Collection (1889-1890, 1893-1894) including Civil War Negro soldiers pension and compensation applications compiled by Frederick C. Douglass, a black lawyer, minister, and teacher in New Bern, NC who served as a government pension agent, 1889-1897.
Born in New Bern, North Carolina some time prior to the American Civil War, Frederick C. Douglass was a local preacher, teacher, and community leader who served as an Army recruiter and claims agent in the years following the conflict. He was unrelated to the more famous Frederick Douglass, and it is speculated that he took the surname "Douglass" over his former surname "Norman" as an indication of his associations with freedom and equality. Douglass was considered part of New Bern's black middle class and enjoyed a significant degree of economic and political success.
In what would become his most notable contribution, Frederick C. Douglass specialized in the "translation" of the black dialects of English spoken by Civil War veterans and their widows. This was an invaluable service due to the lack of cultural understanding between the all-white Pension Commission and the black citizens of New Bern. Black families were often not legally married due to their recent enslavement and the Pension Commission, failing to understand the frequently involuntary nature of black motherhood in the era of enslavement, often denied financial benefits to those black widows on terms of morality. Frederick C. Douglass worked tirelessly to craft the language in the applications to touch gently on these issues and ensure pensions were granted.
Brimmer, Brandi C. "Her Claim for Pension is Lawful and Just": Representing Black Union Widows in Late-Nineteenth Century North Carolina (2011)
Coffman, Peter. "He Has Earned the Right of Citizenship": The Black Soldiers of North Carolina in the Civil War, A Comment on Historiography, Treatment, and Pensions. (2015)
These ledgers contain the claims of blacks requesting compensation for wounds and injuries received or diseases contracted while serving in the Union forces during the Civil War. Most applicants had lived in Craven and surrounding counties prior to the Civil War and fled to Union-occupied New Bern after it fell to Union forces in 1862. The blacks subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army or Navy and served in a variety of locations during the remainder of the war. Claims for disability pensions were handled by Frederick C. Douglass, a black lawyer, minister, and teacher of New Bern, N.C., who served as a government pension agent between 1889 and 1897.
The majority of claims were made by relatives of black Union soldiers. Many were filed by widows, minor children, and parents of deceased soldiers. Others were claims made by the soldiers themselves. In all cases, the petitioner was required to show proof that the veteran in question had received a disability while serving in the Union forces. The most common affliction seems to have been diarrhea, hemorrhoids, rheumatism, heart ailments, and gunshot wounds. In most cases, health afflictions were related to over-exposure rather than battle wounds.
In order to prove that these disabilities were service-related, petitioners furnished witnesses who testified as to the veteran's background before the war, the nature of his military service, and the health problem resulting therefrom. Testimony attempted to establish the identity of the veteran, and in the case of dependent claims, the relationship between the claimant and the veteran. In some dependent claims, witnesses also had to testify whether or not the claimant was able to support himself/herself. Most of the testimony recorded was given by neighbors, friends, relatives, and doctors.
The records reflect antebellum and Civil War conditions of blacks, slave marriages, births, and ownership. Details of military service are provided, as are the activities of the veteran subsequent to the war.
For related material, see Collections #248 and #323, and Mf. 40.
Gift of Mr. William L. Horner
Processed by M. Quintanilla, March 1987
Encoded by Apex Data Services
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.