William Speer – An Old Soldier of the American Revolution
Many of my ancestors are buried in the Bivens Chapel Cemetery in Jefferson County, Alabama. Decoration Day at that cemetery is on Mother’s Day and I recall visiting the cemetery with my grandmother, Nora Belle Brake Burr many times on that occasion. The old section of the cemetery was always a source of curiosity to me because of the many old markers there. In particular, there was one grave that always intrigued me more than the others because the person who was buried there, William Speer, served in the Revolutionary War and lived to the age of 101 years. I asked Granny Burr about him once and she said that we were related to him. Although she offered an explanation about the relationship, I was too young or too inattentive to grasp it. However, in recent years, I have done enough research to understand my lineage. For those readers who are interested, an explanation of my kinship to William Speer is offered at the end of this document.
Considerable work has been done on the family trees for the Speer, Estep, and Brake families by other researchers. I enjoy looking at family trees but I prefer stories about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of my forefathers that are often missing from family trees. When I ran across the many letters and documents concerning William Speer that are retained in the National Archives, I saw more than just a set of names and dates – I saw a story of an old soldier’s struggle for help and dignity. I am pleased to present it here.
Alan T. “Al” Burr
William Speer was born in 1758 on the eastern shore of Maryland. Sometime at an early age, he and his family moved to North Carolina. He had a brother named Henry and reference was made by William’s son to an uncle named Ben Speer, although it is entirely possible that Henry and Ben referred to the same person (Henry Benjamin Speer). His father was named Jacob. William married Mildred Estep, the sister of Abraham Estep. There are alternate spellings of Estep such as Eastep but for consistency the shorter form is used throughout this writing unless citing a specific document, in which case the spelling in that document is used.
During the Revolutionary War, William Speer served several tours of duty in North Carolina. He was drafted during his first term and volunteered for the other terms. When he was drafted, he was so young that Captain Moseby proposed to his father that if he would furnish a pack horse for the service, his son might remain at home. His father concurred and furnished a horse in lieu of William’s service. One tour was served under the command of William’s brother, Henry Speer. The details of his military service are detailed later in his own words.
The Speer family lived in Surry County, North Carolina and moved to Madison County, Kentucky in October of 1801 and from there to Cumberland County, Kentucky. In 1824, they moved to Alabama and settled in Jefferson County where William lived the remainder of his life.
One of William’s sons was named Isaac and was born on April 20, 1784, in Surry County, North Carolina. A daughter named Mildred was born in Kentucky and married Bennett Brake. It is not clear how many daughters William had, but the evidence shows that he had at least two more, Catherine and Elizabeth. The 1850 census for Jefferson County, Alabama showed a man named William Speer who was born in Kentucky living next door to William Brake, the son of Bennett Brake. Based on his age and birthplace, the man was obviously a son of the older William Speer. Land records from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management document the purchase of land in Jefferson County by William Speer and also by William Speer, Junior.
The 1790 census showed many Speer (also spelled Spear) families living in Surry County, North Carolina. Whether they were all related to each other is debatable but chances are high that many of them were. Only the heads of household were listed in census reports prior to 1850.The 1790 census included Richard, Henry, Jacob (Jr. or Sr.), John (Jr. or Sr.), Andrew (Jr. or Sr.), William, Benjamin, Levi, Levin, Joshua, Andrew, Shadrack, and Aaron (Jr. or Sr.), John, and William as heads of household. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to recognize the origin of many of the names! As a bit of explanation for the (Jr. or Sr.) notations, the person who wrote the census had a peculiar way of making a “J” and an “S” that made it difficult to discern which was which. It is clear, however, that the persons listed had one of the titles.
In 1800, the census for Salisbury, North Carolina listed Speer families headed by George, Joshua, Andrew, Levi, Levon, John, Eli, Henry, Shaderick, James, John, Henry, Samuel, Aaron, and William. There were a few other Speer families living elsewhere in North Carolina, but not many.
The Cumberland County, Kentucky census for 1810 listed Thomas, William, Ben Sr., Ben Jr., John, Joseph, and Rich. Also of interest in that census was a man named Valentine Bivens whose name appeared just after that of William on the census report. According to information in later census reports, Valentine was born in North Carolina around 1780. Kentucky marriage records indicate that he married Elizabeth Speer on March 15, 1803, in Madison County, Kentucky. According to family trees by several different researchers, Elizabeth was a daughter of William Speer.
In 1820, the census for Cumberland County, Kentucky listed John, Benjamin, Abraham, Isaac, William, and Joseph. During a deposition given by William in the 1850’s, he referred to a son named Abram who lived in Cumberland County, Kentucky. It is probable that Abram is the Abraham listed in the 1820 census.
When the 1830 census was taken, William and his son William Jr. were living in Jefferson County, Alabama. Other related families from Cumberland County, Kentucky had also moved to Alabama, probably at the same time as William. Families headed by Bennett Brake, James Jacks, Nicholas Jacks, Valentine Bivens, and Robert Bivens appeared in the same census. A little more information on the ages of the persons in the household was included in the 1830 census. The oldest male in the household of William Speer (Jr.) was between 20 and 30 years of age. In the household of William Speer Sr., the oldest male was between 70 and 80 years of age. The oldest female (presumably his wife) was also between 70 and 80. Also in the household were two other females, one under 5 and the other between 10 and 15.
Curiously, the older William Speer does not appear in either the 1840 or 1850 census. It is possible that the census taker misunderstood his name and recorded him incorrectly but the odds are low that it would happen on two consecutive census reports. Another possibility is that he was living with some other family and was recorded as having the last name of the other family.
Aside from the Speer families living in Alabama and Kentucky in 1850, there was a James Speer who lived in Texas who might have been related to William. This person, according to the census information, was born in North Carolina around 1791. His wife Penelope was also born in North Carolina. Kentucky marriage records indicate the marriage of James Speer to Penelope Jacks on August 12, 1813, in Cumberland County, Kentucky. Documents and other evidence presented later clearly show a connection between the Jacks family and William Speer.
Pension application letters written on behalf of the older William Speer in the mid 1850’s mentioned that he was in the care of his youngest daughter, Mrs. Jacks but never mentioned her first name. There is evidence, however, that Mrs. Jacks was not his youngest daughter.
