Abraham Sorrell(5)—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.

This very entertaining pension file is coming to an end. After having read the testimony left by his first wife, Eliza Sears, his second wife, Eliza Carpenter, his sister-in-law, Catherine Palmer, Eliza Carpenter’s sister, and his cousin, Oliver Sorrell, it’s now time to read the conclusion reached by the Pension Office.

As promised, in about two weeks, I will publish a short biography of each person concerned in the last post of this series. Enjoy!

History of the Case

Soldier was married to Eliza Sears—mother of his children—January 28, 1849. He deserted her, and without being divorced married Eliza Carpenter, Dec. 15, 1856, and Aug. 12, 1861, he married Fanny C. Whittier, who applied for a Pension Oct. 20, 1866, and obtained it receiving $8 per month from May 13, 1864 (date of soldier’s death), till March 4, 1873—Her pension was suspended July 25, 1873. From the testimony of Stephen Ball and Nelson Sears, it appears that the two last marriages were illegal, and it, of course, follows that—the said Fanny C. obtained her Pension without being entitled thereto.

Further incidental Matter

1st application was made by John Sears-Guardian: Nov. 21, 1864
2nd application was made by Eliza Carpenter: July 7, 1863
3rd application was made by Fanny C. Whittier: Oct. 20, 1866
4th application was made by soldier children, direct: May 31, 1880

The resul[t] was that the woman Fanny C. Whittier, proving marriage to the soldier and swearing that—he left no children—secured a Pension under Cert. No. 107.876 and rec. pay from the date of the soldier’s death (May 13, 1864) till March 4, 1873. Payment to her was suspended July 25, 1873.

Paul H Berkan

St. Albans Vt. October 3, 1881
To the Commissionner of Pensions.


I have the honor to submit the following report in the Claim of the minor children of Abram Sorrell No. 72.870. which was referred to me for Special Examination to determine the merits respectively of the claims of three pretended widows of the said soldier and of a fourth claim by the minor children of the soldier by the first of his three wives. I was especially directed to examine relative to any separation between the said soldier and his first wife, whose maiden name was Eliza Sears.

I would most respectfully submit in reply Exhibits from “A. to G”. They show conclusively that there was no divorce consequently that the two last marriages of the soldier were illegal and void.

His children by the first marriage must be recognized as the only party legally entitled to a pension, but their right only accrued when the widow was legally remarried, her prior marriage having been also illegal and void.

I would therefor recommend that a pension be granted said minors, Napoleon and Mary Sorrell, from Oct. 9, 1864 to June 18, 1866, when the younger became sixteen years of age. The said Mary has married one St. Peters, and both live in, or near Ferrisburg, Vt.

From the best information it is now possible to get, I think their ages are correctly given in the proof on file. Under all the circumstances, the question of legitimacy cannot well be now raised although the paternity of Mary must ever be doubted. The families are all French, as they were in the case I last reported, but it would not be fair to regard this case as a sample of French morality. From beginning to end, the exhibition is nothing less than loathsome. The facts could only be obtained by throwing the drag-net among the slums. I have done the best I could—and in my judgement all that is necessary.

In Vergennes, where the soldier lived a short time with Eliza Carpenter as his wife, I found several of American descent who could barely remember of knowing the parties twenty years ago. Mrs. Ryan for instance, who is referred to in the testimony, but they could testify to nothing of value. This city officers and other prominent men that I saw, were confident that the soldier was never divorced from anybody, as he never looked after that side of the case. The same was true again in Ferrisburg, therefore so few affidavits from other parties.

All three of the marriages were no doubt consumated as proved, yet there is some mystery as to just when and how the soldier first found the camp follower Fanny, who has secured the largest pension price on account of this much married soldier.

As to the denial of Eliza Ayers, that she even made application for a pension as the soldier’s widow, it is not entitled to notice, when the papers show that she did in 1865, appear and subscribe before such a man as Judge Grandy, whom I know as one of the first men in the State. I showed him her affidavit on this point, and he said it was simply ridiculous, as he knew her then as a notorious character, and efforts were made once to bring her up for vagrancy before him as the City Mayor. I would reject Widow’s Claim No. 280.466, as briefed.

Respectfully yours obt. servt.
(Signed) Wm Hutchinson
Special Examiner

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

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4 thoughts on “Abraham Sorrell(5)—What the 1850 US Census for Ferrisburgh Doesn’t Tell

  1. What a treasure! Abe surely left a confusing story in his wake. I laughed out loud at the tone of the pension officer. He sounds more like a preacher than a bureaucrat carrying out his duty. But I’m still confused by a couple of things. How is it the 2nd petition was filed before the first? Who is Eliza Ayers and if she petitioned in 1865 how come that doesn’t show up on the list? When the officer says, “their right only accrued when the widow was legally remarried” etc. does that mean that she also “remarried” without benefit of law? Apparently neither of the illegal wives were married long enough to him to be considered common law wives? I know that varied state by state, but don’t know how the federal government treated it.

    • Hi Vera!

      I didn’t transcribe all the affidavits because some of them were very short and with no additional information. The first petition from Eliza Ayers (who is Eliza Carpenter by her maiden name- 2nd spouse) is not in the file. About the rights of the children, from what I understand, their mother, Eliza Sears, was remarried in 1854 (before her husband died in 1864). Therefore, she remarried again after his death (civil and religious marriage-all 3 marriages with Moses Garen). Once she remarried, the children were not allowed money because they had a stepfather?

      I think the fact that there was no divorce, all subsequent marriages were considered void and null because legally, he was still married to Eliza Sears.

      The little bios I will prepare in the next 2 weeks will certainly be helpful–even for me!

  2. So glad I didn’t miss the ending to this one (we were off traveling for two weeks). It sure seems like the judge made the right decision, but his subtle insult to the French heritage of this family is quite offensive!

  3. Thank you Amy 🙂

    Yes, reflecting how the French were perceived at that time!

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