William M. Butts


 

WILLIAM MILES BUTTS is generally credited as being the first black man to serve as a member of the Camden Police Department. He was, in fact, the third to hold that honor, coming after, for reasons outlined below, John Wesley "Wes" Beckett and Isaac Major. 

He was born in Deep Creek, Virginia in 1847, probably to Henry Butts and his wife, the former Manda Brice [most likely Amanda Brice - PMC], although there are sources that indicate that is parents were Azariah and Harriet Butts.  On September 19, 1864 at Norfolk, Virginia he enlisted as Miles Butts in the Union army as a private and was assigned to Company B, 38th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, a regiment saw action in Virginia during the war and later served on the Texas frontier. There was another "Miles  Butts" with Company D in the same 38th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, and this I believe is the source of confusion as to his parentage and activities for a few years after he left the Army. More confusion occurs in later years due to typographical and transcription errors, such as the handwritten "W.M. Butts" becoming the typeset "M.H. Butts". These and spelling errors in newspapers were not uncommon William M. Butts' lifetime.

The 38th United States Colored Troops regiment was composed of men from St. Mary's County Maryland (both free Black tenant farmers and men who had escaped slavery) in combination with many Virginia men who had been liberated from slavery by the Union army. These two contingents constituted the 38th United States Colored Troops, which was organized in Virginia on January 23, 1864, and then subsequently served first at Norfolk and Portsmouth in the Department of Virginia and then served in North Carolina until June 1864, after which it was involved in operations against Petersburg and Richmond for the remainder of the war.

The regiment participated in engagements at Chaffin's Farm (also known as the Battle of New Market Heights) on September 29-September 30, Deep Bottom on October 1 and Fair Oaks on October 27-October 28, 1864. Three members of the 38th, William H. Barnes, James H. Harris, and Edward Ratcliff, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at Chaffin's Farm. The unit then served in the trenches north of the James River until the fall of Richmond in April 1865. The 38th occupied Richmond on April 3, 1865, and continued duty in the Department of Virginia through the end of the war and into May.

The 38th was moved to Texas between May 24 and June 6, 1865, where it would stay for the rest of its service. The unit saw duty at various points along the Rio Grande in the southern portion of the state, including Brownsville and Brazos Santiago, as well as at Indianola and Galveston on the gulf coast. While in Texas, William Butts was promoted to Corporal on September 5, 1866. Corporal Butts was honorably discharged at Indianola, Texas on January 25, 1867
. A William Butts married Belinda Burton in Portsmouth, Virginia on November 4, 1868. There is a William Butts living there in the 1870 Census. Whether or not this William Butts is the subject of this sketch is not known. What is known is that William Butts was living in Camden in the early 1870s.

William Butts does not appear to be listed in Camden's city directories until 1878, however, a contemporary recalled working with William Butts at the Browning Dye Works for fifteen years prior to his appointment as a policeman. William Butts married Ellen "Lizzie" Smith at Macedonia A.M.E. Church on December 24, 1873 in Camden's Fifth Ward.

It is probable that William and Lizzie Butts are the "James" and "Lizzie" listed at 423 Spruce Street in 1877, and William Butts may well be "M.H. Butts" who in 1878, is listed as a laborer at 336 Pine Street in that year's City Directory. The 1879 edition lists William Butts, laborer, at 917 Locust Street. He and his wife were at 919 Locust Street when the Census was taken in 1880. In 1881 a William Butts, laborer is listed at 638 John Street, which was renamed as the 600 block of Locust Street not long afterwards. He was at 309 Division Street in 1884 and 228 Division Street in 1885, still working as a laborer. Late in 1886 as early in 1887 he moved to 707 Cherry Street in Camden's Seventh Ward, where he lived into 1899. He was still at that address when the 1890 Veterans Census was enumerated. Sadly, Lizzie Butts died at 270 Division Street, from peritonitis most likely brought on by a burst appendix, on July 28, 1890.

