Special Examiner's Report, William Spears Pension
October 31, 1902

The special examiner for the Pension Bureau reported to the Commissioner of Pensions on whether William and Hannah Spears were married and whether her claim is valid.

Act of June 27th, 1890.

No. 433979.
Hannah Speers, alleged widow of
William Speers,
Private Co. “A” 27th U. S. C. Inf.
Post-office, Cambridge, Guernsey Co., Ohio.

Columbus, Ohio, October 31st, 1902.

Hon. E. F. Ware,
Commissioner of Pensions, 


            I have the honor to herewith return the papers, and submit my report, in the matter of the special examination of the above described claim for pension. It came to me, notice waived, for further examination in Fayette County, Ohio. 

            The reasons for this special examination, and the points at issue, having been fully set forth in the slip of the reviewer, and in Special Examiner De Putron’s report, it is unnecessary for me to repeat them here. 

            The investigation on my part has been peculiarly difficult, and had taken a great length of time. I have also had to travel over a large amount of territory. The claimant alleges that she was married to soldier in the spring of 1866, and was apparently acquainted with him but a short time prior to that event. She appears to have known little or nothing of his life before she met him. It was desired to determine whether soldier has been previously married, and whether he had had any other military service that in Co. “A” 27th U. S. C. Inf. 

            The data claimant gave in her statement proved to be of no value whatever. There have been a great many changes in Columbus durin[g] the past 40 years, and inquiry in the neighborhood where claimant seems to have lived right after her marriage failed to discover any one who remembered her or soldier. Shoemaker’s brick-yard is no longer in existence. The persons she referred to as knowing soldier when they lived in the vicinity of W. Jefferson are all dead, or gone to parts unknown. 

            Caroline Ford, claimant’s sister, gave Mr. De Putron data that was intentionally false, or else due to a very dense ignorance. She declared that the soldier had lived at Washington C.H. prior to enlistment, and that he had a brother there named Nelson Spears, an aunt Eliza Speers, and a cousin Jimmie Turner. It looked like an easy thing to proceed to Washington C.H. and from those relatives learn all about soldier’s ante bellum history, but when I arrived there I learned that the parties named were all dead, and that none of the old negro residents had ever before heard of a Wm. Speers. I found a sister of Nelson Speers (Mrs. Frances Brown) and she told me that they had never had a brother William; that Eliza Speers was her and Nelson’s mother; and that Jimmie Turner (dead) was her (Mrs. Brown’s) own son. Mrs. Brown declared that she had never known a Wm. Speers and so did all the other colored persons that I interviewed in Washington C.H. 

            Learning that there was a Henry Speers living in Bloomingburg I went to that town and took his deposition. He said that he had never known a Wm. Speers there or anywhere else, and could give me no clue that seemed to be of any value. It was evident that his branch of the Speers family was not the one soldier came from.

            Finding that the Washington C.H. data was all wrong, and learning nothing whatever about soldier there, I next went to W. Jefferson and pursued my inquiries. There are several old residents, colored, at, and near, W. Jefferson, and while all the persons claimant named are dead, I found others who remembered soldier. But these people knew nothing of soldier’s history prior to the time he first appeared at W. Jefferson. Furthermore the matter was complicated by there having been three Speers families in that community, and it was hard for the witnesses to determine, after all this time, which was Bill, which was Armstead, and which was Nelson Speers; and to describe the appearance of each, and tell about their families. It seems that Nelson Speers, who died in Washington C.H. and many years ago, had been a soldier, and had been employed in “the big wood-chopping” at W. Jefferson. Were he alive he could undoubtedly have told a great deal about [the] soldier.

            During the civil war a man named Suydam undertook to cut down a piece of timber near W. Jefferson comprising several thousand acres. This timber was hauled to the railroad and shipped away. A good part of it was used for fuel by the railroad. The news of this chopping spread far and wide, and there was so much of it to do that any man seeking work could get it. The job seemed to especially attract the colored refugees from the South, and it is said that Suydam had at one time five or six hundred of them camped in his timber and busily engaged in cutting it down. The Suydam chopping lasted until the war had ended. 

            These wood-choppers came from all parts of Ohio, and from all parts of the South. In 1864 when the first colored regiments were formed in Ohio a good many of the wood-choppers enlisted. After their service was ended many returned to W. Jefferson and went to wood-chopping again. In a few months the Suydam chopping was finished, and another one was started three miles away by J. K. Smith. This new chopping was as extensive as the other and most of the men in the Suydam woods moved to the J. K. Smith woods. The persons claimant named as knowing soldier near W. Jefferson lived three miles north of there, and on the edge of the J. K. Smith chopping. They were farmers and probably not specially acquainted with the wood-choppers. They now are all dead without exception. 