In 1854, William and his son Isaac gave affidavits on behalf of the family of William Hughlett who had served with William in the Revolutionary War. Major Hughlett was deceased at that time and some of his family members were seeking benefits as heirs. Isaac lived in Kentucky when the deposition was taken, so apparently he chose not to relocate to Alabama when his father moved.
The affidavit of Isaac offered considerable insight into the history of his father, William Speer. A transcription of the affidavit follows and a copy of the original handwritten version appears in the exhibits at the end of this document. This transcription and all others presented in this writing, unless otherwise indicated, were made by the author from handwritten documents that are on file at the National Archives. Every effort was made to transcribe them verbatim. Items enclosed in brackets [ ] were not in the original and were added by the author to offer clarification or explanation. Any word followed by [?] indicates that the word was not clearly legible and that a best guess was made. In cases where a word or phrase was completely illegible, the reference to its omission is indicated by […?].
State of Kentucky,
On the eighth day of February A.D. 1854, at the house of Isaac Speer in Cumberland County, Kentucky, before me Charles Smith, a Justice of the Peace for said County, personally appeared Isaac Speer, a resident citizen and farmer of said County, to me long and well known, born the twentieth day of April, one thousand seven hundred and eighty four, who being first duly sworn says: That he was personally well acquainted with the late William Hughlett, or as he was commonly called Major Hughlett.
That he first knew him in Surry County, North Carolina, where said Hughlett then lived, and where this affiant then lived and being but a small boy with his father William Speer.
This affiant well recollects when about twelve or thirteen years old of going to what was then called a fair with his father said William Speer , where they met said William Hughlett, this fair was held at Huntsville in said County and as well as this affiant recollects on the 1st Thursday, Friday and Saturday in May.
He recollects distinctly that his father and said William Hughlett were extremely glad to see each other, and had a great deal of talk about their service together in the Revolutionary war, but this affiant was then small and he does not recollect all that was said, but he remembers hearing them speak of one very bad night they were out together and camped in a swamp and had to build up brush heaps to keep out of the water. This affiant’s father William Speer served a tour under said Hughlett as he has heard both Hughlett and his father say.
This affiant remembers well when said Hughlett was a candidate for the legislature in North Carolina, and knows that several men said that they would vote for him because they had served under him in the Revolutionary war, and he was a good officer.
He particularly recollects hearing his father and one John Dennis assign the above as the reason why they were for him. His best recollection is said Dennis said he served with him.
This affiants grandfather Jacob Speer who lived within two miles of the shallow ford on Yadkin river gave a reaping[?] before the election at which were a number of men and they were talking about the election and his Hughlette’s friends assigned as the reason why he should be supported that he was a good officer in the Revolution and treated his men well. This affiant was then a boy and was not allowed to take a hand in the convention, but remembers well what was said about it. He remembers that said Hughlett was elected once if not oftener. This affiant moved with his father from North Carolina to Madison County, Kentucky in October 1801, and from there to Cumberland County, Kentucky within a half mile of where [he] now lives. The circumstances that he has spoken of took place before he moved to Madison County. The affiant afterwards knew said William Hughlett and his family well in this county. He knows that the very same William Hughlett he knew in North Carolina and who he heard spoken of as a good officer in the Revolutionary war, is the very same man he knew in this county.
Said Hughlett lived in this county on Wolf river, at the place where A.M. Craft now lives about seven or eight miles from where the affiant lives. Hughlett was always in the habit of stopping to see the affiants father in pacing[?] backwards and forwards and the old man would talk over their scrapes and times in the war. This affiant recollects after moving to this county of seining for fish in company with said Hughlett who spoke to him of this affiant’s father being a good Revolutionary soldier and that he had served a tour under him said Hughlett.
This affiant has also heard his uncle Ben Speer say he had served a tour under him. His uncle Ben is now dead.
The last time this affiant saw Hughlett was at a gathering at what is called the Goatman[?] place in this county in the year 1819 or 1821. I kept a stable[?] horse in those years and saw him at one of the times.
Major Hughlett afterwards moved to the Western District in Tennessee and there died as this affiant has often heard.
He knew Mrs. McColgan who is an applicant as he is informed for the pension due the widow of said William Hughlett at his death. He saw not long since[?] and knows that she always been reputed to be a daughter of said William Hughlett. Major Hughlett was a man of good standing in this county.
This affiant states that he is not related to the applicants and has no interest in the result of their application.
In April of 1854, the deposition of William Speer was taken by Nathan Byars, a Justice of the Peace in Jefferson County, Alabama to support Mr. Hughlett’s claim.
State of Alabama
County of Jefferson
On this 28th day of April, 1854
Before me the undersigned Nathan Byars Justice of the Peace for the county and State aforesaid personally appeared William Speer to me well known a resident citizen of the above named county and State aged ninety five years who being by me first duly sworn says that he was personally well and intimately acquainted with the late William Hughlett that said William Hughlett lived prior to the year 1800 in Surry County, North Carolina when and where this affiant then lived. That the said William Hughlett was a captain in the North Carolina Militia in the Revolutionary War, and served as such for the period of three months best of affiants knowledge, how much longer this affiant does not know, That affiant served under his brother Henry Speer Captain in the same Regiment at the same time that, Captain William Hughlett served as Captain of another Company, that said William Hughlett was afterward called Major Hughlett when this affiant knew him in Kentucky. This affiant states that he knew Major William Hughlett in Cumberland County Kentucky, well that they frequently meet together, and talked about their being in the Revolutionary War at the same time and in the same Regiment, that he the said affiant moved from Surry County North Carolina about the year 1801 or two that he afterwards moved to Cumberland County Kentucky about the year 1804 or five and settled where he has been informed his son Abram now lives. After he moved to Cumberland County, he renewed his acquaintance with the said William Hughlett who had settled on Wolf River near the Tennessee line about 7 or eight miles from this affiant’s residence. This affiant often met said Hughlett who was in the habit of calling to see him after their removal as above he knows him to be the same man he knew in North Carolina and knows him to be the same William Hughlett who was in the Revolutionary War at the time the said affiant was, and that he was a captain of a company of Militia during the tour that said affiant served, he does not recollect the name of Mrs. Hughlett but believes it to be Mary or Molly. That Major Hughlett was a man in good standing and respectability,
He makes the above statements for the benefit of the heirs of his old and esteemed friend and fellow soldier, having no interest of his own whatever in the result of their application
On this affidavit and other documents bearing his name, William made his mark rather than actually signing his name. It is not known whether this was due to his physical condition or more likely an inability to write.
