James Tattersfield (1850-1924) of Heywood, Bury, Lancashire, and US 5th Cavalry

As there are no known descendants of the James TATTERSFIELD referred to here, this article has been written by John Tattersfield

In the 19th Century America was a haven for Europeans wanting to change their lives completely for whatever reason, good or bad. JAMES appears to have been such a man.

He was the fourth of eight children, born in Heywood, Bury, Lancashire. Two of his siblings did not reach adulthood. His father was ELLIS Tattersfield, whose occupation as a tailor was the one most common among the men of this Lancashire family.

JAMES’ early life seems fairly uneventful. He was born on 17 Oct 1850. No record of a baptism has been found. He is shown in the Census of 1851 when 5 months old, and in that of 1861 at the age of 10. In 1871, aged 20, he was still living at home. By this time he was a “tin plate worker”- a very significant fact in piecing his history together.

However, a daughter called Sarah Hannah Tattersfield was born on 9 June 1872, possibly in his parents’ house in Bamford Road, Heywood. The baby was baptised in St Luke, Heywood, on 3 Aug 1872. The father was named as JAMES Tattersfield, and the mother as Hannah Bates. Clearly, the parents were not married.

Hannah Bates was to go on to have another daughter, called Ada Ashton, before marrying John Martindale in late 1881, with whom she had six more children.

The child Sarah Hannah, born to JAMES and Hannah Bates, was known as Sarah Hannah Bates. She married Robert Turner in 1896, and they had three children.

On Christmas Day 1875 he married Ann Lauretta Melbourne (or Malbourne) from nearby Bedford Leigh. They married in Bamford Independent Chapel, Bury.

From here on life was less plain-sailing.

A son FRED was born in 1876, but died within three months. A second son JOSEPH SMITH was born in Sept 1878, but died in the spring of 1879 in nearby Prestwich.

In the Census of 1881, Ann Lauretta, aged 26 and “married” was making tenter frames, on which newly woven cloth was hooked and stretched (hence “tenter hooks”). She was with her mother and sister, with no children, and no JAMES. He was neither with her, nor anywhere else in the Census.

In the Census of 1891, Ann Lauretta was with her sister and brother-in-law,in Oldham, still calling herself “married”, but still with no sign of JAMES.

At this point it is interesting to divert to JAMES’ younger brother ELLIS, who, like his father ELLIS was a tailor. The lives of the two brothers show some parallels. The young ELLIS was born on 17 June 1855 in Heywood. By 1871 he was a tailor, and in 1877 married Alice Leach. They had a girl in 1877 and a boy in 1879. In the Census of 1881, Alice was living with her parents, siblings and two children. ELLIS was absent, but seems to appear in Nottingham, calling himself JOSEPH Tattersfield, age 24, and “unmarried”. He was living as a lodger, working as a tailor, and gave his place of birth as Manchester.

One wonders how much collusion there was between the two brothers in leaving their wives at about the same time in the late 1870’s.

ELLIS went on to marry again, in Barnsley, Yorkshire, on 11 Apr 1886. He called himself JOSEPH ELLIS Tattersfield, and his bride was Annie Johnson. The couple had two children, in Aug 1886 and Sept 1889, after which ELLIS disappeared again, this time without trace. In 1891 Annie described herself as “single”. Had she found out that her “marriage” to ELLIS was bigamous?

But that was a digression- we were considering the history of brother JAMES!

In the US Federal Census of 1880, one JAMES Tattersfeild (sic) was staying as a boarder at 73 Richmond Street, Philadelphia. He was 29 (ie born about 1851), born in England, married (though no wife was with him), and a “Tin Smith”!

On 11 Sept 1882 JAMES Tattersfield enlisted in Philadelphia with Troop C, 5th Regiment, US Cavalry, as a Private. He declared he was 27 (ie born about 1855- did he deliberately understate his age to improve his chances of acceptance?). He was born in Lancashire, England, and his occupation was “Tin Smith”. He was 5′ 4″ tall, weighed 168 pounds, with blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, and with a vaccine mark on both arms!

He is named in the Post Return of Fort Sidney, Nebraska, dated 30 Nov 1882, as being “Transferred to Troop” on 21 Nov 1882, from (Fort DA Russell, Wisc??). On Expiration of Service in Sept 1887, his reference states “char. excellent”.

JAMES re-enlisted on 11 Sept 1887 at Fort Reno, Indian Territory, and finally on 12 Sept 1892, still at Fort Reno. The enlistment documents now mention scars on the nose. His final discharge from the army was at Fort McIntosh, Texas, on 11 Dec 1895.

