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:

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.)

Name Claim
Year Description
Cherry, Jacob 20,118 250.00 150.00 1874 Mare
Colbert, Elisha 14,549 1,149.25 0.0 1874 Horse, cattle, sheep,
flatboat, pork, corn,
and fodder
Evington, James 20,115 388.00 295.00 1874 Commissary and
quartermaster stores
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,
and schooner
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,
and building


Name County Status Year Page
Colbert, Elisha Beaufort Claim 1874 505
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
Wiswall, Howard Beaufort Claim 1874 521

No. 14540 - 1874 Claim of Elisha Colbert, of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina.

1 flat boat 300.00
1 horse 150.00
3 carts 90.00
1 yoke oxen 80.00
1 set harness 15.00
3 cattle 60.00
9 sheep 29.25
3,000 pounds pork 300.00
125 bushels corn 75.00
5,000 pounds fodder 50.00
Total $1,149.25

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
Total 255.25

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.

2 horses 300.00
2 mules 200.00
50 hogs 300.00
1 cart and gearing 30.00
10,000 pounds blades 200.00
2,000 pounds bacon 500.00
100 pounds lard 25.00
18 sheep 36.00
30 cattle 300.00
50 bushels corn 100.00
200 pounds sugar 50.00
20 gallons molasses 20.00
18 goats 27.00
25 fowls 12.50
24 geese 18.00
16 ducks 8.00
100 bushels potatoes 100.00
Total 2,226.50

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
Total 561.00

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
1 schooner 1,500.00
1 horse 150.00
Total 7,890.00

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
Total 1,101.25

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
1 smoke-house 50.00
1 garden-house 25.00
370 panels fence 555.00
100 trees 100.00
1 iron shutter 5.00
10 acres sod 370.00
1 turpentine warehouse,
80 by 100 feet
Total 3,630.00

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.

Copyright 2006

Beaufort Co., NCGenWeb Page