do not know a thing about the woman he married, only that he told me that she kept a brothel in Omaha, and he got her money. John Dart was not very particular as to his morals; in fact he was very much the other way. He got drunk when he got a chance and was a great fellow to run after any kind of woman. I sent him away from my place a time or two on account of [his] making advances to my servants, which I could not tolerate in my house. I never heard Dart say that he ever did or intended to get a divorce from his wife, he always spoke of her as his wife, and even after he told me he married the woman in Omaha, he spoke about the wife in Michigan.

By 1890 John was living at the Nebraska Soldier’s Home in Grand Island, Hall County, Nebraska, when he gave an affidavit in the pension application of the widow of Francis Barlow who had also served in the Third Michigan. (Barlow and John had been friends in Grand Rapids before the war.)

John lived in various other parts of Nebraska and spent about two years at the Soldier’s Home in Grand Island. He reportedly returned to Michigan at least three times during 1887-1900 in an effort to “look up evidence for increase of pension” and “that during this time he spent about two years at the Soldiers’ Home" in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Still, even though he returned to Michigan he and Mary never lived together.

John was admitted to the Michigan Soldier’s Home (no. 2031) in Grand Rapids on October 18, 1893. (His wife was living at 193 Barclay in Grand Rapids at the time but John was listed as still receiving his pension of $12.oo per month through the Des Moines, Iowa agency.) He was in the Michigan Soldiers’ Home in March of 1894 when he gave yet another deposition in the pension application for the minor children of Francis Barlow.

John was discharged from the Home at his own request some six times until he was re-admitted for the final time on April 12, 1898. His wife Mary had been admitted to the Women’s Building of the Home on February 19, 1894, and it was reported that although the men and women occupied separate buildings “husbands are allowed to visit their wives in their rooms at certain hours of the day, and Dart availed himself of this privilege.” He was subsequently dishonorably discharged from the Home on June 9, 1899 and never re-admitted. “The cause of his dishonorable discharge was ‘cashing pension check in violation of rule.’” (It is not clear what this "rule" was however.)

John returned to Nebraska and reentered the Soldier’s Home near Milford in 1900; he listed one Fred Dart of Detroit as his next of kin).

John died of “old age aggravated by a broken down nervous system” on April 10, 1903 in Milford, Seward County, Nebraska and was buried in Blue Mound cemetery.

Mary was living in Michigan in June of 1903 when she applied and received a pension (no. 592,938). By 1903 and 1904 she was residing in the Woman’s Annex at the Michigan Soldier’s Home in Grand Rapids. She was probably still living at the Home when she died in 1912 and was buried in the Home cemetery: block 5, row 14, grave 5.