A father’s pension

The package from the NARA was waiting for me on the counter after work. It was heavy and I was surprised at the amount of paperwork that it contained. Not only was it full of paper but would uncover several things about the family that I did not know, creating even more questions.

James William Zuver born September of 1843 died during the Civil War in Washington DC on December 13 or 17, 1863. He was wounded and moved to the hospital in Washington, had Chronic Dysentery and died. The letter detailing his death and notifying his parents isn’t in the packet from the NARA that came yesterday but the packet was large. The army claims James died from Dysentery and his family claim it was from wounds.

Susan Goodman Zuver was James’ mother. She filed for a Mother’s pension, Act of June 27, 1890, on Oct 11, 1890 and was granted a rate of $12.00 per month. From the documentation she was not to receive more than $44.00 a year. The documentation states that they are old and George is unable to thoroughly support his wife on the income they had coming in and needed the pension.

Susan died November 20, 1900 and George would be the next one to claim James’ pension. This is where I learned the most, not about James but the rest of the family. An affidavit was included in the package that was signed by George and detailed information that he had given the writer of the document. George went on declaring when he had married Susan, a date I did not have, and how they had lived together as man and wife. There are details concerning how much land they had owned, the oil wells still being drilled on the property and the profit from those wells.

I was very surprised to learn that the majority of the 46 acre farm belonged to Susan and when she had died had not left a will. I was surprised at this statement and wonder how the land was purchased or inherited or transferred to Susan and why. They had been married for 17 years prior to moving to Pleasantville, Venango County and living on the land. Dower rights were given to George that appears to have been 1/3. The oil wells and their value did not belong to George either and he was receiving 1/8 royalty on the barrels the wells did produce. It goes on to state that farming is not possible as the pipes that run the wells had ruined the land, snaking across the landscape making it impossible to plant. His claim is that the remaining acreage was rocky, unimproved and impossible to plant. Six acres would be claimed as purchased and owned by him. He notes that he is too old and too poor to hire help to plant.

I went back to my files and looked at the notes that I had for George E Zuver, born February 1, 1820. The Census records had detailed that his property value in 1860 was $2,000 and his personal value was $682. By 1870 he had increased his property value to $12,000 and his personal value was $2,000. Unfortunately the census stops detailing these values in 1880. Between 1860 and 1870 pipes had been developed and put in place to transport the oil to different locations in the Oil City area. This could explain the increase of profit for George. The one thing George did consistently was define himself as a farmer in the Census records, this from a man who was making his wealth in oil production. In the documents included was one from an oil producer that was paying George E and Susan Zuver and the George E Zuver and Co. royalties.

The tax assessor’s assessment of value of his property was $2600 with $1800 of that value going to the owners of the oil wells. What happened to this man and his company that now put him on the poverty list, his total income for the year well under $200. For a man that had seemed to know how to turn a profit, this was a sad state of affairs. Adding insult to injury after his death would be his obituary stating “Was Once Wealthy.”

From the affidavit I learned the dates of birth for all of George’s surviving children, the married name of his sister Elizabeth Zuver Patterson and various friends information that had claimed to know him and his wife and were vouching for his respectability and need of funds. During his life George not only oil produced and farmed, but ran the stage for mail delivery for the area starting in 1866 and was a magistrate in the State and County offices for many years. After all of this work at 82 years old, George was poor.

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