Memorials to United States Colored Troops, Pt. 8: Major William H. Palmer, Norfolk, Virginia

A photo-essay series dedicated to the United States Colored Troops, and how they were remembered in contemporary news media .

Pt. 8

Norfolk, Virginia

West Point Cemetery (est. 1827)

Gravestone of QMS William Henry Palmer, Company I, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, West Point Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 27, 2012. All rights reserved.

Major W. H. Palmer, commanding the 2nd battalion of Virginia volunteers, and a very prominent colored man died at his residence on Kent street Monday evening after a protracted illness of several months. He was well known in our community and very much liked by all who knew him, both white and black. He was a man of marked ability and conservative views, and thoroughly up in military matters. His funeral will take place from St. John’s A. M. E. Church on Bute street tomorrow, Thursday afternoon at 2 o’clock, and will no doubt be very largely attended.” – The Norfolk Virginian1


William H. Palmer (colored) commanding the second battalion colored volunteers of Virginia, died here tonight; aged forty-one years.” – The Richmond Dispatch2


“The Funeral of the late Major Wm. H. Palmer, colored, who commanded the second battalion of Virginia volunteers, colored, took place from the Bute street Baptist Church yesterday at 2 p.m. and was probably the largest colored funeral which ever occurred in Norfolk. Soldiers companies from Norfolk and Portsmouth were in attendance and acted as escort to the remains. The funeral cortege was led by two bands, and followed by about two thousand colored people. Without doubt, Major Palmer was the most popular colored man in Norfolk.” – The Norfolk Virginian3


At a special meeting of the officers and members of the Second Bat. Va. Vol. Infantry the Committee on Condolence presented the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

  • Whereas, It has seemed good to the Almighty Disposer to remove from our ranks our honored commander, Major W. H. Palmer
  • Whereas, The intimate relations, long held by the officers and members of the battalion, renders it proper that we should place upon record our appreciation of his services as a soldier and his merits as a man; therefore
  • Resolved, That we deplore the loss of W. H. Palmer, with deep feelings of regret, softened only by the confident hope that his spirit is with those, who, having fought the good fight here, are enjoying perfect happiness in a better world,
  • Resolved, That we tender to his afflicted family our sincere condolence at the loss of one who was a good citizen, an efficient officer and an upright man,
  • Resolved, That the armory be draped with mourning for thirty days and that a copy of the foregoing resolutions be transmitted to the family of the deceased and be published in The Norfolk Virginian,
  • Resolved, That we now adjourn in respect to his memory.

Com. Capt. E. W. Goudd, Capt. Peter Shepperd, Capt. W. H. Bolden, Capt. W. H. Mills.” – The Norfolk Virginian4


The Richmond State says of the late Major William H. Palmer: ‘He was a man of conservative views and action; and esteemed alike by his white and colored fellow-citizens.’ – The Norfolk Virginian5


Exterior view of St. John’s A. M. E. Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Date unknown. DocSouth.
Interior view, St. John’s A. M. E. Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Date unknown. DocSouth
St. John’s A. M. E. Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 14, 2013. All rights reserved.
Cornerstone, St. John’s A. M. E. Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 14, 2013. All rights reserved.
St. John’s A. M. E. Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

According to his enlistment record, William Henry Palmer of Company I, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, was born about 1845, in Accomack County, Virginia.6 He enlisted at the age of eighteen on October 22, 1863, at Portsmouth, Virginia. At the time of enlistment, he was described as five feet, seven and one-half inches tall, with a light complexion, black eyes and hair. His listed occupation was “laborer.” William was promoted to the rank of Corporal, on November 1, 1863, and promoted Quartermaster Sergeant on May 1, 1865. He mustered out on October 22, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas. 7

QMS William H. Palmer married Miss Anna Robinson Smith (b. ca. 1847) of Norfolk, Virginia, on October 9, 1867, at Norfolk. Per the marriage record, William was the son of Isaac and Ellen Palmer, and Miss Anna Robinson Smith was the daughter of William H. and Catharine Smith. 8

In the 1870 Census, William, age twenty-five. was documented in Norfolk’s Second Ward as a domestic servant. His household included his wife, Anna, age twenty-six, son William, age one, and Eliza Palmer, aged fifty-seven. 9

In the 1880 Census, William, age thirty-four, was documented in Norfolk. His listed occupation was “Inspector Revenue.” His household included his wife Anna, age thirty-two, son William Henry, Jr., age eleven, son Harris, age nine, daughter Katie, age six, and son Crispus Attucks, age one. William Henry, Jr., Harris, and daughter Katie were enrolled in school. 10

After William’s decease in 1887, his wife, Anna Robinson Smith Palmer, remained in Norfolk, Virginia. She passed away on December 11, 1900, and is also interred in West Point Cemetery. A photo of her gravestone may be found here.


West Point Cemetery, facing south, January 25, 2012. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

  1. The Norfolk Virginian (Norfolk, Virginia) 2 November 1887, p. 1, c. 4; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 5 January 2020.)
  2. The Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 2 November 1887, p. 4, c. 3; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 5 January 2020.)
  3. The Norfolk Virginian (Norfolk, Virginia), 4 November 1887, p. 1, c. 7; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 5 January 2020.)
  4. The Norfolk Virginian (Norfolk, Virginia), 4 November 1887, p. 1, c. 6; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 5 January 2020.)
  5. The Norfolk Virginian (Norfolk, Virginia), 5 November 1887, p. 1, c. 6; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 5 January 2020.)
  6. As per William H. Palmer’s marriage record, 1867, he was born in Northampton County, Virginia.
  7. The National Archives, “Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served With the United States Colored Troops Infantry Organizations, 36th through 40th,” database online, Fold3 (https://fold3.com: accessed 5 January 2020), entry for William H. Palmer, QMS, Co. I, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, Union.
  8. “Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940,” William H. Palmer-Anna R. Smith, 9 October 1867, database online, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: accessed 5 January 2020.)
  9. “U. S. Census 1870,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 January 2020); Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia, dist. Ward 2; p. 92; citing “Year: 1870; Census Place: Norfolk Ward 2, Norfolk, Virginia; Roll: M593_1666; Page: 150B; Family History Library Film: 553165.”
  10. “U. S. Census 1880,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 January 2020); Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia, dist. 072; p. 57; citing “Year: 1880; Census Place: Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia; Roll: 1381; Page: 434A; Enumeration District: 072.”

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