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Anatomy of a Southern Claim

Louisa Ferguson: Free-born daughter of George Washington’s carpenter, a slave.

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Fairfax County, Virginia

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$150 claim for a horse. Rejected.

Fairfax County, Virginia

Louisa Ferguson: Free-born daughter of George Washington's carpenter, a slave.

William and Louisa Ferguson, Fairfax County, Virginia.Case #19994, filed 22 February 1873, $150 for a horse. Claim rejected.

Louise Ferguson was born free in about 1804. She was the wife of William Ferguson, a slave of a farmer named Dennis Johnson in Fairfax County, Virginia. She had 16 children and supported the Union cause.

In her deposition, Louisa says "My father belonged to Gen'l Washington, he was Gen'l Washington's carpenter. Gen'l Washington set him free. and my father afterwards bought my mother and set her free. I was born after my mother was set free."

Louisa claimed $150 for a sorrel mare she owned. It disappeared on a cold night during the winter of 1862-3, a night when "there was a small skim of snow or sleet on the ground." Because of the frost, she tracked the horse "smack to the camp" at Spring Bank, four miles away. But she was not allowed to look in the stables until the head man arrived. Her deposition, and those of her husband and witnesses, claim that, by the time the head man arrived at camp the following day, the horse was gone.

Louisa valued the horse at more than $150 before she lost her, stating that "when the soldiers took her, I would not have taken two hundred dollars for her, in 'gold and silver.'" In another instance, Louisa showed her loyalty to the Union cause by turning a rebel scout over to a Corporal Lee. The scout threatened her, telling her, "it might be seven years but he would remember me."

Louisa Ferguson was not granted the $150 she requested. Although her husband and neighbors supported her story in their depositions, it was decided that "Her loyalty was decided & active. Her story of how she was instrumental in getting a boastful rebel soldier captured is quite to the life. We regret that we can not allow the claim. But the horse was stolen at night by some soldier probably. The stable was broken open. The tracks of the horse were traced in the snow to Camp Lyons. But they were not allowed to look for her in camp the first day; and when they did the next day the horse could not be found."

"Claim rejected."

Anatomy of a Claim

Review the file, page by page. It starts here: http://www.footnote.com/viewer.php?image=611503

There are 34 pages in this case file. While true to spelling and punctuation in most instances, this is not a precise transcription, but rather a content guide to one Southern Claims Commission case file to highlight examples of the types of documents and statements that can be found within.

Page 1

File folder, labeled: Rept. #7, Office 795, Ferguson, W. & L.

Page 2

The jacket covering the petition, identifying the petitioners, address, amount of claim, and the firm representing the petitioners, Whittlesey & Willoughby, of Alexandria, Va. and Washington, D.C.

Pages 3-4

Petition. Standard petition form for William Ferguson and Louisa Ferguson identifying them, their residence, and circumstances of their loss: Taken in winter 1862-3, one sorrel horse, a four-year-old mare, valued at $150. (It looks as if the original petition covered a mare "with foal," but no mention was made of a foal later in this record.) The horse was taken by a soldier from Fort Lyon. The marks of the petitioners and signatures of witnesses complete the petition.

Page 5

Oath. Claimants made their mark. Also signed by witnesses and district commissioner. Includes "5 cent Stamp." Dated 17 February 1873.Lists witnesses to come: George C. Hewes, James Helmsley, Samuel Lamb, and Mrs. James Helmsley.

Page 6

Back of petition jacket, blank except for No. 19994.

Page 7

Note from attorney in Manassas, Virginia, submitting the Ferguson claim case to Congress, dated 28 February 1877.

Page 8

Archive Record, War Department, dated 31 May1878, representing a bill and voucher for 266 2/3 bushels of corn and 13000 lbs of hay sold by William Ferguson to the Confederate States for $265.00. Paid at Camp Ferguson, September 1862.

Page 9

Archive Record, War Department, dated 31 May1878, for 34 bags of corn sold by William and Louisa Ferguson to the Confederate States amounting to $208. Paid at Charlottesville, 1 June 1863.

Page 10

Testimony file cover mis-scanned ... skip.

