On Memorial Day, we honor America’s fallen sailors and soldiers and decorate the graves of the men and women who served in the nation’s armed forces.
Among the comrades-in-arms buried at Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery, Abram Bentley was the village’s last surviving Civil War veteran.
Known locally as “Uncle Abe,” Bentley was born in Manhattan on Sept. 4, 1844 and apprenticed at a carriage factory while in his teens.
At the age of 20, Bentley enlisted in Company I, 39th Regiment, New Jersey Infantry, which fought the Confederates in Virginia. He was soon promoted to corporal and then sergeant.
After his discharge and return to civilian life, Bentley married Marion Wilson of Newark, New Jersey, on Dec. 9, 1866. Days later, the newlyweds traveled by the steamer Sunbeam from New York City to Port Jefferson, where a job awaited the groom.
Skilled as a wheelwright and an upholsterer, Bentley worked at Effingham Tuthill’s carriage shop on Main Street. After Tuthill left Port Jefferson in 1874, Bentley continued operating the establishment with Aaron Coles and John Baldwin. By 1886, as his partners withdrew from the business, Bentley became the sole proprietor of the company.
Besides running a manufactory, Bentley was active in Port Jefferson’s Baptist Church on East Main Street, today’s Harborview Christian Church. He was the superintendent of the Sunday School, a member of the choir, secretary/treasurer of the bible class, and a deacon.
He was also a Republican party stalwart, served on the election board and completed four terms as Brookhaven Town Auditor.
Never forgetting his time in the military, Bentley was a founder and later commander of Lewis O. Conklin Post 627, Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veteran organization with a “camp” in the village.
Under Bentley’s leadership, the Post organized Port Jefferson’s annual Decoration Day ceremonies which typically began with religious services at the Baptist Church. The GAR members, followed by a contingent of townspeople, then marched to Cedar Hill Cemetery.
After listening to a stirring patriotic address and martial music played by the Port Jefferson Brass Band, the veterans adorned the graves of their lost brothers with flowers, wreaths, crosses, and flags. Among those interred at the cemetery, there are over 40 soldiers and sailors who served with the North during the Civil War.
Bentley also represented Port Jefferson at the GAR’s regional encampments, was a familiar figure at the head of the village’s Fourth of July parades and was drill master of the local Boys’ Brigade, a semi-military organization founded “to develop Christian manhood” among Port Jefferson’s youth.
“Uncle Abe” died at his home on Thompson Street on June 25, 1934. He was predeceased by his wife who had passed the previous March. They had been married for over 67 years.
On the day of Bentley’s funeral, the destroyer USS Lea (DD-118) was anchored in Port Jefferson Harbor to take part in the village’s 1934 Independence Day celebrations. The warship was named after an officer killed during the Civil War.
An honor guard from the Lea escorted the caisson carrying Bentley from the Baptist Church to his final resting place in Cedar Hill Cemetery, a fitting end for one of Port Jefferson’s beloved citizens.
Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.