Active in Masonic and in political affairs as a Republican, William Butts was elected as a delegate to the Camden County convention in October of 1882 from the Fifth Ward. After moving to the Seventh Ward, he was appointed to the police department in April of 1887. He is generally credited as being the first black policeman in Camden, but this is not quite the case. In the summer of 1886 Mayor Jesse Pratt declared his intention to appoint two black men to the Camden Police Department, one from the Seventh Ward and one from the Eighth. In 1886 he appointed John Wesley "Wes" Beckett from the Eighth Ward, who served for several years. In April of 1887 Mayor Pratt appointed William Butts, a loyal Republican and newly moved to the Seventh Ward to serve, as he was not aligned with either of the two factions of black Republicans seeking to secure the appointment,  one favoring Isaac Major and the other constable George Castor.

William Butts initially declined the offer, and Isaac Major took the job. Continued political infighting between the two factions led to Major's resignation from the police department in July of 1887. William Butts was again appointed, accepted the position, and made his first arrest on July 17, 1887. 

William Butts served with honor and distinction until the late spring of 1893, when he and virtually every other Republican policeman was dismissed by the Democratic-controlled Police Commission. He was reappointed by Mayor John L. Westcott on March 30, 1894, after the New Jersey legislature and New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the Commission to disband. William Butts retuned to the police department saw him serve the City of Camden for another five years, until he was taken ill in the spring of 1899. He fell seriously ill in April of 1899 and married a dressmaker, the former Caroline Brooks Billups of 1218 South 8th Street, on May 15, 1899. William Miles Butts passed away at the South 8th Street address on July 27, 1899, survived only by his wife Caroline. Mrs. Caroline Butts appeared in city directories in Camden until 1943.

Besides police work, William Miles Butts was respected all through Camden for his activities in veterans, political, and Masonic affairs. He was a member of the William P. Robeson Post No. 51, G.A.R; Progressive Lodge No. 32, F. & A.M.; Demolay Commandery No. 1, Knights Templar; the William J. Sewell, the Cooper B. Hatch, and the Seventh Ward Republican clubs.

The following is derived from
George Reeser Prowell's
History of Camden County, N.J.
published in 1886

WILLIAM P. ROBESON POST No. 51, of Camden (the first post in New Jersey composed of colored soldiers), was instituted and organized June 28, 1881, with twenty-five charter members. It was named for General William P. Robeson Jr., who made his residence in Camden. General Robeson passed away a few weeks after the Post was organized.

The following is a complete roster of the Post at this date (1886): Past Commanders, W. Spencer Darr and W. A. Drake ; Post Commander, Miles Bishop; Senior Vice, Charles Jones; Junior Vice, Ezekiel Jones; Surgeon, George Lodine; Chaplain, August Westcott; Adjutant, Charles Accoo; Officer of the Day Anthony Austin; Officer of the Guard, George Bishop; Quartermaster, John C. Richardson; Quartermaster-Sergeant, Joseph Rice; Sergeant-Major, George H. Watson. 

The other members are James. Wiltbanks, Nathaniel Ingram, William Ingram, William Butts, William Smith, Hezekiah Wrench, Benjamin Stewart, Elijah Hammitt, Charles Barnes, Shepherd Pitts, Charles Woolford, Elijah Pipinger, Thomas Ryan, George F. Johnson, and Charles Ford.

In 1886 the Post met at Lee's Hall, on the corner of Broadway and Atlantic Avenue, and later met on Kaighn Avenue

The William P. Robeson Post 51 of the Grand Army of the Republic was suspended in 1925. 

 

Camden Daily Courier
October 17, 1882

Morris Hallock - William H. Banks
Charles Adams - Edward S. King Sr.
Jonathan D. Watson - J. Willard Morgan Benjamin F. Sweeten - Thomas Beatty
Harry H. Franks - James Wilson
William Shedaker - B. Frank Sutton
Benjamin Kellum - George W. Johnson
Dr. John D. Leckner - William Butts
John R. McCabe - William Shaw
William H. Day - Solomon Clark
Allen Wood - Joseph Hackney
James Massey - John Stone 
William Simpson - Stephen Walters
William W. Smith - Joseph W. Brown
Peter Postles

