Peter Booker came home with me from the war. He was a truly capable, efficient servant and became a respected and useful citizen of Adams, married, bought a house and lot, reared a large and smart family, successful in business. He kept his children in school and they stood high in their studies, excelling in declamation and competitions. Pestilence came to his home, the dreaded diphtheria taking Peter and four or five of his children to another world. There are many still living in Adams who well remember him, his family, and the fatal sickness that overtook them.”
S. J. Mendell, letter to the Jefferson County Journal,.1882

Sidney John Mendell, a native of Adams, NY, was elected captain of Company G, 35th New York Volunteer Infantry at the general rendevous of the 35th at Elmira, NY on June 11, 1861. The 35th was enlisted for a period of two years. Promoted to major on February 9, 1863, he returned to his home following the mustering out of the regiment on June 5, 1863. Accompanying Mendell was his former batman/orderly/valet, Peter Booker, an escaped slave, whom Mendell had invited to settle in Jefferson County. 1860 US Census figures show that the Town of Adams already had at least a dozen black households.

Soon after arriving in Adams, Peter, who was about 45 years old, met and married Susan Steward, a black woman who had been born in Pillar Point in March, 1847 to James and Lana Anderson Steward, natives of Canada who had settled in the Town of Brownville. Peter acquired several horses and began a carting business in Adams, transporting merchandise from the train station to the stores, moving furniture, hauling trash. He also cut ice during the winter, presumably in the Sandy Creek, hauling it to his icehouse where he sold it to residents during the hotter months for seventy-five cents per hundred pounds.

“Peter Booker, a colored man residing at Adams and formerly a slave, came to that town at the close of the war utterly destitute of money. He now owns three good horses and a house and lot worth $700. So much for persevering industry.”
Utica Weekly Herald, June 4, 1872

“A Lesson in Politeness - Peter Booker, our industrious negro cartman was in the Lockwood House on Monday and while there, a fellow from the country took occasion to call him a “damned black n_r” and kindred terms. Peter remarked to the individual that he didn't “allow anyone to talk to him like that way more than once” and upon the fellow repeating the offense he told him to come outdoors and he would lick him. The fellow followed Peter outdoors and Peter gave him a good pounding. After letting him up, Peter gave him a parting salute with the toe of his boot and the victim retreated towards the hotel barn with his respect for the colored race improved. Booker at once proceeded to the office of Justice J.W. Penny and told him that “a fellow had called him a black son of a b___h” and “he had punched him heavy for it and “here was a dollar he was willing to pay for his little enjoyment.” The Justice took the fine and discharged Peter.”
Jefferson County Journal, December 30, 1875

“Peter Booker, our respected colored cartman, with the aid of a large number of his friends, has been enabled to get enough money together to go down to “Ole Virginny” to see his aged father and the home of his youth, where he was a slave. He started Wednesday morning. We shall expect an interesting story of his adventures when he returns, which will be in a couple of weeks…He will.be back here before the 7th of November.” [November 7 was Election Day and Peter had already made it known that he intended to return in time to vote for Rutherford B. Hayes. the Republican, for president.]
Adams Herald, October, 1876

“Peter Booker of Adams, colored, has recently been visiting his old home in Virginia. He saw his first wife and children. She has married again, but as Peter has another wife at Adams, he does not complain.”
Rome Sentinel, November 14, 1876

Peter and Susan had at least 8 children, four of whom died of diphtheria during the winter of 1881, They were: William, 9, Susan, 7, Mary, 6, and Rebecca, 3. Three sons and a daughter survived the epidemic: Emma, Thomas, John Henry, and Fred Booker.

