SULLIVAN, JOHN T. (1843 - 1916)

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History of Santa Cruz County, California, Edward Sanford Harrison
Portrait of John T. Sullivan

John T. Sullivan is the proprietor of the Sea Beach Hotel in Santa Cruz. His life has been full of vicissitudes. With him Dame Fortune has been as capricious as some maidens frequently are. He was born in County Meath, Ireland, March 3, 1843. His mother was Welsh, and his ancestors on his fathers side are conspicuous in the annals of the United States Government, some of them having immigrated to this country in early colonial days. He is a lineal descendant of General John Sullivan, the first governor of Vermont, and a brother of General Sullivan was the second governor of Massachusetts. It was the mother of General Sullivan who said, when asked what she was doing in America when she left Ireland, "I am going to furnish governors for the colonies." Descendants of this illustrious family to the number of several hundred have become governors, supreme judges, and congressman, having on their roll such names as Sunset Cox and Dewitt Clinton.

Mr. Sullivan's earliest recollection is of his father, who was connected with Freeman's Journal, published in Dublin, dying in a British prison for his too warm espousal of the Irish cause. The next chapter in his memory ended with his mother dying shortly afterwards of a broken heart. He was not more that five years old at this time, and with two older sisters was sent to the United States to a protege of his father's, with whom he lived for a time at Brooklyn, but failed to find a home. He was treated with indifference, until he attracted the attention of a farmer and manufacturer by the name of Sylvanus Dickinson, who lived in Hadley, Massachusetts. He went to live with the Dickinson family, remaining with them until he was thirteen years old, being treated as a son. While here he obtained a meager education in the public schools of Hadley, attending school for three winters. He subsequently went to South Carolina where he remained until the beginning of the Civil War.

When the war broke out he went North and enlisted in the Tenth Massachusetts Infantry, but subsequently enlisted and went to the front with the First Massachusetts Cavalry. He was at the font for two years and participated in the battles, among others of Popotaligo, Morris Island, second battle of Bull Run, Poolsville, Frederick City, and Antietam. At the latter battle he was shot through the arm and had his leg fractured, and was discharged from service on account of disability. During the war he was twice prisoner, but escaped each time. Most of the time he was in the service he was in South Carolina, in a country with which he was familiar, and for that reason was called upon to do a great deal of scouting daily.

February 28, 1866, he was married to Miss Sarah A. Smith, a member of one of the oldest families of Haley, Massachusetts. He then went to South Carolina as Superintendent of the Sea Island Cotton Company. The company failed and he engaged in merchandising and cotton planting, and also had an interest in a hotel. He supplied planters largely from his store, during a period followed by crop failure, which broke him up. He went back to New York and worked for a railroad company, and later took charge of the Tribune Association Experimental Farm, started at that time, and superintended it for a year. In 1870 he went into the New York post office as a porter and a few months later was promoted to a clerkship, and in nine months had the superintendency of the newspaper department. He remained here for fourteen years, having charge most of the time of three hundred men.

An anecdote connected with his appointment and the superintendency of a department in the New York post office will be interesting here and will illustrate a leading trait of Sullivan's character. After he had been in the post office several months a new department was created. There were twelve or fifteen applicants for the position of superintendent. After the department had been created, the division superintendent informed the postmaster that, as he must be responsible for the man who had charge of that department, he thought he ought to be permitted to make the appointment. To this the postmaster agreed, and, handing him the list of applicants, said, "You may make your selection. The division superintendent replied, “I do not want any of those fellows; there is a new man down there on the floor working as clerk at one of the tables whom I want for the position." As might have been expected, this caused a vigorous protest from a number of the older employees and their political backers. Among other things it was urged that Mr. Sullivan had not been true to the Republican party and was supporting Horace Greeley for the presidency. When the investigation took place, one of the clerks who worked alongside of Mr. Sullivan testified that Mr. Sullivan was supporting Greeley, and had made the avowal that he would vote for him if it was the only vote the sage of the Tribune got in the United States. Mr. Sullivan had known Greeley personally for years, and highly esteemed him, and had remarked to his fellow clerks, "I presume I will get my walking papers for it, but I have never gone back on a friend, and I am going to vote for Mr. Greeley, and work for him until the polls close." When this testimony was introduced, Postmaster James declined to hear any more. "That will do," he said; "any man who can be loyal to his friends when he has every reason to believe that it will be at the expense of his situation, can be safely trusted to perform any duty assigned to him." He got the appointment.

He left the post office in 1884 and came to California, arriving in September of that year, intending to go into the fruit business.

He came to Santa Cruz in February, 1885, and started a boarding house at the Bay State cottage, Beach Hill. He took up a pre emption claim in Monterey County and was thus engaged between his interests in Santa Cruz and his farm when Mr. D.K. Abeel secured rooms at his boarding house and formed acquaintance. Mr. Abeel was a capitalist, and foresaw the advantages and profits to be derived from a hotel where the Sea Beach is now situated. He purchased the property, the old Douglas House and leased it to Mr. Sullivan, and in 1889 built the extensive addition, which has made the Sea Beach Hotel the largest in Santa Cruz, and, with Mr. Sullivan's management one of the most popular in the state.

