Monday, June 4, 2018

Finding David J. Vance

Dr. Charles R. Pontius with David J. Vance in the "Winton" 
Hayes Presidential Library and Museums
Sandusky County Local History Photograph Collection
Some years ago, I researched more than two dozen African American soldiers who served in the Civil War who either enlisted from or resided in Sandusky County, Ohio. You can read short sketches about each of them on the Hayes Presidential Library & Museums website. What proved to be most frustrating was my search for pictures of these courageous men who enlisted midway through the Civil War. By mere happenstance, I discovered a photograph of one of these soldiers taken long after the war and for a totally different purpose! That Civil War veteran was David J. Vance who was born in 1839 in what became Lewisburg West Virginia.  

The picture in which David Vance appears is one of a series of staged images taken in 1903 of well-known Sandusky County physician Dr. Charles R. Pontius. Pontius was apparently thrilled with his beloved “Winton” automobile. In addition to the "Winton,” a horse named “Kitty,” and an electric street car are featured in the photograph. The picture was intended to show viewers the rapid evolution in transportation that was taking place at the turn of the century. But of course, none of this immediately of interest. It was the friend sitting beside Dr. Pontius in the “Winton,” who was identified as Vance – the first and only picture I had located of one of Sandusky County’s African American Civil War veterans. I am hoping I will discover more images of these brave men!

Vance enlisted in the 44th U. S. Colored Regiment that was formed at Chattanooga in 1864. The regiment fought at battles near Dalton and Rome, Georgia and at Nashville. Serving a total of 19 months, Vance was discharged in August 1865. He returned to Sandusky County where he worked as a laborer and then a shoemaker. In 1882, he married Jane Whetzel Keys. She was the daughter of Felix and Lavina Newsome Whetzel and was born near McCutcheonville, Ohio.

Courtesy of Wayne Van Doren

To add to their income,he Vances rented rooms to several boarders and Jane worked as a hair dresser. At the age of 56, David Vance joined the local Eugene Rawson Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. He remained a member in good standing until his death in January of 1904. Jane lived until the age of 91. Both David and Jane are buried in Fremont, Ohio's OakwoodCemetery.

Courtesy of Find a Grave

A version of this article appeared in Lifestyles 2000.

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