Southern Claims Commission
for Beaufort County, NC
Established by and Act of Congress on 3 March 1871, the commission reviewed the claims of Southerners who had "furnished stores and supplies for the use of U.S. Army" during the Civil War. A little more than a year later, Congress extended this to include property seized by the U.S. Navy. Citizens who filed claims before the three-member board were required to show proof of lost property and provide satisfactory evidence of their loyalty to the federal government throughout the war.
Supported by a staff of special commissioners who reviewed small claims in local areas, and special agents who traveled from state to state gathering evidence in all claims, the commission collected claimants’ petitions, interviewed witnesses, and secured any information it deemed pertinent to individual claims. Having no final jurisdiction on claims they reviewed, commissioners forwarded annual reports along with supporting documentation and their evaluation of each claim to the U.S. House of Representatives. The House would then vote to allow or disallow the claim and appropriate funds for payment. In almost every case the House concurred with the recommendations of the commission.
Scattered among the thousands of pages of testimony, special reports, and affidavits is a wide range of information concerning the names and ages of former slaves, their places of residence, names of slave owners, plantation conditions, wills and probate matters, slave manumissions, slave ownership of property, slave and free black entrepreneurship, conditions of free blacks, and a great deal more on what it was like to live as an African American during slavery and the post-slavery period. For the African American genealogist whose ancestor filed a claim before the commission, the information could prove to be invaluable.
When the commission closed its doors on 10 March 1880, some 22,298 claims had been received, totaling $60,258,150.44; only a third of these claims, however, at a cost of $4,636,920.69, were allowed. Just how many of these claims were submitted by African Americans is not known; it appears that the commission did not maintain statistics on the number of claims they filed. For the African American genealogist, however, the index has its limitations–it does not identify claimants by race. Nonetheless, the records reveal that a small but impressive number of African Americans filed claims for the loss of a wide variety of property, including hogs, chickens, horses, cattle, mules, corn, potatoes, wheat, and other personal goods. A substantial number of their claims, especially those of former slaves, were disallowed. Because slaves had no legal right to property, commissioners required former slaves to show strict proof of ownership and clear title to property. Oftentimes with no legal basis for their claims, ex-slaves found it difficult to prove–at least to the satisfaction of the commissioners–that they owned the property for which they sought compensation. Satisfaction for commissioners varied from case to case, and a claim could be allowed or disallowed solely on the basis of whether commissioners or special agents were convinced that the evidence presented in a case was "satisfactory." In claims where it was suspected that former slaves had been given property by their owners just prior to the arrival of Union forces, commissioners routinely denied such claims as mere attempts on the part of owners to avoid having their property fall into the hands of the federal government. When the property had been taken by soldiers unauthorized by military commanders and it was not clear that the property was taken for stores and supplies or for the use of the army, commissioners readily denied such claims for failure to meet the commission’s guidelines and regulations.
While there were any number of reasons for disallowing the claims of ex-slaves, it is clear that commissioners had a great deal of concern about the legitimacy of the claims they filed. Nowhere is this concern made more apparent than in the series of questions they developed specifically for ex-slaves at the time of their interrogation. While the questions were designed to show clear title to property and to remove any doubt that the property belonged to their former owner, the answers given by individual claimants provide the Afro-American genealogist with some of the most crucial and oftentimes elusive information that is necessary in the search for their family roots.: Were you a slave or free at the beginning of the war? If ever a slave, when did you become free? What business did you follow after obtaining your freedom? Did you own this property before or after you became free? When did you get it? How did you become the owner, and from whom did you obtain it? Where did you get the means to pay for it? What was the name and residence of your master, and is he still living? Is he a witness for you; if not, why not? Are you in his employ now, or do you live on his land or on land bought from him? Are you in his debt? What other person besides yourself has any interest in this claim?
A Southern Claims file will generally contain the claimant’s petition and testimony, depositions of witnesses, reports of special agents, summary reports of commissioners, correspondence from other agencies, power of attorney, and certificates of settlement issued by the Third Auditor of the Treasury for claims that were allowed.
There are three types of claims:
* ALLOWED - The U.S. paid the claim, and the only records that survive are the name of the claimant, place of residence, what the claim was for, and the amount paid.
* BARRED - Claim was either filed too late or the commissioners ruled the claimant a Confederate supporter. In this case, only the name, place, and description of loss are given. Check these anyway, as there are exceptions.
