David W. Belisle

DAVID W. BELISLE was a journalist and author who was active in Camden in the mid-1800s. He was born in Sussex County, New Jersey in 1827 and came to Philadelphian in 1847 and moved across the river to Camden in 1849. Primarily writing for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, he simultaneously undertook other journalistic ventures during a career that lasted until his death in 1896. David W. Belisle wrote a few poems that were set to music and wrote at least two books, both of which are in the public domain and are available at no cost on-line. One, a work of fiction published in 1852, was entitled The American Family Robinsin- or, The Adventures of a Family Lost in the Great Desert of the West. The other book was History of Independence Hall from the Early Period to the Present Time, published in 1859. He also wrote a railroad/tourist guide; A Hand-Book for the Tourist and Traveller, Over the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad to New York: With Descriptions of all the Objects of Interest on the Route in 1853 and The Parterre: A Collection of Flowers Culled by the Wayside in 1849. He also wrote some poems and short pieces that were published in several magazines of the 1840s and 50s. 

David Belisle married Orvilla Gleason prior to coming to Camden. There were two children from this marriage, Henry W. Belisle (1847-1870) and Robert S. Belisle. The 1860 Census shows the family living in Camden's Middle Ward. The Belisles appear to have parted ways prior to 1865. David Belisle is listed in the City Directory at 818 Market Street, while his wife is listed at 32 South 4th Street, running a boarding house. He went to Atlantic City without his family after the Civil War for health reasons and ended up being elected Mayor in 1866, a post in which he served, while still working as a reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. He was reelected in 1867. 

By the time the 1869 City Directory was compiled, David W. Belisle had returned to Camden. Directories give different descriptions of where he lived over the next 15 years, as the home he was living in was not assigned a house number until the early 1880s. The 1869 City Directory put him on Newton Avenue, and the 1870 Directory puts him on the Southeast Corner of Newton Avenue and Line Street. The 1870 Census lists him in Newton Township, which was absorbed into Camden in 1871, and under the new charter, comprising the Seventh and Eighth Wards. The 1874 Directory shows him living on Haddon Avenue near the West Jersey Railroad, The 1876 Directory states Newton Avenue, between Line and Pine Streets, while the 1878 Directory has him on the Northeast Corner of Newton Avenue and Pine Street. This was the home of John H. Jones, journalist and publisher of the Camden Democrat, who was elected to office in 1874 and died on October 27, 1876 during his term in office.

1885 Sanborn Map Overview showing David Belisle's Neighborhood 1869-1884

1891 Sanborn Map
Showing the John J. Jones homestead,
which was given the address of 618 Newton Avenue
David Belisle lived here from 1869 to 188

The homestead is the yellow building, a 3 story frame structure. with a two story barn at the rear, near Pine Street. The Jones estate also owned the five two story brick homes on Newton Avenue, 606, 608, 610, 612, and 620

Click on images to Enlarge

The 1880 Census shows David Belisle in the un-numbered house on Newton Avenue between Line and Pine Streets, as do City Directories through 1885, boarding with Mrs. Deborah Jones, the widow of the late Mayor John H. Jones. This building was assigned the address 618 Newton Avenue shortly before the compilation of the 1884 City Directory. He rented a room at 122 Market Street in 1885 from Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Burt. This was his last address.

As to Orvilla Belisle and her sons, they were still living at 32 South 4th Street when the 1870 Census was taken. Sadly, Henry died later that year. She was still at the South 4th Street address as late as 1876. Robert lived with her until at least 1874, he is listed at 424 Taylor Avenue in the 1876 Directory. By 1878 Robert had left Camden as well. Mr. and Mrs. Belisle did not part amicably.

Besides writing for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, David Belisle engaged in journalistic enterprises of his own. His last major venture was a weekly newspaper, the Saturday Evening Express, which he operated out of 434 Federal Street from 1879 into 1885. By March of that year he had sold the newspaper to Alexander Schlesinger. Illness further curtailed Belisle's activities in November of 1885. He passed away on July 16, 1886. His will, which his wife attempted to challenge, expressly kept his family away from his burial arrangements and his estate. He had remained estranged from his wife and son. Mrs. Belisle died in Philadelphia in 1887, Robert Belisle in 1890. 

David, Orvilla, and Robert Belisle are all buried at Evergreen Cemetery. It is safe to assume that they are all buried together, and that, pardon the graveyard humor, that David Belisle and his wife are not talking to each other.

Camden Post - July 17, 1886

Camden Post
July 21, 1886

Camden Post
August 3, 1886