Page 11

[Rescanned Page 10] Jacket for files of testimony, dated 28 February 1877. Samuel Ferguson, William Ferguson, James Helmsley, Samuel Garwood. Stamped by Commissioners of Claims.

Page 12

Front page for deposition of "Louisa Ferguson Colored," with William Ferguson Claimant and Eliza Hemersley, James F. Hemersley, and Samuel A, Garwood Claimant's Witnesses.Includes her name, residence, age (69), and occupation (farming). Dated 16 December 1873.

[Many of the case files contain the typed list of questions being answered. This case does not. The appropriate questions to the answers below can be found here.]

Page 13

Answers to Questions (loosely transcribed). You can see what questions were asked here.

In answer to the 2nd: I rented a farm of 100 acres of a Mrs. Moore, situated on the Mount Vernon Road in Fairfax County Virginia about five miles from Alexandria. I lived there when the war broke out, and continued to live there until two years after Richmond fell. I was living there and rejoiced when Richmond fell. I gave $40 a year until the last year I was there and then I gave $50 dollars.

In answer to the 3rd through 25th, "the deponent says No.

"In answer to the 26th All the secesh* around there threatened me, and if our Union People had not come, I am certain they would have taken me and my children to Richmond. I went and told the Union People about them. A man by the name of Church said he would report me to the rebel Army and they would take me to Richmond.

*[The term "secesh" was commonly used during the period to refer to secessionists, or anything related to secessionist activities.]

Page 14

In answer to the 27th, "No."

In answer to the 28th I always cooked victuals and gave it to the Union Soldiers when they called upon me. I have given them money and peaches at different times. I have given the soldiers a levy at different times, when they would come to me in Alexandria Market during the war.

In answer to the 29th I worked at the Union Hospital at Col. Kemper's place at one time about three weeks washing for the wounded and sick. I recalled once while the [?] were outside of our place, a rebel scout got inside and tried to get out. He came and asked a Mr. Rodgers who was at our place how he could get out. I heard him say, if he could get out he would bring a party there who would make the Union Troops see Hell and damnation, them were his words. I ran

Page 15

down across the field and called to the Union Soldiers. And Corporal Lee came with about a dozen soldiers, the rebel scout ran down to Mr. Youngs place. Corporal Lee followed him and captured him down there and brought him back passed my place. He looked and me and said it might be seven years but he would remember me. Corporal Lee told him not to make any threats, and told me that he never would do me any harm, that they would take care of him.

In answer to the 30th through 39th, "the deponent says No.

"In answer to the 40th I sympathized with the Union Cause altogether. I wanted the Union People to gain the day and prayed to God that they might. I always adhered to the Union side.

In answer to the 41stI do, I was al-

Page 16

ways for my Union People

In answer to the 42nd I am married and I am the mother of 16 children. I was married a longtime before the war. My husband Wm. Ferguson was for the United States as well as myself. None of my children was in the service of the rebels. My husband was a slave before the war and was not allowed to own any separate property. I worked hard and bought my mare from Bill Searce about one year before the war commenced. I rented a farm and me and my children worked it. My children were all free.

In answer to the 43rd My father belonged to Gen'l Washington, he was Gen'l Washington's carpenter. Gen'l Washington set him free, and my father afterwards bought my mother and set her free. I was born after my mother was set free.

Page 17

Item 1 Horse

The Union soldiers took my mare from me, she was taken from the stable at night, this was late in the fall in cold weather, there was a small skim of snow or sleet on the ground, it was in the second year of the war, the mare was in the stable that night. In the morning I found the stable broken open, and the mare gone. I saw her tracks, and I tracked her smack to the camp. The camp was at Spring Bank, which was about four miles from my place. The guards would not let me pass; the head man was not there, I asked for him, and the soldiers told me he was not there. I then went home and got Mrs. Eliza Hemersley to go the next day with me to the camp. The head man was there, he told us to go to the stable and look for her. We went to the stable and the horseler told us that they

