The life of Harrison Hawkins, father of our family’s grandfather Mont E. Hawkins, was not nearly as well-known in the family as the ancestors of the daughter-in-law he never knew, Fern Porter Hawkins. In fact, until 1992, we didn’t even know that his name was Harrison. An inquiry a few years earlier at Grand Rapids’ Greenwood Cemetery where he is buried offered the name “Hanson,” which later proved erroneous. And only recently have we discovered that our grandfather himself was an eighth generation of Hawkins to be born in America. You can read about that in the “American Hawkinses.”  

We knew that Grandpa Hawkins’s father had fought for the Union in the Civil War. His Company identification is right on his headstone (Company D, First Regiment, Michigan Infantry), and I remember visiting his grave with my grandfather when he was still alive. A vet spike was always by the headstone. But it wasn’t until September 1992 when a request to the National Archives produced all the papers in his pension records that we learned factual data about him and his life. Read about that and a fairly complete account of his experience in Civil War history in “Harrison’s Civil War Service.”


Harrison had been born in Starkey, Yates County, western New York on August 1, 1843, the fourth of eleven children. Records are confusing about his siblings and exactly when his family moved to Jackson County, Michigan, southwest of Lansing, but they did. More on that is written up elsewhere.

Florence Huntley’s family was already in Jackson County when she was born in November 28, 1854. For a long time, we struggled to find information about her family of origin, but we finally did—see “Finding Florence’s Roots,” including the decades-long confusion about her father’s name. 

Florence’s father, Isaiah Huntley, was born in Ohio in 1832, one of ten children. Her mother, Maryette Thompson, the youngest of fourteen children, was born in 1833 in Chenango County in south central New York. At some point both of those families moved to Jackson Country, Michigan, and that’s where Isaiah and Maryette were married in 1852. Ancestry gives Florence’s birth as 1853, but her headstone clearly shows 1854.

Sometime between the births of their third and fourth children (between 1862 and 1865), the Huntley family moved from Hanover in Jackson County to a small town called Pierson in Montcalm County northeast of Grand Rapids. 


We know nothing about Harrison for several years after the War. He may have returned to his home roots in Jackson County, but the next information we have on him is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, seven years later when he married Florence Huntley. 

The truth is we’ve struggled with some serious confusion about the date Harrison and Florence were married. Ancestry offers differing dates – one July 11, 1871 (thirteen months before their first child was born), while another claims it was July 3, 1875 (two and a half years after their second child was born). In fact, we have the 1875 date in Harrison’s own handwriting (shown below). In July 1871 Harrison was just short of 28, while Florence was 16½. In 1875 he was not quite 32, and she was 21½.

Form that Harrison filled out in 1898 when he filed for the continuation of his Civil War pension.

We now have the official record of the marriage, and it confirms the July 1871 date. So…twenty-seven years later, following his divorce from Florence, Harrison’s memory had slipped on the date of his marriage to the mother of his three children?

For several reasons, we don’t think there is a chance in the world that the marriage in 1871 took place with the blessing of Florence’s parents. Consider …

  • That summer Florence was only sixteen (wouldn’t be 17 until November).

  • Harrison was at least eleven years older.

  • The marriage took place in Grand Rapids, not her hometown of Pierson. 

  • It was performed by a Justice of the Peace, not a minister.

  • Given the names on Florence’s father’s side of the family (Isaiah, Levi, Asher, Ezekiel), it is reasonable to conclude that Florence’s family were devoutly religious, while we have no suggestion that Harrison lived a godly life (e.g., at least one of his children was born with a diseased eye from the syphilis their father had transmitted to his wife, their mother). 

It is comforting, however, to note that a year after the marriage, Florence was back home for the birth of her first baby, William (August 1872-February 1956). We have a word picture of Florence’s mother in the tribute on her tombstone in Pierson. It reads, “Dear Mother, in Earth’s thorny paths, how long thy feet have trod! To find at last this peaceful rest safe in the arms of God.” And underneath that, the phrase: “A tender mother and a faithful friend.” Obviously, she was greatly loved. 
At the time (1872) when Florence’s first baby was born, her younger siblings were Albert at 13, Ida 9, and little sister Laura Kea (called Laruka) just 7. Imagine the excitement of a new baby in the family, one belonging to big sister Florence—especially if there had been conflict and trauma the year before when she went off to the big city of Grand Rapids to get married, likely against her parents’ wishes? 


In February of 1874, a second child of the marriage was born, a little girl named Maude. She was reportedly born in Orion, Oakland, MI. As best I can figure, that was some 160 miles east of Grand Rapids and 50 miles north of Detroit. Motorized transportation was barely in its infancy at that point and few had enough wealth to own a horse, so the trip was likely made by stagecoach—surely not by walking…?! If that location is accurate, we have no record of and no idea what took Harrison so far afield. The censuses of those times list him as a sawyer.

The third and last child of the marriage was born back in Pierson on January 3, 1880. Apparently they named him Montell, though the only record we have of “Montell” is the one in his father’s handwriting in 1898 (see above). More than one online record calls him Mort. That can’t be correct, given that he went through most of his life as “Mont E. Hawkins.”