            Some of the colored people I found undoubtedly remembered Wm. Speers, but I was anxious to find some of the other Speers who had worked in the woods with William, believing they would certainly know something about soldier. But my efforts on that line were of no avail. Nelson Speers, as already stated, was dead; Armstead Speers had gone from the wood-chopping to Springfield. When I proceeded to that town I found some colored people that remembered him and learned that he was dead, and his son dead, and his daughter Ophelia dead. That ended all prospect of finding any of the Speers that had worked in the woods with soldier. And after having taken a large amount of testimony the case seemed to nearer a solution than when I had received it. 

            However I determined to interview all the colored men I could hear of who had worked in that chopping. Following that plan I found at Delaware a colored man named Isaac Thornton, from who came the first gleam of light. He remembered Wm. Speers, of the wood-chopping, very well, and told me soldier before the war had married his (Thornton’s) first wife’s sister, and had deserted her, and when he met him in the woods he was living with a colored woman who looked like an Indian. They were evidently congenial spirits, for Thornton had abandoned his first wife too. 

            All this marrying happened before the war, and Thornton could tell me very little of soldier’s history; but he showed me where to go to get the facts, namely to Frankfort, Ross County, O.

            At Frankfort I found a brother of soldier’s first wife, and two other persons who remembered him and his marriage to Elizabeth Powell, long before the civil war. They all said he deserted her, and that they never had heard what had become of him. 

            At Chillicothe I found a record of the marriage, and a certified copy is made an exhibit of this report. 

            It seems that soldier’s first wife married three times after he left her, and there is no evidence that either he or she ever obtained a divorce. I personally examined the records of the common pleas courts of Franklin, Madison, Fayette, Ross, and Athens counties, and I certify that I found no suit brought by, or for, either Elizabeth Speers, or Wm., or Wm. Henry, Speers in any of those counties since the separation. 

            I am informed that Elizabeth Speers, after the soldier left her, married Thomas Young. Young was a soldier and died in the service. She next married a man named Alexander Dyson but did not live long with him. Finally she married Joe Miller who is still living in Athens, O. Dyson died in Columbus four years ago. (See deposition of Dyson’s daughter, Pink Lee) Elizabeth Speers herself died about 26 or 27 years ago, but I could not ascertain the exact date. Her last husband, Miller, does not remember the date, and could find no record of it at home; and I could find no public record of it at the probate court. Miller says his wife Elizabeth had been dead three or four years when he married his second wife in 1878. This date he got from the marriage certificate hanging in his parlor. So it is evident that soldier’s first wife Elizabeth had been dead two or three years when he, himself, died. 

            I carefully searched the marriage records of Franklin, Madison, and Fayette Counties, and certify that I found no record of soldier’s marriage to claimant; and it is my opinion that they were never married. 

            It is a question in my mind as to whether claimant and her sister have not undertaken to deliberately deceive the Office as to the facts in this case. Their entire ignorance of the fact that he was from Ross County, and had been married there, may have been real or assumed. A woman generally learns all about her husband’s prior life after their marriage. It is an unusual case where a husband does not tell his wife all about his past life, his relations, and his friends. This soldier’s ideas of law and decency were probably not so extensive that he would have any hesitation about telling of this former wife, and his desertion of her. 

            Joe Miller says soldier’s first wife got a pension as the widow of Thomas Young, after he, Miller, had married her. He says it was a one payment pension, amounting to about $300. If this is true it would seem that it was a pension obtained by fraud. I could not learn Young’s full name or what his military service was, except that it was thought that he was in the 5th U.S.C.V.I. I had the U.S. Pension Agent examine the old rolls in his possession, covering the period prior to Elizabeth Miller, or Young’s death, but he could not find her name. There seems to be no question but that she did get a one payment pension of several hundred dollars-or was it bounty?- and perhaps the claim may be located in the Office, and some interesting data found in it. 

            Of the list of comrades, George H. Guy is dead, and I interviewed Herbert Chavous at his residence #77 E. Lafayette Alley, this city. He could not recall comrade Wm. Speers at all. 

            Suydam and Smith, of wood-chopping fame, both are dead. 

            There are a number of depositions in this report that are, in view of the latest developments, unnecessary to the adjudication of the claim. But it should be borne in mind that until the last few days this whole investigation was a grope in the dark, and as I had no idea what would be finally ascertained it was necessary to take the testimony that came along for fear nothing better would be found. Had I known at the start that soldier had lived in Frankfort before the war, some of the testimony I took in Columbus, and all that I took in Washington C.H., and Fayette County, could have been dispensed with; and most of that I got at W. Jefferson. 

            I recommend consideration of Chief of Board of Review.

                                                Very respectfully, 

                                                            Clarence F. Barrett
Special Examiner.

P.S. The deponents whose testimony is herewith are all colored, whether the depositions so indicate or not. 

Spl Exr.

P.S. Nothing definite could be learned as to whether soldier had a prior service, but the presumption is that he did not. He was working in the woods during the years before his enlistment, and certainly could not have enlisted then.  

C. F. B. Spl. Exr. 


Pension Record for William Spears, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.