Lost History VII: The Ferry Family in the Civil War


By Ron Robotham

This article continues the story of the Ferry family and their role in founding Grand Haven and extending influence across West Michigan. It is part of the Examiner’s Lost History series, which explores situations that the author, who has published three books, has wondered about in our local heritage.

One of the longest-lasting legacies, and possibly the saddest, of the Ferry Family is the presence of the Lake Forest Cemetery in Grand Haven.  Albeit, ‘everybody who is anybody’ in the history of Grand Haven is buried there, it started on a tragic note.

Let me regress to some of the earlier published writing published earlier in the Examiner of 4/18 and 4/25.   I remind everyone that Noah Henry was born in 1831, the third son of William and Amanda Ferry.  He had entered the family business early and, with his younger brother Edward, had gone to the White Lake area in 1855 to start a saw mill. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Noah and about a hundred other men formed a Militia unit and joined the Union Army as Company F of the Michigan Fifth Cavalry. The Michigan Fifth Cavalry went on to join with other units to become the Michigan Brigade under our famous Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.  The Michigan Brigade was a part of Gen. Grant’s army pursuing Gen. Lee. They fought prominently and gallantly in numerous battles.  They were notably involved at the Battle of Gettysburg.  It was there that Major Noah Ferry was killed on July 3, 1863.  He was hastily buried in an identified grave.

When the Ferry parents were informed of his death, they went to Pennsylvania and retrieved his body.  Returning to Grand Haven, Rev. Ferry purchased a piece of dune property south of Grand Haven that was owned by his son-in-law, Galen Eastman, son of the founder of Eastmanville.  There they reinterred Noah’s body with full military honors fitting a war hero.  That property became known as the Ferry Lot.

Later, in 1867, the Ferry family passed that property on to the city, who expanded it with the purchase of another forty acres in 1872.  The city established what is known today as Lake Forest Cemetery.

Lt. Col. William Jr. returned home safely after serving honorably with the Michigan 14th Infantry that was part of Gen. Sherman’s Army in the South.  He was a business leader in Grand Haven before the war, especially having established the Ferry Brothers Bank in 1853.  After his return, he again took his place in the family business.  His father, William, Sr., died in 1867, but the many businesses continued to flourish.  The Ferry Bank became the National Bank of Grand Haven in 1871.

I cannot leave the comments of the Ferry boys’ Civil War involvements without going back to Rev. Ferry’s close associate, Pierre Duvernay.  Recall that when Rev. Ferry and his family came from Mackinaw Island, they traveled on a schooner, “The Supply,” owned by Mr. Duvernay. 

Duvernay had been a fur trader from Quebec, Canada.  He worked for several agents and was finally assigned to a post in Lac Du Flambeau, Wisc.  He was there for 8 years and married a Menominee woman named Julia E. Mine-demo-Ajah; they had two children, Louise and Peter.  From 1830-32 he worked for Rix Robinson at posts near Muskegon.  In 1832 he and his family resided at Mackinaw. There he became friends with the Ferry Family. In 1834, the Ferry and Duvernay familes and 21 other pioneers sailed to Grand Haven. Duvernay became a clerk for Robinson.  Duvernay had eleven children in all, and he was converted to Protestantism, influenced by Rev. Ferry. He and his family joined Ferry’s First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven.  He died in 1862 at the age of 72.

He and his family have several legacies, but I want to parallel the Ferry Civil War involvement with the Duvernay’s. I note that Duvernay died near the start of the war, so he may not have known about his sons’ meritorious service.  One source said, “Three of the Duvernay boys served in the Civil War.”   Issac, born in 1831, served in Company I of the Michigan 5th Infantry.  He was captured and died in a Confederate prison.  Son Eli David was born in 1835 and served in Company G of the Michigan 21st Infantry. The 21st was recruited in the 4th Congressional District and mustered out of Ionia.  They served gallantly to the end of the war with Gen. Sherman’s army in their southern sweep through Tenn., Ga., and the Carolinas.

What is most amazing is the war record of a third son, William Martin Duvernay.  William was born in 1850!  He was 11 years old when he entered the Union Army as a drummer.  He served for four years, was discharged, never married, and died in a Veterans Home in Milwaukee in 1893 at age 43.  He was 11 years old when he went in! I can’t get over that!

He is recorded as the youngest member of the Union Army in the Civil War but I think that fact may be arguable.  However uncommon, it was not unheard-of for young men, not old enough to join the regular army, to be recruited as musicians.  William (called Chid) was born in Grand Haven; grew up there with his family of five siblings; and was honorably motivated to volunteer at the age of eleven.  Just to bring all these “Lost History” stories all the way back to the beginning, William was a drummer in Company B of the First Michigan Sharpshooters. 

A nephew of those men, a son of their second oldest brother Charles (born 1820). was named John.  John served in the same company with William.  John was born about 1843 and was 7 years older than his Uncle William/  One large spread-out family!

Do your recall our discussion about Company K recruited from the Native American community of Oceana County?  William was half-Native American and loyally served in the same Sharpshooter unit along with John.  You may have to go back and reread that material to recall the horrific battles they were bravely involved in while attached to Gen. Grant’s Army.

Now, I stand even more amazed at the honor, service, and sacrifice of so many of our local men in that horrible war.  Now it includes an 11-year-old, half-Native American, half-French young man from our area.