It all started one late night in the library, searching through microfilm around Henry Spradley’s death date. According to Susan Cavenagh and her headstone documentation, Henry W. Spradley died on April 9th, 1897. As I browsed beyond the 9th in the Carlisle Herald microfilm, at Widner-Spahr library, I came across an article on April 12th.
I was ecstatic. The article connects Henry Spradley with Lincoln Cemetery and then with Dickinson College as well! Not only that, but it allowed me to piece together his life story, such as what his occupation had been, a janitor and bell ringer at Dickinson. And the fact that whites, faculty, and the choir turned out to his funeral, especially when every other black death I had research seemed unimportant to local whites, was simply amazing.
As I continued to search the microfilm, I also found this entry. I really hope at some point I can find records of these speeches of the faculty. Both these articles really highlight how respected Spradley was to this community.
At some point, I ran back to CCHS because I knew they had a booklet that I could easily find names for the Carlisle Valley Sentinel during certain years of the microfilm. I ended up finding another brief entry about Henry Spradley in the Carlisle Valley Sentinel on August 22nd, 1879.
Now even though he was appointed in this article, does not mean that he wasn’t working at Dickinson before this date. But it does say that he was the designated janitor of our own Old West for around 18 years!
I then went to the databases to see what further information I could find on him. I knew I had not found information on Spradley in all the databases I had searched before, but I tried again and played around with the name more. There is unfortunately not an entry for him in his regiment on the American Civil War Research database. However, I found multiple entries for him on ancestry. I was able to find him in the 1870 Census, 1880 Census and I found three civil war pension files for him (One, Two, Three). I am also fairly positive that this is his son, Shirley Spradley, in the 1900 Census. I would think that Shirley would be 26, not 25 by then, but there were only about a dozen Spradley’s and no other Shirley’s unless another one moved in.
After this, I decided it made sense to see how much I could research on Spradley in the Dickinson archives since he was an employee. I ended up finding a full image of him in the digital photo collections! There are two practically identical images of him as part of the janitorial staff. The back of the photo cards says that they were a “gift of the estate of James Henry Baker,” and there is reference to “Uncle” Henry. The back also identifies these photos as taken in 1893. Both of these photos are courtesy of the Dickinson College archives, of which the were in a separate folder for Henry Spradley.
From there, I tried to research past Dickinsonian articles and Microcosms from between 1895-1898 to see if they mentioned his death. Unfortunately, I have found nothing in either of these so far. One of the archivists did tip me off to a book published by the alumni of 1870 ( Book CN is DC 378.748) that contained pictures of African American janitors. It looks as though these janitors or stewards pictures were taken from just before Henry Spradley would have been involved. However, one of these men in this book was Robert Young, who was listed as a pall bearer at Spradley’s funeral. Therefore I put his story below, also courtesty of the Dickinson archives.
Finally, I did a little more research back at CCHS to see if I could find more on Spradley there. In the Index of Church and Cemetery Records “Shat – Stew”, I found the birth and death record of “Henry Spradley (black).” This confirmed again that his birth date was in 1830 and his death date 1897. I had the source of this, Carlisle Burial Records from 1894 – 1905, pulled to find the actual record. On page 56, volume 1, I had his record scanned, courtesy of CCHS. Henry Spradley is the bottom line in all the pictures below.
This document tells a good amount of information that I wasn’t aware of yet. For example, he had been sick for 14 weeks and eventually died of heart failure. It says he had been a resident in Carlisle for 34 years and gives the city where he was born in as well.
So this is so far the story I have of Henry W. Spradley, the African American Civil War Veteran of Company G, 24th United States Colored Troops, who is buried in the former Lincoln Cemetery.