The person who was handling the pension application for the Hughlett heirs (probably an attorney) sent a letter to someone, most likely Nathan Byars, requesting some follow up information for the Hughlett pension application.
June 20th 1854
Your enclosing Deposition of William Speer came duly to hand and was filed by us in the Pension Office, and have received reply under date 6th instant, in which they require Speer to state the reason why he never applied for a pension.
We understand from his children that the older gentleman is in easy circumstances and had no occasion to require assistance from the Government and that he always refused to apply for the above reason, regarding a pension in the same light as being placed on the County.
We desire you to take his statement as to the above fact and enclose to us immediately and also one or more affidavits separately from his as to his credibility and circumstances. We enclose $2 for your trouble and will pay you for any business we may have to transact through you promptly. Please attend to this at once. We send the form of his affidavit which may assist you, as follows…
[The letter goes on to give a suggested wording for the required affidavit.]
In December of 1855, William gave a deposition for the purpose of obtaining bounty land. For the benefit of readers who are not acquainted with this term, bounty land warrants were sometimes awarded by acts of Congress to persons who had performed a service for the government, typically for serving in the military during a war. According to the information in the deposition, this particular award was passed by Congress in March of 1855. Once obtained, the recipient could redeem the bounty warrant for land or they could sell the warrant to obtain cash. William’s deposition read:
The State of Alabama
On this 8th day of December one thousand eight hundred and fifty five, personally appeared before me a justice of the peace within and for the County and State aforesaid William Speer aged ninety seven years, a resident of Jefferson County in the State of Alabama, who being duly sworn according to law, declared that he is the identical William Speer who was a private in the company commanded by Captain Samuel Moseby in the Regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Williams for a term of three months, also a second tour, as an Ensign in the company commanded by Captain Henry Speer in the Regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Phillips for a term of three months, also a third tour as a private in the company commanded by Captain David Humphries in the Regiment commanded by Col. James Martin and three of these tours of service were performed in the war of the Revolution from the State of North Carolina and during the latter part of that war. He further states that he was honorably discharged at the end of each term of service. He makes this declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which he may be entitled under the act approved March 3rd 1855. He also declares that he has not received a warrant for bounty land under this or any other act of Congress nor made any other application therefore.
We L.G. McMillion and Gilbert C. Jacks residents of Jefferson County in the State of Alabama upon our oath declare that the foregoing declaration was signed and acknowledged by William Speer in our presence, and that we believe, from the appearance and statements of the applicant that he is the identical person he represents himself to be.
The Gilbert C. Jacks who witnessed the declaration above appeared to be a son of James K. Jacks based on data (age, household location, etc.) from census reports. Information from a history of the Fields family states that Mary Fields married Gilbert Craft Jacks, grandson of William Speer. Gilbert and his wife are reported to be buried in the Cluster Springs Cemetery which is just off of Fieldstown Road near Gardendale, Alabama.
A letter from the pension office concerning the application for bounty land was received in January of 1856. It stated:
January 4, 1856
Yours of the 3rd with application of William Speer for bounty land and accompanying papers has been received.
You will observe that by the 3rd section of the Act of March 3rd last, under which the application is made it is required that a claimant prove his service by record evidence to entitle him to land under it. Hence, the evidence forwarded with the above claim being merely parol, [word of mouth] is not admissible under the act. Other and record evidence must be furnished or the claim cannot be allowed. I therefore return the papers to you as requested.
In reply to your other inquiry I have to state that a service of at least 6 months is necessary to entitle to a revolutionary pension. It need not however be continuous but may be made by the addition of several distinct tours of service. On proper proof of that length of service William Speer would be entitled to a pension, the amount of which would be determined by its grade and duration over six months. No particular kind of evidence is required to prove his service. Records or the testimony of witnesses is admissible. The only requirement is that it be such as reasonably to satisfy this office of the correctness of the claim.
In February of 1856, William applied for a pension based on his service in the Revolutionary War. The following deposition was taken by H. H. Hancock:
The State of Alabama
On this 13th day of February 1856, Personally appeared before me H.H. Hancock – a Justice of the Peace in and for said County, William Speer aged ninety seven years, a resident of Jefferson County, State of Alabama, who being duly sworn according to law declares that he was a soldier in the War of the American Revolution, in the latter part of said war and served three tours under the following officers to wit: The first as a private under Captain Samuel Moseby in the Regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Williams for a term of three months, Also a second tour of three months as an ensign in the company commanded by Captain Henry Speer in the Regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Philips also another three months tour, as a private in the company commanded by Captain David Humphries in the Regiment commanded by Col. James Martin; making in all a service of nine months. All these tours were performed from the State of North Carolina. And he further states his reasons for never applying before for a pension for his Revolutionary services is, that he was in easy circumstances, and did not desire to be regarded as under the necessity of being supported by the General Government, having a sufficiency to live upon without the Government aid, but his property having been placed in hands that squandered it he is now brought to the necessity of applying to the General Government for a pension to support him in his declining years. On being asked where he was when Cornwallace surrendered, He answered that he was in the service under Captain Humphrey at Wilmington, North Carolina, when the news of the surrender of Cornwallace reached there, which he states was in September or October 1781 – He therefore hopes that sufficient proof has been made to entitle him to his pension.
