Shappee, Jacob Van Gorder
Manuscript Diary of Jacob Van Gorder Shappee, of Elmira, Chemung County, New York, Tanner and Civil War veteran of the NY 85th Volunteer Infantry, 1881

quarto, 143 manuscript ages, including 21 pages of memorandum and cash accounts of entries at rear of diary. Diary is bound in quarter black leather, marbled paper covered boards. The diary is written in ink in a legible hand. The text block is detached from binding; binding is very worn at tips, edges of boards and corners. The diary format is 3 days per page, with every day filled. The diary entries are dated 1 January to 31 December 1881.

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Jacob Van Gorder Shappee (1840-1917)

      Jacob Van Gorder Shappee was born on 8 March of 1840, at Horseheads, Chemung County, New York, the son of farmer Guy M. Shappee (1809-1901) and his wife Mary Van Gorder (1814-1867). Jacob was one of six children born to his parents between the years of 1834 to 1848. In the public schools of Breesport, Jacob pursued his early education and for a short time he was a student in the business college at Elmira. When old enough to handle a plow he began work in the fields on his father’s farm.

      During the American Civil War, Jacob enlisted into military service at Big Flats, New York on 3 September 1864 and mustered in on 9 September 1864 as a private with the 85th New York Volunteer Regiment of Infantry. His service records indicate that at the time he enlisted into military service he was 24 years old and was working as a farmer. He had gray eyes and brown hair and a florid complexion and stood 5’ 8” tall.

       Earlier in 1864, before Jacob mustered in with the 85th, it was assigned to the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 18th Corps, and ordered to Plymouth, North Carolina, where in April it was obliged to surrender to a superior force of the Confederate Army, almost the entire regiment being captured. The resulting loss of life in Southern prisons was appalling – 222 deaths during imprisonment being reported. The remnant of the regiment received by transfer the members of the 16th New York Cavalry and having previously reenlisted, served throughout the war as the 85th regiment. Jacob, having entered into service in September of 1864, would have been one of the men who were added to the 85th to replace those who were either captured or died in prison. The 85th was posted at Roanoke Island and was active in the Carolina campaign in March of 1865, after which it performed garrison duty at New Berne until June 27, 1865, Jacob V. Shappee and the remaining members of the regiment were mustered out in that city. The 85th lost during its term of service, 36 members by death from wounds, 103 from accident or disease, and 222 who died in prison.

      After military service, Jacob returned to the family farm before taking up work with Palmer & Decker’s tannery. He is listed as a tanner in the Elmira city directories as early as 1869 and as late as 1892. Jacob married Fannie J. Klock (1848-1927) on 14 April 1863 and together they had one child, a son who died at a young age.  Fannie was the daughter of Sanford Klock (1813-1888) of Little Falls, Herkimer County, New York.  Fannie’s father was a contractor who built 14 miles of the Erie Railroad between Hancock and Stockport and served as quartermaster for the New York 10th Calvary during the Civil War. His two sons (Fannie’s brothers J. Monroe and Peter S.), also served in the New York 10th Calvary.

      The 1880 Census has Jacob and his wife Fannie enumerated at Elmira, New York. Jacob is listed as working in a tannery.  Jacob is next listed in the U.S. Census on the special 1890 Veterans Census. He is at Elmira, New York and it is shown that he was a veteran of the Civil War having served from 3 Sept 1864 to 27 June 1865 with New York’s 85th New York Infantry, having served a total of 9 months and 24 days as a private.

     The 1892 New York State Census shows Shapee and his wife Fannie enumerated at Elmira, Ward 3, with Jacob still listed as a tanner. Jacob is 52 years old, his wife Fannie 46, Fannie’s mother Millie A Klock is 76. Soon after this census was taken, Jacob begins to show up in Elmira City Directories as an insurance agent and for a couple of years as a flour merchant; however he appears to have stuck with insurance and real estate. He was connected with the National Protection Legion of Waverly, New York. He was also largely interested in real estate and conveyance, was a notary public and executed pension vouchers.

      Jacob and his wife are shown in the 1900 Census still listed at Elmira, New York.  Also enumerated with them is their adopted daughter, Essie S. Klock Shappee, born 28 July 1889. In 1900, Jacob is still working as an insurance agent; having given up the life of a tanner earlier in the 1890s.The couple owned their own home in Elmira’s 4th Ward, at 516 Sullivan Street. Boarding with Jacob and his family were Charles and Nettie Potter (brother & sister-in-laws), George W. Decker (nephew), Elizabeth Shappee (sister-in-law) and Alfred Potter (boarder and likely relative to his in-laws). In 1910, the Shappee family is still living at Elmira. Jacob is listed a manager in for an insurance company.

      Jacob continued living at Elmira working in the insurance business.  He died on 18 May 1917 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, at Elmira. His wife Fannie died on 7 January 1927. She was buried with her husband Jacob at Woodlawn Cemetery.

      The diary shows the day to day activities of our writer as he goes about his life as a tanner in Elmira, New York, carrying on his life after the war.  Shappee generally gives us the weather, tells us what he did at work, afterwards he takes care of his various chores, pays bills, visits people, and occasionally makes comments about the news of the day such as when President Garfield was sick and dying, or what went on at a particular lodge meeting, or who was drilling that day, etc.  The diary provides a look at life in Elmira, New York from the eyes of a Civil War veteran and a tanner, who was active in the affairs of the town of Elmira.                                                                                   

      References:                                                     

      A Biographical Record of Chemung County New York. New York and Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1902. Pages 491-494.