Page 18

had taken my mare away that night. I looked in the stable and my mare was not there. The hosler knew my mare and all the soldiers knew her because I had passed by there so often. They often told me they intended to take her away from her, but I did not think they would. She was a blooded mare, and the soldiers thought a good deal of her. The hosler said the soldiers took her away and I don't recollect he said where. Mrs. Hemersley talked with the hosler a good deal but I felt so bad when I found they had taken her away I did not say much. We went back to the head man and told him what the hosler had said. I don't remember exactly what the head man said except that he could not help it. She was a sorrel mare five or six years old, when I bought her she had not been broke. My son broke her after I bought her. I never

Page 19

got her back after the soldiers took her. I never got any pay for her. I was born in Fairfax County Virginia. I have not passed through Bankruptcy and neither has my husband. I gave 75 Dollars for this mare when she was a colt. When the soldiers took her, I would not have taken two hundred dollars for her, in "gold and silver."

And further this deponent saith not.with her mark and witnessed by A.W. Chilton, Spec. Comm.

[lower on same page] Deposition of Wm. Ferguson "colored" who being duly sworn deposes and says My name is William Ferguson, my age about 60 years. I don't know my age exactly. I am the husband of Louisa Ferguson, and as such have an interest in this claim. I was a slave man before the war

Page 20

and was made free by the war. I belonged to Dennis Johnson.

[In the 1850 census of Fairfax County, there are two men named Dennis Johnson, both listed as farmers on the same page (p. 115) as Louisa Ferguson with three other Fergusons, possibly her children, but not William, as he would be nameless, on the slave schedule, for that year.]

In answer to the second I lived with my master Dennis Johnson until the second year of the war. I then went to my wife's place and lived with her up to the present time.

In answer to the 3rd through 27th The deponent says No.

In answer to the 28th and 29th Whenever the Union soldiers came to our house we fed them and gave them as good as we had.

In answer to the 30th through 39th The deponent says No.

In answer to the 40th I was with the Union side. I felt glad when the Union side got the upper hand of the Rebels.

Page 21

I had no vote I always adhered to the Union side.

In answer to the 41st I do.

In answer to the 43rd: The horse charged in my petition belonged to my wife. I was a slave and was not allowed to own any property.

Item 1 Horse I know my wife owned a deep sorrel mare, she was about six years old when she was taken away. She was taken from the stable one Saturday night. This was in the fall the second year of the war, there was a sleet or frozen crust on the ground. I tracked her the next morning up to near Fort Lyons near Spring Bank. I tracked her alone that Sunday morning. They had three stables near the fort. They allowed me to look in two of the stables and the other one they would not let me look in, they told me

Page 22

no one was allowed to look in that stable. I tracked the mare clear up to the camp. I told the soldiers that the mare was there and no where else, the guard said they did not know anything about her. I had to go home without her. My wife tracked the mare as well as I did. I went to the camp the next day and the officer gave me permission to look all through the camp, I did so but could not find her. I know the mare had been there for I tracked her right up to the camp. Mrs. Hamersley went with my wife afterwards to look for her. I never got her back and never got any pay for her.

And further this deponent saith not.with his mark and witnessed by A.W. Chilton on 30th day of September 1873

Page 23

Claim jacket for No. 19,994 for application to have testimony taken by special commissioner ("Heard in Aug.")

Page 24

Report on Claim cover page, submitted to Congress Dec 5, 1877

Page 25

Deposition of James F. Hemersley who being duly sworn deposes and says. My name is James F. Hemersley. My age 51 years. My residence Alexandria Virginia. My occupation working at a coal yard. I have no interest in this claim. Wm. Ferguson was a slave from before the war, and was made free by the war. Louisa Ferguson his wife was born free. I suppose I have known both of them all my life. I knew them intimately throughout the war. They lived about 2 miles from me during that time. Wm. Ferguson was the slave of Dennis Johnson. There was a Union Hospital at Kempers[?] place and I used to see Louisa Ferguson carrying things to the Hospital nearly every day. I used to see both of them pretty often; and I have talked with them about the war. I was a Union man and they knew it. They were both for the Union. I have heard Louisa express herself very strongly in that way.