On the same day, an affidavit was filed by James K. Jacks to attest to the service of William. Neither this affidavit nor any other papers filed as part of the pension application mentioned whether / how Mr. Jacks was related to William. Since a daughter of William named Mrs. Jacks was mentioned in a later document, it would seem likely that James K. Jacks was related to her. It is probable that his wife Catherine was the daughter of William mentioned in the document. Several family trees by other researchers indicate this also. However, it must be stressed that no document was ever found by the author to prove this with certainty although the evidence suggests it. According to information in the 1850 census, James K. was born in North Carolina around 1795 and Catherine was born in North Carolina around 1798.The affidavit of James K. Jacks read:
The State of Alabama
On this 13th day of February 1856, personally appeared before me the undersigned, a justice of the peace, within and for the State and County aforesaid, James K. Jacks, who being duly sworn according to law, states that he has been intimated and personally acquainted with William Speer who now makes application for a pension, for the space of about forty four years, fourteen years of the time in the State of Kentucky, Cumberland County, and for the last thirty years in Jefferson County in the State of Alabama, He further states that during his acquaintance with Mr. Speer in Kentucky he heard Mr. William Hughlett frequently speak of being in the service at the close of the Revolutionary War , with the said William Speer, and that he also frequently heard Speer speak of being in the service with Mr. Hughlett and that they both were looked upon, at that day, in Kentucky , by all who knew them as being two old soldiers of the Revolution. He further states that for the last thirty years, he had lived a near neighbor in this State, to Mr. Speer, and that during all this time Mr. Speer was one among the first Revolutionary guests invited to attend our 4th of July celebration which he cheerfully attended, until he became unable to travel. He further states that he has often heard Mr. Speer state that the reason why he never applied for a pension was that he had ample means to live upon and that he did not want aid from the Government so long as he was in easy circumstances. He also states that Mr. Speer did have ample means to support him, till a few years back when he placed his property in the hands of those whose duty it was to support him, but his property has been squandered, and now he is in the care of a devoted daughter of a weakly constitution, who has to support him in his present helpless condition. He further states that Mr. Speer has all this time, both in Kentucky and Alabama, been looked upon as being an honest and upright man in all his transactions and as for a man of truth and veracity no one stands fairer. He further states that ever since and before he knew Mr. Speer, he had been a member in good standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
James K. Jacks
Assuming that James K. Jacks was the son-in-law of William, he apparently accepted blame well or had a different perspective of the situation because as you will read a little later, Joab Bagley blamed William’s son-in-law for William’s financial problems. In the preceding affidavit, Mr. Jacks stated that “his property has been squandered” but offered no explanation of who squandered it.
Some of William’s friends and supporters signed a petition on February 16, 1856, to help with his pension application. The list of names read like a “who’s who” of Jefferson County and included judges, clergymen, doctors, the sheriff, and other respected individuals. Congressman Sampson W. Harris of the U.S. House of Representatives later referred to the signers as “the best men of Jefferson County”. A copy of the actual document is presented later but the text of it read:
The undersigned citizens of the County and State aforesaid, do hereby state that we have been acquainted with William Speer, who now applies for a pension, for a long time, some of us from twenty to thirty years, and know that he has always been considered a Revolutionary Soldier, having always been one of the guests invited to the 4th of July celebration, and that he has heretofore withheld his application for a pension, from motives of independence and delicacy, but now having become extremely old and destitute, has concluded to make said application. We hope that the Department will give a favorable consideration to his application, believing as we do, that he is fully entitled to a Pension.
On the same day, Joab Bagley, the probate judge of Jefferson County sent a letter to the pension commissioner on behalf of William Speer. It is possible that the letter could have been a cover letter that accompanied the petition mentioned above. Unfortunately, Mr. Bagley’s handwriting was atrocious and it is a struggle to make out many of the words. In the letter, Mr. Bagley states that “After the death of Mr. Speer’s wife, he moved in with his youngest daughter whose husband was at that time considered a very prominent and industrious man …Mr. Speer gave him the control of his property expecting him to be comfortably provided for in his declining days, but unfortunately that son in law became […?][possibly embarrassed] and lost all his property and cannot now provide for, or do any thing for the support of the old man”.
A letter was sent from Congressman Sampson W. Harris on March 12, 1856, to Mr. Minot pleading with him to help with a favorable decision for William. The letter stated:
12 Mar 56 [March 12, 1856]
Some time since I forwarded to you the application of Wm. Speer, Revolutionary Soldier, for land warrant, which was declined, on the ground, that record evidence was required – Such is not the case with reference to pensions, and a bill is now progressing in the Senate, to place those applications on a similar footing as to evidence. Therefore I forward another application for land warrant, how with the action of Congress upon the pending bill, which you will please file.
I enclose you also, another packet, relating to a pension. It embraces letters, […?][ possibly certifiably & 6], to all of which I would respectfully call your earnest consideration, and trust that their testimony may not be considered as complete as might be, that still it may satisfy your mind that the applicant is meritorious . The memorial, [petition] stated, herewith enclosed, is to my knowledge, signed by men of the highest character and worth, and many of them now and heretofore have filled responsible positions both in County and State – What ever they state, may be relied on – By reading the papers all carefully, you will understand the case, that the papers seems (some of them) to have no connection with each other –
You will pardon me, for adding, that the deep interest manifested by the best men of Jefferson Co., for this old soldier, makes me very solicitous for the success of this application, and may be permitted to indulge the hope, that your sense of public duty will allow you, to give it a favorable examination.
If I supposed my presence would aid you in understanding better, the case, I would visit you in person, but not so thinking I submit the case to you alone Hon. J. Minot Comm [commissioner]
Sampson W. Harris
In May of 1856, more affidavits were filed for William. For the most part, they repeated much of the original pension application information but in some cases they went into a little more detail.
The State of Alabama
On this 15th day of May, one thousand eight hundred and fifty six personally appeared before me Joab Bagley, Judge of the Probate Court (which court is a court of record) for the county and State aforesaid, William Speer, aged ninety seven years, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June the 7th 1832. That he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated – First a tour of three months as a private in the Company commanded by Captain Samuel Moseby in the Regiment or Battalion commanded by Col. Joseph Williams – Secondly, a tour of three months as an ensign in the company commanded by Captain Henry Speer, in the Battalion or Regiment commanded by Col. Joseph Philips. Thirdly, as a private, for a tour of three months, in the company commanded by Captain David Humphries, in the Regiment or Battalion commanded by Col. James Martin – He further states that he lived in Surry County North Carolina at the time the above services were performed, the precise date of his entering or leaving the service he cannot state, but is satisfied it was at the close of the war in the years 1780 & 81 – He further states that he was in the service near Wilmington N.C. when the news of the surrender of Cornwallis was received – He further states that he was drafted for the first tour but was a volunteer in both the others – Being quite young, when drafted, his Captain proposed to his father, that if he would furnish a pack horse for the service, his son might remain at home, which he states was done and that it was to be considered the same as if he had actually served the tour, this circumstance he omitted to state when he sent on his first declaration a few weeks since to the pension office – In the second tour he states he was a volunteer and an Ensign under the officers above named, he states that he volunteered in Surry County N.C. and marched from there to Salisbury, N.C. and from there to Henry County in Virginia when the term of service having expired he was dismissed. In his third tour he states he was a volunteer – that he volunteered in Surry County N.C. and marched from there to Guilford where he joined the Guilford troops, from there they marched to and fro thru the country until, when near Wilmington N.C., the news of the surrender of Cornwallis being received they were soon thereafter dismissed – He further states that he has no documentary evidence and that he knows of no person now living whose testimony he can procure who can testify to his service – He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present, and declares that his name is not on the pension roll of the Agency of any State, to his knowledge.
