The McLenithan mystery of lot 85 in Fulton Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan

On the face of it, this looks pretty straight forward: two men, probably brothers (they were) who both served together in the 3rd Michigan Infantry during the Civil War and both buried next to each other: S. O. McLenithan of Company K and Joel Mclenithan of Company A.

But looks can be deceiving in cemeteries and most especially when the cemetery in question dates back to 1838. Lots of misplaced bodies, lost records and just missing people generally. So it may be here.

The "mystery" first came to my attention many years ago when I learned that Joel had in fact been living in Indiana for years before he died in 1917. According to his Indiana death certificate and the review of markers Joel was buried in Sumption Prairie Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana. Simple, no?


A more in-depth look at the cemetery records for Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids further deepens the mystery in division 1, lot 85.

We know that directly behind Joel is a second government marker for "S. O. McLenithan." This was undoubtedly Stephen O. or D. McLenithan, Joel's younger brother who did indeed serve in Company K, 3rd Michigan, as noted on the stone. So far so good. But while we have extensive postwar documentation on Joel we have absolutely nothing on Stephen after 1865. Furthermore, there are no other family markers. Yet the index of gravestones in the Local Historical Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library, lists Joel and one “S. O.” of Company K 3rd Michigan” as well as their mother Mary (who died in 1857) buried in lot no. 85 in Fulton, and no other burials are noted. No marker for Mary is found today and it probably disappeared long ago.

The transcribers for the D.A.R in the late 1920s identified the graves of Joe, Mary and one "S. C. McLenithan of Company K, 3rd Michigan" but no mention is made of Samuel. By the time the cemetery records were re-transcribed in the late 1990s, all four McLenithans are listed: Joel, Mary, S. O. and now Samuel (1847-1880). Moreover, Samuel served in the 16th Michigan Infantry during the war.

However, the cemetery burial book lists Joel, mother Mary and “Samuel” as buried in Fulton cemetery, yet there is no marker for Samuel, who died in November of 1880 (see Grand Rapids Democrat November 24, 1880, p. 4 col. 1: “Died”). Indeed, the cemetery records list Samuel’s death date as well as his birth date, but there is no mention of Stephen. We also know that Samuel died indigent and possibly a resident of the city or county poorhouse. If that were indeed true, then who would have paid for the interment alongside his mother and/or brother?

In the late 1930s Francis Hall attempted to identify all the Civil War veterans buried in Kent County and he knew of the markers for both Joel and "S. O." so it's quite likely the government stones were probably already in place by then. But who ordered them? Was Joel's body returned to Grand Rapids to be buried next to his mother and brothers? If so, who would have coordinated that? Is it possible that Joel's marker was ordered and put in place as a ""memorial"? If so, again, who would have arranged for that and why? We do know that Samuel McLenithan served in the 16th Michigan Infantry during the war and yet he has no marker at all.

Any thoughts?

Joel N. McLenithan UPDATE 13 July 2018

Joel N. McLenithan was born on July 28, 1836, in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Vermonter Norman McLenithan (1814-1882) and New York native Mary Dean (1815-1857).  

Norman was living in Bennington, Vermont in 1820 (he had been born in Bennington). The McLenithan family moved to Michigan from Ohio sometime between 1836 and 1839 and Norman was probably living in Kent County by 1840. By 1850 Joel was living with his family in Grand Rapids where his father worked as a teamster. (Next door lived the Toussaint Campau family which included Toussaint’s son Adolphe who would eventually join Company B, 3rd Michigan in 1861.)

In 1856 Joel was probably living in Newaygo County when he  married New York native Amelia Terwilliger (b. 1832), and they had at least two children: Henrietta (b. 1857) and Carrie A. (b. 1861). Amelia and Joel divorced around 1878.

By 1860 Joel was working as a farmer and living with his wife and child in Paris, Kent County; also living with them was a 67-year-old woman named Margaret Williams, born in New York.

He stood 5’8” with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 24 years old and probably living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861, while his younger brother Stephen enlisted in Company K. (Their father Norman enlisted in the 14th Michigan and was discharged for disability due to age; three other McLenithan brothers  enlisted in the army as well: Benjamin in the 14th Michigan, Samuel  in the 16th Michigan, and Robert in the 10th Michigan Cavalry. )

Joel was on duty at Brigade headquarters from October of 1862 through November, and a nurse in the Division hospital from December of 1862 through July of 1863. From September through November Joel was on special duty at 3rd Corps headquarters. He was supposedly absent on furlough in December of 1863 through January, implying that he had reenlisted in late December, although he did not reenlist until February 8, 1864,  at Camp Bullock, Virginia, and was subsequently absent on veteran’s furlough, probably until about the first week of March. 

In March he was absent sick (having probably just returned from furlough), but he soon returned to the Regiment and was shot in the left leg  on May 5, 1864, at the Wilderness, Virginia. On May 13 he was admitted to Mt. Pleasant hospital in Washington, DC, with a gunshot wound of lower third of the left leg fracturing the tibia  “about half way between the knee and ankle.” 

