Archive:Civil War Pension File, William J. Whitney

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Archives > Archive:Military Records > Archive:Civil War, Pension Files > Civil War Pension File, William J. Whitney

Civil War Pension File of William J. Whitney
Mother: Mary Whitney
Mother's Application #169313, Certificate #130518
National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

He is identified as William J.8 Whitney (Uriel7, Uriel6, Abner5, John4, Isaiah3, Thomas2, John1).

This abstract will be of interest to some because it contains a description of a charge of fraud brought against Mary A. Whitney, the mother of William J. Whitney. The claim was that Mary fraudulently obtained the pension.

Private, Company E, 17th Maine Infantry

Mrs. Mary Whitney filed a Mother's Application for Army Pension on 11 December 1868 from Cumberland County, Maine. She is 62 years old, and a resident of the Town of Yarmouth, Cumberland Co., Maine. She is the wife of Uriel Whitney, and the mother of William J. Whitney, deceased, who was a private in Company E of the 17th Regiment of Maine Volunteers. He was killed while in the service at the Battle of the Wilderness in the state of Virginia. He died leaving no widow or child. She declares that she was wholly or in part dependant upon her son for support. Her post office and residence is in East North Yarmouth, Cumberland Co., Maine.

The Adjutant General's Office informed the Commissioner of Pensions that William J. Whitney was enrolled on 28 July 1862 at North Yarmouth in Company E of the 17th Regiment of Maine Volunteers, to serve for three years. He was mustered in a private on 31 July 1862 at Portland, Maine. He was on the muster roll of Company E for the months of May and June of 1864, and is reported killed in the Battle of the Wilderness on 5 May 1864.

Mary Whitney provided an affidavit from two residents of North Yarmouth: D. Y. Harris and Albert Sweetser. They testify that Mary is the wife of Uriel Whitney and the mother of William J. Whitney. William died leaving no widow or child, and his mother was dependant, in part, on him for her support. The only property owned is a small farm, upon which they have lived for the past eight years. William J. Whitney resided on his parents' farm for the years prior to his enlistment, and he contributed ten dollars per month out of his wages for their support during that time. Upon his enlistment, he gave his parents his bounty of seventy-five dollars, and he allocated to his parents ten dollars per month from his monthly pay. His patents derive their present support from their farm, and from daily labor. His parents collected his sick pay and bounty of $82.47 and $90.00, which went toward their support.

Mary Whitney was granted a pension based on the information which she supplied with her application. However, in 1869 she was sued by the U.S. government for fraudulently obtaining the pension. The Office of the Attorney of the United States for the District of Maine provided a copy of a newspaper article published in Portland, Maine. The opening page is stamped by the Department of Interior Pension Office, dated 13 October 1869. The following is a transcription of the newspaper article:

"The United States v. Mary A. Whitney.

This was a complaint made on behalf of the United States, against the defendant, for presenting to the Pension Bureau of the Treasury Department, a false claim for a pension on the ground that she was dependent, in whole or in part, for support upon her son William J. Whitney, who was killed in battle in the military service of the United States, May 5th, 1864. The government charged that Mrs. Whitney was not dependent at all upon her deceased son for support, but was supported by her husband, Uriel Whitney, who is and was possessed of property to the amount of $4,000.00 to $5,000.00, unencumbered. To show the presenting of the claim, Dr. A.R. Sparks, was produced by the District Attorney who testified. That he was a clerk in the Pension Office, that certain papers which he produced and identified, to wit, the original application for pension, and three affidavits which were taken to support it were taken by him from the files of the Pension Office, and that they had been received and filed in the office. On cross examination, the witness stated that his special department was the department bounty lands, that he had no personal connection with pension cases, and that he only knew those papers had been in the Pension Office by the seal of the Pension Office upon them, by the endorsement upon them, and by the fact that they were in such an endorsed label as he knows to be used in all pension cases.

