A visit to Major Harvey E. Light’s grave always draws a captive audience when Audrey Johnson and I give our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May. However, this year we managed to elicit gasps from the crowd when it was announced that a descendant of Major Light was in our midst. Doug Light, Harvey’s great-great grandson, had traveled from his home in Texas to attend the tour. This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.
Harvey E. Light’s story began in 1834, when he was born at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson, the first child of blacksmith James Light and his wife, Maria Devine. The family moved to Fairport when Harvey was an infant. At a young age, Harvey left school to help support the family by working on the farm of Jesse Whitney, currently the location of the Fairport Baptist Home. He also worked on the Webster farm in Pittsford. Harvey may have met his future wife, Mary Helen Shepard, during this time. Mary Helen’s father, Sylvester Shepard, was an early settler to Pittsford with his brother, William Shepard.
In 1852, James sold his land in Fairport to Daniel B. DeLand and moved the family, now consisting of nine children, to Greenville, Michigan. Harvey followed the family to Michigan in the mid-1850s where he worked as a nurseryman. Eventually, he bought his own farm and expanded his nursery business to include 300 acres of pine trees. Harvey returned to New York in 1861 to wed Mary Helen Shepard at the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsford. Together, they traveled to Michigan where Harvey was elected Sheriff of Montcalm County.
Soon after the birth of his first child in July 1863, Harvey was given permission to raise a company to join in the war effort. He hired a bugler, a snare drummer and a bass drummer to help “drum up” interest in the war enlistment meetings which were held throughout the area. Company E, 10th Michigan Cavalry went off to war with the newly commissioned Captain Harvey E. Light at its helm.
Much of Harvey’s time with the 10th Michigan Cavalry was spent in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area. After a time, Harvey was sent back to Michigan to recruit more men. He must have been quite persuasive, for he managed to enlist his brother Dewitt to join Co. E. Younger brothers Edward and George served in the 8th Michigan Infantry. Amazingly, all four Light boys survived the war. Harvey E. Light was promoted to Major before mustering out on November 11, 1865.
Four more sons and a daughter were born to the Lights in the years following the Civil War. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1873, where Harvey had purchased a foundry, but returned to Pittsford several years later. They lived on the Shepard family homestead on East Avenue, which has since been razed. Harvey was very active in the community, serving throughout the years as an active member of the First Presbyterian church, a census taker, Grange member and Commander of the G.A.R. EJ Tyler Post #288, an organization composed of Civil War veterans.
Harvey continued to live on his farm after the death of his wife in 1902. It was there that Major Harvey E. Light died on September 17, 1921. He was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on his 87th birthday. A newspaper article announcing Major Harvey E. Light’s death stated that “…in his character were to be found, in a large degree, the attributes of the gentlemen of the old school – courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness for the welfare and successfulness of others, combined with sterling integrity…the example to be found in his life is one that might well be emulated by the young men of this generation.”
This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Historic Pittsford newsletter.