Surry County, Virginia: Pvt. Harrison Spratley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

Gravestone of Pvt. Harrison Spratley, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Surry County, Virginia

Pvt. Harrison Spratley was a member of Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. According to his military pension file, Harrison was born on August 6, 1847, in Surry County, Virginia. His parents, Dawson Spratley (b. ca. 1810), and Nancy Spratley (b. ca. 1805), were free persons of color. In the 1830s, Dawson Spratley is documented on several “free negro” lists in Surry County, Virginia, working on the farm of Angelina “Angie” Edwards (b. ca. 1770).

Preliminary map of Surry County, Virginia, 1871. Library of Congress.
Detail of Cohham District, Surry County, Virginia, ca. 1871. Library of Congress.
1835 Free Negro Listing, Surry County, Virginia. Dawson Spratley’s name is second from the bottom. Library of Virginia

Dawson remained on the Edwards farm for some time. By 1850, the family, Dawson (35), wife Nancy (45), daughter Eliza (9), and sons William (8), Dred (5), and Bink (2), are documented living next to Angeline Edwards. Harrison is not listed, unless he was the son referred to as “Bink.”

In the 1860 Census, Harrison is documented as a free negro, age fifteen, in the Eastern District of Isle of Wight County, Virginia, working as a general laborer on the farm of Edward P. Epps.

Harrison enlisted on August 30, 1864, at Newport News, Virginia. At the time of enlistment, he was described as eighteen years old, five foot three inches tall, with a dark complexion, black eyes and hair. His listed occupation was laborer. Harrison mustered in September 2, 1864, Newport News, and was discharged per general order on May 26, 1865, at City Point, Virginia.

After the Civil War, Harrison returned to Surry County, and married Eliza “Lizzie” Green (b. ca. 1845), on February 13, 1873. Rev. Robert Wilkins Berryman performed the ceremony, which took place at the residence of Ned Shannanhouse near Chippokes Creek. The couple had three children, Roxie (b. April 1875), William Henry Emmerson (b. August 7, 1877), and Steven (b. ca. 1880).

Surry County, named for the county of Surrey in England, was formed from James City County about 1652. The Quiyoughcohannocks, whose villages were primarily situated in present-day Surry County, were among the first Virginia Indians the English encountered in 1607. By 1609 the English had begun resettlements in the county at Hog Island and Smith’s Fort, a defensive fortification erected on the south side of the James River along Gray’s Creek. One of the nation’s outstanding examples of high-style 17th-century domestic architecture, Bacon’s Castle, a National Historic Landmark, is located here. The county seat is Surry.” – Department of Historic Resources, 2003 . Photo: Nadia K. Orton
Chippokes Plantation, directly across the James River from the first English settlement in the New World, has been continually farmed since 1619. It is named for the Algonquin Chief Choupoke, who befriended the colonists and whose people probably grew corn here long before Europeans arrived on this continent.” – Presented by Virginia Society – National Society Colonial Dames Seventeenth Century, 20 October 2000. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2012, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry, Virginia. All rights reserved.

This plantation, four miles to the northeast, was established in 1619 by Captain William Powell of Jamestown. Structures and artifacts on the property reflect plantation life from the early 17th century to the present. Donated to the Commonwealth by Mrs. Victor Stewart in 1967 for use as a state park. Chipppokes is noted for its 350 years of continuous agricultural production and its modern recreational facilities.” – Department of Conservation and Historic Resources, 1989. Photo: Nadia K. Orton,l 2012. All rights reserved.

In 1880, Harrison (37), Eliza (28), Roxie (4), William H. Emmerson (3), and Steven (1), are documented in the Cobham district of Surry County. Eliza passed away soon after the census was taken. Harrison later married Urania Mary Liza Blizzard Nichols on June 9, 1881, Surry County. Urania was the daughter of Dolly Blizzard and Judy Haskett, also free persons of color. She was the widow of Junius Nichols (dec. December 29, 1878). The marriage was performed by Elder Pool, on “Gravel Neck Farm,” according to Harrison’s pension record.

Marriage consent of Eliza Green to Harrison Spratley. Surry County, Virginia. February 10, 1873. Library of Virginia.
Marriage consent of Urania Nichols to Harrison Spratley. Bacon’s Castle, June 7, 1881, Surry County, Virginia. Library of Virginia.

At some point between 1883 and 1897, Harrison and family moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Harrison first filed for his pension in 1892. In his original declaration, he is described as five feet, six inches tall, with brown eyes, black hair, and a “gingercake” complexion. Over the years, Harrison had managed to acquire a fifteen-acre farm, but claimed difficulty working the land due to partial paralysis, blindness, and old age. Several friends and neighbors testified to Harrison’s disability in support of his claim.


General affidavit of George W. Paris, age forty, and Thomas W. Milton, age thirty-eight, Norfolk, Virginia, October 10, 1892. Invalid pension claim no. 1115.596.

That each of them are well and thoroughly acquainted with the claimant and the claimant is now in destitute circumstances and feeble health and that he is now unable to earn support by manual labor, and that the claimant has dependent upon him for support and invalid wife and two children, and that the claimant neither owns or controls any property, real, personal, or mixed from which any revenue is derived and is therefore dependent upon a charitable community for support to a very large extent.


General affidavit of Charles White, age fifty-two, and William Lawrence, age forty-eight, Norfolk, Virginia, December 11, 1893. Invalid pension claim no. 1115.596.

