From the Potomac to the Mon

Yesterday was a very successful day at the National Archives and I’m still processing what I found but here are some highlights. First, I wasn’t sure if I would end up going – so much to do at home, nothing there I really had to have anytime soon. But since I was off from work and I had offered to get a Civil War pension application for a friend, I decided to go for it. Traffic was very light and I was across the Potomac River and at Archives in just 15 minutes.

National Archives

While waiting for the pension application, I wanted to see what I could find out about David Hughes. I had found a David Hughes living in Washington, D.C., in the 1870s and 1880s, and suspected he might be a former slave named Davy whose family I have been working on.

I knew a David Hughes was listed in the NPS Civil War Soldier and Sailor Index as serving with the Unassigned Company A with the U.S. Colored Infantry, which was organized in Alexandria near where Davy had been enslaved. I had checked on Ancestry to see if David Hughes or his widow had filed a pension application but didn’t find one in the Washington, D.C., area. So I decided to focus on the Unassigned Co. A, which is very hard to find in records because, as its names suggests, it was never assigned to a larger regiment. It had been known as the Virginia Colored Guards but records after the war use Unassigned Co. A. Despite being listed on a finding aid, the regimental book for Virginia Colored Guards was “not found.”

I expanded my search for a pension application and in Footnote, found one for a David Hughes with Unassigned Co. A. It was a widow’s application filed in Pennsylvania but her name did not appear on the record. A staffer checked their index and found the widow’s name was Frances Richardson. The David I was looking for had a wife named Frances so perhaps this new last name indicated she had remarried and moved to Pennsylvania.

About 90 minutes later, I signed for the record, opened the brown envelope and quickly scanned the pages for confirmation that this was for the David Hughes from Alexandria – and it was! But was this David Hughes the former slave who had been known at Volusia as Davy? I kept scanning the yellowed pages as I carefully moved them one at a time. Then, about midway through, I saw the single document that had all the proof I needed to be sure that this soldier was indeed Davy! (Pretty sure I did a double fist pump before the chills set in and my eyes started tearing up.)

Page from Civil War pension application #485519, National Archives

David’s widow had identified the Macrae family who owned him and the farm Vallusia as the place where he lived and worked. Frances had also been enslaved at Volusia, though she was born in Fauquier County. They had been married in 1851 in a ceremony at the Theological Seminary, just a short distance from Volusia. The full record revealed many other details, like the names and birthdates of their fourteen children and David’s death date and burial place.

I photographed every page before turning in this precious record. I was so excited that I could forgive myself for not considering the possibility that a widow might have actually moved away, as far away as western Pennsylvania. The funny thing was that a week earlier I was recalling an old friend from college I hadn’t thought of in years. Laurie was from Charleroi, Pa., and last week I actually asked another friend from college about her. Laurie was the only person I knew from Charleroi, but guess where Frances Hughes Richardson was living when she filed her pension application? That same little regal-sounding town along the Monongahela River.  


  1. Congratulations Amy! What a fantastic record to find. I just love pension records because they often contain so much incredible information - they are an amazing record set.


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