Charles Humphrey testified, that he lived in Yarmouth, had known Uriel Whitney and his wife for 33 years and the farm in North Yarmouth where they had always lived. He had seen the farm more or less every year. It was worth from $3,500 to $4,000, and its annual product is from $500 to $800. The maintenance of such a family as Mr. Whitney's would cost $350 to $400, exclusive of house rent. On cross examination, witness said he had not been on the farm for 33 years. But seen it often from the road, and saw it last winter. Only knows its value from general reputation.

Jacob Sweetsir, lives 100 rods from Uriel Whitney's. His family consists of his wife, and one unmarried daughter. His other children are of age and live in Portland. The son who went to war was 16 or 17 years old. He worked on the place like other boys. Worked some and played some. I got considerable work from my boys of this age. Whitney's farm is about 75 acres, tillage, pasture, and woods. Cuts about 25 tons of hay. He kept in 1868 3 cows, a yoke of oxen, a horse, and 2 swine. Farm I think worth $3000. House in good repair, two stories high, and well painted, think it is furnished throughout. Might have cost $600 or $700. Barn not so old, cost $500. Know that Whitney has been a manufacturer of elderberry wine, has made two barrels of it. Sold it for $1 per quart. Cross-examined; I had a son who enlisted. I did not make an application for a pension in his behalf. Whitney does not work much himself, he does marketing and helps in haying; his house is worth $800, his barn $600, his land $25 per acre. Recalled by the District Attorney, witness stated, that at the church meeting Mr. Whitney stated that his farm was worth $3,000.

Cross examined further, he stated that the matter of obtaining the pension had been taken up by the Pownal Congregational Church, to which Whitney belonged, and the minister, Mr. Nichols, called on Mr. Whitney to make a statement. In that statement he also said he was sick and unable to labor much.

Charles L. Loring, testified that the value of Whitney's farm was from $3,000 to $3500. Whitney's family could be maintained for $300 to $400. Do not know the income of the farm. During the three years before his son went to the war his son worked on his farm and went to school winters. Do not know of his being hired out.

Asa Sweetsir lives near Uriel Whitney. Think the product of his farm was more than enough to maintain his family. Know that Whitney said he would not swop a wood lot with a man whose wood lot was worth $800. Whitney told me he sold $150 of elderberry wine.

Daniel Mitchell was put on the stand, but his evidence was not material.

D.H. Drummond, Esq., testified that he drew up the application and affidavits in the presence of Whitney and his wife upon statements made by the former, and that they were sent by him to the Pension Office.

Geo. F. Emery, Esq., appeared for the defense. After putting in the title deeds of Whitney's farm and two wood lots, called Reuben Hoyt, the brother of Mrs. Whitney, who testified that the wood lot in New Gloucester was owned by him and his brother-in-law together and was worth about $350; that they had taken from it wood which paid them about $70. Mr. Whitney was not well, and could not stand work. They have a daughter at home out of health. Mrs. Whitney has a good deal of trouble and is not well. Think her son's labor for the 3 years before he went to war was worth $12 per month.

Mrs. Field, a married daughter, testified to the ill health of her parents, and the work of their son.

Uriel Whitney, then at the request of his counsel and without objection, gave a detailed sketch of his life, including a part of that of his father who was a soldier in the revolution. He stated minutely the falls and hurts he had received, and the debilitated state of his health. He told about his wife's disabilities, and the story of his son's volunteering and service in the war. He admitted that the value of his farm was $3,000, that he had for 1868 25 tons of hay and the stock as testified to by the government witnesses. He said he applied for the pension for his wife at the suggestion and upon a circular of his attorney, Messrs. Emery and Drummond, that he told them about his farm but no questions were asked about his other property, that he did not intend to conceal anything or to claim a pension if he was not entitled to it, that there had been much complaint about his pension and many exaggerated statements about what he had sworn to.

