Rev. War Widow Elizabeth Miller & the Case of Her Missing Marriage Record

One of my husband’s ancestors is Revolutionary War soldier Jacob Miller. Jacob made his claim for a pension application in the summer of 1832, but died in November of the same year, before his application was approved.

Jacob Miller’s war service was never in question. He served in Captain Trasbough’s Company, part of the 2nd Regiment in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1775 and served for three years, taking part in the Battles of Brandywine and Stony Point.

He enlisted a second time with Captain Van Heer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joining the Light Dragoons from 1778-1781. Part of this service was under General George Washington and Jacob swore in his application that he often rode express from his army company back to Philadelphia, carrying messages.

Jacob Miller was rich in family, having somewhere around fifteen children, but he was definitely not rich in worldly goods and the family likely struggled economically as his widow did not remarry.

By 1848, Elizabeth Miller, still a widow, made her application for a widow’s pension, filing her claim in Franklin County, Tennessee, the same place where Jacob had died. Her application was not approved and the matter dragged on again from 1853 until 1859. Remember these dates, as they are important!

First, a bit of necessary background:

Jacob Miller married (1) Sarah, probably in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, as their first known child, Martin, was born in Pennsylvania c1785. They removed to Virginia by 11 June 1794, at which time Jacob was granted 243 acres of land. He sold a portion of that land on 11 April 1797, with Sarah releasing her dower rights, so she was still living at that time. In addition to Martin, Jacob and Sarah were also the parents of Henry, born c1788, Jacob, born 1 July 1790, Catherine, born c1792, Michael, born c1794 and William, born c1796.

There were also four females identified in Tennessee censuses born 1797-1800. Whether they were Sarah’s daughters or Elizabeth’s daughters or other relatives/friends living in the household is unknown.

From this, all we know about Sarah’s death date is that she was living on 11 April 1797.

Next, Botetourt County, Virginia has excellent records, including (as far as is known) complete marriage records. Why, then, did Elizabeth have so much trouble proving the day she married Jacob Miller?

She stated in her application that the family Bible had been destroyed and she had no paper document to prove her marriage, which she said took place in Botetourt County, Virginia about 1798 or 1799.

Several residents of Franklin County, Tennessee made oaths that they had known the Millers for many years, that their oldest child (as of 1853) was more than 52 years of age. Most of her supporters were men in families into which the Miller children had married.

Some of their statements were more than questionable. Linsfield Berryhill, for example, is found in the 1850 census of Franklin County, Tennessee. Lin, as he went by, was enumerated as being 50 years old. In the home were his (apparent) wife, quite a few children and an Elizabeth, aged 70, who was likely his widowed mother.

Linsfield Berryhill stated in his affidavit that he was 70 years old (so he aged 20 years years between 1850 and 1853) and that he was at Jacob and Elizabeth’s wedding and he left Botetourt County in November 1798, after their marriage.

Taze W. Newman, a young man and a lawyer, worked in Elizabeth’s behalf to get her application approved for a pension. From one of his letters to government officials comes the myth that Elizabeth was “Betsey Allen” before her marriage.

Because Elizabeth had no paper proof of her marriage to Jacob, someone (probably Taze Newman) wrote to the Botetourt County, Virginia county clerk, requesting a copy of their marriage record.

The reply from Virginia had to have been a disappointment to Elizabeth as the county clerk stated that no marriage for Jacob Miller (Muller) to Elizabeth around 1798 or 1799 could be found.

The only record that the clerk found was for JOSEPH Miller to Betsey Allen on 24 March 1796.

One more detail needs to be shared about Botetourt County marriage records. There IS a marriage record there for one Jacob Miller and Elizabeth Ritter, who married on 11 June 1805. Ritter is a German surname and it is a surname also found in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. I will come back to this in a minute.

However, several decades ago, I did extensive research into all of the Millers/Mullers in Botetourt County from the 1780s to 1820. There were very definite English speaking Millers living there, as well as Millers/Mullers/Muellers who most definitely of German background. Joseph Miller who married Betsey Allen, daughter of Hugh Allen, was part of the English/Scots group and was not the same person as Jacob Miller.

Now, for those online website surfers who cited Taze W. Newman’s statement that Elizabeth was Betsey Allen, here is the page from Jacob Miller’s pension file:

See the darkened area in the middle? It says: . . . . and I did not pretend to claim the marriage of Joseph Muller to Betsey Allen as proof atall (sic) [at all}.

Besides his children with Sarah, Jacob had quite a few children with Elizabeth, aside from the four females born in the 1797-1800 time period.

Jacob’s probate file lists further children: Nancy, Eve, Elizabeth, Barbara, Sarah, Rebecca, Leanna, Daniel and Susannah.  The family was apparently not literate (aside from the fact that Jacob Miller signed his name to his pension application) and the ages of these children vary somewhat from record to record.

However, the earliest birth year for any of them is c1805 and the latest year is c1823.

Yet, Elizabeth stated in her application that she and Jacob married about 1798 or 1799.

Yes, they might have lost two or three children, but there is another possible answer – Elizabeth and those who made statements about attending the Miller wedding and their oldest child in 1853 being more than 52 years old might have LIED!

Remember I mentioned a marriage record for a Jacob Miller and Elizabeth Ritter in Botetourt County in 1805? I have long believed that is their marriage record, but why would Elizabeth and her family members all have made oaths which were lies and they knew it?

It comes down to the law of the time.

On 7 July 1838, a federal law granted five-year pensions to widows whose marriage had taken place BEFORE 1 January 1794. (Elizabeth wasn’t eligible according to the 1838 law even when claiming her marriage year as 1798.)

However, this law was updated on 29 July 1848 and Congress allowed life pensions for widows of veterans who were married BEFORE 2 January 1800.

Restrictions pertaining to the date of marriage were not removed until 3 February 1853.

All the pieces of this mystery puzzle now fit. Elizabeth first applied for her widow’s pension when someone, probably Taze Newman, was aware of the legal requirement to have married before 2 January 1800.

I tend to believe that Sarah didn’t die until 1800 or a bit later, as Jacob would have remarried much sooner with small motherless children at home.  If Jacob Miller married Elizabeth Ritter in 1805, it also makes sense that their oldest child was born c1805.

Finally, Taze Newman might have become aware of the pension law change later in 1853 or possibly not until 1854 and Elizabeth renewed her quest. She not only received a pension, she also was given a bounty land warrant.

There is no way to know if Taze Newman was in on this apparent deception, but if he met any of the men who gave oath on their affidavits, he had to have realized that 50 year old Lin Berryhill was not a 70 year old man and that the other men who filed statements were family members with a vested interest in the outcome.

As Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, always reminds us, it is necessary to know what the law was at the time of an event! Excellent advice!


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