12 November 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Jacob T. Porter, Indian Fighter

 Records From the Indian Wars 1832-1842

As a two tour Viet Nam combat veteran, I am not personally inclined to celebrate war. Nor am I inclined to glorify my European ancestors' subjugation of the American Indians.  But as a genealogist, I confess that I often feel like celebrating the records, and particularly the pension records, left by our ancestor's participation in those early wars.

In July of 1892,  the U.S. Congress passed a new law on federal pensions:
 "An Act Granting Pensions To The Survivors of The Indian Wars of Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-Two to Eighteen Hundred and Forty-Two, Inclusive, Known as the Blackhawk War, the Creek War, the Cherokee Disturbances, and the Seminole War."   Like the pension applications of the much better known Revolutionary War or War of 1812, these Indian Wars applications can be gold mines for genealogists.

Like many of my ancestors, my great-great grandfather, Jacob T. Porter, came to Florida in the early 1820s. By the time that the time that the many increasingly hostile encounters between the natives and the American settlers finally became the "Second Seminole War" (1835-1842),  Jacob T. had established his on farm and his own family. And when the call for the militia went out, he stepped up, serving two brief enlistments in 1837 and 1838 before being injured while serving.

Fifty years after the end of that war, having buried two wives and finding himself as an old man with minor children from his 2nd wife, Jacob T. Porter applied for federal pension based on that long-ago federal service. Then about one hundred and ten years after his application, I contacted the National Archives and Records Administration and acquired copies of Jacob's application. What I got was 109 pages of incredible information.

What I found in Jacob Turner Porter's Pension Application File:

  • His place and year of birth.

  • His exact date of death.

  • A physical description of Jacob.

  • In a supporting deposition by his brother-in-law, John Mayo, I found the year and place of death for his first wife, Martha mayo, as well as the names of both of her parents, Brittain and Frances Mayo, and the years and places of death of both of her parents.

  • The date of his marriage to his 2nd wife, Martha Alice Adkins Foxworth, and the date and place of her death.

  • The pension file also included - apparently by accident - the two bounty land applications that Jacob had filed for the land that was available to soldiers serving in the Seminole War.  These gave me the legal descriptions for 320 acres of bounty land that he received, leading eventually to the discovery that the cemetery in which he is buried is on land that was originally part of his bounty grant.

  • One total surprise in the file was the revelation of three children that Jacob had out of wedlock with his housekeeper after his wife had died. She and the children lived in a separate house on his property, and the children appeared on the census under her surname.  After the birth of the third child, Jacob married the housekeeper as his 2nd wife, but she died ahead of Jacob, within two years of the marriage, leaving him as an 80 year old with three minor children.  Indeed, much of Jacob's effort to gain a  pension seems to have been based on him feeling his own pending mortality and wanting to arrange some income for the children before he died.  The pension application contained depositions from several of Jacob Porter's grown children testifying that Jacob had freely acknowledged all three of the children were his and that he had made it known in the community that he was their father.  These three children never appeared in a census with the name Porter prior to 1900, by which time they had left the county.  Without the pension file, I would probably have never connected them to Jacob.

  • As pointed out just above, several of Jacob's children gave depositions in support his pension application, and still others witnessed documents - providing direct evidence of their connection to Jacob.

  • One of the best finds of all was a war story of how Jacob received a back injury that troubled him for the rest of his life and which made it impossible for him work when he got old. The story was related by Jacob and sworn to in signed and witnessed depositions by three of the men who served with him during the Seminole War. Here is the story in Jacob T. Porter's on words as written in his pension application:
"Colonel Pittman ordered several men to go out on a scout and I was sent in that number. Before reaching the place where we expected to find the Indians, I was suddenly thrown from my horse across a large root on the side of the road that we were traveling. It killed me dead for 20 minutes or more, Colonel Pittman told me.  And I was told by Dr. Terrell that he had taken about a pint of blood from me before I came back to life. I remember from my own knowledge passing from me from time to time after arriving back at camp about a half a gallon of blood from said injury of my back and from my urinary organ. And I recollect too that I started passing blood in my urine again about 20 years ago. I was treated at the company, but I was never treated in any other hospital." 

After reading that, I was reminded of a tv commercial that I saw some time ago - I no longer remember what was being sold or the exact words, but the spirit of the slogan stuck with me and seems fitting for how I feel about this pension application. " Finding all of those glorious facts about my family is really cool, but finding our that I descend from a man who was resurrected? Priceless. 

FYI, Jacob Turner Porter was awarded a pension for his service in the Seminole War. Unfortunately, he died four days before the first payment arrived in the post office in nearby Marianna, Florida. The postman was required by law to return the money to Washington, D. C.  George Porter, Jacob's son kept up the fight to get the kids Jacob's pension for another two years - but they never got a dime.

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