”(On) Saturday evening last, the Reform club room was filled to its utmost capacity. The principal features of the evening, which most interested the audience, were a speech by our colored friend, Peter Booker and …readings by Miss Hulda Baker… Mr. Booker's speech, although not clothed in the polished language of the orator, was very interesting and entertaining, and drew forth constant applause from the audience. He gave a brief sketch of his experience with liquor; how the habit, little by little, grew upon him until a large portion of his earnings were spent for rum; and then his resolution to reform. which was carried into effect. He made several as good points as we ever heard in any temperance address, and here is one of them: “If a man gits to wrestling with dat ar' whiskey, it's sure to fling him in the long run. ”
Watertown Re-Union, February 14, 1878



“For ten months, Peter Booker of Adams had been unable to do any work. During that time he has lost five children with diphtheria, and two other children and the mother have been sick with the same disease and only a few days ago his son Thomas cut himself so bad with a potato knife that an artery was severed, and for several days his life was despaired of. The citizens have very generously lent him a helping hand, for which he truly feels grateful.”
Utica Weekly Herald, January 24, 1882

“Peter Booker died last Thursday and his funeral was held Saturday, Rev. Mr. Moore officiating. Peter was formerly held as a slave in Virginia and during the rebellion escaped into the union camp and was brought north by Capt. S.J. Mendell of the 35th regiment. For a number of years, he was a cartman in our village until sickness incapacitated him for labor, about one year ago. Peter was a pleasant, jovial man and well liked in the community. This makes the fifth death in the Booker family within the past year.”
Jefferson County Journal, May 24th, 1882

“Otisville, Iowa, June 7, 1882
Editor, Journal
In your issue of May 23, I read the death of Peter Booker and it awakened many recollections of my sable friend, who shared with me, for a long time, the dangers, hardships, fatigues of battles, marches and camp life and a brief recital of Peter's history, in the transition from a 'slave' to a 'contraband,' from a contraband to a citizen, and incidents belonging to the same, will doubtless be interesting to all who made the acquaintance of Mr. Booker, and not devoid of interest to the general reader.

All will remember that the [negro] was an important 'factor' in the late 'unpleasantness;' not only then, but since. Well, for a year or thereabouts after the fall of Sumter, our northern folks - probably from a force of habit and a long-established usage – continued to enforce the 'fugitive slave act.' though confronted by armed slave-holding traitors. Yet, their slaves were caught by the Union forces, and under a flag of truce, handed over to their loyal (?) masters inside the rebel lines. Orders were very positive forbidding our guards, pickets and officers in command, allowing slaves to come within the Union lines; they were to be turned back; and your correspondent was place in durance vile for permitting only some four or five hundred run-away slaves to cross the boat bridge over the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg. The Union general commanding wouldn't stand such disobedience of orders, hence the arrest. The charge, 'disobedience of orders.' was never pressed to a trial. The reason given – ':didn't want to make him (the writer) a major general.”

It was about these days –April, 1862 - that the policy changed. The fugitive slave laws were no longer in force, and slaves of both sexes, young and old, poured into our lines day and night. At one time nearly every soldier had his black “squire” to carry his rations and knapsack on the march and cook his gruel in camp. My first colored “help” was “Robert, larger and stronger than Peter.He died July 4, 1863, and was buried that day. My diary reads: – “Buried Robert at sundown; I read the burial service; made a few remarks; that night and next morning had a swarm of “contrabands” applying for the vacancy; selected “Wm.:” proved a bad [choice]; he and my new shoes disappeared the second night; tried another one and he mysteriously disappeared with a pair of my pants that were the 'dress-up' kind; I enlisted a third man, all within a week, and the second day let him take my silver-mounted Smith & Wesson for a little target practice, and never saw either again. I was mad and disgusted and made a vow I would have no more dealings with the [contrabands], and took a 'boy' from the company for 'chief cook and bottle washer.'

My diary, July 31, 1862, on the margin reads: Took Peter on trial.' We were then in camp at Falmouth, Va. “Lon” Earl of [Pierrepont] Manor, one of the company cooks, came with Peter to my tent, and recommended him as an “honest, faithful, industrious [fellow].” I recounted to Peter my luck with colored folks. In response, Peter raised his hat with that grace and ease I never saw before. “Well, massa, beg pardon; am sorry to say that some of the black boys are like some white men – can't depend on 'em.” and gave a chuckle that went all over him. “Well,” I said, “I will try you;” and he remained with me, true and faithful, until the regiment was mustered out at Elmira, and accompanied me home. Peter soon became quite a favorite with all the officers, and frequently did their washing and got them an extra meal, for which he was generously paid, and frequently tempted him, or tried to, with promises of bigger wages, to work for them. When I came home, after the battle of Antietam, I left Peter in sole charge of my tent, trunk, papers, and 'regimentals' Was absent some sixty days, and when in-sight of camp, saw him standing in the door of my tent, and when he saw me approaching, gave a shout that startled the camp. I found everything intact and in order. He told me he had many offers of big wages during my absence, and, like the sentinels of Pompeii, could not be seduced or tempted from the post of duty.