Geo. F. Emery, Esq., submitted a long, earnest, and able argument in behalf of the accused. He spoke of her good standing in the community and in the church, of the patriotic sacrifices she and her aged husband had made in giving to the country the life of the son upon whom they had depended for the support of their old age. He claimed that the pension was properly asked for, and properly granted. A mother might be a pensioner though she was possessed of some property. It is a question simply whether or not she was dependent in whole or in part upon the son for support. The pension officer had allowed pensions in similar cases to persons having property. But if the pension was improperly allowed, which he denied, he claimed that there was no fraudulent statement made and no guilty intention on the part of the applicant. She had mistaken her rights under perhaps mistaken views obtained by her counsel. She and they might easily make such a mistake, when it was not settled by the Department itself where the line fell between those mothers entitled to pensions on account of their poverty and those not entitled on account of their affluence. Everything stated in her application and affidavits were true. She had received a part of her living from her deceased son. She had stated that she had a small farm. If she had not stated the amount and value of the property of her husband, she had not been asked about it. The incapacity of her husband to labor had been clearly shown by her affidavits, and here again by evidence, and was not denied. And finally, whatever misstatement or omission her papers contained, she was not legally answerable for, as they were the statements of other persons, she herself concealing nothing. He said the prosecution was to his knowledge gotten up by envious neighbors whose attempt to get pensions not warranted by law he had thwarted. He asked the Commissioner if he would upon any but the clearest evidence send home that venerable lady with the record of an honorable and Christian life behind h er to the community whose esteem and respect she had enjoyed, branded with the odium of a _____ (obliterated) and disgraceful crime.

District Attorney Talbot in reply said, that he had no disposition to suppress the instinctive feeling of reverence he felt toward persons who could claim nearest kinship with two generations that have made such sacrifices for their country. If there were a class of the people entitled to the exemption of the disabilities of the laws it was the men who could boast at the same time that their fathers had periled their lives in our first great war, and their children had fallen in battle in our last. But there was no such class. The laws made for the good of all must be applied to all alike.

There were but a few simple questions to settle here. Was this a case entitled to a pension under the law? The law was intended to relieve from suffering those only whose support whose maintenance whose living depended upon the income lost by the loss of the contribution of a deceased son. Otherwise the wealthiest citizens might claim it. A wealthy person might lose certain sources of income, but as long as he has property enough to maintain him, it is no question of dependence upon that income for support. It does not become a question of support until his losses begin to diminish the fund out of which he must be supported. It is always understood that the disability of the applicant must be shown. No one believes that if the Commissioner had been informed that Mrs. Whitney was living with her husband, both in the possession of more than the usual health and vigor of persons of their years, on a farm worth $3,000 or $4,000, her husband owning other land, stock and personal property worth $1,500 or more, free from debt and with a little money at interest, he would ever have placed her upon the pension roll. How came she placed on it? By her own application and representation of her circumstances. She cannot divide the responsibility of these representation among her witnesses, her counsel, or her husband. She used them and received the benefit of them. Her claim was false, and that it represented her as a dependent upon her daily labor and upon this deceased son for support. Whereas she was living amicably with her husband, bound in law to maintain her and with means to do it to the end of their lives without either of them ever doing a day's work. This representation was untrue.

Did she know it to be untrue? She knew she made it. The words are common intelligible words. She knew their meaning. She knew what means her husband had. She knew she was not dependent as she had declared.

Commissioner Clifford was disposed to take the case for advisement, but at the solicitation of counsel on both sides, concluded to give such decision as his present impressions dictated.

He said he was clearly of opinion the pension never should have been allowed, that the accused did not belong to the class of persons entitled to receive a pension under the act giving pensions to certain mothers. But that was not the question for him to decide. Whether the defendant had any criminal intent, or knowing that she was not entitled to a pension had fraudulently made the application was the question for him to decide. It was possible that she might under advice of friends or others believe that she was entitled to this compensation, and she might not have made or thought of the nice distinction made by counsel between income and support. As against a person whose character has been so irreproachable, he said he should not presume any criminality and on the ground of guilty knowledge not shown, he should order the discharge of the defendant."

I did not find in the file any documents confirming that the pension was revoked. There is medical testimony that Uriel Whitney was physically disabled from performing any labor. He also submitted a General Affidavit from Falmouth, Maine to the effect that in 1873 he sold his property in North Yarmouth and everything on it for $3,900. At the present time, the value of all their property owned jointly will not exceed $1,600. The document is not dated. Why it was submitted I do not know.

Copyright © 2007, Kenneth L. Whitney and the Whitney Research Group

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