Page 26

I have no doubt that they were both on the side of the Union. They were so regarded by every one that knew them, so far as I know. In speaking of the Union Soldiers they always called them our soldiers. I don't know and never heard of their giving anything to in doing anything for the rebels. I don't believe they ever did.Item 1 HorseI know Louisa Ferguson had a little sorrel mare before the war. I used to see her, have this mare hitched to a wagon going to the Union Hospital and to Alexandria. I know this horse belonged to Louisa Ferguson for I recalled when she bought her from Wm. Searce. I recollect this mare was missing about the middle of the war. I don't know what became of her. I don't know the age of the mare but I reckon she was 8 or 9 years. She was a good

Page 27

sprightly mare perfectly sound and had good eyes. I should think she ought to be worth a hundred dollars.And further this deponent saith not.James F. Hemersley's marksworn on 30th Sept 1873 to A. W. Chilton Spec. Comm.Deposition of Eliza Hemersley who being duly sworn deposes and says My name Eliza Hemersley. My age 39 years. My residence Alexandria Virginia. I am the wife of James F. Hemersley. I have no beneficial interest in the claim. Item 1 HorseI recalled in the winter season I think in 1863 Louisa Ferguson came and got me to go with her and look for her mare. I took our horse and wagon and went to Spring Bank with Louisa Ferguson

Page 28

where there was a camp of Union soldiers. Spring Bank was about a mile and a half from our place. We went to the officer in command and he told told us to go to the Stable Boss and look through the stables and see if we could find the mare. I knew the officer at that time but I have forgotten his name. He went through the stables but could not find the mare. We gave the stable boss a description of the mare. He told us that a mare of that description had been brought there by a soldier the night before and had been taken away by the solder that morning. He said if he brought the mare back again he would lock her up and let us know. I never heard anything more about the mare. She was a sorrel mare. I don't know her age. I knew this mare belonged to Louisa Ferguson, who was a free

Page 29

woman before the war. Wm. Ferguson her husband was a slave. And further this deponent saith not.

Her mark, witnessed by A. W. Chilton, dated 30th day of Sept 1873

Deposition of Samuel A. Garwood

My name is Samuel A. Garwood who being duly sworn deposes and says My age 53 years My residence Alexandria Virginia. I am deputy marshall of Eastern District of Virginia. I have no beneficial interest in this claim. I first became with William Ferguson and Louisa his with the early part of the war. I know them pretty well, and saw them frequently. They always expressed themselves favorably to the United States Government, and opposed to the rebels. From my acquaintance

Page 30

with them they sympathized I am satisfied with the United States Government. They had the reputation of being loyal to the Union cause. I don't know better they were slave people before the war or not. I was sheriff of Alexandria County under the restored Government of Virginia, from January 1, 1863 until December 31st, 1866. I never heard William Ferguson or his wife ever did anything for the rebels, I don't believe they did. And further this deponent saith not.

Signed by Garwood and witnessed by Chilton on 16 December 1873.

Page 31

Form: Before the Commissioners of Claims,Quantities and articles and value, listing one horse, valued at $150.00

Page 32

2nd page of the same form. Most blanks are not filled in. Only thing completed is those who testified:

  • Geo. C. Hewes
  • James Helmsley
  • Samuel Lamb
  • Mrs. James Helmsley

Page 33

3rd and final page of form, undated but listing attorney Whittlesey & Willoughby of Alexandria, Virginia.

Page 34

Final page is a claim form listing the horse

  • Amount claimed as $150
  • Amount allowed as --------
  • Amount disallowed $150
Summarized as follows: The claimant Louisa Ferguson is a worthy colored woman, about 70 years old. She is the mother of 16 children; rented a farm & she & her children worked on it. She earned the money & bought the horse of Bill Searce a year before the war. She says, "My father belonged to General Washington. He was General Washington's Carpenter. General Washington set him fre [blank] father afterwards bought my mother & he [blank] free. I was born after my mother was [blank] free." Her loyalty was decided & active. Her story of how she was instrumental in getting a boastful rebel soldier captured is quite to the life. We regret that we can not allow the claim. But the horse was stolen at night by some soldier probably. The stable was broken open. The tracks of the horse were traced in the snow to Camp Lyons. But they were not allowed to look for her in camp the first day; and when they did the next day the horse could not be found.
- Claim rejected.
- The document is signed by Comms of Claims, A.O. Aldis, J.B. Howell, O. Ferris
End of claim.

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