William Van Slyke William Van Slyke

Name: William Van Slyke
Company: G
  • Date: October 1834
  • Place: New York
Mustered In
  • Date: March 26, 1862
  • Rank: Second Lieutenant
  • Age: 28
  • Residence prior to military service: Cooperstown, New York; St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota
  • Vocation prior to military service: Clerk in dry-goods and grocery store
  • Date: January 14, 1910
  • Place: St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota
Mustered Out
  • Date: July 23, 1863
  • Rank: Second Lieutenant
  • Age: about 29
  • Residence following military service: St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota
  • Vocation following military service: Grain and Commission business; Wholesale Merchant; Grain Merchant

William Van Slyke Biography and Civil War Narrative

William Alonzo Van Slyke was born in October 1834 in New York state, the son of Adam and Lovina Van Slyke. William was educated in New York and worked as a clerk in a dry-goods and grocery store in Cooperstown, New York. He met and married his wife, Mary Sampson (or Sample) Cooley, born about 1835-37 in New York. According to Mary Van Slyke's obituary, William and Mary were married in 1855 by Rev. Van Ingen of the Episcopal church.

William and Mary Slyke had four children:

When William moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1854, he worked for William Cooley for about two years. Cooley may have been a relative of Mary Van Slyke. Then he went into business for himself. In 1857 he built a house for his family at 341 Van Slyke Court in St. Paul. Since Frederick was born in New York in 1857, William might have made occasional trips back to New York, and Mary and newborn Fred probably moved to St. Paul when the house was finished. (Mary Van Slyke's newspaper death notice stated that she had lived in St. Paul since 1852. If this is the case, she may have been visiting back in New York when Frederick was born.)
Lieutenant Van Slyke is the man with epaulets at the sword-bearing commander's right hand
In 1859 there was a fire along both sides of Third Street in St. Paul that set back Van Slyke's business significantly, many of his goods being burned and--those not burned--stolen. The 1860 U.S. Census shows 26-year-old merchant, W. A. Van Slyke, living in St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota. With him are his wife, Mary S. (age 22), Edwin Van Slyke (age 20, born in New York, possibly a brother), Fred (William and Mary's 3-year-old son), Alfred Cooley (age 16, born in New York; possibly Alfred Cooley Van Slyke), and a 27-year-old servant from Ireland, Margaret Fanell.

Minnesota Pioneer Guard exercises, 1859William A. Van Slyke joined the Minnesota Pioneer Guard. He appeared in a group photo in 1858 and is listed as 3rd Lieutenant in the 1859 roster of the Guard. On April 15, 1861, immediately following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln's call for volunteers, the Minnesota Pioneer Guard voted to enlist as a company, becoming Company A of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. Whether or not Van Slyke was still involved in the Guard at that time is unclear; in any event, he did not make the transition into active duty in the the First Infantry Regiment. Perhaps the 1859 fire interrupted his military participation.

William Van Slyke was mustered in as Second Lieutenant of Company G of the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment on March 26, 1862. He had been actively involved in the recruitment of the company in previous months. Lieutenant Van Slyke served nearly a year and a half in the 5th Minnesota Infantry. During his time of service, the 5th Minnesota went south and participated in the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi (fighting at Farmington on May 28, 1862); the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi (September 19, 1862; 5th Minnesota held in reserve); the (Second) Battle of Corinth (October 3-4, 1862); Grant's Central Mississippi (Railroad) Campaign (November 1862-January 1863); an expedition against Confederate Cavalry General Forrest in west Tennessee (late December 1862-January 1863); various operations around Vicksburg, Mississippi (spring 1863); and the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18-July 4, 1863). William Van Slyke was mustered out on July 23, 1863.

According to
T. M. Newson, author of Pen Pictures of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Biographical Sketches of Old Settlers, Van Slyke "was discharged from the army in consequence of sickness, and continued ill for a year and a half." Newson further described William Van Slyke as "tall, modest, unassuming, kind-hearted, philanthropic, benevolent" and "one of the most public-spirited men in our city" and "quiet, modest, unpretending gentleman, plain in speech and in dress; but beneath his hat he carries a head unsurpassed for its artistic and cultivated taste."