I early made the discovery that Peter had no ill will toward whiskey and the sequel of his life shows his friendship and strong attachment, for it worked him ruin. I never saw him but once unable for duty; that was at Stoneman's Station; had made a march of some fifteen miles and halted there for the night. Some of the boys 'confiscated' some whiskey on the route, and many were gloriously drunk and noisy. I saw that Peter had imbibed largely of the spirits. After halting, the next thing in order was supper, and here his specific duty came in. After rather a lengthy trial, got sticks together, started a fire, and the bill of fare was coffee, fried beef and 'slapjacks' Peter got the batter ready, spider over the fire, spoon in hand, ready for the cooking. I stood watching him. The first spoonful went a foot or more beyond onto the ground, the next one as much short. Peter turned a wishful eye towards me remarking, “This dog-gonned skillet jumps around so can't get the stuff into it.” I excused him and another boy prepared the supper.

When stationed at Falmouth, was absent one time a week or ten days, leaving Peter in charge of my effects as usual. When I left there was some eight or ten bottles of whisky intact in a trunk. On my return, quite a number of officers came in for a chat. I told Peter to get out the 'critter' and pass it around – that, while they called to see me looked for a drink of whiskey. “Well, I tell you what it is, Major, ” said Pete, uncoloring. “that whiskey sort of evaporated while you was done gone.” Sure enough there was not a drop left.

Peter was a jolly, mirthful fellow and have known him to lie awake all night, laughing aloud and repeating the phrase that tickled him so hugely. When the papers came it was my practice to read aloud, and Peter never failed to be on hand to listen. One evening I was reading the New York Tribune, containing an account of how Stonewall Jackson 'gobbled up” McClellan's supply trains and ten acres of mules at the White House Landing. The expression, “gobbled up” tickled him beyond measure, and all night long, every five or ten minutes, would repeat “gobbled up,” followed by a loud guffaw.

When at Belle Plain, some of the boys of Company G were impressed and were to remain there for a time, and, being December, resolved to put up a chimney and have a cozy little fire-place. Three or four worked like beavers all day with strips and mud, and about eight p.m. the 'boss' said it was done, and ordered a fire started. It was a soft, beautiful moonlight night; I sat in the door of my tent with my 'martial cloak around me” talking with Peter about his old master and home. The boy's out-door chimney was not more than sixty feet distant and in plain sight. Well, the fire was kindled, but by reason of a defective draft the smoke drove all out the tent and they gathered around the chimney outside to swear at the “damn thing.” Finally, it was agreed it must be built higher, so as to be above the tops of the bushes and hills, so a barrel was found, bottom knocked out, fitted and mudded to the top of the chimney. All being done, fire was ordered, a match applied to the large pile of kindling made ready, and no doubt the inmates driven out coughing and swearing.

All this time, Peter was choking with suppressed laughter. Well, the architect-in-chief walked around it looking at the top to see if the smoke was coming out, and as it was not, he draws himself up at full-length - six feet four inches – and stood arms length from the chimney and addressed it in exactly these words: It is nothing but your damn contrariousness that makes you smoke, damn you!“ and before the last work had passed his lips, he drew up and back his right foot and let it go at the base of the chimney with the force of a pile-driver and it was completely demolished. Peter could contain himself no longer and gave way to uproarious laughter. He didn't sleep a wink that night from his laugh and chuckle, but at times there came a moment's lull and he would repeat aloud, “It is nothing but your… etc., etc. ” followed by convulsive laughter.

At Rappahannock Station, Peter had quite an exciting time. The rebels were shelling the woods, and as they burst in the air and the fragments falling thick around him, “Pete” made up his mind that where the “rotten shot” were so plenty was not the best place in the world for cooking and made a flank movement.

