Sterling Family Papers

Who Were They?

by Libby Feil

William H. Sterling
William H. Sterling,
ca. 1875

William Henry Sterling was born December 4, 1828, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was Henry Sterling, born circa 1785-1790, apparently in Ireland. Henry lived until at least the 1860s, when he appears in Will and Tillie's correspondence. Will's mother was Susan Brown. Henry Sterling later married Jane, a Pennsylvania native. (Sources: 1830 census, Sterlings; 1850 census, Sterlings; 1860 census, Sterlings; NJSA; pension record; Sterling Family descendent)

Will's family included a sister, Anna M. (born ca. 1831-1837); brothers Frank (born ca. 1839) and Alexander (born ca. 1841); and sister Mary (born ca. 1838-1843). According to the 1830 census, Will's household also included three other boys and two other girls, whose relationship to the family is unknown. Alexander does not appear in any further records; he died young. Mary lived until at least 1860, when she appears in the census. Frank survived at least into the 1860s, since he appears in Will and Tillie's correspondence. Anna lived until after 1880, at which time she was sharing a home with Will and Tillie in New Jersey. (Sources: 1830 census, Sterlings; 1850 census, Sterlings; 1860 census, Sterlings)

Will Sterling's family lived in Philadelphia in 1830. From July 1 to October 15, 1849, Will was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. By 1850, Will was again living with his family, now in Pittsburgh; Will's father, Henry, was an iron manufacturer who owned about $158,000 in real estate. Will was working as a clerk and had no significant personal property yet. (Sources: 1850 census, Sterlings; NJSA; pension record)

In 1860, the Sterlings were again at home in Philadelphia. Will's father Henry, Will himself, and Will's brother Frank were all working as clerks; Will may have been clerking in a bank. Will's sister Anna was keeping house and sister Mary was a waitress. Henry still had a very large estate, with $90,000 of real estate and $50,000 in personal property. Will himself now had $7,500 in his personal estate. (Sources: 1860 census, Sterlings; pension record)

On May 18, 1861, Will enlisted in the Union Army. At this time, he was 5' 10" with blue eyes. He was given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in Company G of the First U.S. Infantry of the Regular Army, and was promoted almost immediately to 1st Lieutenant on July 28, 1861 and then made Adjutant of his regiment on September 1, 1861. (Sources: NJSA; pension record)

On October 1, 1861, Will Sterling and Tillie Farquhar were married at the Philadelphia home of Tillie's mother, by the rector of St. Clement's Episcopal Church. (Source: pension record)

Matilda Louise Sterling
Matilda Louise Sterling,
ca. 1875

Matilda Louisa Farquhar (known as "Tillie") was born January 14, 1841 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Her father, Edwin Yorke Farquhar, born ca. 1808, and her mother, Anna Virginia Farquhar, born ca. 1805-1813, were both natives of Pennsylvania. Anna Virginia's mother, Sophie Carre, was born in San Domingo, the old name for the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Anna Virginia's father was John Sanderson. (Sources: 1840 census, Farquhars; 1860 census, Farquhars; 1880 census, Farquhars; pension record)

Matilda Louise Sterling
Matilda Louise Sterling,
ca. 1885

Also in Tillie's family were sister Sophie (born ca. 1825); and brothers George W. (born ca. 1837), Stephen (born ca. 1839), and Edward Y., called "Ned" (born ca. 1843). According to the 1840 census, Tillie's household also included another boy, whose relationship to the family is unknown. Brother Stephen does not appear in any censuses after 1850 or in any of Will and Tillie's correspondence. Brother Ned lived at least into the 1860s, since he figures in almost all of Tillie's letters. Brother George Farquhar married Camilla and had a son, Edward Y. (born ca. 1862), who later became an editor. In 1870 George and Camilla's son Edward was living with his grandmother Anna Virginia. George remarried Ella Johnson Oliver, and they had a daughter, Sophie C. (born ca. 1878). Sophie married in 1868. She was still alive in April 1918, when "Sophie C. Jester," a "sister of Matilda Louisa Sterling," filed an affidavit in support of her sister's pension claim. (Sources: 1840 census, Farquhars; 1850 census, Farquhars; 1870 census, Farquhars; 1880 census, Farquhars; pension record)