In his last Enlistment on 12 Sept 1892, some detail is available. He was enlisted at Ft Reno OS (?) by Lt. Almy for 5 years. He was from Lancashire, England, aged 37. His occupation was now given as “soldier”, and not “tin smith”. His physical description is very like that given in 1882- blue eyes, Li bro (sic) hair and Fair complexion. His height was 5 feet 4 1/2 inches. He was discharged 11 Dec 1895, apparently from Ft McIntosh, Texas. He was a Pvt, conduct “very Good”.

Fortunately the army made copious written records, and the US National Archives have preserved them. Some 39 sheets have been obtained relating to JAMES’ army career and subsequent pension.

The documents, covering some 30 years, are not fully consistent. In one he declared that his date of birth was 23 Oct 1854. Perhaps this was to be in line with his under-stated age when he first enlisted, or maybe he was just forgetting!. In another he declared he had never married, and elsewhere that he was born in Manchester. Despite these anomalies, the general thread is clear- that he was born in the early 1850’s, in Lancashire, and was a tin smith by trade.

In all the military and pension records, the original signature of JAMES appears nine times. The signatures are consistent, and look very similar to those on the Marriage Certificates in the 1870’s of JAMES himself, and of two brothers ELLIS and JOHN.

There seems no doubt that the young tin smith who left his wife in Lancashire was the same man who spent 13 years in the US Cavalry.

Documents show that JAMES did not take part in a battle. Sadly, however, while on “water call” (this was when the horses were taken to drink) on 6 Feb 1883, in Fort Sidney, Nebraska, JAMES was kicked by a horse. The extensive and detailed medical records report, in summary, “Injury to left side of face, fracturing jaw and nose, knocking out teeth, and affecting nerves. Impaired sight, injury to left shoulder and arm”.

He received medical attention for his many injuries through to mid May 1883, and then carried on with his soldiering. Alas, his injuries had permanent effects, and from Oct 1885 to July 1893 there was a long list of illnesses and injuries, including the dislocation of his damaged left shoulder through being thrown from a horse in June 1893.

After his discharge from the army, on 11 Dec 1895, JAMES applied through an attorney for a military pension, on 27 Feb 1896. He was living in the Soldiers’ Home, Washington DC, at the time. The Application was vetted carefully, including obtaining statements from the former captain of his Troop, and also his sergeant. Both confirmed that his injuries were incurred in the course of his duties.

In Oct 1896, his former captain wrote the following sad but rather sympathetic account:- “From March 8, 1887, until November 1993, I was Captain of Troop “C”, 5th Cavalry, to which James Tattersfield belonged. I spent a great deal of time giving my men individual instruction in rifle and revolver shooting, and worked very hard to make each individual a good shot with both these weapons. I found this a hopeless task with Tattersfield, for the reasons that his nerves were badly shattered and that he could not remember the instructions I gave him from one day to another. I labored with him during a period of five years, and, at times would get out of patience with him on account of his failing to remember things he had been told many times and not learning to shoot. I was told by my 1st Sergeant and other members of my Troop that this shaky condition of his nerves and the sort of dazed state that he seemed to be in was noticed by them only since he had been kicked in the face by a horse at Fort Sidney. I thought seriously of applying to have him discharged as unfit for service, but was deterred by the belief that he could not make a living outside the army, and that his injury was received in the line of duty. It is apparent from looking at him, that his nose has been broken and that some of his teeth are gone”.

In a deposition his sergeant said ” I am of the opinion, that the injury referred to above, had a very bad effect on his understanding, nerves, and health and that he never fully recovered from its effects, as he did not appear to be the same man afterwards. He complained a great deal of neuralgia and rheumatism”.

With effect from 29 Feb 1896 JAMES was granted an army pension of $8 per month.

JAMES moved from Washington to Chicago in April 1900. On 2 July 1901, in the County Court, Cook County, Illinois, JAMES became a naturalised American. His date of birth was not recorded, and his place of birth was only given as England. His Certificate Number was #920 (Soldier). On the reverse it was stated that he “Enlisted Reg. troop C, 5th Cav. Discharged Dec 11, 1895.” The event provides a puzzle, in that the Date of Arrival in US was given as Oct 20, 1880. This is inconsistent with his name being recorded in Philadelphia in the 1880 Census, which was taken in June that year. It seems JAMES’s memory of his arrival date was faulty 21 years later.

