Moses and Isabella Graham’s Pension File

Poor Isabella Graham. Her husband died of smallpox in 1866 while serving in the United States Colored Troops. She was left with 4 young children: Amelia, William, Richmond, and Lavinia. She attempted to get a widow’s pension, but it took years. YEARS.

She was formerly owned, before Freedom, by Alexander James Lawton of Blackswamp, South Carolina. She was married in 1854 to Moses Graham, a slave on a neighboring plantation, by Preacher Jack Lawton, alias John Taylor, who was also owned by Alexander J. Lawton.

Another woman, named Ellen Corsee, also attempted to get a widow’s pension by claiming that SHE was the widow of Moses Graham.  While it sounds like a ridiculous claim, it turns out that witnesses stated that she was what was known as a camp mistress, and that she cohabited with Moses Graham while he was stationed in Beaufort, and that she had previously cohabited with Moses before he entered the service. She knew he had a wife and children, as well as HE knew, but that didn’t stop them from cohabiting. She retained an attorney, a certain James D. Bell, living in Beaufort but from New Hampshire, to pursue her claim of widowhood and pension.

Isabella finally obtained her pension. Alexander James Lawton had continued to write letters to Ellen’s attorney to have her claim proven fraudulent, and to testify of Isabella’s good character and to verify the names and birth dates of the children, and to affirm that she was a poor widow who was entitled to her pension BY LAW. Among other things, Alexander J. Lawton was an attorney, and he knew the law and how to write an effective letter, but it still took years, because the wheels of government grind slowly, then as now.

How do we know these things? From a blessed pension file that took one week to receive, electronically, from the time I ordered it online. Fortunately, it didn’t take as long for me to receive the pension file as it took for poor Isabella to qualify for her widow’s pension.

Near the end of the file, Alexander James Lawton refers to his former slave, Isabella Graham, as his friend.

Here’s the link:



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