In 1840, the Farquhars lived in the Borough of Pottsville in Pennsylvania. By 1850, the family had moved to Philadelphia, where Tillie's father Edward headed a large and wealthy household. He was a conveyancer, and owned $120,000 in real estate. In addition to the family, several lodgers and servants lived in the home, along with Anna Virginia's brother and sister-in-law, John and Susan Sanderson, aged 32 and 33. Edward died in 1856. Tillie's mother, Anna Virginia, stayed in the family home until after 1861, when Will and Tillie were married there. But by 1870 Anna was living in others' households, although she still possessed substantial property--real estate of $150,000 and personal property worth $20,000. In 1870, "Virg" and her grandson Edward (George's son) were part of a very large household in Philadelphia headed by "Adel" Price, aged 39, and including Emily C. Price, age 9. Possibly these Prices were relatives of the Farquhars, since Tillie had a cousin named Matilda L. Price. And by 1880, Anna Farquhar was living with her son George's family in Philadelphia. (Sources: 1840 census, Farquhars; 1850 census, Farquhars; 1870 census, Farquhars; pension record)

Will Sterling was already in the Army when he married Tillie Farquhar. At the time of their marriage, through May 5, 1862, Will was "on recruiting service," probably in Philadelphia. From May 1862 until February 1863 he was stationed in Plattsburgh, New York, where he and Tillie lived. From February 1863 to February 1864, Will was stationed in Annapolis; for the last half of this period he was on mustering duty with the regiment there. Tillie again moved with Will, this time to Annapolis. The correspondence in this digital repository comes from this time period. While they were in Annapolis, on July 2, 1863, Will received his third promotion, to Captain. (Sources: NJSA; pension record)

From February 1864 to July 1865, Will was with the Department of the Gulf, then through February 1869 he was at New Orleans, Louisiana. It is not clear where Tillie lived while Will served in the South. While in New Orleans, Will was a member of the Provost Marshal General's staff of the Freedman's Bureau in Louisiana from August 1866 to November 1867; served with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands from April to August 1868; was the aide de camp to Major General Rousseau from November 1868 to January 1869; and was stationed with the regiment at Jackson Barracks from January to March 1869. During his time in the South he also served on the staff of the Commissary of Prisoners and Agent for Exchange, and as Inspector General, Provost Marshal, and Judge Advocate of different major generals' units. From March 1869 to September 1870 he was at Fort Gratiot, Port Huron (Detroit), Michigan, when he received an honorable discharge from the Army in October 1870. (Sources: NJSA; pension record)

After being discharged from the army, Will applied for an invalid's pension on April 22, 1872. At the time of his application, Will and Tillie were living at 4407 Spruce Street, Philadelphia. Will claimed to have contracted "swamp fever" – probably malaria – while commanding Company B of the 1st Infantry in New Orleans during the Election Riots of December 1868. However, the application was rejected circa 1873. (Source: pension record)

Will and Tillie moved to Plainfield, New Jersey around 1875. Around this time the former Union General George McClelland became governor of New Jersey. He named Will as his Aide-de-Camp on January 16, 1878, soon after his inauguration. Governor McClellan next appointed Will to the position of Inspector General of the New Jersey National Guard, on April 4, 1879. The Inspector General gathered inspection reports of the individual National Guard units, analyzed them, and reported the results to the Adjutant General, who in turn reported them to the New Jersey legislature. Will's term ran until March 18, 1881. During his term, Will and Tillie lived in Plainfield in Union County, New Jersey, together with Will's sister, Anna Sterling. (Sources: 1880 census, Sterlings; Medich; NJSA; pension record)

Will and Tillie moved into their final home at 829 First Place in Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey by 1905. In January of 1905, Will made another application for an invalid's Civil War pension. His application was approved this time, because of his "total inability to earn a support by manual labor." Initially for $12 per month, it was raised twice and ended at $30 per month by the time of his death. Will died on January 30, 1918, in Plainfield, New Jersey, of pneumonia. He was buried at Christ Church Yard in Kent County, Delaware. (Source: pension record)

After Will died, Tillie applied for and received a widow's Civil War pension of $25 per month, from March 9, 1918, until her own death. Will and Tillie never had children and, according to Tillie's pension claim, she was "practically blind ... [and] feeble" although mentally competent. Tillie died October 15, 1920, in Plainfield. (Source: pension record)


[Additional information was incorporated in July 2005 based on information sent by a Sterling family descendent.]

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