On 19th June 1918 he made a sworn declaration that his house, 2750 Lakeview Avenue, Chicago, had been burgled. Among the valuables stolen was his pension certificate. Five days later a replacement was issued to him.

It is perhaps surprising that no record has been found of JAMES’ sea voyage to America, nor has his name been found, as yet, in the US Federal Censuses of 1900 and 1910.

However, in the 1920 Census is found the rather grand entry “Tattersfield Jim Esq.” (This has been erroneously transcribed as Jeno and Jino). The title “Esq” in a census must surely be unique! He was aged 64, “single” and a watchman at a private house. He said he immigrated to USA in 1875, and became a Citizen in 1883. He was born in England. Was he the JAMES of the 5th Cavalry? It certainly seems so. The house where he was a watchman was 2748 Lake View Avenue, Chicago- just two doors away from the house he lived in in 1918.

The last known episode of James’s life is, perhaps, the most sad and pathetic. The Bee, dated June 7, 1923, of Danville, Virginia, quoted the Chicago Tribune Service as follows: “CHICAGO. June 6-  LATE ROMANCE VERY COSTLY. Thousands showered upon his middle aged sweet-heart during their few months romance by James Tattersfield, 70 years old recluse, are sought in a bill for an accounting filed by the aged man’s guardian, Glynn H. Elliott, against Mrs. E. Leone Irwin, rooming house keeper in the circuit court here today.

“A pretense of affection for her “star boarder” and a pitiful tale of dire financial need coupled with Tattersfield’s old age and enfeebled mental condition, enabled Mrs. Irwin to wheedle at least $5,800 from the old man in seven installments. When cajolery and love failed to secure funds Mrs. Irwin obtained other advances by dramatic threats to kill herself in his room.

“Mortgages always on the verge of foreclosure remained unpaid, according to Elliott, while Mrs. Irwin banked her gifts from Tattersfield or bought valuable real estate. From the initial gift of $30 on May 13, 1922, Tattersfield’s presents to the woman increased in amount until on Nov 6, he gave her a check for $2,500 when she declared that she was about to be ousted from her home and would kill herself.”

In spite of being talked out of his savings in 1922, JAMES signed and sealed a Will, in front of a Judge in the Probate Court of Cook County, on 20 Dec 1923, less than three months before he died. He appointed his employer of 16 years, E.J.Lehmann, as his Executor, or, if he could not act, then Glynn J. Elliott. He made fixed bequests to Oscar Moller ($2,500), Glynn J. Elliott ($1,500), Mrs Marcelle Carey ($500), Frank Neuesfeldt ($1,500), a total of $6,000. Does this mean that his Executor/Guardian Glynn Elliott, had succeeded in retrieving the £5.800 paid to Mrs. Irwin, or was the Will signed in anticipation of successful recovery? No answer has been found to that question.

On 5th March 1924, a law firm, acting as Executor of the Estate of JAMES Tattersfield, notified the army that he had died, and returned his Pension Certificate.

Despite the relative wealth of information about JAMES, much remains unknown. Did he leave for USA with his wife’s knowledge? Was it his original intention to return, or to send for her?

Whatever his early life, it is worth noting that JAMES’ conduct on two of the three Registers of Enlistment for his three stretches in the army was described as “Excellent”, and on the other as “Very Good”.


“There is another remarkable parallel with the life of JAMES. On 1st Oct 1873, one THOMAS Tattersfield had enlisted with the US Cavalry (see Article 10). He gave his age as 22 years and 11 months, indicating birth about Oct/Nov 1850. He was a “pattern maker” by occupation, and stated his place of birth as Manchester, England. The date and place of birth are virtually identical with those of JAMES. Despite these specific records, no trace has yet been found in England of the origins of THOMAS. The search continues!”

“Also, like JAMES, THOMAS had an unfortunate mishap within a few months of joining the US Cavalry. It also occurred at morning water call, on 21st June 1874. THOMAS was, however, even more unfortunate than JAMES. He was drowned in the Missouri River.”

Header Image: A scene from the bench of a modern tinsmith using traditional methods. Tinsmiths worked by hand from the early 18th of the mid 19th century in England, whereafter their products were more usually formed by machines. Well into the early 20th centuries, however, innumerable household items were made or repaired by hand by artisan tinsmiths, who were sometimes itinerant "tinkers". James had "portable skills" when he left England to live in the USA.   OZMedia / Shutterstock.com