Auerbach, Finch & Van Slyke Building; Fourth and Jackson, St. Paul (1875) The 1870 U.S. Census shows 35-year-old Wm. Van Slyke living in St. Paul, Minnesota. His occupation is described as "Keeps Feed Store." Living with him are his wife, Mary (age 30), son Fred W. (age 13; at school); son Chas. (age 4); Theresa Hageman (age 19, domestic job); and Anna Cooley (age 18; born in New York; likely a relative--Mary's sister perhaps).

At the time of the 1880 census, all four children lived in the Van Slyke household. William's occupation was described as Commission. Twenty-two-year-old Fred W. worked as a Clerk for Commission; Chas. was 14; son Kenneth was 7; and daughter Grace was 1. Also in the household were two female servants: Anna Luth (age 15) and Bridget O'Loughlin (age 24). On November 13, 1882, Alderman William A. Van Slyke was unanimously elected a director for the Chamber of Commerce of St. Paul to replace Mr. C. H. Bigelow who had resigned. In 1886, Van Slyke was the General Manager of the Grand Winter Carnival in St. Paul. That year he once again announced his candidacy for Alderman in the First district of the Fifth ward of St. Paul, and he also played an important role in providing electric lighting for night-time visitors to the Minnesota State Fair. On Monday, April 18, 1887, he was elected president of the Park Comission for St. Paul. He was soon considered the "father of the park system." One of his oft-repeated themes was that "all triangular blocks in the city should be reserved [for parks]."

Van Slyke Avenue was named after William Van SlykeAs president of the board of park commissioners, one of the priorities in the spring of 1890 was addressing a great number of ailing trees in the city of St. Paul. In May 1890, when William Van Slyke ran for election to Alderman at Large, he was the top vote-getter with 12,517, followed by fellow Democrat, Charles E. Flandrau. Upon his election and consequential retirement from the park commission, a brief tribute to Van Slyke's work on the park commission was published in the May 25 issue of The St. Paul Daily Globe. That June, Van Slyke was appointed to the following standing committees: Parks, Fire Department, Workhouse, and Legislation. A few weeks later, he was added to the Fuel and Heating, Lighting, and Grounds and Building committees. In the Fall of 1890, Van Slyke organized a display of eagles to celebrate a Democratic election victory--one of those eagles being "Old Abe," the bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment which was usually brigaded with the 5th Minnesota during the Civil War.

Van Slyke announces candidacy for Alderman 1886On October 29, 1891, Mary Van Slyke's sister, Mrs. P. W. Winne of Cooperstown, New York, died of "la grippe" (influenza). According to the death notice in the St. Paul Globe, she had contracted the disease the previous year while in St. Paul, and during the 1850s she had been a resident of St. Paul.

William A. Van Slyke - 1903

In 1892, Democrat William Van Slyke narrowly defeated Republican C.W. Horr by a vote of 10,556 to 10,512 for Assemblyman of St. Paul. Before a revision in the ballot count, Van Slyke was actually behind. He was the only Democrat elected to the Assembly in a Republican dominated election that year.

Having been elected to the Assembly in May 1894, Van Slyke was then elected president of the Assembly. In August 1894 there was talk of Van Slyke running as a candidate for Ramsey County Sheriff, opposing fellow 5th Minnesota candidate Charles E. Chapel. In the end, Wm. A. Van Slyke appeared as the 1894 Democratic candidate for Clerk of District Court, but he was defeated by Republican Edward G. Rogers by 2000 votes.

In the 1895 Minnesota census, William's occupation is described as Grain Merchant. Three children continued to live in the household. Charles A. was 28 and his occupation is listed as M.D. Kenneth W. was 21 and worked as a Clerk in the City Dept. Grace was age 16. On the morning of Tuesday, September 26, 1899, Mary Van Slyke died at about 63 years of age. Her funeral was held at 2:00 pm on Thursday, September 28, 1899, at the family home with a private interment.

William Van Slyke was voted back into the St. Paul Assembly in 1902 with a strong showing by the Democrats.

William Alonzo Van Slyke died January 14, 1910, in St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota.

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