1890: Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull becomes a Civil War widow

Sepia Saturday 426: First in a series about my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a U.S. Civil War widow. She was the mother of my paternal great-grandmother Eva (Bull) Charboneau.

In January 1890, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 50, became a Civil War widow following the death of her husband — Union Army pensioner Arthur T. Bull, 57, a veteran of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

May 4, 2014: A Union Army reenactor and his wife at Spotsylvania Court House, Va. In January 1890, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 50, became a Civil War widow following the death of her husband — Union Army pensioner Arthur T. Bull, 57, a veteran of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Mary’s new persona was thrust upon her after two years of ups and downs in her Salamanca, Cattaragus Co., N.Y. household. Among the major events in her life during that time were:

A new round of paperwork

When Arthur died in early 1890, Mary was faced with a double loss. Not only was her beloved husband, and father of her nine children, gone from her life — but with him went the financial support of her household.

So with barely time to mourn, Mary began the difficult process of seeking an income by applying for a widow’s pension — with its own set of proofs and paperwork to be sent in to the U.S. Pension Board.

Application for accrued pension

On 1 March 1890, Mary appeared with her attorney William H. Peck before  Cattaraugus County Judge O. S. Vreeland and filed form 3-560 — Application for Accrued Pension. (Widows.).

The opening passage of her application is excerpted below, with handwritten portions underlined.

On this First day of March, 1890, personally appeared Mary E. Bull, who, being duly sworn, declares that she is the lawful widow of Arthur T. Bull, deceased; that he died on the 30th day of January, 1890; that he had been granted a pension by Certificate No. 315 208…; that he had been paid the pension by the Pension Agent at Buffalo, NY up to the 4th day of Dec–, 1889; after that date he had not been employed or paid in the Army, Navy, or Marine service of the United States…

A poignant bequest

Once she had established that her late husband had been granted a pension and there was likely an accrued, unpaid pension amount, Mary went on to provide other details required of Civil War widows.

And in so doing, my great-great grandmother Mary unknowingly created a rich source of family history and relationships — a poignant genealogical bequest to her descendants, which will unfold in this series.

More on Mary’s widow application in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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8 thoughts on “1890: Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull becomes a Civil War widow”

  1. Appreciate everyone’s comments. I believe the idea of all the proofs for widows was to assure that benefits went to those who were entitled to them — but yes, very many forms and a great deal of waiting, too. The silver lining is the family relationships that have emerged from the paperwork my great-great grandmother and other Bull relatives completed. Although I don’t imagine that was foremost on her mind when trying to make ends meet.

  2. How fascinating. I have always tended to think of the American Civil War as being the first “modern” war because of the use of modern weapons, but it also seems to have been one of the first examples of the post-war bureaucracy for those who lost family members in the conflict.

  3. So many red-tape hoops to jump through as if she hadn’t already gone through so much, poor gal. Not an easy life for women alone back then! Even now, it takes a lot of paperwork and proof for similar requests.

  4. I bet no one back in the day thought such bureaucracy would be used by future genealogists to sort out family history. I look forward to more on Mary’s story.

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