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Revolutionary War

Classes of Revolutionary pensioners

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Invalid pensioners. The first national U. S. pension law passed Aug. 26, 1776 promised half pay for life or during disability to every officer, soldier or sailor, losing a limb or being so disabled in the service of the U. S. as to be incapable of earning a livelihood. Proportionate relief was promised to such as were partially disabled. Apr. 23, 1782, it was enacted that Continental soldiers who were sick or wounded and unfit for duty were to be discharged and be pensioned at the rate of five dollars per month. An act passed June 7, 1785, further provided that when so disabled as to be unable to earn a livelihood, commissioned officers should be allowed a half pay pension and noncommissioned officers and privates five dollars a month, proportionate rates being allowed for partial disability.

This act was afterwards amended to include later disability resulting from wounds, to include state troops and militia as well as Continentals, and the rates were somewhat increased.

Invalid pensioners surviving at the dates of the service pension acts of 1818 and 1832 usually found it advantageous to secure entry under them.

Half pay, or commutation pensioners As a result of Washington's appeal at a time when the depreciation of the continental currency and the gloomy outlook in the field were preventing the re-enlistment of many officers and men at the termination of their periods of service, Congress on May 15, 1778, voted to all American commissioned officers who should continue in service to the close of the war half pay for seven years after its conclusion; to all common soldiers who served to the end of the war a gratuity of eighty dollars. As these measures failed to secure the full results expected, Washington again appealed to Congress, which on Oct. 21, 1780, voted that all officers who should continue in service to the end of the war, should receive half pay for life. These measures are believed to have been of the utmost importance in keeping the army together till the end of the struggle, but they were immensely unpopular, especially in New England, while opposition to Congress was very strong.

To the irritation aroused in the officers' minds at the suspicion that Congress intended to repudiate these obligations were attributable their "Memorial to Congress" of Dec. 1782 and the more celebrated "Newburgh addresses" of March, 1783.

Washington once more prepared an urgent appeal for recognition of the army's claims, and on 'March 22, 1783, Congress adopted a compromise known as the "Commutation act," substituting for the half pay for life, five years full pay in money or interest bearing securities.

As the Confederation had no funds, the officers received not money but "commutation certificates," but with no provision for paying principal or interest, these depreciated like the continental currency and soon came into the hands of speculators who profited when the first Congress under the Constitution provided for the refunding of these certificates.

The survivors of this group and their friends felt that justice had not been done and petitions were introduced into Congress from time to time until in May 15, 1828, just 50 years after the original act, a measure was passed giving full pay for life, beginning Mar. 3, i826, to the surviving officers of the Continental line who had been entitled to half pay under the act of 178o, and the same allowance was made to the noncommissioned officers and privates entitled to receive the gratuity of eighty dollars promised in 1780. This act was executed by the Secretary of the Treasury rather than by the Secretary of War, who administered the other pension laws until in 1835 it was transferred from the former to the latter office.

Service pensioners March 18, 1818, was passed the first service pension act, which provided that every resident of the U. S. who had served in the Revolutionary war until its close or for the term of 9 months or longer, at any period of the war, on the Continental establishment or navy, and who was by reason of his reduced circumstances in need of assistance, should receive a pension; if an officer, twenty dollars a month, if a private eight dollars. Claimants were required to give up invalid and all other pensions. So many frauds were perpetrated under this act that in 1820 Congress required of all pensioners under the act, sworn schedules of their property and income, and under this ruling thousands of names were stricken from the rolls.

In June, 1832, a still more sweeping service pension measure became law. It granted to all who had completed a total service of two years in Continental line, state troops or militia, or the navy, and who were not entitled to pensions under the Commutation law of 1824, full pay according to rank, to commence May 15, 1828, and not to exceed a captain's pay. All who had completed a service of not less than six months were to receive the same proportion of their full pay that their service bore to two years. Here again enormous frauds were unearthed.

Widows and Orphans Aug. 24, 1780, Congress extended the half pay for 7 years to the widows or orphan children of officers who had died or should die in the service. This act was renewed under the Constitution in 1792 but nothing further was done till 1836 when provision was made that if any soldier who would be entitled to a pension under the service act of 1832 (see preceding paragraph) died leaving a widow whose marriage took place before the expiration of his service, she might receive his pension as long as she might remain unmarried. Varied later acts were passed supplementing and extending the above.

Source:  Sprague's Journal of Maine History
Vol. V
November, December, January 1917-18
No. 4 pages 191-193
An Alphabetical Index of Revolutionary Pensioners Lining in Maine.  
Complied by Charles A. Flagg, Librarian, Bangor, (Maine) Public Library.
Published by John Francis Sprague, Dover, ME

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Tina S. Vickery, 1999