He was still in the hospital when he was transferred as absent wounded to Company A, 5th Michigan infantry in June (when the remnants of the old 3rd Michigan were consolidated with the 5th), and was sent home on furlough, probably from the hospital for 40 days from June 27, 1864. In fact, Joel never returned to Virginia, and was admitted (date unknown) to St. Mary’s hospital in Detroit and transferred to Harper hospital in Detroit on December 20, 1864. He was discharged from the army on January 28, 1865, for “a gunshot fracture of the left tibia at middle third rendering him permanently lame;” his leg was eventually amputated in 1887.  

Joel listed Grand Rapids as his mailing address on his discharge paper, and from 1870-71 he was living at 65 Monroe in Grand Rapids. He soon afterwards moved to the west side of the Grand River and in 1872-73 at the southeast corner of Fifth and Stocking Streets. On May 8, 1873, the Democrat  reported  

an action of assault and battery on complaint of Mrs. McLanahan, wife of the respondent before Judge Bubbington yesterday. Prosecuting Attorney Burlingame for the people and Col. Leffingwell for the defense. A jury was summoned by Constable Bailey, who had the case in charge, consisted of the following: Lowell Hall, H. M. Hindsill, H. Jewett, C. A. Robinson, Warren Crippen and Daniel W. McNaughton. The witnesses for the defense [?] were the complainant, Mrs. Margaret Williams, mother of the complainant, and Mary McLanahan, daughter of the parties, a handsome little girl aged 14 years. The parties had been married 17 years, Mrs. McLanahan being a widow at the time of the marriage. They had been residing on Stocking Street. Mr. McLanahan offered no evidence but his own statement. The testimony showed much family discord, not unaccompanied by pushing, punching, knocking pipes out of mouth. After arguments by Counsel, the jury . . . returned into court with a verdict of guilty. The Justice imposed a fine of $5 and costs, amounting in all to $16.68, and in default of payment thirty days in jail. McLanahan was given until 8 o’clock this morning to produce the money.”  

In 1873-74 Joel was working as an expressman and living at 106 Canal Street, and from 1874-75 he was employed as a contractor living at 128 Canal.  From 1875-76 he was working as a grader and living at 11 Ionia Street, and in 1878 he was working in Grand Rapids as a laborer.     

Soon after divorcing his first wife in 1878 he married Olevia or Levia Bennett (b. 1838) on October 24, 1878, in Grand Rapids, and they too may have eventually divorced. 

In the late 1870s  Joel moved to Pentwater, Oceana County, where he was living in 1880 with his wife “Livia” and working as a laborer. He was still in Pentwater in1883, then in Muskegon, Muskegon County in 1885 and 1886, and in West Carlisle, Kent County in 1888.

The wound in his leg had never fully healed properly, plaguing him for years, and his leg was finally amputated on February 8, 1887. 

In 1865 he applied for and received a pension (no. 40,381, dated 1865) at the rate of $8.00 per month in 1865, reduced in March of 1872 to $6.00, but subsequently increased in October of 1886 to $30.00, then $36.00 in June of 1887 following the amputation of his leg. 

Joel was residing in Wyoming, Kent County in 1888, at 114 Ellsworth avenue in Grand Rapids by August of 1889, and was employed as a furniture repairer in Grand Rapids in 1891 and living at 25 Grandville avenue. 

Joel married Susan Anise McDonald Sink (1850-1934), on August 1, 1891,  in South Bend, Indiana (she had been divorced in 1891 from John F. Sink); they had at least one child: Mary M. (1893-1991, Mrs. Cram). By  1892 he was working as a chair caner and living at 22 Crawford Street in Grand Rapids; in 1894 he was living either in Grand Rapids’ 11th ward or in Wyoming, Kent County. The following year he was employed as foreman for the Michigan Chair co. and living at 48 Crawford Street; by 1896 he was working as a janitor and living at 39 Umatilla Street. In 1897 he returned to his old job of chair caner and worked at that trade from 1897 to 1899, residing at 991 Hall Street. 

In 1900 Joel and his wife and daughter were living in Greene, St. Joseph County, Indiana. Joel moved to South Bend, Indiana around 1900. By 1910 he was living on Center Street in Liberty St. Joseph County, Indiana with his wife and daughter.  

He was a member of the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry Association, and Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 5 in Grand Rapids.

Joel died of pulmonary tuberculosis on December 12, 1917, in North Liberty, St. Joseph County, Indiana. According to his Indiana death certificate, he was buried in Sumption Prairie cemetery in North Liberty: section A, lot 57, grave no. 2, although there is a government marker for him in Fulton cemetery: section 1 lot 28 (along with his brother Stephen and his mother).

In 1918 Susan was living in Indiana when she applied for and received a widow’s pension (no. 870258).

Fulton Cemetery, Grand Rapids, MI

Fulton Cemetery, Grand Rapids, MI

Sumption Prairie Cemetery, North Liberty, IN

Sumption Prairie Cemetery, North Liberty, IN