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Old Settlers Who Served in the Military

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Samuel Lett

Reprinted From:  The Grand Rapids Press

Family honors Union private

Posted by Ted Roelofs | Chronicle News Service May 10, 2008 06:09AM

MONTCALM COUNTY -- In a small Montcalm County cemetery, the grave marker says simply, "Lett" and the names "Henrietta" and "Samuel."

During Samuel Lett's service, he developed a fever, cough and other complications, for which he was hospitalized for four weeks.


Until now, there was no other clue to the unlikely story behind the names.


In 1864, Samuel Lett enlisted from Carson City as a private in the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry. He was one of hundreds of young black men from around Michigan to join the Union cause.


He served until his discharge in 1865, then homesteaded an 80-acre farm in Montcalm's Bloomer Township. He and his wife, Henrietta, likely were the first black family in the area.  In a ceremony at 1 p.m. today, Lett's grave was to be marked by a bronze flag holder signifying his service to his country.


"I think it says something of his faith to his country," said Marvin Lett, a Mt. Pleasant resident and great-grandson to Lett. "We are all very proud of him."  Marvin Lett was to join other relatives from as far away as Boston and Virginia at the cemetery.


"It is an honor to be recognized for something like this. It's a family, and that's what families do," said Phyllis Lett Sherrill,  Lett's great-granddaughter.  Sherrill was making the trip from Virginia Beach with her husband, Richard. She hoped the event would open the eyes of a new generation.


"Young people need to know this. This is something that didn't get taught in the schools very much."  Grand Rapids Civil War enthusiast Bruce Butgereit said the sacrifice of soldiers such as Lett is a little-known piece of the war that must not be forgotten, a thought reinforced to him as he stood at Lett's grave. Butgereit said Lett's generation faced a gauntlet of racism in their everyday lives -- without the right to vote -- but joined the Union cause anyway.


"I stood there and started to contemplate what this man went through in his daily life. As a free man, he wanted to serve, and he needs to be recognized for that."


According to family research, Lett was born in Ohio in 1840 and migrated some time that decade to Berrien County. In 1863, he married Henrietta Taylor, 19, from Ohio. He enlisted in August 1864 from Carson City and was shipped to South Carolina. The regiment fought throughout South Carolina, Georgia and Florida until it was disbanded in September 1865.


After the war, Lett and his wife had eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood. All were raised on their farm in Bloomer Township.


Lett died in 1903 at age 63. He was receiving a $20 monthly pension at the time of his death. Marvin Lett said military service is something of a family tradition. "The family has been serving in every war we've had all the way back to the American Revolution," he said.