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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Monday May 20th 2024

Catherine and Jerry

No. 222 from the series Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

By SUE HUNTER WEIR

In October 1892, Catherine Bruce applied for a mother’s pension based on her deceased son’s service in the Civil War. She was 91 years old and “decrepit, in poor health, and poverty-stricken.”
Catherine’s son, Jerry Bruce, died on February 1, 1877, from an epileptic seizure. Jerry had enlisted in Company G 42nd U. S. Colored Troops on September 3, 1864, and within a matter of months began experiencing seizures on an almost daily basis. He was deemed unfit for duty for 58 days of his enlistment; the captain of his military unit said that his seizures “[rendered] him completely helpless.” He was discharged for disability in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 31, 1865.


Catherine had previously applied for this pension in 1878. A man close to the Bruce family, David Lewis, testified for Catherine that Jerry had been a “sound man, in good health,” until his service, and that if Jerry had previously been ill, he would have known about it. Despite his testimony, and that of another witness, the government denied Catherine’s application, which was conditional on the illness leading to discharge being related to his service. They claimed that Jerry’s illness was not caused by his military service, but more likely was the result of a pre-existing condition.


Little is known about Catherine Bruce except that she was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1801. She married Sandy Bruce and, in 1852, gave birth to Jerry. Sandy died that same year while they were living in Mayville, Ohio.


Early in the 1870s, Catherine and Jerry moved to Minneapolis with Catherine’s brother-in-law, Henry Bruce. Henry was employed as a barber by David Lewis, who testified on Catherine’s behalf in 1878.
Catherine lived with Henry until his death in July 1884, at 86. David Lewis also died from heart disease on May 2, 1882. Priscilla, David’s widow and Catherine’s friend, was one of the founding members of St. Peter’s AME Church and married Henry Grimes in 1884. A few years later, Catherine moved in with Henry and Priscilla, and she lived with them until she died. It is likely that they, with other friends, encouraged her to apply for a mother’s pension a second time in 1892. Like her first application, her second request was denied.


Catherine, Jerry, and several people who supported and cared for them are buried in the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. Catherine suffered and died from a stroke at age 93 on August 7, 1894, and is buried next to Henry Bruce in Lot 47, Block N. Henry and Priscilla Grimes are also buried in the Cemetery. Henry died on June 15, 1911, from heart disease at 64 years old. Priscilla died the following year, on September 23, 1912, also from heart disease, at 72 years old.


Jerry Bruce has been buried in an unmarked grave for 147 years. His mother’s pension application provides the confirmation that is required to order a military marker for her son. He is the tenth African-American Civil War veteran known to have been buried in the Cemetery. His marker will not arrive in time for this year’s Memorial Day program, but please join us that day, Monday, May 27th, at 10 a.m.

Sue Hunter Weir is chair of Friends of the Cemetery, an organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. She has lived in Phillips for almost 50 years and loves living in such a historic community.

Please join us at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 27th for the annual Memorial Day Program at the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Center. There will be a history talk (seated) following the program. Both events are free and open to the public. See the alley’s May event calendar for details.

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