91st PA--pension fraud

91st PA--pension fraud

At least three sorts of problems led to investigations of whether people were eligible for the pensions they were receiving: alleged remarriage of widows, improper execution of documents, and false statements about dependency.

Remarriage

the law

As I understand the law in Pennsylvania, a common-law marriage requires that the parties express in words of the present tense a present intention to be married; being generally regarded as married counts as evidence for that intention, but does not constitute a valid common-law marriage. (See, for example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Staudenmayer v. Staudenmayer, 714 A. 2d 1016, 23 July 1998.) Perhaps the Pension Office regarded constant cohabitation and being generally regarded as married, even with evidence that the parties did not intend to be married, as constituting a common-law marriage (at least in Pennsylvania). (For more information, see e.g. Beverly Schwartzberg, '"Lots of them did that": desertion, bigamy, and marital fluidity in late-nineteenth-century America', Journal of Social History 37 (2004) 573-600.)

cases in the 91st

Ambrose Baker was killed on 30 September 1864 at Peeble's Farm, Virginia. His wife, Mary Ann Barger, received a pension until November 1878, although she had "continuously cohabited" with John Deal since about 1868, and many (but not all) people regarded them as married. As far as I can tell, she was not prosecuted for fraud.

Samuel Grier (B/D)'s widow Mary received a pension beginning 26 December 1862. When someone reported that his widow, Mary Grier, had remarried, she was dropped from the pension rolls, in March 1870. Her pension was restored in December 1870, after she provided evidence that she hadn't remarried.

Christian Lawrence died of illness on 15 March 1863, about one month after his discharge. His wife, Sarah A Lawrence, apparently married Thaddeus H Brady on 11 April 1864, although she later insisted he had merely been her boarder. She received a pension until 1877, when a pseudonymous complaint led to an investigation, which concluded that she had remarried. She was charged with pension fraud, but I have not found a report of the trial.

Frederick H Lehman died on 10 January 1864. He had married Lizzie Croskey [?] on 11 Jan 1858, by Reverend Jos. Kennard. She received a pension as his widow from January 1864 until March 1890. Unfortunately, under the name Cora E Lehman she was married to Michael Gillen on 23 Sep 1867. And after he died, she married William T McGuire on 26 Feb 1884. Since she had repeatedly sworn that she had not remarried, a pension examiner found that she had knowingly committed perjury four times each year and had illegally drawn over $2300 from the US. He recommended that criminal charges be brought against her. The abbreviated file I received ends there. But a newspaper account claims that after several hours of trial, she changed her plea from not guilty to guilty, and was sentenced to four months' imprisonment and a fine of $100.

William B Miller's widow Eliza Jones received a pension after his death on 18 (or 20?) June 1864. However, in 1879, a Pension Office Special Examiner found evidence she had remarried, and her pension was stopped (but she was apparently not prosecuted for fraud). She had lived with John Cogan from about 1867 until he died in 1873, and had children with him; some at least of the people who knew them assumed they were married. Some evidence, however, indicates that they did not see themselves as having been married. But she did receive compensation as Cogan's widow from Woods Brothers, the company for whom he was working when he was killed by an accident.

Aaron Varnasdall's widow Catharine remarried on 14 October 1868, but continued to draw her pension through 14 March 1869. On 25 March 1870, the Pension Office sent her a sternly worded letter, requesting repayment of $46.33, and warning her that unless she refunded it to the Pension Agent and sent his receipt for it to them, they would institute criminal proceedings against her for the crime of perjury and fraud. She repaid the money on 11 April 1870.

Execution of documents

the issue

Some pension attorneys apparently administered oaths although they were not legally permitted to. Here are the newspaper articles I have found describing the problem:


Denial of "Pension Frauds."

The following communication, bearing upon a subject of considerable interest, was yesterday sent to this office:--

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 6, 1875.--ED. PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER:--The undersigned, "suspended attorneys," awaiting patiently the investigation now being made by the Pension Office, desire, publicly and positively, to deny that either they or their clients, so far as they are aware, have been guilty of any fraud whatever, or that the government has been wronged out of a dollar. The custom which had sprung up in the execution of papers, doubtless irregular, was promptly discontinued when objected to by the department. Respectfully,

MATTHEWS, POULSON & CO.

FRANCIS REGISTER.

CHARLES T. SCHIVELY.

JOSEPH E. DEVITT & Co.


SECRETARY CHANDLER has appointed a commission with authority to examine into the pension frauds and direct payment wherever no actual fraud barred a grant of pension. It will be remembered that payments were suspended in certain cases in this city on account of several claim agents having, without legal authority, administered oaths to witnesses and claimants. The commission will visit Philadelphia, when a full opportunity will be given to have the affidavits resworn. All satisfactory cases will be restored immediately. ('Current news items', North American [Philadelphia Pennsylvania], 17 January 1876, page 1)


The Suspended Pension cases.

