Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Revolutionary War Pensions

            The subject of pensions for veterans of the Revolution was discussed from the earliest days of the conflict. Pensions were provided for soldiers disabled in the war, but not for the average veteran. The first pensions were offered to officers to keep them from deserting. Gen. George Washington worked for half-pay for life for officers who remained in service until the end of the war. However, by 1783, the treasury was not able to pay the pensions. Because a pension was often characterized as a “giveaway,” it was usually called back pay, and since the government had stopped paying its soldiers in 1777, it was true that they had not received the remuneration they had been promised.
            In 1818, Congress passed legislation providing pensions for indigent veterans and then, in 1832, all veterans could apply for “back pay.” This meant that a veteran had to survive forty-nine years after the war to receive a pension for his service. Beginning in 1836, widows of veterans could receive a pension.
            The records of veterans’ applications for pensions are available and provide insight into the lives of the men who won freedom for America.[1]

John Williams
Revolutionary War Veteran
Pension Application W18436

            John Williams, born in Princess Anne County, VA, lived much of his life in Currituck Co., NC. On 29th of August, 1832, he applied for a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War.
            Williams first volunteered for service in the militia in September 1775 in VA. He was stationed at Kempsville, Princess Anne County, VA.  
            Soon after John Williams signed up, the militia set up an ambush for the British troops, hoping to keep them from advancing to Great Bridge. However, on Nov. 15th, Lord Dunmore moved against the militia, and John Williams and his fellow volunteers were routed. After this defeat, according to Williams’ pension application, most residents of Princess Anne County took an oath of loyalty to the British.
            Williams left Virginia and moved his family to Currituck County, NC. There, he joined the army and fought in the battle of Great Bridge, serving under Capt. Alexander Whitehall. He remained with the NC militia and was often sent to find refuges. He was also employed as a blacksmith making handcuffs for refugees and repairing guns. He was eventually appointed captain of a company and continued in this capacity until peace was declared.
            John Williams was awarded a pension of $80 per year, to be paid in semiannual payments of $40. In 1833, he was awarded $160 from payments in arrears, plus his payment of $40, or a total of $200. John Williams died 7th Nov 1835. In 1838, John’s widow, Abiah Williams, applied for a widow’s benefit. She received the pension from the time of John’s death. She received 186.67 in arrears and $40 for her semiannual paytment for a total of $226.67.[2]

[1] Review: America’s First Veterans and the Revolutionary War Pensions by Emily J. Teipe, reviewed by Joanna Short: December 2002.

[2] Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters: North Carolina Pension 6984; John Williams.

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