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“Petitions Without Number”: Widows' Petitions and the Early Nineteenth-Century Origins of Public Marriage-Based Entitlements


In 1858, Catharine Barr wrote to the Pension Commissioner in Washington, D.C., seeking reinstatement of her widow's pension. Barr explained that she had been married to two men who had died in the service of the United States: first to George Bundick, “a young and beloved husband” who had died in the War of 1812; then to William Davidson in 1835, who had died in 1836 of injuries sustained while serving on the USS Vandalia. She acknowledged that she was not, strictly speaking, a widow, as her current husband, James Barr, was still living and they were still married. She nevertheless sought reinstatement of the pension she had been granted as Davidson's widow. Pursuant to the terms of the relevant pension statute, Barr's pension had terminated upon her remarriage to James. However, as Barr explained to the commissioner, James “has neither been with me or given me one Dollar for my support since 1849, and I know not his whereabouts.” Having also lost her father in the War of 1812, Barr saw herself as particularly deserving of the federal government's assistance and believed that she and other widows in her position had a claim on the national coffers. “I for one,” she implored, “have no Dependence on Earth only what comes through my relations.”

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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