Mr. Sullivan's family consists of his wife and three daughters. The eldest, Annie was born in South Carolina, the second, Minnie, at Croton Landing, N.Y., and the third Mabel, at Brooklyn. There was another daughter who died in infancy. Mr. Sullivan is a member of the Knights Templar and subordinate lodges. He also belongs to the G.A.R. and is special aid on the Commander in Chief's staff.

Santa Cruz Surf (November 2, 1885)

Sullivan's Story
A Personal Reminiscence of General McClellan "Little Mac"

Mr. J.T. Sullivan of this place, a member of the G.A.R., fought under General McClellan and remembers "Little Mac" with great affection. An instance of the General's wonderful power of memory as well as of that tenderness of heart which won for him the love of his soldiers is related by Mr. Sullivan in a very pleasant way. On the morning of the memorable battle of Antietam, which occurred Sept. 17, 1862, the corps to which Mr. Sullivan's regiment the 1st Mass Cavalry was attached, was fighting at early dawn, and he, himself was by seven o'clock wounded and carried to the rear in an unconscious condition. Here he was hastily deposited in the doorway of a tent where he remained for some time. He was rather rudely aroused to semi consciousness by some one stepping over him whose dangling sword sheath gave him a cruel blow. It was a young Captain Sumner by name, whose father, General Sumner, was in the tent, and seeing the careless brutality of the act gave the young man a severe reprimand and then came to the wounded man and asked him if he was seriously wounded. Now poor Sullivan had been for a week on extremely short rations and for 48 hours had been absolutely without food, so he was more conscious of an "aching void" about the epigastric regions than of anything else and replied, "General, I don’t know how badly I'm wounded, but I think I feel the worst right here," placing his hand upon his empty stomach. "What, my poor fellow, are you hungry? Here, John" - to his servant - "get this man some breakfast at once." "But, General, I'm getting yours now; I'll attend to him afterward." said the servant. "Damn my breakfast," said the testy officer, "I had a good supper last night and this man is starving. Give him something at once." So Sullivan was fed, his wounds dressed, and finding himself able to get about he went out doors and sat himself upon a fence to watch the constantly moving soldiers as they went toward the front. Soon, "Little Mac" himself, mounted and attended by his staff passed by. Sullivan, forgetting in his enthusiasm a seriously wounded arm, pulled off his cap, and essayed to cheer the General when he fell backward off the fence in a dead faint. Gen. McClellan saw him and in a moment had dismounted, and was beside the fallen soldier, lifting him with the assistance of an Aide, and carrying him to the tent. Here, as Sullivan partially revived and opened his eyes, General McClellan said to him, "Now, my poor fellow, we are going to the front to take satisfaction out of the rebels for the wounding of you and your comrades."

Nearly twenty three years passed away during which Mr. Sullivan had never seen McClellan except casually, and had never, to his knowledge, been recalled to the General's memory in any way. It must be remembered that the occasion mentioned had been the only one upon which Little Mac had seen Mr. Sullivan except as one of a vast army. Last July, while crossing the ferry at Hoboken, New York, it was the gentleman's good fortune to meet Gen. McClellan, who, with the ladies of his family, was also on the ferry boat. Mr. Sullivan stepped up to his old commander and offering his hand said, "General, I remember you though I hardly suppose you remember me." "Of Course, Sir, I suppose you are an old soldier," said the General shaking his hand. "Now, just give me a point or two and see if I can't recall you." "Well, sir, do you recollect early on the morning of Antietam, being cheered as you passed by a wounded soldier?" "Yes, yes," interrupted the General, "and he fell off the fence and I helped carry him to the tent; yes, sir, I remember it well." Then excusing himself to the ladies of his party he said; "I've got just fourteen minutes to talk to this old soldier, and I want to give it all to him."

Santa Cruz Surf (May 15, 1889)

A Stroke of Luck
For a Soldier Citizen of Santa Cruz Re Rating Allowed

John T. Sullivan, the popular host of the Sea Beach Hotel, is also an old soldier and wears the badge of the Grand Army, being Commander of the J.F. Reynolds Post of Santa Cruz.

Having been wounded in the war of the rebellion, he was, upon application granted a pension, although at first the sum was so small as to be infinitesimal. It was upon subsequent applications, increased a little, but only to the sum of $14 per month.