* DISALLOWED - Claim was not paid, but for reasons other than late filing or the fact that the claimant was a Confederate supporter. A disallowed claim usually gives the most information for the genealogist and/or historical researcher. What information is in this type of claim? You will get the claimant’s answers to 80 questions asked by the commissioners plus the answers given by the claimant’s witnesses. Both claimant and witnesses were asked, “What is your name, your age, your residence and how long there, and what is your occupation? If you are not the claimant, in what manner, if any, are you related to the claimant or interested in the success of the claim?” A few other examples of questions include the following: “Where were you born? If not born in the U.S., when and where were you naturalized? Produce your naturalization papers, if you can. Did you have any near relatives in the Confederate army or in any military or naval service hostile to the U.S.? If so, give names, ages on entering service, present residence, if living, what influence you exerted, if any, against their entering the service, and in what way you contributed to their outfit and support.” For female claimants, “Are you married or single? If married, when and where were you married? Where does your husband reside, and why has he not joined you in this petition? How many children have you? Give their names and ages....” Witnesses were asked, “In whose favor are you here to testify? How long have you known that person altogether, and what part of that time have you intimately known him? Did you live near him during the war, and how far away? What was the public reputation of the claimant for loyalty or disloyalty to the U.S. during the war?” I think you get the idea of how these claims can provide very helpful and interesting information.
All of the Southern Claims Commission files are located at the National Archives in Washington, DC, but the disallowed and barred claim files have been microfilmed (Volume 55 of Record Group 56; General Records of the Dept. of Treasury at the Nat'l. Archives; microfilm M-87, reel #13). Allowed claim files are available only by consulting the National Archives.
This is an alphabetical index of the Beaufort County claims.
(Included are those who's claims were Allowed, which were not included in the below list.)
|Colbert, Elisha||14,549||1,149.25||0.0||1874||Horse, cattle, sheep, |
flatboat, pork, corn,
|Evington, James||20,115||388.00||295.00||1874||Commissary and |
|Fowle [sic], Saml. R.||2,861||2,096.75||1,478.75||1872||Schooner|
|Harvey, Henry L.||13,344||880.00||528.00||1873||Commissary stores|
|Moore, Alexander F.||20,117||561.00||0.00||1876||Tobacco, boots, |
shoes, provisions, etc.
|Ruff, Warren W.||20,114||7,800.00||0.00||1877||Timber, horse, |
|Webb, Robert B.||22,185||255.25||0.00||1874||Furniture, lumber, |
stove, and fixtures
|Williams, Jarvis M.||20,116||1,101.25||0.00||1877||Commissary stores|
|Wiswall, Howard||14,417||3,630.00||0.00||1874||Corn, fencing, trees, |
DISALLOWED CLAIMS OF THE SOUTHERN CLAIMS COMMISSION
FOR BEAUFORT COUNTY, NC
|Deloach, Jacob C.||Beaufort||Claim||1876||198/199|
|Moore, Alexander F.||Beaufort||Claim||1876||202|
|Ruff, Warren W.||Beaufort||Claim||1877||110|
|Webb, Robert B.||Beaufort||Claim||1874||519|
|Williams, Jarvis M.||Beaufort||Claim||1877||112|
No. 14540 - 1874 Claim of Elisha Colbert, of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina.
|1 flat boat||300.00|
|1 yoke oxen||80.00|
|1 set harness||15.00|
|3,000 pounds pork||300.00|
|125 bushels corn||75.00|
|5,000 pounds fodder||50.00|
Remarks - The claimant resided throughout the war in Craven County, North Carolina. Since the war he has passed through bankruptcy in the United States district court, at New Berne, North Carolina. The claim, if any existed, passed to the assignee in bankruptcy. If it were otherwise, we should feel called upon to make inquiry into Mt. Colbert's loyalty before adjudging him upon the testimony produced a loyal adherent to the cause and the Government of the United States during the entire war. The claim must be disallowed.
