About a year ago, while doing some sleuthing on people listed in the 1850 US Census in Ferrisburgh, I came across one of the most baffling Civil War Pension Files I have seen in years.
The name is Abraham Sorrell. In 1850, he was living on a farm in Ferrisburgh, working as a labourer (although his family was living elsewhere in the same town). Of course, without any information on his civil status, we can assume this 17-year-old young man was still single, right?
Most likely born in Canada around 1833, Abraham (for whom no baptismal record has ever been found) was the son of Michel Sorel and Sophie Royer. However, it cannot be ruled out that he was born in Vermont as the family left Marieville (Québec) for North Ferrisburgh after April 1832, but before November 1834 (their son François was baptized in November 1834 in Charlotte). As per the 1840 US Census for Ferrisburgh, Michel Sorel and Sophie had six children: one girl (Marie-Prospère) and five boys (Michel-Damase, Norbert, Abraham, François and John W.).
According to the Civil War Pension File in respect of Abraham, he was enrolled on September 16, 1861, at St. Albans, in Co. B, 5th Regiment of Vermont Volunteers to serve three years—he mustered in on the same date. He reenlisted on December 15, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia. He was wounded in action at Wilderness, Virginia on May 5, 1864, where he will die on May 12, 1864.
Abraham was married three times: first, to Eliza Sears, on January 28, 1849, in Charlotte; then, to Eliza Carpenter, on December 15, 1856, in Vergennes; and finally, to Fanny C. Whittier, on August 12, 1861. Despite this fact, it is worth noting that Abraham has neither been widowed, nor divorced. And that the third wife filed for a pension and received it. Oops!
Enough said, let the records—and the actors—tell you this fascinating story offering a glimpse not only into the lives of people of Ferrisburgh in the 1850s, but on French Canadians as well. Part 1 will be devoted to Abraham’s first wife, Eliza Garrin née Sears.
On this first day of October, 1881, at
No. FerrisburghCharlotte, County of AddisonChittenden, State of Vermont, before me, Wm Hutchinson a Special Agent of the Pension Office, personally appeared Eliza Garrin, who, being by me duly sworn according to law, declares that her age is 55 years, that [s]he resides at FerrisburghCharlotte, County of AddisonChittenden, State of Vermont, and that she was formerly the wife of Abram Sorrell late Priv. Co. B. 5 Vt Vols. and that she was never divorced from him, nor was he from affiant so far as she ever knew or heard. To her knowledge there was never any divorce talked of by either party. Affiant never wanted any divorce and was ready to live with him again but his folks put him up to leaving her, so he did leave her. When affiant was married to Abram Sorrell, she was living with her brother John Sears near this place, and affiant so continued to live in her brother’s house, with Abram Sorrell after her marriage for three months, when Abram left her. Abram first went to Burlington a few weeks, pretending to get work, then came back and lived at his father’s in this town. When her first child Napoleon was born Abram had left her, and was living at his father’s. Affiant and Abram never kept house together, but when Napoleon was two weeks old, Abram took affiant over to his father’s where he was then living. This was in May 1849, and she stayed there in that house till the July following. Abram then went away—and they pretended he had gone off with some circus folks, so then his mother had affiant moved back to her brother John’s where she was before—They really drove affiant away from his father’s, and from that time affiant never lived with Abram again. His folks did not treat her well after that. She would only see Abram after that on the road perhaps and he wouldn’t answer her when she spoke to him. In nine months after she so left his father’s house in July 1849, her girl Mary was born. Abram Sorrell was her father. He was also the father of her first child Napoleon. She may be slightly mistaken in some of the dates here given, but the facts are substantially correct.
After 1850, she never tried to follow after him or see what he was doing. At the very time she was in his father’s house living with him, he began to run after and drive around with other women, and affiant saw him riding there with a strumpet woman, with his arm around her and she faced him with it at the time, and he never offered his hand. So he went on from bad to worse from that time, and she concluded to keep away from him, he was so bad. He was around every hour as she heard folks talk, before he took up with the woman Eliza Carpenter, in Vergennes. After that affiant knew but little about him. She did not know he had enlisted, till she heard he was dead.
When she married Sorrell she was twenty-two years old and no more—and they said he was nineteen. She thinks that was his correct age. She knows positively that there was but about thirteen months difference in the ages of her two children by Abram Sorrell. His folks said at the time that the girl Mary, was not Abram’s, but they couldn’t make out anything. She dont know what Abram himself said about it, but she has heard that he called her immoral. The public generally did not in her opinion doubt who was the child’s father.
Affiant continued to live near this place all the years following, while Sorrell was living with the Carpenter woman and others but she never troubled herself any further about him. Her child Mary was five years old, when she married Moses Garrin, and her next child Eliza was born about 11 months after her marriage to Garrin. The said Eliza died five years ago this month aged 20 years—therefore she must have been born in 1856. Affiant had at least three children by her last husband Garrin, previous to the death of Abram Sorrell.
Both affiant and Sorrell were too poor to go into the courts for a divorce—and, besides folks were not as particular then as they are now—so they each went their own way and married again. Neither of them cared anything about a divorce, and no one else ever troubled her or made any talk about it because she married again without a divorce.
She was married twice to said Garrin: the first time by a minister in Ferrisburg—but cannot give his name—nor name of his church. He was a large fat man—They were married at the house of a Frenchman named Shortsleeve. After Sorrell died, she was married again to Garrin by a Catholic Priest in Charlotte—dont remember his name. This was nine years ago or about 1872. She now on further reflection, finds this marriage was about 1870.
She now finally remembers that she was also married to Garrin once by Stephen Ball Esqr. This was done by advice of parties in Vergennes, so that parties could not have her taken up for not being properly married. This was not long after Sorrell died. The last marriage by the Priest, was because that was their Church.
John Sears, affiant’s brother, can give the most information on the points herein referred to of any one in town probably.
Abram Sorrell never gave her any support but she had to take of herself as best she could, and she was at times helped by the town before she married Garrin.
and she further declares that [s]he has no interest, direct or indirect, in the claim of minors of Abram Sorrell for a pension; and further saith not.
Eliza Garrin (her mark)
Sworn to and subscribed before me this first day of October 1881, and I certify that the contents were fully made known to affiant before signing.
♥ A special thanks to Danielle Tourville for the transcription and translation to French of the documents.
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