Revolutionary War Pensions – Locating Missing Records
Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of a two-part piece adapted from a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Please see Part I for historical background on Revolutionary War Pensions, what information can be found in these genealogical treasure-laden applications, and select resources on Federal Pensions. Part II, below, will discuss the potential complications of locating Federal Revolutionary War Pension records, how you can work around these issues, and additional resources to help you on your search for your Revolutionary War ancestor.
Revolutionary War Pensions, Part II – Locating Missing Records
Revolutionary War research is a huge topic within American genealogy; however, you will discover a helpful, concise overview of in Craig Robert Scott’s Genealogy at a Glance: Revolutionary War Genealogy Research. Pension records, as we discussed in Part I of our discussion, are gold mines of genealogical information. While much information can be found through online databases and published indexes, do not stop with such sources. Close reading of original documents (even if they are on microfilm) will prove well worth your time, effort and eye strain.
Since pensions were granted on the basis of applications which were supported by affidavits and documents substantiating proof of service, all of which were examined and passed upon by the War Department before being submitted to Congress for approval, they are authoritative sources of genealogical information.
However, the path of genealogical research is seldom straightforward. Two unfortunate events have transpired compelling genealogists to search in multiple locations to bring together the various pieces that might pertain to a specific pension claim.
In 1800, a fire in the War Department destroyed the Revolutionary War pension applications and related papers that had been submitted prior to that date. In the absence of those records, files now show only name, state, and organization. In place of the missing papers, a card indicates rank, unit, date of enlistment, nature of the disability, residence and the amount of the pension. Then, to make matters worse, an additional fire in 1814 destroyed further records.
To further compound the matter, between 1894 and 1913, several types of records were withdrawn from the files for the time period 1775 to 1783. These records included muster rolls, payrolls, returns, orders, and personnel lists which were sent to the War Department; lists of seamen that were sent to the Navy Department; and diaries, journals, orderly books, account books, and other bound items which were sent to the Library of Congress.
What remained in the application file can be found on microfilm at the National Archives, with 80,000 pension and bounty warrant application files, dated between 1800 and 1900. They exist both in their entirety and in a “selected” version. The latter contain only “significant genealogical” documents chosen from the complete files. The selected files are available on HeritageQuest (online at your local library’s website, accessible from home with a library card). These files are alphabetical by surname, then by given name, then alphabetically by state or by Continental or Navy service, and then “unarranged” within each file.
Several sources help identify Revolutionary War soldiers, including the DAR Patriot Index; Patricia Law Hatcher’s four-volume Abstracts of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots (Heritage Books, 2007-2009); Clarence Stewart Peterson’s Known Military Dead During the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783; Joseph Lee Boyle’s two-volume “He Loves a Good Deal of Rum:” Military Desertions During the American Revolution, 1775-June 30,1777, Volume I, and “He Loves a Good Deal of Rum:” Military Desertions During the American Revolution, 1777-1783 Volume II.”
Of particular use with regard to pension research is the National Genealogical Society’s Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives (NGS, 1976). In addition, there are records of Rejected or Suspended Applications for Revolutionary War Pensions, published by Clearfield in 2003 (also available on Ancestry.com), as well as the U. S. War Department’s Pensioners of the Revolutionary War – Struck Off the Roll (Clearfield, 2008).
One Samuel Allen provides an example of the information that can be gleaned from pension application files. The DAR Patriot Index identifies Samuel Allen as a sergeant who served from New York. He was born in 1751, died on 4 February 1810 (in Chittenden, Vermont), and was married to Pamelia Lowrey. The Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications provides the pension number, W23428. The Treasury Department’s Ledgers of Payments for 1812-1872 (specifically Widows Pensions, 1843-1862), indicates that Pamelia, widow of Samuel (Private/Sergeant), was receiving a half-pay allowance equivalent to $16.66½ per month beginning as of 4 March 1831, and that Pamelia died on 5 May 1842. (Although Ancestry.com provides access to a database entitled U. S. Pensioners 1818-1872, I was unable to find the same information in that database). A jacket annotation indicates that Pamela Allen was the deceased widow of Samuel Allen, a private and sergeant in the Revolution, who died in 1810. She was then living in Chittenden, Vermont. Further, it noted that her widow’s pension was inscribed in the roll of Montpelier (originally written as Burlington, but lined out) to commence on the 4th day of March 1831 and end on the 5th of May 1843. A certificate of pension was issued on 24 July 1849 and sent to William W. T. Jackson under the Revolutionary Claim Act of 4 July 1836, section 3, with pension payments payable to Phoebe Dart, Sarah Howe, John Allen, Margaret Owen, and Henry Allen (children of Samuel and Pamelia).
The widow’s pension application includes Pamelia’s recollection of Samuel’s service detailing his participation in a battle at White Plains and additional actions during 1777. Depositions attesting to this service were provided by Herman Lowry, Pamelia’s brother; Peter Allen, her son; Phebe Dart, her daughter, who attested to the authenticity of the family Bible pages (microfilm very difficult to read) included in the application; Susan Benedict, a neighbor; and Edward Fay, her minister. Taken as a whole, the application documents the marriage date for Samuel and Pamelia; Samuel’s military chronology as presented by Pamelia; the birth dates of their children, Phebe, Peter, Sarah (Sally), Violeta, Samuel Jr., Henry, and Eliza; and marriage and death dates of children Peggy, Phebe and Samuel Jr., John, William, Violeta, and Peter. In addition, it notes that in 1849, thirty-nine years after Samuel’s death and seven years after Pamelia’s death, $20.00 per year was granted to their children then living in St. Lawrence County, New York.
By carefully reading the complete pension file for Samuel Allen and his widow Pamelia, it is possible to learn a great deal about their extended family, his military service, and the residence of Pamelia and their children following his death.
Image Credit: Battle of Trenton. By Published by U.S. Government Printing Office; painting by Hugh Charles McBarron, Jr. (1902-1992) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.