No. 22185 - 1874 Claim of Robert B. Webb, of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina.
|800 feet lumber||120.00|
|1 stove and fixtures||100.00|
|7 wooden chairs||5.25|
|1 wooden bedstead||5.00|
|1 cupboard and crockereyware||25.00|
Remarks - The claimant was a slave and a restaurant-keeper during the war. The Army took possession of this rented concern, in which he claims he had furniture and lumber which the troops took possession of and need. We are not satisfied by the evidence that the articles charged for were really taken as supplies for the Army under circumstances justifying us in allowing compensation therefore under the act of March 3, 1873. We therefore reject the claim.
No. 13968 - 1876 Claim of Jacob C. Deloach, of Beaufort County, State of North Carolina.
|1 cart and gearing||30.00|
|10,000 pounds blades||200.00|
|2,000 pounds bacon||500.00|
|100 pounds lard||25.00|
|50 bushels corn||100.00|
|200 pounds sugar||50.00|
|20 gallons molasses||20.00|
|100 bushels potatoes||100.00|
Remarks - The claimant was over conscript age. He served in the militia. Or "beat" companies during the war. He swears to his loyal sympathies and to his unwillingness to do duty of militiaman. He swears that he kept his oldest son out of the army in 18661, and from conscription, to which he says he was subject under confederate laws. This is a mistake, as conscript law was not passed till the spring of 1862. He was not publicly known as a Union man, did not bear that reputation in the community, and was not really threatened or molested by the rebels as a Union man. The testimony develops no acts of loyalty, no reputation as a Union man, and we are not satisfied with its sufficiency. We therefore reject the claim.
No. 20117 - 1876 Claim of Alexander F. Moore, of Washington, Beaufort Co., North Carolina.
|5 barrels pork||100.00|
|5 barrels flour||40.00|
|5 boxes candles||30.00|
|1 keg butter||17.40|
|2 barrels sugar||60.00|
|2 boxes lemons||12.00|
|12 pairs boots||60.00|
|6 bolts homespun||21.60|
|2 boxes soap||6.00|
|5 barrels fish||30.00|
|12 pair brogan shoes||24.00|
|3 boxes navy tobacco||125.00|
|7 sacks salt||35.00|
Remarks - The claimant is a colored person. He was thirty-two years old in May, 1873. He was therefore twenty-two years old in May 1873 (sic), when the property was taken, (April, 1863). He was twenty-one years old in May, 1862. After that he learned the trade of brick mason; how, besides learning that trade, he could have earned money enough to own the goods charged in the claim and all in eleven months, he does not tell us. He says he bought goods of S. Blaage & Co. of New Berne. Why does he not prove that fact by them? Mr. Randolph, a merchant at Washington, North Carolina in 1863, is a witness, and says: "He or his brother kept a grocery store near the market." That is all; nothing as to who owned the goods or the amount of them. R. W. Swindell says: "He was running a grocery near the market." Nothing more. It is difficult to believe that claimant owned the goods or anything like the amount of goods he claims. We cannot but suspect his claim is a cover for someone else. At any rate his claim is not satisfactorily proved, and is disallowed.
No. 20114 - 1877 Claim of Warren W. Ruff, of Blount's Creek, Beaufort County, North Carolina.
|624,000 square |
feet of timber
Remarks - This claim was referred to our Special Agent Ira S. Smith for investigation. He took the testimony of claimant and several witnesses, and reports the claim a fraud and the claimant disloyal during the war. The evidence fully sustains the conclusion of the special agency. Claimant's brother, since dead, was partner of the claimant during the war, and the partnership owned a store and a mill. Their store seems to have been a kind of rendezvous for the secessionists and meetings were held there to raise recruits, and they kept the confederate flag flying over its roof and were zealous in the work of urging on the recruiting for the army. Their conversation and reputation were disloyal Several witnesses contradict claimant's statements in regard to timber and lumber. It is clear that he never bought any rafts and that the only rafts he had in the river were two little ones, cut and put together by two slaves, amounting to 30,000 feet instead of 624,000 feet. It is also clearly proved by witnesses that the Government did not get any lumber from him at that time and for the purpose alleged, nor is it possible, in view of the evidence, to believe that the Army ever got or used a foot of his lumber. And his evidence, contradicted so emphatically on these points, must be regarded as worthless touching the other items of his claim. We therefore reject it.