Sworn to and subscribed
The day and year aforesaid
J. Bagley Judge of Probate
We, Benjamin Tarrant, a clergyman residing in the County of Jefferson and State of Alabama and L.G. McMillion residing in the same County and State hereby certify that we are well acquainted with William Speer who has subscribed and sworn to the above declaration, that we believe him to be Ninety seven years of age; that he is respected and believed in the neighborhood where he resides, to have been a soldier of the Revolution and that we concur in that opinion.
Sworn to and subscribed } Benjamin Tarrant
the day and year aforesaid} L.G. McMillion
J. Bagley Judge of Probate
Interrogatories propounded by the Judge to the Applicant
1st – Where and in what year were you born;
Ans – I was born on the eastern shores of Maryland in the year 1758 –
2nd – Have you any record of your age and if so where is it;
Ans – I have, and it is in the possession of my Grand Daughter in this county
3rd – Where were you living when called into service; where have you lived since the Revolutionary war; and where do you now live;
Ans – When called into service I was living in Surry County N.C. Since the Revolutionary War I have lived in Kentucky from 1801 until 1824 when I moved to Alabama where I have lived ever since.
4th – How were you called into service; were you drafted did you volunteer or were you a substitute and if a substitute for whom;
Ans- Orders were received by Col. Martin Armstrong to call us into service – the first tour I was drafted, the other two I was a volunteer as above stated
5th – State the names of some of the Regular Officers who were with the troops where you served; such Continental and Militia Regiments as you can recollect and the general circumstances of your service;
Ans – There were no Regular troops with us – In addition to the officers named above, I remember the names of Maj. Gillispie, Capt. Stewart and Capt. Herolit [Hughlett] and I further state that my deposition was taken in 1854 by the heirs of Capt. Herolit [Hughlett] to prove his services which paper I suppose is now on file in the Pension Office, and I further state that the reason why I never applied for a pension before is that I was until a few years back in easy circumstances and had I always remained so, I never would have applied to the Government for aid.
6th – Did you ever receive a discharge from the service and if so by whom was it given, and what has become if it? Did you ever receive a commission, and if so, by whom was it signed, and what has become if it.
Ans – When I was a private under Captain Humphries I received a discharge from him and left it with Abraham Estep my brother in law in North Carolina when I left there – When I was Ensign in Capt. Henry Speer’s Company I received my commission from Genl. Davidson or it may have been a certificate of my election or appointment, which also was left with Abraham Estep in North Carolina, and I will also state , I was not engaged in any civil pursuit during the term of my services in the field.
7th – State the names of persons to whom you are known in your present neighborhood and who can testify as to your character for veracity and their belief of your services as a Soldier of the Revolution.
Ans – Doct Samuel S. Earle, Genl. Moses Kelly, Hugh Morrow Clerk Circuit Court, Thomas J. Wright Postmaster, Richard Hudson Shff. W.A. Walker Doct J.R. Smith, Baylis E. Grace, former Clk of County Court. E.A. Walker, W.C. Eubanks, Hon Wm. S. Mudd, Hon John Camp and James K. Jacks – most or nearly all of them are to a certificate now on file in the department which I made a few weeks ago – The last named Mr. James K. Jacks has also certified (which is now on file in the Pension Office) that he has known me for upward of forty four years both in Kentucky and in this State, and that he always understood and heard it often stated I was a Soldier in the Revolutionary War.
Also, on May 15, 1856, Joab Bagley wrote an opinion as Probate Judge of Jefferson County that William Speer was indeed a Revolutionary War soldier:
The State of Alabama
I Joab Bagley Judge of the Probate Court, which court is a Court of Record, do hereby declare my opinion after the investigation of the matter and after putting the interrogatories prescribed by the War Department that the above named applicant was a Revolutionary Soldier and served as he states – And I further certify that it appears to me that Benjamin Tarrant who has signed the preceding certificate is a clergyman resident in the County of Jefferson and State of Alabama, And that L.G. McMillion who has signed the same is a resident in the same County and State and is a credible person and that their statement is entitled to credit and I further certify, that by reason of old age and infirmity, that the declaration of the applicant was made, and the examination submitted to, at his place of residence in the County and State aforesaid.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal of office this 15th day of May A.D. 1856
J. Bagley Judge of Probate
A letter was sent from Sampson W. Harris of the U.S. House of Representatives on May 14, 1856, concerning William’s application. The letter was simply addressed to “Sir” but more than likely it went to William’s lawyer, L.G. McMillion. Apparently, Mr. Harris’s help was solicited to help expedite the claim. The letter stated:
Ho. [House] Reps.[Representatives] U.S.
14 May 1856
Further effort has been made to establish the right of Wm. Speer of Alabama to pension bounty as a Rev. Soldier.
You will please find enclosed a certificate from comptroller of North Carolina going to show that he received pay from the state as a soldier of the revolution – Permit me to call your attention once more to the testimony already filed, and to furnish the hope that the certificate now presented in connection with it may prove sufficient to authorize pension Warrant.