They are well acquainted with the claimant above named; affiant White has known him since boyhood; and affiant Lawrence has known him for at least twenty five (25) years; affiants both state that about ten (10) years ago claimant suffered from affection of lungs and saw him cough and spit up phlegm and blood – this was near Bacon’s Castle in Surry County Virginia – they are not able to state the circumstances under which the disease originated but if same had been due to any vicious habits their relations every such  that the fact would have been known to them.


General affidavit of Charles White, age fifty-three, and William Lawrence, age fifty-one, Norfolk, Virginia, July 29, 1895. Invalid pension claim no. 1115.596.

Both of the above named witnesses further declare: that we live with applicant Harrison Spratley, work alongside with him, and know about his disability and suffering, that he is principally suffering on his left side and right arm, which at many times totally incapacitates him to work and make a living, and furthermore declare that we know applicant before and since the war and that his ailments and incapacity date during the close and since the war.


General affidavit of Josephus Miller, age sixty-seven, and William Lawrence, age fifty-four, Norfolk, Virginia, February 15, 1898. Invalid pension claim no. 1115.596.

That affiant Miller has known claimant for the last part ten (10) years and affiant Lawrence ever since his discharge from the service; affiant for the period of the acquaintance with the soldier seen him once a week. At least twice a month during the period of his acquaintance and he has complained of and apparently suffered from pains in left side and back and affection of head and eyes, witnesses from their acquaintances with him have no reason to be…and do believe that the above named disabilities due to bad or vicious habits and apparently in character as far as they can determine. In consequence of his disability (unreadable) out…purpose on half the labor of an able bodied man.

Gravestone of 1st Sgt. Josephus Miller, 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry. In 1898, he testified in support of Pvt. Harrison Spratley’s pension claim. Calvary Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2013. All rights reserved.

By 1899, Harrison and family had moved back to Surry County. 


General affidavit of William Haywood, forty-five, and Richard H. Banks, age forty-two., Bacon’s Castle, Surry County, Virginia, March 3, 1900. Invalid pension claim no. 1115.596.

That they have been intimately acquainted with the claimant Harrison Spratley for the last year, and are able testify as neighbors and from their personal. Knowledge and observation that from June 14th, 1899 to the present time the claimant has suffered from disease of lungs and has during said period been three fourth’s disabled for performing manual labor.


In the 1900 Census, Harrison was documented at the same address, Cobham District, with wife “Rinda” (Urania, 40), son Emerson (William Henry Emmerson, 26), sister Fannie Spratley Hill (70, widow), and a cousin, Charles Spratley (16).

In the 1910 Census, Cobham District, the household included: Harrison (64), “Rainia” (Urania, 62), grandchildren Jeffrey (9) and Lily (7), and Harrison’s sister Fannie Spratley Hill (70).

In 1915, Harrison wrote a letter to the pension bureau requesting an increase in his pension.


Letter of Harrison Spratley…1915. Surry County, Virginia. Invalid certificate no. 998.986.

Sir, My pension certificate is #998986. I was a private in Co. E 1 Regiment United States Colored Cavalry. Would like for you to give me an increase in my pension if you can. Am getting old and I am no as able to work now as I have been in the past – My pension is only $13.50 per month and is not enough to support me and clothe me – My age was 68 years on Aug 6 1915–Very respectfully, Harrison Spratley


In 1919, he wrote a second letter to the bureau, this time requesting financial assistance for one of his grandchildren, Lily Spratley, on account of her disability. The request was denied by the pension bureau.


Harrison Spratley, Letter, August 9, 1919, Bacon’s Castle, Surry County, Virginia. Invalid certificate no. 998.986.

I have a granddaughter here with me, her name is Lilly Ann Spratley, my son daughter Emerson Spratley he died when she was 7 yrs old. She was down sick when he was down sick and the Dr. attended them both, he died at that time and the Dr said that she had the paralysis 7 yrs at that time. She has been walking lame ever since. She ask me to write to you and ask you if the government would allow her any thing in her affliction. She is now 17 yrs old and walks with a crutch. I named my son after my captain Emmerson whom I served under in the Civil War. Was the 1st United States Colored Cavelry Company E.


I could not locate either Harrison or Urania in the 1920 Census. Urania Mary Liza Blizzard Nichols Spratley passed away on July 10, 1926, in their home in Surry. After her death, Harrison was in truly desperate circumstances. He wrote one last letter to the pension bureau for help. I was saddened to read it.


Harrison Spratley, Letter, August 23, 1926, 838 Cumberland Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Invalid certificate no. 998996.

I am disable to wait on myself I am helpless, I has to have some one to do every thing for me, When I goes to do natures duties some one has to put me over the bucket, and some one has to put on and pull off my clothes. I can not do it, has lost the use of my muscles, so therefore I am a great expense to myself. At night when I has to perform natures duties if no one takes me up I has to let it come out. So you see my condition I has told you just like it is. So please it to you all to give it your consideration. Please I know you will do the right thing towards me. Well I guess I has said enough. From your old soldier of the war, Harrison Spratley.

Harrison Spratley passed away on November 29, 1926. His body was transferred back to Surry County, Virginia, where he was buried on December 2, 1926, by Hale & Company of Norfolk, Virginia.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 25, 2013. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Surry County, Virginia: Pvt. Harrison Spratley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

  • This is a wonderful article. Great details about this family. Harrison sadly only lived another 6 months after his wife passed. I assume the Pension Board did not grant his request for an increase. Thanks Nadia.

    • Thanks, Robin! The pension board refused (again), but I’m not sure if he received their response. I hate to think that he received another “no” just before he passed on.

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