Archive:Mexican War Pension File, Benjamin Dodge Whitney
One day while at the National Archives I decided to check the Mexican War Pension Index for Whitney pension applicants. Only one application caught my attention. I had absolutely no idea who this soldier was, but a note on the index card said that the application was filed from the Sandwich Islands. I just had to know who was filing an application from Hawaii!
Some pension files are salt mines, and others are gold mines. Most fall somewhere in between. Take my word for it. This file was not only a gold mine, it was the "mother lode". When one sits at the table about to open a pension file, one only hopes that it will contain what this file has in it.
Below is my extract of the Mexican War pension file of Benjamin D. Whitney. Ben was one of the eleven children (including four sets of twins!) of Abner and Elizabeth (Graffam) Whitney of Saco, Maine. Elizabeth died at age 42. I wonder why?
Ben's story is one of the best I have uncovered to date. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
From the Mexican War Pension File of Benjamin D. Whitney, alias Benjamin B. Whitney
Private, Battery M, 1st US Artillery, 9th US Infantry, 1847
National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
On the 20th day of October 1891, Benjamin D. Whitney, a resident of Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii, testified in a declaration for a Mexican War Pension. He testified that he was a Private in the company commanded by Lt. Stewart in the 2nd Regiment, Company M, of the U.S. Artillery commanded by Col. Bankhead. He enlisted in 1847 for the duration of the war, and was honorably discharged at Governor's Island, New York in September or October of 1848. His service was as follows: Went to garrison Vera Cruz until final departure of all troops, etc. Was the last company to evacuate the soil of Mexico, was in the U.S. Service about 13 months. He is 62 years old, and was born at Saco, Maine, U.S.A. on the 26th of May 1829.
A general affidavit accompanied the declaration for pension. It was sworn on 10 November 1891 at the U.S. Consulate at Honolulu, Hawaii by J. I. Dowsett, age 62, and a resident of Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands. It states: "This certifies that I am well acquainted with Capt. Benj. Whitney, who has sailed in my vessels viz.: the Bark "Elizabeth" and Bark "R. W. Wood" as master, commencing upwards of twenty-five years ago. And I believe him to be the person mentioned as above. Capt. Benj. D. Whitney also commanded the whaleship "Wm. Rotch" of the firm of C. Brewer & Co. The affidavit was attested by Cecil Brown and G. Humphrey Chase.
There now appear three letters in the file. The first two letters are possibly in Benjamin D. Whitney's own handwriting, but the third is definitely very distinctive, and not in his hand. All letters appear to be signed by Benjamin D. Whitney. In the first two letters, punctuation and capitalization are missing in many places, and spelling is problematic. The following transcription of those first two letters contains punctuation, spelling corrections and capitalization by me in order to improve clarity. The third letter is transcribed verbatim.
- "Honolulu, Feb. 29, 1892
- To: Mr. Green B. Raum, Commissioner
- My name is Benjamin D. Whitney. I was born in Saco, Maine. I commenced to learn the machinist trade in Portland, Maine. Hearing and reading about the war, I had a longing to go to Mexico. My father being at sea and my mother being dead, I ran away, went to Boston, and found a recruiting office on Merrimack Street. I went in, and telling the officer that I was of age, I being quite large, they enlisted me for the remainder of the war. We were sent to New York and from there to Vera Cruz in a bark. I have forgotten her name. When we arrived, some of us were put in the two companies that were stationed there, Company M and Company B of the Second Regiment of Artillery. The rest were forwarded on towards the City of Mexico. I was in Company M. We were stationed there until the close of the war. After all the troops had left Mexico, we embarked onboard the Steam Ship Massachusetts, and were taken to Governor's Island, New York, where we remained until discharged. We received three months extra pay. I was told the reason was because we was in Mexico three months after peace was declared. When we went over to the city, Clark of our company took us to a broker. My impression is that the most of us sold our land warrants at the time, but I recollect only the names Clark and White, because we were stopping together while in the city. My land warrant brought $127.00. I have forgotten most everything connected with my Mexican trip. The only thing I recollect with any certainty is the most of the roll call of the company, hearing it every night and morning for such a length of time. The recruiting officer's name I have mixed with the Lieutenant of our company. One's name was Hill and the other Danie. After returning home, I worked in Saco until April 1850, then shipped for a whaling voyage, and have been this side ever since. I will send you a list of the company as near as I can recollect. The Attorney's name that I sold the land warrant to I never knew, not even the street name. I never thought the discharge would ever do me any good, so I did not try to get it back. There was a Mr. Lain living here. He told me it would be no use to try to get a pension without my discharge. That is the reason I have not tried before. I should very much like to have it, but this is all the information I can give. If I was east, probably I could give a good bit more. I never tried to retain the roll call of the company, but somehow it never left my memory. I suppose I have spelled a good many of them wrong, and missed some, but you will find by the records that they are not far out of the way. I have been married 23 years. My wife has been dead 3 years. I have three children, 1 boy and 2 girls.
