Researching Contested & Special Military Pension Applications

From its earliest days, the U.S. government has granted pensions to soldiers or their surviving relatives in cases where the soldier was killed or “disabled by known wounds in the…war.” Those early pensions were not granted for a lifetime of service in the military – as we think of pensions today – but instead were granted based on a clear demonstration of need, as shown in the pension application. Think of these as long-term disability claims rather than pensions.

In this special military pension appeal request, the widow of Captain Morgan appealed to the government on behalf of her six children and herself, knowing that his death did not meet the specific requirements of the pension act (he did not die of wounds received in battle, but rather of exhaustion afterward). The House committee examining her claim stated that it “is within the spirit of [the] provisions” of the pension law. The Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary claims presented a bill to the 14th Congress to grant her a pension.

military pension request of Elizabeth Morgan

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Pension granted to the widow of a captain in the army who died in service.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 26, 1816. American State Papers, 036 Claims Vol. 1, number 285.

In his pension request, Lieutenant William Monday appealed to the 9th Congress for a pension – but the committee members hearing his request did not agree and encouraged him instead “to withdraw his petition, and the papers accompanying the same.”

He did not receive a pension, but his application gives us important details about his service during the American Revolutionary War.

military pension request by William Monday

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Application for a pension by a dismissed officer.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 16, 1806. American State Papers, 036 Claims Vol. 1, number 176.

After the Revolutionary War the U.S. gave pensions to disabled soldiers, their widows and children. Congress also granted bounty land warrants to the able-bodied troops that survived the war. These land warrants were certificates redeemable for government lands.

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In his special bounty land warrant request, Samuel Frazer confirmed that he served in the Revolutionary War but had a problem when he went to claim his land. He found that his land warrant was redeemed on 24 January 1792 by William Thomas. He appealed to the 7th Congress to correct this error, stating that “he had given no authority whatever for that purpose.”

The Committee of Claims acknowledged that “…warrants have doubtless been issued, in many instances, on forged powers of attorney…” but did not act to grant him a new bounty land warrant because it said it was impossible to determine the facts of the case, and left that determination up to the courts.

bounty land request by Samuel Frazer

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Bounty land warrant.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 12, 1803. American State Papers, 028 Public Lands Vol. 1, number 71.

Genealogy Tip: Get details on the lives of your ancestors from a range of sources, including contested and special pension applications. You want to find those ancestors who received pensions and bounty lands, as well as those that applied for them but had their cases rejected by Congress. You will find these contested and special pension applications in the Historical Documents section of GenealogyBank.com.

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Last Revolutionary War Widow Receives Final Pension—in 1906!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about the last Revolutionary War pension being paid in 1906—131 years after armed conflict began between Great Britain and its American colonies.

It seems hard to believe, but the last Revolutionary War pension was paid in 1906—131 years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolutionary War in 1775. That link to our country’s birth ended with the death of Esther (Sumner) Damon, the widow of Noah Damon and the last widow of the Revolutionary War to receive a pension.

Esther died 106 years ago (in 1906), having married her spouse 6 September 1835 when he was 75, and she, 21.

Death of Widow of Veteran of 1776, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article, 12 November 1906

Obituary for Esther (Sumner) Damon, Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1906, page 5

Noah served as a private with the Massachusetts troops, and applied for a war pension 13 November 1848 as a resident of Plainfield, New Hampshire. He died five years later, as shown in this death notice found in a historical newspaper.

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article, 24 August 1853

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 24 August 1853, page 3

The first pension Act was in 1776, so why didn’t Noah receive a war pension until 1848?

One might assume he wasn’t eligible for the government pension benefits, failing to meet one of the many requirements imposed by the legislature, such as disablement, rank or length of service.

“In CONGRESS August 26, 1776.

…Resolved, That every commissioned officer, who shall lose a limb in any engagement, or be so disabled in the service of the United States of America as to render him incapable, afterwards, of getting a livelihood, shall receive during his life, or the continuance of such disability, the one half of his monthly pay, from and after the time that his pay as an officer, or soldier, ceases; to be paid by the Committee as hereafter mentioned…”

Damon’s pension application stated he might have applied earlier, but had been a resident of Canada and “ignorant of his right.” He wrote that he

 “received a bayonet and wound in his right thigh, from the effect of which he has since suffered much pain and inconvenience the scar of which is very apparent to the present day.”

So how many pension acts were there?

Numerous—with each pension designed to accommodate the needs of soldiers and/or survivors.

Over time, the ranks of the public dole swelled—up to 1878, when Congress passed the final act (which also included the War of 1812).

It was an amazingly generous pension act, allowing a pension for just a minimum 14-day service for honorably discharged veterans, and imposing a short time period for the application process.

You could read about these pension acts for war veterans and their survivors in various historical sources, or you can delve into them yourself in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to see how these acts were presented to the public at the time they were enacted.

As an example, here is an old newspaper article describing the important pension act of 1780—the first to address the provision of war pensions to widows and orphans.

newspaper article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet newspaper, 19 September 1780

Article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 September 1780, page 3

To help you with your Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension research on your ancestors, here is a list of the dates for each pension act of Congress:

Pension Acts and Amendments

  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 18, 1818
  • May 15, 1823
  • June 7, 1832
  • August 24, 1780
  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • August 24, 1780 (first to address pay for widows and orphans)
  • October 21, 1780
  • March 22, 1783
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 23, 1792
  • April 10, 1806
  • March 18, 1818 (first to grant pensions for service only)
  • May 1, 1820
  • March 1, 1823
  • May 15, 1828
  • June 7, 1832
  • July 4, 1836
  • July 7, 1838
  • July 29, 1848 (widow marriage requirement prior to January 2, 1800)
  • March 9, 1878