Camden Daily Courier
March 31, 1887

Chestnut Street
Equal Rights Association
William Stevenson
Isaac Major
G.B. Cooper
Mr. Golden - Louis Gould


Camden Daily Courier
April 7, 1887

William O. Castor
Isaac Major
Jefferson Blanchard
Walter Wilson
Richard "Dick" Williams

 


Camden Daily Courier
April 27, 1887

Jesse Pratt
William Butts
Browning Brothers Dye Works
Samuel Bakley
Winfield Kelly

 


Camden Daily Courier
April 27, 1887

Jesse Pratt
William Butts
Browning Brothers Dye Works
Samuel Bakley
Winfield Kelly

 


Camden Post
April 29, 1887

William Butts
John Litzenberg
Frederick Gibson


Camden Daily Courier
April 29, 1887

William O. Castor
William Butts
Isaac Major


Camden Daily Courier
May 4, 1887

William O. Castor
Jesse Pratt
Jeff Blanchard
Isaac Major


Camden Daily Courier
May 6, 1887

William O. Castor
Jesse Pratt
Equal Rights Association
Isaac Major


Camden Post
July 13, 1887

Isaac Major
Jesse Pratt


Camden Post
July 16, 1887

Isaac Major
Jesse Pratt
William Butts


Camden Daily Courier
July 16, 1887

Isaac Major
Jesse Pratt
William Butts


Camden Post
July 18, 1887

Isaac Major
William Butts
John Cain
Margaret Lucas
John Powers

Philadelphia Inquirer - October 17, 1892
John Hill - Joseph Dodson - James Evans - George Hanson
William M. Butts - John Foster - Marwood Derrickson - Alfred Reed
C. Henry Peters - Daniel F. Hurley - Ida Fisher - Laura LeCount

Philadelphia Inquirer - June 2, 1893


Edward Cooper - Samuel Bakley - William Butts
Harry Mines - William Whalen - George Cooper
Casper Hart
- Benjamin Middleton - Louis Heffer
Rufus Bright -Thomas Smith - William Lightcap


Philadelphia Inquirer - June 7, 1893

Harry B. Paul - Edward Cooper - Samuel Bakley - William Butts - Harry Mines
Isaac McKinley
- John Pratt - J. Oscar Weaver - Samuel Paul
William D. Comley - Casper Hart - Benjamin Middleton - Jacob Woodside
O. Glen Stackhouse - Frank Matlack - John Dall - James Rutledge - Amer Green
Edward Richardson - Harry L. Duffee - Michael Bradley - John E. Dunn
Thomas J. Murphy - John Logan - William Orcutt - Patrick Clark - Joseph Sloan 

Camden Daily Telegram
March 30, 1894

Samuel Dodd
John Foster
John L. Westcott
Harry Griffin
John R. Jones

 

William E. Cromley - George Kappel - Harry Curtis - O. Glen Stackhouse - A. Lincoln James
John Pratt -
Samuel Bakley - Benjamin Middleton - William Harvey - J. Oscar Weaver - Harry Mines
William Selby - Albert Myers - Edward Hartman - Caleb Williams - Richard Golden - Ralph Bond
William Schregler - Jacob Woodside - Frank Matlack - Alfred Hayden - John Dall - Josiah Sage
C. Henry Peters - Charles Lederman - William Butts
Alexander Alcorn - Charles Lightenberg - Ferdinand Laird

Philadelphia Inquirer - July 6,1897
...continued... 
Elbridge B. McClong - Alfred L. Sayers - George W. Anderson - William Butts - Josiah Sage
Edward S. Hyde - C. Henry Peters - Henry Peters - Howard Ever - Thomas Glenn - James Carter
Henry Cooper - John McDonald - Frank Whitaker 
South 7th Street - Walnut Street - Joint Alley - Pine Street 

Camden Daily Telegram
December 20, 1897

New York Flats - Kaighn Avenue
Rosie Woolford -
John L. Westcott
John Brothers - Josiah Sage
William Butts - Alfred L. Sayers
Mamie Firie - Bertha Bastian
Susie Quinn - Charles Brunner