- Yours truly,
- B. D. Whitney
Sargeant: Corporal: Artifiser: Bowles Regnie Bales Brattan Gennice Finchley Molkahe Privates: Dickson Mahan Toomy Bomer Fisher Michal Taggart Blair Foy Milson Vonhooson Butlar Fletcher O'Sullivan Vanhofman Brown, 1st2nd Forech Rinehardt Vanness Braton Haflan Russell Wise Bush Hanihan Raggers Wickwire Cochron James Rush Wild Crockett Jackson Rutlege Withill Coony Johns Stiner Williams, 1st, 2nd Clark Last Stanford White Cramer Lance Snider Whitton Dillinger McCoy Semore Whitney Donoly McKever Shriver Duerly Malony Snell Dwire Maloy Triback Denerson Martin"
Stamped received 6 June 1892 in the Pension Office:
- "Dear Sir,
- I received your communication of April 19th stating that a land warrant having been found issued to a man bearing the same Christian name and surname as myself, but not the middle initial. It is very possible that when I enlisted I didn't use my middle initial, but I do not remember of every using any other initial. I have never been known out here by any other name than Benj. Whitney. I never use the middle initial, only when writing to any of my sisters. They always use the initial when writing to me. I was Christianed by the name of Benjamin Dodge Whitney, named after a tailor of that name in Saco. As I grew up I did not like the name nor the man. I made my claim with my full name supposing that I used it when I enlisted. Being young at the time, I had forgotten almost everything about the Mexican War and was afraid to try for a pension until Mr. Chase assured me there would be no difficulty. But, as I have started, I am going to have it if possible. I can easily prove that I am the Benjamin Whitney, born at Saco, Maine, enlisted at Boston, Merrimack Street, served in the 2nd Artillery Company, Company M, until the end of the war with Mexico. I came home in the Steamship Massachusetts, was honorably discharged at Governor's Island, returned to Saco, worked in Biddeford, Maine until 1850, then went to New Bedford. I shipped in the Whale Ship Pacific of Fair Haven, went north to the Arctic Ocean, and was discharged in 1852. I have made my home in Honolulu since, with the exception of the three years I spent in the Ochtsk Sea, whaling for the Russian American Fur Company. In 1871 I had two sisters come down here to see me from San Francisco, and stopped a few months. In 1882 they came down again, one from Portland, Oregon with her husband, Capt. Crawford, one of the oldest Pioneers. The other with her daughter and her husband Mr. Julus Smith, who had been commissioned as Supt. of Public Works for his Government. I was married in 1869, have three children living: Benjamin, Elizabeth, and Gertrude, aged 21-18-16. My wife died 3 years ago. I have lived at No. 8 Emma St. with my family every since.
- I have two sisters living East, one at Salem, Mass. and one at Norwell, Mass. I have always kept up a correspondence with them. In 1871 I joined the Masonic Fraternity as Benj. Whitney. All notices have been delivered to me since under that name. Likewise, Central Union Church. Should this letter not be sufficient to get me a pension, let me know at your earliest convenience and I will prove to you that I am the right man.
- Yours respectfully,
- Benj. Whitney
- To Green B. Raum
- Commissioner of Mexican Claims"
- "P.O. Box 474, Honolulu, HI
- 31st July 1893
- The Hon. Green D. Raum
- Commissioner of Pensions
- Bureau of Pensions
- Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
- Dear Sir,
- I was much surprised at receiving a communication from Mr. Sidney L. Wilson, U.S. Pension Agent dated 11 Inst. informing me that payment of my pension had been suspended, after having received part of the back pension from 26th May 1891 to 26th May '93 and I am anxious to know the reason of such action. I assure you that there has not been any fraud on my part.
- I was very young when I enlisted, and have forgotten most of the circumstances in connection therewith.
- I cannot recollect whether I enlisted at Saco, Me or at Boston, Mass. But I know that we started from Boston, the recruiting office was in Boston, Mass. on Merrimack St.
- I recollect going to New York from Boston and starting for Mexico arriving at Vera Cruz in a sailing vessel. Some of the recruits were drawn out to fill up the company of artillery and volunteers that were stationed at Vera Cruz, the rest were forwarded towards the City of Mexico. I was drawn out to Co. M, 1st or 2nd Artillery and was stationed at Vera Cruz and remained there during the remainder of the war.
- When we withdrew from Vera Cruz, there were no troops left in that part of Mexico. We came home in the Steamer Massachusetts to Governor's Island, New York, and I remained there until I was honorably discharged with three months extra pay for three months extra services, having only enlisted for the war. After peace was declared, several of us sold our papers to a broker in the City of New York for $127.00.
