Thursday, August 16, 2012

Basheba Thomas and the Southern Claims Commission

The Southern Claims Commission was created in 1871 to allow Southern unionists to recover compensation for property confiscated by federal troops during the Civil War. The crucial test for the applicant, besides documenting the lost property, was to prove that he or she had been loyal “to the cause and the government of the United States during the war.” The SCC files are full of great information including lots of personal details. Fortunately, has made this material available on line (see Dick Eastman’s blog post about the SCC files generally and, at: ; also check out Robert Moore’s blog for lots of information about Southern Unionists and the SCC process. ).

There is some amazing stuff to find on Looking for something unlrelated, I came across claim file for Basheba Thomas. Yes, we now know that Miss Thomas spelled her name “Basheba” and not “Bathsheba” (ed. - add that to the corrections list!). As discussed in the JCW book, Basheba was sympathetic to the Freedmen’s Bureau officers and their goals. Most significantly, she held the federally controlled (i.e., Republican) office of Marianna post-mistress for several years during the Reconstruction era (did that make her the first female officeholder in Jackson Co.?).

Basheba’s claim arose from the seizure of her food supplies by Union troops during the Battle of Marianna. (The only other such claim I know about was submitted by Martha Finlayson, but her case seemed to have been misfiled with Alabama claims and then lost).
Here is the claim with the amounts approved and disallowed by the SCC:

[source: ]

That’s a lot of bacon and lard! What makes the file fascinating are the statements and the people who show up in the supporting paperwork. The initial petition attests that the above listed property was taken by U. S. troops in General Asboth’s command on Sept. 27, 1864, and removed to “Ft Pickens of the Navy Yard near Pensacola except so much thereof as was consumed at or near Marianna or on the march therefrom to Pensacola.” This filing, dated June 12, 1871 was witnessed by James F. McClellan (!) and James C. McLean before Judge of the County Court W. E. Anderson (all significant player in the JCW). In the claim, Basheba appointed as her attorney….Charles M. Hamilton of Wash. DC, (fresh out of Congress and looking for work), who filed the petition with the SCC. The claim states that Basheba lived alone and at the time of the confiscation (9/1864) had lived with “a sister & one servant both of whom are now dead.” A claim was refiled or supplemented in May 1874 with a different DC attorney, probably because Hamilton was incapacitated and out of the law business by that time. This refilling was swown to before Charles F. Britton, the U.S. Commissioner for the Northern District of Florida. Basheba testified that she was a fifty years old, single woman, never married, with the occupation of “P.M. at Marianna Jackson County Florida.” In answer to a series of questions, Basheba alleged that she had been “threatened with imprisonment by some few don’t know their names” presumably arising from her loyalty. She also stated that “my sympathies were always with the United States and are yet and I do solemnly declare that from the beginning of hostilities to the end of the same my sympathies was with the Union cause.” The supplies were taken from her smokehouse at about 12 noon: “there was about thirty United States soldiers engaged in the taking, they were some three fourth of an hour engaged in the taking. There was some officers present don’t know their names, knew they were officers from the stripes on their shoulders and arms.” Answers to other questions added details: “it was told off by the soldiers [I] was too scared to recollect what was said.” The troops stayed about “eight hours left at night.” Basheba knew the quantities of her stores because she had purchased them by weight on Sept. 17 & 18 prior to the battle.

Supporting statements came from Benjamin G. Alderman, Joseph W. Russ and Martha E. Finlayson (no surprise there). Alderman stated that he was a 53 year old merchant in Marinna where he had resided for 40 years. He had “been acquainted intimately with Miss Bathsheba Thomas, claimant, for over thirty years past and that during the war, he had frequent conversations with her in relation to the same, its causes & progress; seeing her nearly daily. – Knows that from the beginning of hostilities between the, so called, Confederate States, and the United States, to the close of the war, the said Bathsheba Thomas, claimant was truly loyal to the United States, in sentiment and in acts as far as circumstances offered, and was firm and unflinching in the maintenance of her union sentiments down to the present day.”

Martha E. Finlayson testified that she was a 60 year old planter residing in Jackson County for 16 years. She was “on the most intimate terms with Basheba Thomas the claimant for sixteen years and that during the war she had frequent interviews with claimant in relation to the rebellion, the war, its causes & progress, seeing her very frequently, three or four times every week and I know that from the beginning of hostilities to the close of the war claimant unflinchingly maintained her union sentiments and that claimant was in every sense truly loyal to the United States and would have sacrificed her last dollar in its support.”

The last statement came from Joseph W. Russ who identified himself as a 60 year old merchant in Marianna, who “runs a farm some six miles off in the county of Jackson where he has resided for over forty five years last past.” Russ has “been acquainted intimately with Basheba Thomas Claimant for over twenty five years past and that during the war he had frequent conversations with her in relation to the war, its causes & progress seeing her two or three times a week. Knows that from the beginning of the War to its close that the said Basheba Thomas claimant was truly loyal to the United States in sentiment and in acts as far as circumstances offered and was firm and unflinching in the maintenance of her union sentiments to the close of the war and is yet.”

For this second filing, the witnesses for the power of attorney were Louis M. Gamble and M. A. Richardson, and signed before Jim B. Erwin, Notary Public on April 21, 1874 and then executed again on May 20, 1874 with Jacob F. Willeford replacing Gamble as witness.

The payment for $114.50 was authorized by the Treasury Dept. in June 1878, only (!) 7 years after the initial filing. It is not indicated how much money the attorneys, “Lincoln and Willard” kept as their fee.

Basheba Thomas lived until 1900 when she was about 81 years old. She left her cow, calf and clothes to her “colored servant”, Lucy Johnson, and her property to the First Presbyterian Church of Marianna which she had helped found decades earlier. [See: ]

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