Tom Fennell is sponsored by Vicki Betts. The Society wants to give a big thank you to Vicki for not only sponsoring Tom, but for providing us with the bulk of his research already completed!
Tom Fennell was born in Tyler, Texas on February 17, 1896 to parents Larry B Fennell and Sylvesta Fields(?). Tom’s father was a Baptist preacher while his mother stayed at home. The family lived together in Tyler with their 7 other living children.
Overall, the Fennell’s had a 23 year age gap between their oldest daughter Annie and their youngest son Eddie. To give perspective to this age gap– the 1900 census lists Annie living at home with her parents and her son, John, who appears to only be 8 months younger than his uncle, Eddie. With a family this varied in age living under the same roof, you can only imagine them being a close knit group.
Also through census records, we can see that the Fennell children were educated like their father and were able to read and write. This ability certainly helped the children as they went into the workforce and moved from the home of their parents. For Tom, he used his education to pursue work in the hotel industry. By the time the war had come around, Tom was working as a Porter at Hotel Tyler (a turn of the century hotel previously known as the National Hotel).
- A fun fact about Eddie, Tom’s youngest brother: he was a noted jazz musician with Eddie and Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra!
Draft registration cards can be a great resource of information for these servicemen. In Tom’s case, not only do we learn his age, occupation, and residence, but we also learned that he was married. Without this card, there wouldn’t have been any indication he was married before 1920. However, with this simple card, I was able to find that on May 1, 1917 Tom married Jewel Thompson in Smith County. Unfortunately for Jewel and Tom the marriage didn’t last and by September 3, 1918 the couple had filed for a divorce that was finalized November 13, 1919.
Inducted Date and Location: June 19, 1918- Tyler, Texas
Army Serial Number: 3,065, 860
Discharge: August 8,1919
Overseas: October 11, 1918 to July 29, 1919
Unit: 815 Pioneers, Co F
Tom was inducted into service on June 19, 1918 in Tyler, Texas. He was originally placed in the 165 Depot Brig which served as a staging area for men just coming into the service. In the 165 Depot Brig, and other depot brig in general, men would begin their basic training and be given all of their necessary equipment for service prior to their placement with other units. Tom stayed with the 165 Depot until September 6, 1918 when he was transferred to the 815 Pioneer Infantry Co F. Tom was sent overseas on October 11, 1918 and after only a week he had been promoted to Sgt. on October 18, 1918.
African American men were typically assigned roles with Stevedore Regiments, Pioneer Infantry Regiments, or Labor Battalions. Each of these regiments were responsible for the labor of the war– building roads, digging trenches, building and designing cemeteries overseas, etc. The Pioneer Battalions were somewhat unique in that they were also trained for combat should the need arise. They were meant to be extremely versatile and to serve wherever gaps formed. A newspaper article from the Tyler Morning Telegraph on June 3, 1930 provides a wonderful description of the work Tom did while overseas with his Pioneer company.
The article goes on to say that he missed service in the “trenches by a mere 24 hours,” and that he had “advanced to within 50 miles of where the heaviest fighting was in progress.” As an African American, serving in a combat role was a very rare occurrence with only 1 in 10 men fighting on the front line. After the signing of the Armistice, and Tom’s near fray into the thick of it, he was given a new and significant task.
From this article, we learn that Sgt. Fennell, with 250 men under his command, was responsible for assisting in the construction of the Argonne Cemetery. Specifically, the article states that he and “his men constructed the large concrete wall along the front of the burial ground.” It seems that Tom was present as General John J. Pershing addressed the 20,000 colored troops that had gathered at the Argonne Cemetery. It was during this speech that General Pershings commended them “for the part they had taken in bringing victory to the United States.”
As for his traveling to and from the United States, Tom is listed on two US Transport logs. He left the United States out of Hoboken, New Jersey on October 11, 1918 aboard the Maui. It is interesting to note that he would have gained his promotion while aboard this ship as it would typically take several weeks for their trip across the Atlantic. On his way back home, Tom left Brest, France aboard the Aeolus on July 18, 1919 and arrived July 29, 1919 at Camp Stuart, Newport News, Virginia. Tom was discharged shortly after returning back to the States.
It seems that once Tom returned home he got back into the swing of things and continued working at a hotel as a tailor. On January 3, 1920, Tom is listed on the census as in residence with his parents and brothers. Shortly after this census, on March 4, 1920, Tom married Corinthia Mathis at her family home in Willis Point.
It was common during this time for newspapers to publish when a person was traveling, participating in an event, or other related activities. The Fennell’s were fairly well documented between 1919 and 1924. Through these newspaper blurbs we learned that Corinthia participated in a Young Ladies’ Whist club, that Tom was a Vice Commander for the Woodmen of the World fraternal order, and that they traveled frequently to visit family.
It is interesting to note that Tyler’s African-American American Legion Post is named the Price Fennell Post No. 842. It is believed that this post was named for Tom and another soldier, William Price. The Tyler Daily Courier-Times published in the early weeks of January 1921 spoke on William’s body being returned from France and being buried with full military honors here in town. Although it has yet to be confirmed, the likelihood of the post being named for someone other than Tom is unlikely.
From the information gathered in our Tyler City Directories, it appears that in 1925 Tom even spent some time as a porter at the Blackstone Hotel here in town. Between the 1925 and 1927/8 City Directories, Tom and Corinthia are no longer listed. Based on Tom’s death certificate, I would assume they moved directly to Texarkana, Bowie County, Texas.
As far as we can tell, their life in Texarkana was very much the same as when they were in Tyler. Tom worked at the Grim Hotel as “Captain of the bell ‘hops’,” where he was interviewed in June of 1930 on his World War I service (described in section above). From the information we have found so far, it seems that Tom and Corinthia were active, valued, and respected members in their communities.
Tom passed away on November 30, 1935 at Grim Hotel from a Cerebral Apoplexy related to Hypertension. He was buried at Westview Cemetery in Tyler, Texas. I have found no records of Tom and Corinthia having any children, but in 1939 she did remarry and lived until 1978.
Listed below are the different records and collections that Tom Fennell can be found in.
Census Records: 1900, 1910, 1920
City Directory: Tyler- 1910, 1923/4,1925
Newspaper: Dallas Express : August 16, 1919; March 6, 1920; October 23, 1920; November 19, 1921 ; April 29, 1922; May 27, 1922; February 24, 1923; April 28, 1923; June 9, 1923; July 8, 1924; July 19, 1924
Tyler Morning Telegraph: June 3, 1930
U.S. Find A Grave: Click here to view this page.
Fold3 Memorial Page: Click here to view this page.
We have been unable to find him listed in the Chronicles of Smith County, Texas.
The information provided on this sponsorship page is an accumulation of work and research completed by our Society and volunteers. Thank you to Scott Fitzgerald, Andy Leath, Tiffany Wright, Randy Gilbert, and Savannah Cortes for your efforts. If you are interested in correcting or adding information to this page, please leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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