William J. Abernethy was born July 15, 1843 in Ontario, Canada. He was one of seven children born to Richard and Angeline Abernethy. The family emigrated from Canada to Iowa in 1850. According to the 1856 Iowa Census and the 1860 U.S. Census, the family resided in Clayton County, Iowa where William’s father was a farmer.
On August 15, 1862 Abernethy enlisted as a Private in Company D of the 21st Regiment of the Iowa Infantry. He was 19 years old. He was mustered into service on August 22, 1862 at Dubuque, Iowa. As a member of the 21st Iowa Infantry, Abernethy was a likely participant in the Battle of Hartsville, Missouri, and probably saw action in Mississippi at Black River Bridge and the Siege of Vicksburg. The regiment was mustered out on July 15, 1865 at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and discharged at Clinton, Iowa on July 28, 1865.
After the war, Abernethy returned to Iowa and on September 19, 1867 he married Martha A. Pierce in Webster City, Hamilton County, Iowa. According to the 1870 U.S. Census, the couple was living in Webster, Hamilton County, Iowa where William farmed. The Abernathy’s first two children, a son and a daughter, were born in Iowa.
Based on U.S. Census records, by 1880 Abernethy had settled in Holt County, Nebraska where four daughters were born. William continued to farm, and according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management records, homesteaded 164 acres in Brown and Keya Paha Counties, Nebraska in 1892.
In March of 1888 Abernethy and his family headed west to Washington State, then still a Territory. The 1889 Territorial Census for Washington lists the family as residents of Olalla in Kitsap County. By the following year, according to the 1890 Veterans Census, the family had relocated to Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington. The 1888 and 1891 G.A.R. Department Rosters list Abernathy as a member of the Custer Post No. 6 of Tacoma in Pierce County, Washington. On August 17, 1894, Abernethy joined the George H. Thomas Post No. 5 in Olympia, Thurston County, Washington. The 1900 U.S. Census record lists the family as residents of Thurston County, Washington. Abernethy and his wife lived in Thurston County for about twenty-five years, including residences in the Precincts of South Bay, Woodland and Olympia in Thurston County. Washington Census records and the1919 City Directory for Olympia, Thurston County, show William’s occupation as a carpenter. By 1920 William was in poor health suffering from rheumatism, blindness, and other medical issues. In April of 1920 William and his wife, Martha, were admitted to the Washington Veterans Home at Retsil, Kitsap County, Washington.
Martha Abernathy died on October 26, 1923. William left the Veterans Home in December of 1926. He died February 28, 1927 in Olympia while living at the home of one of his daughters. William and Martha Abernethy are buried at Masonic Memorial Park, Tumwater, Thurston County, Washington.
Information about his grave can be found here.