Sunday, April 29, 2012

The inevitable Confederate

Looks like I have finally confirmed what I had always known in the back of mind to be true : there is a Confederate in the attic (well, I don't have an attic, but I guess he's in the closet). So, lets bring him out and see what he did.  If my assumptions are correct about my grandmother's (Vivian Dabney) family being from Wayne County, Kentucky - then this record that I found on is pretty clear evidence.  Looks like Robert J, Dabney (if genealogical calculations are correct, is my great-great-great-grandather), donated the produce of his farm to the Confederate Army in 1863.  Willingly given or not, they took the forage and he received a receipt.

So, although its not the most damning evidence in the world, it is the reality of family-research in America.  If you have an older American lineage, there is a good chance you have a Confederate ancestor.  It is nothing to be ashamed of, but needs to be explored carefully.  The last two generations of my immediate family all come from Missouri, which is truly one of the gateways of America migration, a place that drew people from all over the world to that central point on the Mississippi.  So, my Northern family roots and Southern family roots all met in Missouri sometime in the 1880s, and eventually ended up in St. Louis by the middle of the 20th century.

Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pre-Revolutionary Precedents

This amazing document from the Committee of Revolutionary Claims from the House of Representatives (rg233, hr25a-g20.1), is a recruiting poster from Massachusetts dated April 1761, asking for men to serve the Crown in the provincial (colonial) troops for a tour of duty.  Although pre-dating the Revolution by nearly fourteen years, it clearly shows the precedents set down in the British system of recruiting and enlistment that were used in the United States Army during the Revolution until the time of the Civil War.

It sets the basic standards used for the recruitment, enlistment and mustering of so-called 'volunteers', a category of soldier relatively unique to the Anglo-American military model.  Volunteers were neither militia, nor regulars, but faced all the hazards and duty of regulars when in service. The primary difference, legally, was the term of service which was generally much shorter for volunteers who were usually called out to deal with some immediate military threat.

RG233, hr25a-g20.1, Colonial Recruiting Poster, Massachusetts Bay, 1761

This record specifically shows the type of men to be enlisted: not too young, not too old, infirm or 'negro'.  This ugly precedent, which allowed none save one African per company as a servant to the Captain, was adopted and incorporated into the regulations of the American Army until after World War Two.  It also set two unfortunate and costly precedents that plagued our government for decades; that of the 'bounty' or cash payment, supplemental to the monthly salary, for faithful service; and the worst element, limited terms of service.  This document clearly states that the men enlisted would be discharged no later than July 1762, or sooner if the 'Regulars' returned or the threat dissolved.

During the Revolutionary War, the threat of short-term service, coupled with promises of bounty money that the Continental establishment could not afford, almost scuttled the entire war for the Americans.  Only by enlisting men for the duration of the war, which turned out to be eight years, did the Continental Army ever achieve any cohesiveness.  There is no doubt that militia and volunteers have given valuable, heroic service, but the threat of the dreaded 'expiration of term of service' which legally required the muster-out of volunteers by a certain, fixed date, regardless of the exigencies of the war, has cost the military more than has probably been estimated.

This document is a great example of the traditions our military inherited from precedents set down by the British Colonies.  This was the only system that many of the colonists who became Patriots understood, and they were comfortable and willing to deal with it's disadvantages, for the advantage it gave them in retaining their liberty and freedom from compulsory military service.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't forget!

The National Archives and Records Administration doesn't exist just to give archivists a job or help Americans find their ancestors, it serves a vital function ensuring the continuation of free speech by maintaining open and unencumbered access to public-domain, publicly-generated information.  It is truly a shame that so many members of NARA staff and most of the nation's citizens fail to recognize its central function.

Yes, our rights are always under threat.  That is why we built a temple on Pennsylvania Avenue to house and protect our primary legal documents - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  We are a nation built on adherence to the principles laid down on those papers, our sacred papers, and we have a place for it - the National Archives. It is an entire Federal agency dedicated to preserving the memory of what we accomplished and ensuring the continuation of the one American tradition that crosses all cultural and economic bounds, freedom of expression.

It is an honor to work there.  It is an honor to serve there.  It is an honor to be able to research there, and that access to information is as close to a right as it can get.  It is an unchallenged precedent that the Citizens hold the right to have access to their collective history whenever they desire it.  Its a shame that some must be constantly reminded of this, as they spend most of the time worrying about their own futures.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Revolutionary Oaths

Every soldier who enters the military must swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and defend it from all enemies.  The earliest American military oaths come from the Revolutionary War period, and although they vary in wording, the sentiment is almost always the same.

A great example of a Revolutionary War oath of allegiance can be found in the claim file of John Gregg which he submitted to Congress. He provided some additional documents to bolster his claim of service.  According to one of the documents,  Lieut. Gregg of the 13th Regt Pennsylvania Line swore this oath in May 1778 :

RG233 (House of Representatives), Committee of Military Pensions (21st Congress), tray hr21a-g13.1.
RG233 (House of Representatives), Committee of Military Pensions (21st Congress), tray hr21a-g13.1.

"I John Greg Lieut 13th Penn Regt do acknowledge the UNITED STATES of AMERICA to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great-Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States against the said King George the Third, his heirs and successors, and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of Lieutenant which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding."

This oath is very specific to King George; others perhaps are more broad, asking for an oath to serve against the 'common enemy' or the Kingdom of Great Britain.  This previously un-indexed document is a great supplement to his Compiled Military Service Record which can be found on  His Congressional claim also has a few affidavits and a his Commission.