Journal of Maine History
Archivist: Tina Vickery
For a quarter century past the popularity, growth and activities of our patriotic-hereditary societies have been features of American life. It is now considered the proper thing to cherish and prize the names and mementos of the men of 1776; perhaps even to idealize them and their services. And many who have never applied for admission to any of the various societies of Revolutionary descendants, take a just pride in knowing that they are eligible, and of the blood of the heroes who established our independence.
Maine, of course, was a part of Massachusetts at the time of the Revolution.
Very little has been done even yet in the publication of regimental histories and personal narratives of Revolutionary service lines that have been so enormously expanded in the case of the Civil war. The histories of two or three Maine regiments which the late Nathan Goold prepared, and Dr. Frank A. Gardner's notable series of Massachusetts regimental histories, now running in the "Massachusetts magazine" of Salem, being practically all there is available in that field.
But when it comes to individual service, Massachusetts people are particularly fortunate because that state has, at enormous expense, printed all her Revolutionary muster, pay and other rolls, as "Massachusetts soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary war" in 17 large quarto volumes. No other state has done nearly as much in this direction.
But even these records, full as they are, leave much to be desired. Families were usually large and in the old home towns it was more the rule than the exception to find several contemporaries of the same name (middle names being very rare). In using the above work it is not uncommon to find two or more soldiers bearing the name of the ancestor one is in search of, from the town we know he lived in; and still others of the same name whose residence is indeterminate.
Unless it can be conclusively established that no other of the name could have served from that town at the time, or our family tradition is more definite than is usually the case, we really have found no evidence at all. Here is where the value of the pension lists comes in. While we may not know in whose company or regiment, or in what capacity the Revolutionary ancestor served, we can usually find out where he lived in later life, and if he survived to old age and drew a pension, the necessary link to the chain of evidence is often secured so one can identify the actual military service of the ancestor in "Massachusetts soldiers and sailors."
The U. S. Pension Office at Washington is a veritable mine of information, and once an ancestor is located on the pension roll, it is worth while to secure direct from the Office and at some expense, a copy of all papers relating to the claim.
It may be added that the Pension Office authorities give no very cordial endorsement of the printed pension rolls, having found them to contain numerous errors. It must also be added, however, that some of the lists preserve records whose originals have been lost in the destruction of the Capitol by the British in 1814 or in other ways. The important things to realize are that the printed lists are so useful and so largely used that a consolidated list like the following will be valuable; and that once the name desired is found it will almost certainly be worth while to write to the Pension Office for full details of service.
The difficulty in using the various printed pension lists springs from the fact that not one is strictly alphabetical, and they are so rare now that only the large libraries have them all.
Before we take up the various pension lists in print, it may be well to devote a little time to consideration of Revolutionary pensions in general, and fortunately Columbia University studies in history, economics and public law, volume XII, No. 3 (History of military pension legislature in the United States by W. H. Glasson) gives us an exhaustive sketch.
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Pensions Project File Manager - Donna Bluemink
Maine State Project: Tina Vickery
Updated June 2011