Sampson W. Harris
[cc] Hon J. Minot
Apparently, there must have been some sort of challenge about the form of the pension application submitted on behalf of William. On May 24, 1856 L.G. McMillion sent the following letter addressed to “Dear Harris” which apparently referred to Sampson W. Harris of the U.S. House of Representatives:
Elyton May 24th / 56 
I now return you the declaration of Wm. Speer for a pension regularly made out according to the printed form you sent me – There is a slight difference between this and the informal one I sent you before – He states that in his first tour to serve, he was drafted, and being quite young Capt. Moseby told his father if he would furnish a pack horse, he would take it in place of his son which he did and it was understood to be the same as if the service had been performed in person –
By reference to the late History of North Carolina by John H. Wheeler vol, 1st you will find the name of Capt. Joseph Phillips, who was afterwards Col. [Colonel] On page 81 you will [find] Col. James Martin you will also find him again on page 405 & 409 – Col. Joseph William’s name you will find on page 409 Col. afterward Genl. Davidson you will find on page 264 and elsewhere in the book – Please direct the Court’s attention to this History – There is proof sufficient as to his field officers – I wrote to Mr. Geo W. Brooks Comptroller at Raleigh N.C. for information, and requested him to forward to you whatever he might find in his office that would benefit Mr. Speer – I recd. A note from him yesterday, dated May 13, 1856 in these words “I have transmitted to the Hon. S.W. Harris at Washington City a Certificate of the service of William Speer for £ 40:10-6 which I hope will answer the old gentleman’s purpose in procuring a pension” You have I hope recd. The Comptrollers Certificate – What more proof can there be wanting, to ensure success? None I hope – The old soldier desires me to request you to urge this matter through as speedily as possible – He desires to know that the Government has done something for him before he died – His declaration for a land warrant you have in your possession if it is not on file in the pension office – Mr. Speer desires that you call on Mr. Minot, the Comm [Commissioner] in person, and request him to issue his land warrant at once, as he needs means for his support, He can now get a dollar an acre for it, if he had it – He says surely Mr. Minot will not refuse to issue it, for an old soldier who is now in his 98 years – Mr. Speer in his declaration has referred, in answer to a question, to several persons here as his neighbors, you know them all yourself also – Their names are with the first declaration I sent you – Now my dear friend whatever can be done for Mr. Speer, have it done as speedily as possible, as we all know he can’t from the course of nature, survive but a short time – He has given to his daughter Mrs. Jacks what he may get – The old man is helpless and has been for several years, occasioned by a fall he got – Remember to make application at once for his land warrant, Mr. Minot will cause it to be issued at once – no doubt – Have the land warrant when […?]
When his pension is fixed up enclose the draft for the amount also [to] me – This is the request of Mr. Speers and Mr. Jacks both –
Let me hear from [you] soon on the subject – State how much you think his pension will be – I have no doubt but that you have proof sufficient to procure both the land warrant and pension for there is record evidence for both – I enclose you the printed form you sent me, and refer you to Note m, at the margin of 3rd page –
Your faithful friend
[p.s] I have concluded to keep the printed form you sent me, as you can refer to the note alluded to there – It says “The answers to the interrogatories must all be written and sent to the war department with the declaration”
This has all been done
Apparently not satisfied with the pace of the process, Mr. McMillion sent the following letter to Mr. Minot, the pension commissioner on June 5, 1856:
Elyton June 5, 1856
I am requested by Mr. Wm. Speer to request you, if you please, to forward him his land warrant and draft for his pension at as early a day as you possibly can – He is in a helpless condition, occasioned by a fall he got some year since, besides he is in the care of a beloved daughter who is in feeble health herself.
He forwarded to the Hon. S.W. Harris all his papers, regularly made out, according to the printed form Mr. H. sent him some weeks since –
I wrote to Mr. Brooks Comptroller of public accounts of N. Carolina, and requested him to search his office for documentary evidence, as to Mr. Speer’s Revolutionary services, and requested, if he found anything that would benefit him to forward it on to Hon. S.W. Harris who has all the other papers – Mr. Brooks informs me that he found sufficient evidence he thought, to entitle the old soldier to his pension, which evidence I expect is on file in your office –
He asks it as a deed of kindness, that speedy action may be taken in his case – He is now in his 98th year, and says he reckons, he is about the oldest man in the land who has made this request of you –
Land warrants are declining in price, but if he can obtain his soon he can get $1 per acre for it –
Hon. S.W. Harris has his declaration for the land warrant, if he did not file it in your office – Your kind and early attention to this matter will confer a great favor on one of among the best citizens of the Country in which he lives –
We all know your rule, in acting upon these cases in their turn, but as this is an extreme case, it is only to be hoped, that you may bestow upon it, that early attention its merits demand –
Send the land warrant and the draft for the pension directed to me at this place, or hand them to the Hon. S.W. Harris M.C., who will attend to it –
Based on the content of the following letter, Mr. Minot must have sent a reply to Mr. McMillion requesting more information and documentation. Mr. McMillion seemed annoyed by the letter and sent this response on July 4th, 1856:
Elyton July 4th 1856
Hon. J. Minot
Sir – I recd. your letter sent by Hon. S.W. Harris in relation to Wm. Speers pension.
You say “it is necessary that the party should state under oath, the place or places at which he resided when he entered the service” The first application made by Mr. Speer was informal, and you were kind enough to send me a printed form, according to the Act of June 7th 1832 – From this printed form a second application was made out in May cast with the Secretary of State’s seal attached as required – This application, as the first, was sent to the Hon S.W. Harris, he may have overlooked it, and not as yet laid it before you – In it, I think you will find that Mr. Speer states, that he resided in Surry County, North Carolina, at the time of entering all his service – If it is not in his application, it was clearly an oversight – Be so good as to send me the necessary question, to be propounded to Mr. Speer, should it not be found in his last application – Should this last application not have been filed, please call on the Hon S. W. Harris for it – Again you say “It may be well to state in advance, that even if it shall be determined that he was the soldier who recd. the said payment, no allowance can be made for the grade of a commissioned officer, unless his rank is sustained by the production of his Commission, or other record evidence equivalent thereto”-
He has in his application under oath, that he was Ensign under his brother Capt Henry Speer for a tour of three months – The comptroller of N.C. [North Carolina] certified that he recd £ 40-10-6 [English currency - 40 pounds, 10 shillings, 6 pence] for his services – Permit me for information, to ask this question – Would a private soldier during 9 months service in the Revolution, have recd £ 40-10-6 for his service? – I don’t know what a soldier’s pay was in the Revolution – In the war of 1812 it was $8 per month – I have written again to the Comptroller of N.C. requesting him to examine closely and see if he can find any evidence of Mr. Speer’s having been an Ensign.
