Frank Hamilton was born in New Hope, on Florida’s panhandle, on October 26, 1843. As only 932 of Florida’s 62,000 Black residents in 1860 were free, Hamilton was almost certainly an enslaved person. At some point early in the war, likely in February 1862, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving as a waiter on the U.S.S. John. P. Jackson, a steamboat on blockade duty off Key West. The John P. Jackson took part in the decisive Union victories at New Orleans and Vicksburg. At some point, Hamilton left naval service and - on December 11, 1863 - enlisted in Company G of the 29th Connecticut Infantry. His service was credited to the town of Canaan, Connecticut. Whether the John P. Jackson had come to a northeastern port for refitting and Hamilton used the opportunity to enlist or a recruiting agent found him while Hamilton was serving on the ship is unclear.
Not much is known about Frank Hamilton’s experiences in the war, but it is known that he applied for multiple pensions. After more than two years of service, he was honorably discharged on October 24, 1865. Hamilton moved up to Winsted, Connecticut. He was married to three women, first to Eliza Jay on August 1, 1867. She died on May 18, 1890. Hamilton then married Elizabeth Kennedy - who was 5-months pregnant at their wedding - on April 20, 1891. Elizabeth gave birth to Hamilton’s first child on August 15, 1891, a boy was named Edward Nelson Hamilton. Their second child, Marvel Grace Elizabeth Hamilton, was born on July 29, 1893. Their final child was born on April 26, 1896; she was named Amelia Besse Hamilton. Elizabeth died in 1899, and Frank later married a woman named Mary Jane Torrey. Frank’s post-war life was one of pain. He experienced problems with his kidneys and had failing eyesight. He also froze his fingers, disabling both hands, while he was serving in the army. He received a pension because of these disabilities. He worked as a groomsman at a livery stable in Hartford, where he was living when he died on March 20, 1921. HartfordFor the rest of his known life, he was a groomsman as an occupation starting on September 28, 1904.
UUnion naval forces, including the U.S.S. John P. Jackson, attack Confederate
forts at New Orleans.
Black sailors made up about a quarter of the United States Navy during the Civil War. The percentage of Black enlisted men serving on board U.S. naval vessels nearly doubled between the years of 1862 and 1865. The army’s recruitment of former slaves, who were often referred to as contrabands, also changed the way the navy recruited Black sailors. These contrabands were often scrutinized for their flaws and work. The Army paid contrabands a higher monthly wage than the Navy, resulting in fewer Black sailors enlisting. Additionally, the life of a sailor was one of forced servitude, and was often compared to the lives of Southern slaves. Naval recruiters actively sought former slaves and began to make landings specifically to enlist blacks. Sailors were generally accepting of slaves when they shared their stories, as they were sympathetic and many could relate to some of the contrabands’ experiences, such as hunger. One difference Hamilton would have noticed upon leaving the navy for the army was that while the navy was integrated, the army was strictly segregated. Black soldiers served in Black regiments, like the 29th Connecticut, under white officers. While some white sailors were accepting, black sailors were still segregated aboard the ships.
While very little is known about the life of Frank Hamilton, it can be speculated that Hamilton was born a slave and therefore served in a segregated branch during his time in the armed forces. Throughout his lifetime Hamilton experienced drastic change in the way African Americans were treated. From being a slave, to serving in the Navy and feeling more accepted, to a soldier in the army once again being categorized by the color of his skin, to freedom in the North, Hamilton’s life story, while certainly somewhat different, was not dissimilar to those of hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the post-war era.