The four gentlemen appointed by Commissioner Atkinson, by direction of Secretary Chandler, to investigate all the cases suspended some weeks ago at agencies in this city, have arrived, and will commence their labors as soon as their books and papers reach them from Washington, probably today. Some four thousand pensioners are interested in these cases. The commission will sit at No. 720 Sansom street, but pensioners need not apply until public notice to do so is given through the newspapers, as the work will have to proceed systematically. A large number of persons hung about the doors of the pension agency, at No. 722 Sansom street, yesterday, in expectancy of having their cases heard. ('The suspended pension cases', Philadelphia Inquirer 19 January 1876, page 2)


The Pension Cases.

The commissioners from Washington appointed to investigate the suspended pension cases commenced their work yesterday, at No. 720 Sansom street, but did not get through much, as no system has yet been devised by which to conduct the examination. The doors were besieged all day by men anxious to have their cases heard, but none of them were accommodated. The indications are that the labors of the commission will consume several months. ('The pension cases', Philadephia Inquirer, 20 January 1876, page 2)

cases in the 91st

Payment of Henry G Mather's mother's pension was suspended from 4 December 1875 through 25 January 1876, presumably because of fraudulent execution of documents by her attorney, Joseph E Devitt and Company.

Garret Hurst's widow was investigated, but because of a fraudulent execution of documents by her attorney, George W Ford. Her attorney was George W Ford. Investigation revealed he had executed the documents in his office. Payment of her pension was suspended during the investigation, but the special agents recommended that the suspension be removed.

John A Langerbartel's widow was investigated because of some question about her original statement. Her attorney was Joseph E Devitt & Company. Apparently the statements were (properly) executed at the Orphans' Court. The agent recommended that payment be resumed.

The pension of Margaret Taylor, remarried widow of James Hood, was suspended on 11 December 1875, apparently because of questions about whether she had actually signed the "declaration for pension", and whether she had been properly sworn. Her attorney was Joseph E Devitt & Company. The statements were executed at his office. By January 1877, the investigation was complete. She submitted a new declaration on 30 March 1877, but had to submit another. That declaration, submitted on 25 May 1877, was accepted, and her pension was restored on 28 May 1877--a year and a half after it was suspended.

The pension of the children of Thomas Hallowell's children was suspended from 6 December 1875 through 22 January 1876. The attorney was Joseph E Devitt + Company.

James Tierney's father used Matthews, Poulson, & Co. as his attorney. Payment of his pension was suspended in 1875, and resumed on 24 January 1876.

Michael Drew's mother used Joseph E Devitt as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 11 December 1875, and resumed on 19 January 1876.

John Brown's widow Jane used Joseph E Devitt as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 15 December 1875; the suspension was removed on 20 May 1876 (after her death on 25 February 1876).

John Walter's widow Catharine used Joseph E Devitt & Company as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 18 December 1875, and resumed on 24 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

Robert Ellingsworth's widow Rebecca used Joseph E Devitt & Company as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 21 December 1875, and resumed on 24 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

William Hooven's widow Matilda used Joseph E Devitt & Company as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 7 December 1875, and resumed on 22 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

Barney McNulty's mother Catharine used Joseph E Devitt & Company as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended in December 1874, and resumed on 24 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

Thomas B Scott's mother Eliza used Francis Register as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 16 December 1876, and resumed on 24 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

Robert Simpson's mother Anna used Mathews Poulson & Company as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 8 December 1875, and resumed on 25 January 1876.

James Williams' widow Sarah A used Francis Register as her attorney. Payment of her pension was suspended on 15 December 1875, and resumed on 24 January 1876; the widow's pension certificate file has no more information about the suspension.

Andrew Brown's father Andrew Brown used James E Devitt. Payment of his pension was suspended on 15 December 1875, and Brown testified 'that all the papers in my case were made up at and in the office of J. E. Devitt + Co'. But something must have suggested a problem with his pension, since a special agent investigated it in September 1876, and discovered he was not eligible (see false statements about dependency below).

Charles Smith's father Leopold Smith used James E Devitt. Payment of his pension was suspended on 7 December 1875, and resumed on 24 January 1876.

False statements about dependency

cases in the 91st

Mary Irvine, mother of David Irvin (D), had payment of her pension suspended on 6 December 1875. A Special Examiner investigated, and determined that 'the claim was undoubtedly a fraud The Pensioner was not dependent on her son, and it does not appear that the soldier died of disease contracted in the Army'. However, because Mary had died on 9 March 1875, no further action was taken.

Andrew Brown, father of Andrew Brown (C), had payment of his pension suspended on 15 December 1875. The Special Agent who investigated his case in September 1876 found that while Brown had given his family money, his father was able to support himself, and earned as much as other people doing similar work (until about 1873). His name was removed from the pension rolls, because he was not disabled while the soldier was alive.


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revised 4 Jan 15
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