When Mont was twenty-two months old, sister Maude, almost seven, died. We have no record of why or how, and two diligent searches in the Pierson Cemetery where her grandparents are buried have not yielded a headstone. Given his age at the time, Mont would have had no personal memories of her, but her death must have still been fresh in the family during his formative years. That may have something to do with why Mont and Fern had Maude’s portrait in their possession all through the years.

1880 CENSUS   

The 1880 census on the family is interesting in several ways. First, it is special because it was taken in the interim between Mont’s birth and Maude’s death; in fact, it lists Mont as five months old, which would make it May of 1880. It tells us that the father worked in a sawmill. Seven-year-old William was “at school” and called Willie (I remember references to him as “Will”). This is one of several places where Mont is listed as “Mort.” Even if that was just a spelling mistake on the part of the census taker, does it suggest that his family did, in fact, start calling him Mont right from the start? The father is listed as 37 and the mother 26, confirming the eleven-year age difference.

The location of the census was “Reynolds, Montcalm, Michigan.” Reynolds was/is a township in the county of Montcalm. That fits well since we know they were back in Pierson for Mont’s birth. Something puzzling, however, is the fact that on this census the father in the family is listed as “Harmon,” similar to the name given us at the Greenwood Cemetery in the 1980s. We don’t know what to make of that. Fortunately, we had gotten the correct name from the Archives several years before censuses on the Internet came along. 


Some fifteen years into his marriage with Florence, Harrison applied for a pension based on the injuries he had suffered during the Civil War a quarter of a century earlier. We’re so thankful he did that because the National-Archive records related to that pension are what give us 98% of what we know about this near ancestor.

There are hints along the way that the marriage of Harrison and Florence had reason to be rocky. We’re not sure exactly how long it lasted, but after their divorce, both of them remarried. Florence was married twenty-six years to a William Wesley Waite. He had two almost grown children named Fred and Carrie. 

If indeed at any point in her youth Florence had strayed from the faith of her parents and her roots, she clearly came back to them, likely very early, because the last decades of her life show her to be nothing but a godly woman, a godly mother, and that William Waite was also a godly man. (I wish “someone” between her and me were still around to fill in that whole picture for me.)

The following year Harrison remarried to a lady named Syntha Marshall, something else we wouldn’t know except for the Archive papers. 


In the winter of 1908, Harrison was dying of stomach cancer. On the 18th, two weeks after his son Mont’s 28th birthday, Mont had a life-changing experience . He turned his life over to Jesus Christ—and it turned his life completely around. He rushed to his dying father’s bedside and was able to lead him to a profession of faith before Harrison died on February 3. The Archive papers report that after Harrison’s death Syntha filed to continue receiving his pension as his widow.

As mentioned earlier, Harrison was buried in the family plot of one Aram Keeler, near the Leonard Street main entrance of the Greenwood Cemetery in northwest Grand Rapids. The main stone says “Keeler” and a smaller one says simply, “Keeler and Hawkins,” with Keeler’s dates ( ), but none for Hawkins. 

Despite the “paid to fight” possibility in the story, Grandpa Hawkins (Mont) always gave the impression that it was something special and generous on Keeler’s part to have “taken in” Harrison to be buried right there with his own family (wife and daughter) when he died strapped for funds.

Mont’s children weren’t born until the decade following his father’s death, so they never knew Harrison. Florence and William had been married almost twenty years before Mont’s children came along, so the grandparents they knew on their father’s side were “Grandpa and Grandma Waite”  There seems no doubt that Florence’s final years were her happiest. William died three years before she did. She lived the last ten weeks of her life with her son Mont’s family in Mishawaka, Indiana, and died following a stroke on November 27, the day before her 73rd birthday. She is buried beside William in the large Fairplains Cemetery on the corner of Knapp and Fulton Streets in Grand Rapids.


From the information we have, we can construct the following chronology for Harrison’s life:
Eye injury
Marriage to Florence 
Birth of William
Birth of Maude
Birth of Mont
Death of Maude
Proof of Disability
$4.00 pension began
Soldier’s Declaration for Pension
Divorce from Florence
Florence’s marriage William Waite
Harrison’s marriage to Syntha Marshall 
$12.00 a month pension began
Last pension payment to Harrison
Syntha applied for widow’s pension
August 1, 1843
July 4, 1861
July 1862
August 1864
July 3, 1871
August 28, 1873
February 10, 1875
Jan. 3, 1880
Nov. 3, 1881
May 31, 1890
June 27, 1890
Sept. 1891
April 1897
Jan. 28, 1897
Sept.23, 1898
April 10, 1903
Dec. 4, 1907
Feb. 3, 1908
March 16, 1908
New York 
Jackson, MI 
Malvern Hill, Virginia
Petersburg, Virginia
Grand Rapids, MI 
Pierson, MI 
Orion, Oakland, MI 
Pierson, MI 
Pierson, though grave not found
Jackson MI
Grand Rapids MI
Grand Rapids MI
Grand Rapids MI
Allegan, MI 
Middleville, MI 
Grand Rapids MI

Ottawa, MI 
Kent Co., MI

Related Links:
Michigan 1st Regiment