Vol. 10, No. 2 Summer 2014
WHAT CAN PENSION APPLICATIONS CONTRIBUTE TO UNDERSTANDING THE BATTLE OF THE WAXHAWS AND OTHER EVENTS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR?
C. Leon Harris
Twelve years ago when asked what I intended to do as a retired biology professor, spending about eight hours a day transcribing pension applications of Revolutionary War veterans was not the answer that leapt to mind. But one of my plans was to spend some time on genealogy, which led me to transcribe the pension application of fourth great grandfather, Willoughby Blackard (pension application S29638), and that sparked an interest in his battles in the Carolinas. I then had the good fortune to find out about Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, and Charles Baxley suggested I send my transcription to Will Graves, who had a wild vision that online, free and fully-searchable transcriptions of pension applications of all the Revolutionary War soldiers who served in the South might be possible and useful.
This past spring of 2014 Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters (www.revwarapps.org) passed a milestone on the way to fulfilling Will’s dream – the completion of all the federal pension applications of soldiers from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. These are in addition to transcriptions of a number of soldiers from the North who served in the South, as well as pension and bounty-land applications to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and dozens of unit rosters. The total number of transcribed documents now exceeds 20 thousand. Will not only conceived the project and transcribed about two-thirds of the documents, but he manages the website with the wizard-like help of John Robertson. There are still many federal applications from the North, state applications from Virginia, and unit rosters to be done, so we have not yet reached the end of the trail. But we have climbed a pinnacle.
|Leon’s report of the cases of the Lewis Speculating Gentry and a Wound Analysis of the Battle of the Waxhaws …. for the rest of the story ….|
Will would much rather transcribe than take the time to write a celebratory article, but I cannot resist a look back at the journey so far to enjoy the view and consider whether it has been worth the effort.
When I joined the project seriously around 2006, it was not at all clear that it was possible. The pension file numbers went into the forty thousands, and applications from soldiers who served from the South might account for half of them. Although Will and I were both old enough to have grown up with the dying art of cursive writing, many of the applications were so poorly written or faded that transcribing them took me at least an hour each. It took additional time to research correct spellings and dates to render the transcriptions searchable online. The numbers were so daunting that I do not think either of us dared do the math to figure out how long it might take. Even if it was possible to transcribe them all, there was the possibility that many of the applications were fraudulent, and transcribing them would merely perpetuate the fraud. I also wondered if anything useful could be found in the frail memories of even honest old men recounting their youthful exploits. My own ancestor Blackard had made the improbable claim that after being surrendered at Charleston he was exchanged in time to fight at the Battle of Camden. But the only way to find out was just to transcribe enough of the pension applications to get a feeling for how hard it would be and how reliable the applications were. Fortunately transcribing got to be easier with experience, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. This look back at some of my most interesting moments is for Will, for making it happen.
SCAR Fellow, Dr. C. Leon Harris, is a Renaissance man, a retired zoology professor, author of many scientific articles, a popular zoology text, and a novel, and is an accomplished research historian. Leon is a prime mover behind the Southern Campaigns pension transcription project. He lives in Mt. Pleasant, SC when it is and Vermont when it is not so much. For Leon’s excellent boots-on-the-ground research on the Battle of Stono Ferry see SCAR Vol. 1, No. 4, (December 2004), p. 8-20. The 20,000+ pension application transcriptions are posted at www.revwarapps.org.July 21, 2014