No. 20116 - 1877 Claim of Jarvis M. Williams, of Washington, Beaufort County, State of North Carolina.
|1 bakery and baking utensils||150.00|
|21 barrels extra baker's flour||262.50|
|3 barrels sugar, 800 pounds||120.00|
|150 pounds coffee||75.00|
|5 barrels pork||105.00|
|150 pounds bacon||22.50|
|100 pounds butter||50.00|
|3 barrels molasses, 166 gallons||83.00|
|1 tierce lard, 300 pounds||45.00|
|1 barrel vinegar, 40 gallons||16.00|
|2 barrels crackers||30.00|
|25 barrels corn||125.00|
|15 barrels meal||17.25|
Remarks - Claimant was a free colored man during the war. His claim was referred to Special Agent Smith for investigation, who took the testimony of claimant's mother and step-father. They testify that claimant left them in charge of his bakery from 1862 to 1864, and that they baked for the Union Army and were paid for it, but that none of the of the claimant's materials were taken by the Union Army, but that the bakery was burned, having been set on fire by a shot from a gunboat. This settles the matter. No supplies were taken for the use of the Union Army, and we therefore reject the claim.
No. 14417 - 1874 Claim of Howard Wiswall, of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina.
|15 acres of corn||300.00|
|1 frame house, 16 by 35 feet||500.00|
|1 kitchen, 16 be 35 feet||250.00|
|370 panels fence||555.00|
|1 iron shutter||5.00|
|10 acres sod||370.00|
|1 turpentine warehouse, |
80 by 100 feet
Remarks - Mr. Wiswall is over eighty years of age. The war found him a resident of Washington, Beaufort County, State of North Carolina. He owned about thirty acres of land in and near the city; had been for many years a mail contractor. In 1862 when Union forces took possession of the town of Washington they took down his buildings and used them for fuel, cut and used about fifteen acres of standing corn in September, 1862, used his fence for fuel, and cut down about one hundred shade trees. In any event buildings and shade trees so used can be paid for only as fuel - always an insignificant sum compared with their true value to the owner. If Mr. Wiswall continued throughout the war loyal to the Union cause, the sum allowed him would be very small as compared with his claim. But we are not satisfied that he remained loyal. No doubt he was opposed to secession in the outset, and when the Federal forces took possession of the town he gave in his adhesion to the Federal cause, and from that time out sustained the Union. This ides is perfectly consistent with the letter of the officer, Edward E. Potter, dated February, 1869, and the action of the Post Office Department, and the facts stated in the letter of the Sixth Auditor of the Treasury Department, dated June 6, 1873. The only witness called to prove loyalty is Thomas D. Swann, who was a near neighbor. His testimony us general and wholly devoid of facts. He conversed frequently with the claimant; knew his sentiments; considered him a Union man, and the loyal neighbors so considered him. He "neither knows nor believes that the claimant ever contributed anything in any way in aid of the confederate cause." Perhaps Mr. Swann did not consider the carrying of the mail as aiding the confederacy. He must have known the fact; and here is a serious difficulty in Mr. Wiswall's case. On this point in particular his testimony is not altogether frank and ingenuous. In answer to the third printed question - whether he ever left the military lines of the United States and entered the rebel lines; if so, when, how often, for what purpose, and how long he staid - he answers: "I did, I went three or four times and remained two or three hours - do not remember exact date - to transact private business." To question eight, he says: "I was filling a mail contract for the United States, and continued the same under the confederate act about one or two months, but I discontinued the same as early as possible. I never took any oath or obligation to the confederacy." He omits to state a very important fact in this connection, to wit, that he visited the city of Richmond on business connected with the confederate post office department, and was there on the 17th of July, 1861, and on that date H. Saint George Offutt, chief of contract bureau, make a pass for him to return. It will be perceived this was a stormy time for a Union man to be in Richmond, just four days before the first battle of Bull Run; and he must have had a pass to enable him to return home, although he says he never had a pass from any confederate officer. Perhaps he did not and got out of Richmond without one. Mr. Wiswall's visit to Richmond and his business there are matters of record in the archive office. The conclusion is inevitable that after the secession of North Carolina and until the Federal occupation of the town of Washington in Beaufort County, the claimant gave his adhesion to the confederacy, whether from policy or not is immaterial. The claim is disallowed.
See: Southern Claims Commission (by Elizabeth Nitschke Hicks, 2000)
Permission by Bill J. Markland of Overland Park, Kansas for use of the claims for Beaufort and Hyde County.
Beaufort Co., NCGenWeb Page