I thank you kindly Mr. Minot for the pains you have taken to keep me informed of how to proceed in this matter. I thank you also for the information, that in a few days his declaration for a land warrant will be examined – I hope he may soon get his warrant as they are fast declining in price –
Will you be so good as to enclose me the necessary interrogatories to be further propounded to Mr. Speer if you should still think it necessary –
Your […?] Servt
Either the letter did not sway Mr. Minot or he responded before receiving it. In a letter dated July 27, 1856, Mr. McMillion once again tried to prompt Mr. Minot, the pension commissioner to proceed with William’s application:
Elyton 27th July 1856
Since I recd your note informing me, that the claim of Wm. Speer for pension was suspended, for the reasons assigned in a letter from your office to the Hon, S.W. Harris, I have had a personal interview with Mr. Speer. He states that he resided in Surry County N.C. at the time he entered the service, and for many years after the close of the war – This fact is stated on his declaration made before Judge Bagley, and now on file in your office – I forward it myself, to Hon S.W. Harris, and requested him to hand it over to you – This declaration was made out according to the printed form you were kind enough to send me – If you require it Mr. Speer is willing to make a separate affidavit that he was a citizen of Surry County N.C. during the terms of his services, and was a citizen of said County for years after the close of the Revolution – He will also state under oath, if necessary, that he was the only Wm. Speer of Surry County who was old enough to enter the service, during the term of time he served – since I recd your note of suspension, I have written to the Comptroller again of N.C. requesting him to further search and see if he can find any proof of Mr. Speer being an Ensign – If the Comptroller has found any proof, it has been sent to you, […?] this – If no proof has been produced sufficient to establish the fact that he was an Ensign, of course he can only come in as a private soldier – He thinks he has produced evidence sufficient to satisfy you, that he is entitled, not only to his land warrant, but to a pension as at least a private, also.
In my recent interview with him, he informed me that a dollar in that day, was [… ?] at 8 s[shillings] Consequently the £ 40-10-6 he recd would amt [amount] to only $101 federal money –
If any further proof is necessary, be so good as to lend me a form of what is further necessary and it shall be promptly attended to – Permit me to refer you to his declaration made under Judge Bagley, he there has stated, under oath that he resided in Surry Co. N.C. when he entered the service – Should Congress adjourn before this claim is allowed, please thereafter address me at this place as I am the sole agent in the case for Mr. Speer – His land warrant and draft for his pension enclose to me – If you please let me hear from you soon –
On the same day, Mr. McMillion also wrote a letter to Mr. Harris of the House of Representatives. The letter was simply addressed to “My Dear Sir” but from the context of the letter, it is obvious that the recipient was Mr. Harris. The letter stated:
Elyton July 27th 1856
My Dear Sir
I today wrote Mr. Minot upon the subject of Mr. Speers claim for pension – I have had an interview with Mr. Speer since the court suspended further action in the premises, and he states he had already before Judge Bagley, stated under oath that he resided in Surry County N.C. at the time he entered the service, and continued to reside there many years after the close of the war – Mr. Minot says that Mr. Speer must “state under oath the place or places at which he resided when he entered the service” Mr. Speer has done this and if you will examine the declaration made before Judge Bagley you will find it there – Now my old friend, Congress will adjourn before long and I fear it will do so before action is had upon this matter – Tell Minot to allow Mr. Speer a pension as a private if he has not proof sufficient to let him come in as an Ensign – We will be content with this – We hope you may urge the matter through before you leave there – Should it not be decided on before you do leave, tell Mr. Minot to forward me Mr. S. [Speer’s] land warrant and draft for his pension should he prove successful –
Mr. Minot through a mistake might forward them on to you, which would cause some delay – I wrote on again to the Comptroller of N.C. to search again, and see if he could find nothing [something] that would show that Speer was an Ensign 3 months as he swears he was in the Revolution –
Now if nothing has been sent on in his favor, more than what has already been, say to the Comm [Commissioner] to pass upon the claim and allow him a land warrant and a pension as a private soldier –
Speer is willing further to swear that he himself was the only Wm. Speer who resided in Surry County N.C. that was old enough to enter the service at the time he did –
Request Mr. Minot if he wants further proof, to furnish me with the form of what he requires and I will attend to it –
I have most anxiously looked for a line from you on this subject – I have written Mr. Minot a letter containing the substance of this note – Have some definite action taken before you leave – What more evidence can he ask than what has already been furnished ? Write soon.
Your friend you know
On August 8, 1856, Sampson W. Harris sent a letter to either the pension board or more specifically to the pension commissioner. It stated:
Ho. Rep [House of Representatives]
8 Aug 1856 [August 8, 1856]
I enclose you the accompanying declaration and letters connected with the application of Wm. Speer of Alabama, for Bounty Land and pension, and which has for sometime been before you – I hope what is now presented may be sufficient to ensure the success of his application – and I am very sure, that however in some respect, the testimony may be deemed defective, that the claim is a just one – You will pardon me if I ask one more minute examination of this case and jury be permitted [… ?][possibly fair proof,] the hope, also that you may feel satisfied that the applicant came fairly within the provision of the law –
If you should come to no decision before the adjournment of Congress, you will please communicate hereafter, with the Hon. L.G. McMillion, Elyton, Ala. and remit to him any thing that may be awarded to the applicant – I should be pleased to be notified of your decision –
Hon. J. Minot
Still another deposition was given by William Speer on August 12, 1856. It was taken by Whitehouse Hewitt, an acting Justice of the Peace.
The State of Alabama
Personally appeared before me Whitehouse Hewitt, an acting Justice of the Peace in and for the County and State aforesaid Williams Speer who being duly sworn according to law deposeth and said that he resided in Surry County in the State of North Carolina, with his father, about sixteen miles from Rockford the present county site, [seat] each of the times he entered the service of the United states in the Revolutionary war, as set forth in his declaration, and that after the close of the war, he continued to reside there, until 1801, when he removed to the State of Kentucky. He further states that he was the only individual by the name of William Speer, in Surry County, at the time he entered the service – and that he knew of no one of that name in either of the Battalion or Regiment in which he served, during his terms of service – He further states that sometimes in February or March 1854 the heirs of William Hughlett of Kentucky, sent on here, and took his deposition to prove the services of their father, who served as Capt in the same Regiment with affiant, during his second tour of service, and that he believed said depositions are now on file with Mr. Hughlett’s papers, in the pension office –
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 12th day
of August 1856
Justice of the Peace
The above was signed in my presence
James K. Jacks
The above affidavit was forwarded to the pension office on August 14, 1856. In a cover letter, Mr. McMillion pleaded the case of William Speer once more.