Here's Camden's Finest, With Whiskers, in 1898

Camden Courier-Post - July 15, 1930

William A. Schregler
William "Rex" Comley
Jules Bosch
John Foster

Samuel Dodd
H. Franklin Pettit
Harry Mines
Edward Hartman
Charles Wilbur
Thomas Brothers
Ralph Bond
John Dall
George Kappell
Josiah Sage
Edward S. Hyde
William Selby
Elbridge B. McClong
Edward Powell
John Sinclair
William Laird
Benjamin Middleton
Alfred L. Sayers
John Anderson
William Butts
John Painter
Frank Matlack
Thomas Hicks
Alfred Hayden
Abe Jackson
Albert Shaw
Edward Steen
Samuel Bakley
Caleb Williams
Elisha A. Gravenor
Thomas Buchanan
Samuel Cox
George Horner
Godfrey Eisenhardt
Harry Curtis
George B. Johnson
John Barnett
Casper Hart
Charles Fitzsimmons
A. Lincoln James
J. Oscar Weaver Sr.
Charles Ridgely
William Fish
George Cooper

Harry Mines, not named above, is in the first row between H. Frank Petttit and Edward Hartman. In the fifth row, at the far right, "John Barnett" was a guess on the part of A. Lincoln James. Another person guessed George Johnson. Both were wrong and it is not known who that policeman is.

Camden Daily Telegram
December 20, 1897

Dennis McBride - William Butts
Benjamin Braker


Philadelphia Inquirer - July 22, 1898
Benjamin Middleton - John Anderson - Thomas Brothers - William Butts
Alfred Hayden - Edward Cooper - Richard Golden

Camden Daily Courier
January 23, 1899

William Butts
South 10th Street  - Kaighn Avenue
John H. Carmany
G.W. Campbell
Dr. J. Shannon Parker
James Hanson Jr.
Wilbur Weintz
Dr. Samuel Rhone
Kosciusko Hall - Fisher Guards


Camden Daily Courier
March 4, 1899

William Butts
Sycamore Street
Pennington Purdell
James Hanson
William Anderson


Camden Daily Courier
March 4, 1899

William Butts
Sycamore Street
Pennington Purdell
James Hanson
William Anderson


Camden Daily Courier
March 13, 1899
Joseph Nowrey - Archie Robinson - Wilhelmina Robinson - James A. Roach
William Butts - Kate Green - J. Oscar Weaver 
George Ritter - John Miller - Harry Watson - Alfred Porter -  Harry Curtis - Albert Knox 

Camden Post-Telegram
July 27, 1899

South 8th Street
William Butts
Jesse Pratt

 


Camden Daily Courier
July 27, 1899

William Butts
Jesse Pratt
Browning Brothers Dye Works

 


Camden Post-Telegram
July 28, 1899

Macedonia A.M.E. Church
William Butts
Progressive Lodge No. 32, F. & A.M.
Demony Commandery No. 1, Knights Templar
William P. Robeson Post No. 51, G.A.R.


Camden Daily Courier
July 28, 1899

Macedonia A.M.E. Church
William Butts


Camden Post-Telegram
July 29, 1899

Macedonia A.M.E. Church
William Butts
Progressive Lodge No. 32, F. & A.M.
Demony Commandery No. 1, Knights Templar
William P. Robeson Post No. 51, G.A.R.
Cooper B. Hatch Republican Club No. 1














 


Camden Post-Telegram * July 31, 1899
Macedonia A.M.E. Church - South 8th Street - Cooper B. Hatch - John Foster - Knights of Pythias
Fisher Guards - William P. Robeson Post No. 51, G.A.R. - William Butts - William H. Jones
William J. Sewell Republican Club

Camden Daily Courier
July 31, 1899

Macedonia A.M.E. Church - South 8th Street
William Butts - William H. Jones
William J. Sewell Republican Club

Many thanks to Dr. James E. Johnson of Rowan University, who has done extensive research on William Miles Butts for his help in creating this web-page.

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