- From there I went home to Saco, Maine and worked in a cotton factory until the spring of 1850, when I agreed to go on a whaling voyage. I went to New Bedford, shipped in the Bark Pacific of Fair Haven and was out 7 months. The Captain was sick so we went back to New Bedford. I then shipped in the Whaling Bark "Charleston Packet", but left her at the Azores. Shipping again in whaling Bark "Cherokee", I came around Cape Horn to the Hawaiian Islands and have remained on this side ever since, sailing out of Honolulu, except during the years 1864, 5, and 6 when I was whaling for the Russian Siberian Fur Co. in Okholsk Sea. I have two sisters still living, one in Salem, Mass. and the other in Norwell, Mass. with whom I have been in communication since I have been out here.
- My middle name I am positive I have never signed in any other way than Benjamin D. Whitney with the exception of the two occasions of signing the two receipts of the Pension Agent. Benjamin D. Whitney alias Benjamin B. Whitney. Where the B came from, I have not the slightest idea.
- The Mexican War records must be obtainable, and you will find by them that my signature will agree with my true signature and which I always used a young man. Benjamin D. Whitney.
- I am anxious to know the reasons of suspending the payment of my pension and therefore hope to hear from you at the earliest possible date and trusting you will find everything in order.
- Yours obediently,
- Benjamin D. Whitney
Ben's pension was eventually restored, and in 1902, he applied for an increase in benefit. There were several interesting documents related to this application. The first is a letter from him supporting the increase. Again, I have added punctuation and capitalization for clarity.
- "Commissioner of Pensions
- January 20th 1902
- I have to state that I have no property, either real estate or personal. When my wife was living, I supposed I had a homestead for a home for my children as long as I lived. The property was in my wife's name, although the property had cost me three times as much as the original cost. By her will she left it to her daughter by her first husband. A year after my stepdaughter married, she and her husband soon got me out of the house. My oldest daughter married. My son went to sea. My youngest daughter and myself boarded for about two years, then I hired a cottage and went to housekeeping. After about a year, my youngest daughter married. Then I gave the furniture and all up to her and her husband and agreed to board with them at so much per week, and up to the present time, paying my board and lodging in advance. I am employed as Night Watchman at two dollars per night. With that and my pension, live comfortably, but I am afraid for the future. I am old and my sight is bad.
- Yours truly,
- Benjamin D. Whitney"
The pension application asks for information about Ben's family. He sent an attached form, noting at the top "For want of space, I send a copy". Below is a transcription of the attachment. Questions are supplied by me.
"No.1. (Were your ever married?)
- I was married to Sarah D. Kelley, a widow, Nov. 22, 1868
- Maiden name Sarah O'Neill
- Died at Honolulu Oct 17th 1888, name Sarah B. Whitney
No.2. (Where were you married?)
- At Honolulu, the Roman Catholic Church by Priest Herman, who was later Bishop Herman
No. 3. (Where is there a record of the marriage?)
- The Roman Catholic Church Register
No. 4. (How many times were you married?)
- Only once married.
No. 5. (What are the names of your children?)
- Benjamin B. Whitney, born Nov 22nd 1870
- Elizabeth Whitney, born Jan 8th 1873 (married name Elizabeth Auerbach)
- Gertrude Whitney, born Aug 21st 1876 (married name Gertrude Scanlon)
- Benjamin D. Whitney"
The following Claimant's Affidavit was taken by a Notary Public in 1902 in Honolulu, Hawaii:
- "Benjamin D. Whitney, alias Benjamin B. Whitney, of Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, P.O. Box 474, a person of lawful age, who, being duly sworn, declare in relation to the aforesaid claim, as follows: That he has been a resident of Honolulu for the past 50 years, that he, since 1889 has not been possessed of any real property, and that his personal property consists only of his personal clothing. He further swears that his wife died in 1889 and what property she had the time of her death was given to her daughter by her former husband. He further swears that he does not own and bonds, stocks, or mortgages. That no one in any manner is bound for his support. Nor has he done any farming or gardening for himself for a number of years past. He further swears that he is employed as a night watchman at $2.00 per night, but he fears of losing the position. That his P.O. address is No. 1345B Alapai Street, City of Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii."
Ben applied for another increase in pension benefit in 1907. Without transcribing the whole application, the following new information can be gleaned:
Ben's personal description at the time of enlistment was as follows: Height, 5 feet 11 inches; complexion light; color of eyes, blue; color of hair, brown; he was born May 26th 1832 at Saco, Maine. His residences since leaving the service have been as follows: Saco, Maine, 1848 to 1850; shipped on whaleship around the Horn; Honolulu ever since. His post office address is Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii. At this point, Ben made a mark rather than sign his name.
Attesting the pension declaration were Katie W. Auerbach and Matthew J. Scanlon, both residents of Honolulu. They have been acquainted with Ben for 36 and 11 years respectively. The declaration was signed and notarized May 27th 1907.
Accompanying the 1907 declaration was a copy of the birth record of Benjamin D. Whitney from Frank L. Whitehead, City Clerk of Saco, Maine. The record is from the Record of Births, Volume 1, page 186:
- Name and surname: Benjamin D. Whitney
- Place of Birth: Saco, Maine
- Date of Birth: May 26, 1832
- Name of Parents: Abner Whitney, Elizabeth Whitney