Abraham Sorrell(4)—What the 1850 US Census for Ferrisburgh Doesn’t Tell

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Abraham Sorrell, who lost his life from injuries sustained in the Civil War’s Wilderness Battle in May 1864, had married three times. His Civil War pension file offers an incredible portrait of people living in Ferrisburgh in 1850 and beyond.

After having read the testimony left by his first wife, Eliza Sears, and by his second wife, Eliza Carpenter, by his sister-in-law, Catherine Palmer, Eliza Carpenter’s sister, let’s now read my favorite one, the testimony of Abraham’s cousin, Oliver Sorrell. This affidavit is so full of details. As I mentioned before, I am fascinated by this story. I feel like a census page is coming to life!

I will publish a short biography of each person concerned in the last post of this series. Enjoy!

On this first day of October, 1881, at North Ferrisburg, County of Addison, State of Vermont, before me, Wm Hutchinson a Special Agent of the Pension Office, personally appeared Oliver Sorrell, who, being by me duly sworn according to law, declares that his age is 56 years, that he resides at North Ferrisburg, County of Addison, State of Vermont, and that he is a cousin of Abram Sorrell late private Co. B 5 Vermont Vols. and has lived in this country since July 1849, when he came from Canada and the first two weeks after he came here having no house to live in, he lived in the family of his uncle Mitchel Sorrell who was Abram[’]s father, and Abram was then living with his father also. Affiant soon learned the fact that Abram was married to Eliza Sears, but that he was not living with her any more—that she was much too old for him anyway—that the said Eliza his wife then had a baby about two months old as he well remembers that was afterwards called Napoleon—they call him “Paul” always, and that this was Abram’s child, though born soon after his marriage. Abram always called this his child—and no one doubted it. Abram would work away by the day some but kept his clothes at home—or made his father’s house his home for three or four years, and had no other home. He pretended to have nothing more to do with Eliza Sears, though he had been legally married to her. Abram’s mother never liked any of this Sears family and both families were French. Abram had separated from Eliza before affiant came here in July, after their marriage in January, and they never lived together openly again at any time. Abram’s mother thought the Sears family too low down for her, and besides, Eliza was too old for Abram, who was young, not over 17 years old as affiant believes. Affiant never heard that Abram drank too much, or was intoxicated when he married the woman. Abram himself never pretended so but his mother was always pretending that Eliza was to blame—she being older ought to have known better, but Abram never said a word against Eliza, and the parting was on account of what the old folks said affiant thinks. During the first year or two, said Abram and Eliza lived from one to two miles apart and it was the general impression others had that they used to meet occasionally. Abram himself would say he was with her at times. Affiant is sure of this as they would talk about it together. In about a year after affiant came here which was in the summer of 1850 the said Eliza had another child, named Mary—Affiant now thinks after consulting with his wife, there was about 16 months difference between the ages of Napoleon and Mary. May be a little less but he is sure that is not far from right.

There was some talk among people, especially in the Sorrell family, as to who was the father of this child Mary, because Abram and Eliza did not live together. Abram’s mother would pretend it was not his child because she did not like Eliza, and affiant did hear Abram once say this child was not his, but afterwards, and indeed always when he was in the right mood he acknowledged the child Mary to be his and the fact was not then, nor has not been since, seriously doubted. The son Napoleon looks so much like his father Abram that you could not tell them apart only by their ages and the girl Mary looks like just Abram’s sister Sophia. So the family resemblance is very plain in both cases.

There can be no doubt about the legality of the marriage of Abram Sorrell and Eliza Sears, and it is the general belief, that Napoleon and Mary are their legitimate children born the first early in 1849 and the last, in the summer of 1850. The wife Eliza has a good character so far as affiant knows, only Abram’s mother would talk against her.

Abram did not live far away before the war, but worked for Hiram Perry in town—mostly. Perry is now dead. He lived in Vergennes some, but not away from this county, affiant thinks. He married another woman in Vergennes named Carpenter after a while and the common saying about her was that she was a “damned whore”. Abram did bring this woman home to his father’s house, but did not stay there long. What his folks said about this, affiant don’t know but after Abram tried to keep house with the Carpenter woman in other places, after leaving his father’s they were in trouble. The neighbors wouldn’t stand it and drove him out of the town because they would’t have such a woman as this was about them. Things went on this way till Abram enlisted. He was running pretty low, but whether he left the state before his enlistment, affiant is not positive only he knows it must have been only for a short time if he went away.

During this period, while Abram was living with the Carpenter woman, Eliza Sears was in this town the most of the time, but went a short time to Canada and she commenced living with one Moses Garrin some years before the war, and affiant supposed they were married. Everybody supposed they were married then and they still live together. Affiant knows the first child of said Eliza Sears and Moses Garrin was born more than 22 years ago, because she died about two years ago and her age reads on her grave stone—20 years old. Affiant went to the funeral and has seen her grave stone, and the said parents were married, or reputed to have been—before the said child Eliza—was born. Affiant is positive that Eliza Sears—or Sorrell, was married to Garrin, and had one or more children by him, before Abram Sorrell died—So they were both even as to marrying again, without a divorce. Affiant never heard that there was any divorce between Abram Sorrell and Eliza Sears and is quite sure there was none. Affiant remembers of hearing Abram talk about a divorce—and said it would cost him about twenty-five dollars to get one and he never could get money enough he said to get one. So he got to going with rather loose women—and affiant didn’t care so much for him then. Abram’s brother Michael kept a bad house in Vergennes, and Abram used to go there, so that was the way he begun in bad Company. He found the Carpenter girl there.

Affiant thinks he knows about Abram’s affairs as well as any one in town—and he has consulted now with his wife as to several points—such as dates. He thinks that John Sears of this town—a brother of Eliza will know about the same thing herein alleged—

Hiram Perry and Phebe Hurlburt are both dead. John Martin lives in Middlebury. Mitchell Sorrell the father of Abram now lives in Shelburne and his wife, the mother of Abram, is dead.

and he further declares that he has no interest, direct or indirect, in the claim of minors of Abram Sorrell for a pension; and further saith not


Charles O. Sorrell                 Oliver Sorrell, Affiant (his 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.

Wm Hutchinson, Special Agent Exa

♥ A special thanks to Danielle Tourville for the transcription and translation to French of the documents.

♦ Curious about my Vermont Project? Follow the Guide!

2 thoughts on “Abraham Sorrell(4)—What the 1850 US Census for Ferrisburgh Doesn’t Tell

  1. Interesting how in this version, Eliza Sears comes off much more sympathetically and the relationship between Eliza and Abram seems to have been much more positive. It sure seems that their children should have gotten his pension.

    • Yes, and the fact that Oliver is related to Abraham and doesn’t put all the blame on the first wife makes his testimony more reliable maybe.

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