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Mining Revolutionary War Pensions:African American Marriage Record Search

Several pension files contain letters from county clerks regarding searches they conducted for evidence of marriage between Revolutionary War veterans and the women who claimed to be their widows. Unfortunately for some widows who married during or just after the war, the clerks did not find a record of their marriage.

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Catherine (Spencer) Rhodes' Marriage Proof

Warwick, Providence County, RI

Widows had to provide two key pieces of evidence in order to obtain pensions: proof of their husband's military service and proof of marriage. Pension officials preferred written records.  When claimants lacked these documents, they were required to conduct searches amongst local county/city sources. Many pension files contain correspondence from county clerks attesting to the fact that they searched extant marriage sources and could not find a record. In such cases where written records were lacking, pension officials accepted affidavits of witnesses to the marriage or others who could affirm that the veteran and widow were married. 

Catherine Rhodes, widow of African American veteran and ex-slave Richard Rhodes, recalled in her 15 April 1838 affidavit that she married in October 1786, but did not have written proof to support her claim.  Kent County Clerk George Brayton searched for a marriage record, but did not find one.

Catherine’s claims agent Benjamin Cowell found two witnesses who could testify on her behalf.  However, only one of their affidavits contained useful information.  Patience Lippett testified that she was present at the marriage of Richard Rhodes and Catherine Spencer, that it took place "fifty one years ago last October" and that Elder Lippett, a Baptist clergyman performed the ceremony in Warwick.

Catherine’s pension application cleared for approval on 19 April 1839.  She died on February 20, 1841 in Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, having received pension benefits for less than two years.

 

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