Peter's age is about sixty-five year; 45 years a slave – a thing; 20 years a citizen – a man.! His life in Adams you have known as well or better than I. His great weakness was love of whiskey, that ruins and kills white and black folks alike.

Just before the battle of Fredericksburg, December, 1862, the weather was very cold and Peter complained that he couldn't keep his left foot warm. I gave him a box of cayenne pepper that I carried as a substitute for whisky, telling him to rub his foot thoroughly with it and then give the stocking for that foot a generous sprinkling of it and his foot would be warm enough by morning. Peter followed the directions and retired to his tent, just in rear of mine, for repose, but not to sleep. About midnight I heard Peter making a noise as if blowing on a dish of hot coffee to cool it. I looked out and there was Peter's left foot, naked, protruding through the fly of his tent, heel resting on a cracker box and shining in the moonlight like a glass bottle. I called Peter, saying, “No wonder you have a cold foot, here it is out doors and nothing over it.”

“Well, I put it out there to cool the dod-gasted thing off; that pepper so much hell fire!”

I heard no more complaint from Peter of lack of warmth in left foot.

As to Peter Booker's chances for heaven, I am not informed, but it his pious old master is up there, with a golden harp in the hand which held the cruel raw-hide, the blows drawing blood at every stroke from the backs of his human chattels, I cannot but think it will be “well” with Peter.

As this communication is longer than I thought it would be to tell my story of one of the men redeemed from slavery, so moralizing and reflections on a matter so suggestive, I must forego.
Peter Booker! Peace and rest to thy ashes and may thy soul find that country where the good go.”“
S.J. Mendell - in a letter published in the Jefferson County Journal, June, 1882


“The reminiscences of your Western correspondent in the Journal of Feb 18 were read with much interest. Many of the incidents which he related came within the scope of my personal knowledge. I spoke with Peter Booker of whom he speaks. He was original in character and full of genuine negro humor, but honest and trusty in all his dealings. He once showed me his account book wherein he had charged a certain amount for work done. I couldn't make head or tail out of the hieroglyphics. “What is this line, Peter?” “W'all boss, now I'll tell ye. Right dar” pointing to a big blot on the page “is whar I broke my plow point when I plowed Uncle What's You Call 'Em's garden.” I was satisfied with the answer. Certainly the entry in the book looked as if it had been made by a plow point.”
“S.” in a letter published in the Jefferson County Journal.

After the death of her husband, Susan Booker moved into Watertown, where she offered her services as a washerwoman.

“Mrs. Susan A Booker, celebrated her eighty-fourth birthday by doing a couple of big washings. In spite of her age, Mrs. Booker still does two or three washings a week. She has been a laundress for years. Formerly she did 10 or 12 washing a week. She was born a free woman on the old Reeves estate on Pillar Point. Her parents came from Canada. Mrs. Booker is a remarkably smart and active woman and does not appear to feel her age in the least.”
Rome Daily Sentinel, March 28, 1925

She passed away in September, 1928 and is buried in North Watertown Cemetery


“Mrs. Susan A Booker, 81, of 808 Morrison Street, well remembered by many families for whom she worked as a laundress, died at her home Sunday morning. Mrs. Booker, widow of Peter Booker, had lived in the city 60 years.

Two brothers, never seen after they left to enlist in the Civil War may survive her, but familiy members think it doubtful, Both were doubtless killed in action in the war, they believe.

Mrs Booker was born at Pillar Point, the daughter of James and Lana Anderson Stewart, who had been residents of Canada. When young, she came with her parents to Watertown. Her husband, Peter Booker, died several years ago.

Her father was for several years a sailor on the Great Lakes. One son, Fred Booker, this city, survives.

Funeral services were held at 3 this afternoon from the Guilfoyle Funeral parlor, Stone street, Rev. C.L Van Camp, pastor of Thomas A.M.E. Church, of which Mrs. Booker was a member officiated. Burial was made in North Watertown Cemetery.”

Watertown Daily Times, Sept 4, 1928

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