Memorial Day is set aside to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the
Union and Confederate soldiers
who died in the Civil War. It has since extended to honor all Americans who
have died while in military service.
But what about the widows?
There is a saying taken from a poem by John Milton, “they also serve who only stand and wait.”
wrote this sonnet about his blindness,
reflecting that even with his disability he had a place in the world. But the
line became synonymous with women and families on the home front. Milton
|Colonial widow's gown, Colonial |
During the Revolutionary War in the
backcountry (as was the case for women in all the colonies), women whose
husbands had gone away to fight, were left behind to tend farms and businesses.
Many were driven from their homes when the British armies raided, usually
taking all their possessions, livestock, and crops. Sometimes their homes were
burned, leaving them and their children hiding in the woods with nothing but
the clothes on their backs. The horror was multiplied when a woman received
news that her husband had died in the war. South Carolina
For more than a century before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, British colonies in
America provided pensions for disabled soldiers and sailors.
During and after the Revolutionary War, to its credit, the federal government
established a system of pensions—disability or invalid pensions awarded to
servicemen for physical disabilities incurred in the line of duty; service
pensions to veterans who served for specified periods of time; and widows’
pensions to women whose husbands had been killed in the war or were veterans
for specified periods of time.
In the first category, pensions were awarded to men disabled prior to 8/26/1776. In 1782, there were 1,500 invalid pensioners on the rolls. In 1780, half-pay for life went to officers and widows of those officers, and in 1788 Congress granted seven years half-pay to officers who served to the end of the war.
In 1794, unless a private act of Congress was introduced on her behalf, a widow of a veteran was limited to receiving only that part of a pension that remained unpaid at the time of her husband's death. By an act of Congress approved July 4, 1836, some widows of Revolutionary War veterans were again permitted, as a class under public law, to apply for pensions. The act provided that the widow of any veteran who had performed service as specified in the pension act of June 7, 1832, was eligible to receive the pension that might have been allowed the veteran under the terms of that act, if the widow had married the veteran before the expiration of his last period of service. An act of July 7, 1838, granted 5-year pensions to widows whose marriages had taken place before January 1. 1794. On July 29, 1848, Congress provided life pensions for widows of veterans who were married before January 2, 1800. In 1853 and again in 1855, all restrictions pertaining to the date of marriage were removed .On March 9, 1878, widows of Revolutionary War soldiers who had served for as few as 14 days, or were in any engagement, were declared eligible for life pensions.
By 1867, most pensioners on the rolls had died. Daniel F. Bakeman was the last soldier on the roll. He died in 1869 at the age of 109. There were 887 widows on the rolls by 1869.
To apply for a widow’s pension, generally an applicant appeared before a court of record in the state of her residence and was required to provide information concerning the date and place of her marriage. The application statement or "declaration," as it was usually called, with such supporting papers as property schedules, marriage records, and affidavits of witnesses, was certified by the court and forwarded to the official, usually the Secretary of War or the Commissioner of Pensions, responsible for administering the specific act under which the claim was being made.
The last Revolutionary War widow’s pension was paid in 1906—131 years after the Battles of Lexington and
American Revolutionary War, when Esther Sumner Damon, the widow of Noah Damon,
died at the age of 106. She had married
Mr. Damon in 1835 when he was 75 and she was 21. Concord