Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters
Pension Application of David W. Sleeth S6111
Transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Revised 14 May 2014.
C. Leon Harris, the working partner of the great Will Graves in producing this phenomenally important Internet site, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, is just a tad obsessive. I say this with all good will because Leon and I have recently discovered that we are cousins on the Cockerham side. For many years I was an obsessive researcher. That's the way Cockerhams are. Well, in an appendix to the Pension Application of David W. Sleeth S6111 Harris has one of the most astonishing studies imaginable of the defrauding of elderly veterans. I give only the beginning of it, but you can read the rest by going to Sleeth's application.
THE LEWIS SPECULATING GENTRY
In the 1835 Report From the Secretary of War, which lists Revolutionary pensioners by county of residence, Harrison and Lewis counties in what is now West Virginia immediately catch the eye.
Every pensioner from those counties who was not dead had been suspended before the semiannual payment scheduled for 4 Sep 1833. The reason for this distinction was reported as follows in theRichmond Enquirer on 28 Oct 1834:
“FRAUDS ON THE TREASURY.—At the last term of the Federal Court, holden at Clarksburg,
Va., 37 indictments for forgery and perjury, were found by the grand jury, against certain Pensioners and their Attorneys. Among the Attorneys implicated, are Jonathan Wamsley, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Lewis county, and J. Bennet, a Delegate elect from the same county. They have both taken leg bail, left their homes, and taken themselves, as is supposed, to the Province of Texas. “The Pensioners concerned, are generally supposed to be innocent of any criminal or fraudulent intentions whatever. They are believed to have been deceived and imposed upon by their Attorneys in the following manner:—When old gentlemen, who had been more or less engaged in the Indian or border warfare, but not for the length of time sufficient to entitle them to a pension, would apply to their Attorneys, and detail to them, an account of their services, the Attorneys would assure them, that they were justly entitled to receive a pension under the law, and would forthwith draw up the declaration, not of the actual services of the applicant, but of such services as they (the Attorneys) knew would entitle the applicant to his pension; when the declaration was drawn, the applicant was assured that it contained nothing but the facts as he had detailed them, only that they were put in legal form. With this understanding and belief, and reposing confidence in their Attorneys, the applicants were generally, easily imposed upon, and indeed to take the necessary oaths; without reading or examining the declarations themselves. The applications were generally successful; and, as a matter of course, Wamsley and Bennet, as pension agents, acquired a great reputation. What proportion or a share of the money thus drawn from the Treasury, was usually retained by Wamsley and Bennet, for their services is not known, but it is presumed, that it was no inconsiderable amount.— Wellsburg Rep.” Wamsley and Bennett were two of the group that US Attorney W. G. Singleton termed the “Lewis Speculating Gentry.” Jonathan M. Wamsley appears to have been the principle figure in the conspiracy. He may have attracted suspicion as early as 1815 when $400 he had obtained as payroll for his militia company went missing (http://pages.swcp.com /~dhickman/journals/V6I4/1812wamsley.html). Twenty years later, however, he was among the leading citizens of Lewis County. Some indication of Wamsley’s character can be seen in a letter he wrote to the Pension Commissioner on 8 March 1834 (filed with the pension application of Reuben Jenkins R5574). After stating that he had recently learned from James M. Camp that some pension applications from Lewis County were suspect, he attempts to shift blame from himself to the pension applicants, and even offers to investigate them. “…I learned from an old man a faithful chronicler of the occurrences of that day that the application of David Carpenter [R1712] of Harrison is erroneous as to the period of his services That they were performed after 1783. This old mans tenacious memory leaves me no doubt on this subject. tis due to Carpenter and others to say that from what hear of the standing of Carpenter that he is only mistaken. he is a frail and weak man
I learn and such is his appearance I have seen him but have no acquaintance with him. The same I think is case with Uriah Ashcraft [R278]. The information about him is not so decisive but enough so to make me request the depart. not to act in his case unless some further information shall clear the case of much doubt I should much regret being accessory to any imposition on the depar.… I have wrote declarationsfrom memoranda furnished me for several men whom I have never seen some of those may have misstated from design or frailty the precise period of their service. If there is any designation made of any of my cases either of those who have been allowed or are now pending I will be at pains to investigate by all the means in my power the grounds of the charge and report the evidence. Among the cases of application now before the depart. under my controul I am personally acquainted with the following of whose claims I can have no doubt Wm. Cookman [William Cookman R2281], David Wolf [R11767], .... Reynolds [Benjamin Reynolds R8709] and C.Knight [Christopher Knight R6023]. I have no doubt of Goodwin [Francis Goodwin R4126], of Conway [sic: John Conaway R2244] I know nothing nor hear anything pro or con. The same I say of Hyatt Lazear [R6219].” . . . . READ IT ALL IF YOU DARE!