Elyton Aug 14th 1856
In accordance with your letter of the 6th of June, I forward you the affidavit of William Speer, stating at what place or places he resided when he entered the service –
I submitted your letter to the Hon. Wm. S. Mudd one of our Circuit Judges – He suggested the form of the affidavit which was taken accordingly –
As Mr. Speer’s Agent and Attorney, I have done all I can do. Since I wrote you last, I recd a letter from the Comptroller of North Carolina.
He says “I cannot find that Wm Speer held the office of Ensign in the Revolution” As no record evidence can be produced, he will have to be considered a private soldier. The nearest record evidence is his three payments – The first he recd was at Salisbury in Sep 1782 £ 20-14-0 which is about $51, and about an Ensign’s pay for three months – The second payment was for £ 10-4-6 or about $25.50 The third was for £ 9-12-0, just $24 – These payments show that he recd as a private about $8 per month, allowing as was the case then, 8 s [shillings] To the dollar –
If this is rejected as record evidence, he must be content to receive his pension and land warrant as a private soldier – I do trust you may make your decision at an early day – There never was a case before the Pension office, that requires speedy action more than this, and I am encouraged to believe you will give it your early attention – If any thing should happen that may lead to a final rejection of his claim, be so good as to file all the papers in this case, as they will be record for future reference –
I wrote to the Hon S.W. Harris to furnish you with Mr. Speer’s original declaration for a land warrant, I returned it to him long since and requested him to do so. This was the original declaration you alluded to, I presume in your last letter – Mr. Speer’s declaration for a pension taken before Judge Bagley, and drawn from a printed form you sent me you have no doubt received – It was taken here about the 15 of May last, and sent to Hon S.W. Harris to be laid before you – If you require a formal declaration for the land warrant let me know it, and it shall be attended to immediately – Now if there was no other William Speer paid off for his services at Salisbury and Willsborough, it follows of course that his claim is a just one – It seems to me, if there had been any other of the same name Mr. Brooks the Comptroller of N.C. would or should have so stated in his certificate-
Should you entertain any doubt esp [especially] on the justness of Mr. Speer’s claim, let me refer you to the latest History of North Carolina by John H. Wheeler, late Treasurer of the State Vol. 1st – 1851 –
By noticing the history of Rowan, Surry, Burk, and Macklenburg Counties, you will find the names of all the field officers under whom Mr. Speer served – I name this for the purpose of further satisfying you that the old soldier’s claim is a good one – The History above alluded to was not examined till some time after Mr. Speer had made his declaration – I hope to hear from you soon.
Your obt [obedient] servt [servant]
Apparently, the many months of effort finally paid off. On August 26th, 1856, Mr. McMillion sent the following letter to Mr. Minot, the pension commissioner:
Elyton Ala Augt 26th 1856
I recd through the politeness of the Hon S.W. Harris M.C. your certificate allowing William Speer a pension of $25.88 per annum commencing on the 4th of March 1831, and payable semi-annually on the 4th of March and 4th of September in every year during his natural life –
Be so good as to forward to me, a draft for the amt due up to Sept 4th – 1856 – The sum, then due, will be just $647.00 - I am Mr. Speer’s agent and attorney in the whole transaction – If your custom, however, is to direct the draft to the individual himself, do so, but direct it to my care – Mr. Speer lives some distance from our Post Office here –
I hope his land warrant may accompany his draft – As the old gentleman is in a helpless condition, it is desirable that his draft be forwarded as early as possible –
Sometime after William received his pension, he apparently petitioned for an increase. There is no record of his actual petition in the files of the National Archives but a letter from a Mr. McCurry dated December 11, 1857 refers to the petition. From the letterhead, it appears that Mr. McCurry might have been a successor to Sampson Harris.
Ho of Rep [House of Representatives]
Dec. 11 – 1857
I enclose a petition of William Speer of Jefferson Co., Ala. For an increase of pension – Presuming, if the facts are as stated by him, that no additional legislation in necessary to secure the desired increase. I send his application directly to you. In a letter to me, Mr. Speer states his willingness to allow his pension to cease after 4th of March 1858, if he can get the increase allowed from the time his petition commenced.
There is no record of whether the increase was ever granted. The last correspondence concerning William’s pension was a letter dated July 11, 1858:
11 July 1858
The application of Mr. Speer for a pension I am requested to withdraw from your office and present to Congress- I would be obliged to you to send me the papers in the case-
[cc] Hon. J.C. Whiting
William Speer died in 1859 at the age of 101. He is buried in the old section of the Bivens Chapel Cemetery in Jefferson County, Alabama. His wife, Mildred Estep Speer is also buried there along with their daughter, Mildred Speer Brake and son-in-law, Bennett Brake. Many, many descendants of Bennett Brake are buried there as well including the author’s grandmother, Nora Belle Brake Burr and his father, James Marion Burr.
There are also many descendants of Valentine Bivens buried in the cemetery. As you can probably guess, the cemetery is named for them. Martha A. Bivens, wife of Colonel Robert Bivens, was buried there in 1836. Her grave is said to be the oldest marked grave in the cemetery. Because of the age of the cemetery and the fact that a Revolutionary War soldier is buried there, the Jefferson County Historical Commission has designated Bivens Chapel Cemetery as a historic site.
Near the beginning of this document, I stated that I would explain how William was related to me.
1. William’s daughter Mildred married Bennett Brake.
2. Bennett and Mildred had a son named William Brake.
3. William Brake married Elizabeth Fields.
4. William and Elizabeth had a son named James Marion.
5. James Marion married Permelia Bandora “Dora” Eastis (or Estes).
6. James Marion and Dora had a daughter named Nora Belle.
7. Nora Belle married Lonnie Burr.
8. Nora Belle and Lonnie had a son named James Marion.
9. James Marion married Mary Lynch.
10. James Marion and Mary had a son named Alan (me).
Astonishingly, everyone mentioned in this chain from William Speer all the way down to my father, James Marion Burr is buried in Bivens Chapel Cemetery. At the time of this writing, my mother Mary Lynch Burr is still living. Her grandfather, Jarrett Lynch is also buried in the same cemetery.