On March 18, 1818, Congress passed and enacted legislation providing aid to veterans of the American Revolutionary War. To qualify, one must be poverty-stricken, a veteran of either the Continental Line or Navy, and have served at least nine months (or to the end of the war, depending on enlistment). Applications had to be filed with a local representative to be passed onto the Secretary of War, who was responsible for processing and fulfilling claims. By 1823, there were over 18,000 petitions for pensions. So many veterans applied, leading Congress to amend their 1818 legislation in May 1820 - now, petitioners had to submit schedules of income and assets along with their petition for pension. The Secretary of War was then able to decide which applicants were best suited to receive pensions.
Under the 1818 act, qualifying officers were to receive $20 per month, and enlisted men $8 per month for the remainder of their lives. Earlier acts also protected widows, granting them access to part of their husband's pension upon his death, assuming she outlived him.
In the archives of the Clarke County Historical Association, one such petition has been discovered. Below is an original copy belonging to one Jacob Hunt, and the transcription follows:
Virginia Frederick County County Court June Term 1820
Not much is known about the life of Jacob Hunt, but what can be pieced together creates a historical mystery begging to be solved. He was born between 1740 and 1760, although probably closer to 1760, given later records. The location of his birth is also unknown, but we can tell he lived in Virginia, and potentially Maryland at some point in his life. His parents, too, are unknown.
What is known is that he enlisted in the Maryland 7th Regiment of the Continental Army on September 9, 1778, and was discharged in 1782, shortly before the war ended. It is known that he applied for a pension in June of 1820, meeting the criteria that he was destitute and infirm, unable to support himself or his wife, whose name was Eleanor. What is knows is that he was "by trade a shoemaker," but was unable to find any work.
What is known is that a man named Jacob Hunt, who served as an infantryman in the Maryland 7th Regiment was allotted a plot of land in 1778 in Allegheny County, Maryland as part of an enlistment incentive to fill the ranks (see slideshow below for the documents and map). What is unknown is whether or not he claimed that land, although to date no records have been found proving or disproving his ownership. In his pension schedule, he mentions he "does not own any real estate," which means that if he did claim the land after his service, he disposed of it somehow before 1820. There is also a problem with mapping the plots and connecting them to the soldiers who were supposed to be receiving them - no one-to-one map exists linking soldiers to land plots.
What is known is that a man named Jacob Hunt was jailed in Washington County, Maryland in 1806 on "suspicion of stealing brandy." Whether or not this is the same Jacob Hunt is, of course, subject to much debate, but it does make the mystery a little more interesting. His general area of occupation reasonably extends to Hagerstown, Maryland, but there is no proof one way or the other on this matter.
What is known is that in 1840, a man named Jacob Hunt is listed on the census record as living in Lewis County, Virginia (now West Virginia). The Census record lists nothing other than his age (85) which matches the age our Jacob Hunt would be. In the same vein as the jailing incident, there is no definitive way to know if this is the same Jacob Hunt or not, but it does deepen the mystery. Lewis County is a great distance from Frederick County, where he's living in 1820. How did an older, poor, sickly man come to move that far away? Was he reduced to such poverty that he is rendered homeless? He mentions he does not own real estate, or much property, what he itinerate? Was he homeless? Is this event he same man, or are we looking at three different Jacob Hunts?
The mystery of Jacob Hunt is this: who was he? So few records exist, we have a difficult time piecing everything together, but we can come up with a few ideas, and assume how his life generally went:
- It is a fair assumption that he was illiterate - he signed his petition with his "mark" instead of his name.
- He was most likely extremely poor - the conditions for applying for the pension state one must be poverty-stricken. If it's him stealing brandy in 1806, why would he steal it if he could afford a drink? A man's reputation meant a great deal in those days, he wouldn't risk it for a bit of alcohol if he could help it. He also chose to enlist after the start of the war, when Maryland was struggling to reach proper numbers. The colony offered an incentive to get men to enlist: land. If Jacob was poor, and had no land of his own, this would be a great incentive, indeed.
- Later in life, he was most likely so poor he was homeless - he tells us he owns no real estate, although that doesn't exclude renting, but he also owns barely any property, just a few dishes, plates, forks, and shoemaking equipment. If the same man is living in Lewis County in 1840, he's between 80 and 90 years old. That is a very long distance for a man to travel at that age. Even if he travels there closer to 1820, he's still in his 60s, and he's a veteran of a war that was very tough on its enlisted men. His $8 a month pension is not enough to pull himself and his sickly wife out of destitution.
But we do know this: his name was Jacob Hunt, and he served in the American Revolutionary War in the Maryland 7th Regiment, under the Command of Colonel John Gunby. We know that as an enlisted man he saw action at the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Guilford Court House. We know that he played a very important part in the founding of the United States, and that his name shall not be forgotten.
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.