Friday, May 31, 2013

Memorial Day Remembrance - Revolutionary War Widows

Susan F. Craft

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.” Milton 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.
Colonial widow's gown, Colonial
Williamsburg Foundation
During the Revolutionary War in the South Carolina 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.
For more than a century before the beginning of the Revolutionary War, British colonies in North 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 Concord began the 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.


  1. I had no clue pension benefits for widows started that way, around the Revolutionary war. What interesting info you gathered here! Sad to know they were burned or raided out of their homes and belongings while their husbands were off fighting.
    Susan P

  2. A 25 yr. old marrying a 75 yr. old? Unbelievable. I wonder if she was forced into the marriage.

  3. interesting to read your info on pensions and widows as I have done some history on family and found this out about family...

    (George Tucker. Died at age 32, then Emily married James Vaughn a Civil War Vet. He was in the battle of Gettysburg and was wounded, received a pension of $9.00 a month the rest of his life.
    He died at age 96 in 1921.)

    what a pitiful amount of money for someone that risked their lives everyday while in service to their country ..I am thinking.
    thanks for sharing your history info
    Paula O(

  4. Martha, a lot of younger women married older men for security--I know of one distant family member who was 18 when she married a 74 year old man. This was many years ago and in the mountains of Virginia where life was tough.

  5. Interesting blog - thanks!

  6. cool to see people living so long...I remember history lessons saying it was such a hard life to live very long! thanks. truckredford(at)Gmail(dot)Com

  7. Fascinating post! That last pensioner milked it for all it was worth living until 109! lol. Really enjoyed this article.