Upon the accession of Harrison to the Presidency, "Corporal Tanner" was, as it is well known, made Commissioner of Pensions and employed as his private secretary, George B. Squires. Corporal Tanner was an old comrade of Mr. Sullivan's having fought in the same regiment, and George B. Squires had worked under Sullivan in the New York City post office. Nothing was more natural than that Mr. Sullivan should write to his old friends, congratulating them upon their good fortune. He also took occasion to mention the history of his pension, saying that though he had no idea anything could be done about the past, he believed himself entitled to $30 per month, and that they might possibly accomplish that, as he was willing to go before any medical board they might name for examination. The letter was mailed on the 9th inst. and yesterday, only five days later, Mr. Sullivan received the following exceedingly satisfactory telegram:

Washington D.C. May 14.
Letters received this morning re-rating allowed. Amount paid upward of $1,500. Signed George. B. Squires.

This assures Mr. Sullivan of his $30 pension as well as a snug little sum of back pay, the latter of which was quite unexpected.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 10,1895)

J.T. Sullivan Mentioned for Junior Vice Department Commander

The State encampment of the G.A.R. will be held in Sacramento on the 22d pox. Col. J.T. Sullivan is mentioned for Junior Vice Department Commander. Col Sullivan has a good war record, and has always taken much interest in the G.A.R.

When the war broke out he was in South Carolina, and went North to enlist in the Tenth Massachusetts Infantry, but subsequently he enlisted and went to the front with the First Massachusetts Cavalry. He was at the front for two years and participated in the battles among others, of Popotaligo, Morris Island, second battle of Bull Run, Poolsville, Frederick City and Antietam. At the latter battle he was shot through the arm and had his leg fractured, and was discharged from service on account of disability.

During the war he was twice a prisoner, but escaped each time. Most of the time he was in the service he was in South Carolina, in a country he was familiar with, and for that reason he was called upon to do a great deal of scouting duty. Col. Sullivan considers it the greatest privilege of his life that he as permitted to assist in the preservation of the Union.

California Hotel and Wine Gazette (August 26, 1897)

SULLIVAN. - A recent dispatch from Santa Cruz says: "John T. Sullivan, the lessee of the Sea Beach Hotel, is seriously ill. Mr. Sullivan, who was a strong, robust man, has been suffering from a varicose vein, resulting in the lodging of a clot of blood from the heart on the lungs, which developed into an attack of pneumonia. His condition was critical and three physicians attended him. Although no fatal consequences are at present apprehended, he is not out of danger."

Santa Cruz Surf (February 18, 1916)

Death of John T Sullivan
At One Time Proprietor of the Sea Beach Hotel

John T. Sullivan, for many years proprietor of the Sea Beach hotel in this city and at that time one of the best known hotel men in California, died on Feb 10 at the soldiers' home at Santa Monica. He was a native of County Meath, Ireland, and was born on Nov 3, 1843, and was 73 years old. On his mothers side he was of Welch ancestry. He was a lineal descendant of Gen. John Sullivan, the second governor of Massachusetts. He also had many relatives in the revolutionary war.

Mr. Sullivan was in South Carolina when the war broke out and from there he went north and enlisted in the Tenth Massachusetts Infantry and two times was taken prisoner. When here he was always an active member of the Wallace Reynolds post, G.A.R.

He married Miss Sadie Smith of Hadley Mass, a member of one of the old New England families, and from there went to South Carolina and later was employed from 1871 to 1881 in the New York post office.

In Santa Cruz he was a well known hotel man and when here the hotel for many seasons was open and summer and winter, as he had many tourist from the East at the hotel in the winter.

After leaving Santa Cruz he resided in Livermore, Santa Rosa, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. His wife preceded him in death and he leaves two daughters, Annie and Minnie. The younger daughter is a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles high school.

When here he was a member of the Masons, the G.A.R. and Congregational church.

Date of Birth: 1843-03-03

Date of Death: 1916-10-02

County: Los Angeles

Cemetery/City of Burial: Rosedale

Plot: 212/N/1SE

Date of Marriage: 1866/02/28

Spouse: Smith_ Sarah A

Occupation: Hotel Keeper

Religion: Co

Height: 6'0

Complexion: Dk

Eye Color: Gr

Hair Color: Gr

Local Address: Beach Hill

Last City: Santa Cruz 92

Native of: IR

Enlisted: 1861/09/10

Discharged: 1864/07/01

Military Unit: MA_ 1 Cav_ Co E

Rank: Cpl

Military Notes: R-Bstn_ DbD-Wshngtn DC

GAR#: R98

Available records used to obtain information:
Cemetery records
Santa Cruz County death records
Military records
Santa Cruz and Monterey newspapers
Voter Records

CW Reference: JFR 1886 Roster

Creator: Nelson, Robert L.
Source: Old Soldier: the story of the Grand Army of the Republic in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2004.
Date: Undated
Coverage: Santa Cruz (County)
Rights: Reproduced by permission of Robert L. Nelson.
Identifier: OS-0971


Nelson, Robert L. “SULLIVAN, JOHN T. (1843 - 1916).” Old Soldier: the story of the Grand Army of the Republic in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History, c2004. SCPL Local History. Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.