top of page

An Unknown Hidden Hero - Charles G. Boley

Volunteering at the Frontenac is not only full of fun but full of surprises too, some of which can be found right before our eyes! Recently the museum was visited by Tony Gero, former teacher and military historian, who will be presenting a program at the Frontenac on November 10th at 2pm. While viewing an 1898 photo found in our collection and labeled as Civil War veterans, Tony noticed an African American soldier. This photo has been on display for many years in the Thomas Eldred Military History Room yet we had never noticed this soldier before and were intrigued. Could we identify him? (2nd Row Left)

A search of the 1890 Civil War Veterans Schedule revealed a Charles G. Boley living in Ledyard with his race listed as black. In searching the same record for Union Springs, we found no other African American listed. We found him! Now to find his story.

Looking at the 1892 Federal Census, the same Charles G. Boley is living in Ledyard as a single man working as a day laborer. The 1900, 1905 and 1910 censuses of Springport recorded him as now married to Sarah (in 1898), living in a home they owned on the Lake Road (present day Route 90) and name spelled as Bollie, to be located just south of the hamlet of Hamburg behind the present day home of Joe and Linda DeCaro. This area was known as Hamburg, home to several active stone quarries which would fit with his employment as a day laborer.

We next turned to the pages of the Union Springs Advertiser and several Auburn newspapers of this period and found that Charles, together with Springport Civil War veterans James Hammond, Alexander Chambers, John Murphy and Abe Thompson, had participated in an 1893 celebration held in Waterloo, the birthplace of Memorial Day. We also learned that in 1910 he moved from Union Springs to the National Veterans Home in Marion, Indiana where he died in 1913 due to a cerebral hemorrhage. The records of this home revealed much more about Boley. He was 5.5 feet tall, gray haired, disabled and single. It looks like there may be another story for another day as his closest relative is shown to be a cousin in Geneseo, not his wife Sarah.

A closer look at the 1890 Veterans schedule showed Boley had enlisted in Rochester in 1883, serving for 5 years with Company C of the 10th New York Cavalry, 97th Regiment, United States Colored (sic) Infantry well past the Civil War era. As we were unable to find him in the Civil War muster rolls of this unit, we realized that Charles was a proud veteran, not of the Civil War, who shared his love of his country with other veterans.

Charles's unit was founded as a segregated African American unit, one of the original "Buffalo Soldier" regiments formed in the post-war regular army. Boley was discharged at Ft. Grant, AZ confirming that he had indeed served, not in the Civil War, but as a Buffalo Soldier. Ft. Grant was founded along a trail often used by Apache fleeing Mexico. Its purpose was to stop marauding bands of Apache from attacking New Mexico and Arizona, the campaign ending with surrender of Geronimo in 1886. During Boley's last years at Ft. Grant, he would have participated in civil duties such as pursuing train robbers and other outlaws.

The 1920 and 1930 Springport censuses confirmed that his wife, Sarah, remained in Springport. The Union Springs Advertiser reported that in 1927 Sarah broke her wrist after falling off a porch while chasing a runaway spool of thread she was using while sewing. No further records have been found for Sarah.

While Charles's efforts as a Buffalo Soldier were heroic and protected the lives of settlers in the westward expansion, we can't help but reflect on the paradox of African American soldiers fighting native people for a government which did not accept either group as equals. As we near the close of Black History Month, we are excited to share the story of Charles G. Boley, a hero hidden no more.


bottom of page