Primary Resource

Depositions for the Claim of Benjamin Summers (February 6, 1872)

In these depositions before an agent of the Southern Claims Commission, dated February 6, 1872, Benjamin Summers and two acquaintances report the loss of a horse to Union cavalry during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Summers was a free black during the war and needed to prove to the commission both that he supported the Union and that he owned the property that was taken. His responses to certain questions refer to the commission's so-called Standing Interrogatories. James's claim was approved.

Transcription from Original

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

STATE OF VIRGINIA

No. [blank]

In the matter of the Claim of [Benjamin Summers] of [Portsmouth] in the County of [Norfolk] in the State aforesaid

Before the Commissioner of Claims, under act of Congress of March 3d, 1871.

Be it Remembered, That on this [6th] day of [February] in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-[two] personally appeared before me, CHAS. T. BARRY, a Commissioner selected and designated by the Commissioners of Claims, appointed under the Act of Congress of March 3d, 1871, to take and record, under such instructions as I may from time to time receive from them, the testimony of such witnesses as may be named in such cases as may be referred to me, at my office at [the Custom House] in the [City] of [Norfolk] in the State aforesaid [Benjamin Summers] Claimant, and [Mary Johnson] witnesses to testify and the truth to say on the part and in behalf of the Claimant herein.

Present [Benjamin Summers] Claimant,

[Ed Spalding for Horatio King] Counsel,

Thereupon the said [Benjamin Summers] being about the age of [40] years, by occupation a [Laborer] and resident of [Portsmouth] County of [Norfolk] in the State aforesaid, having been by me (by virtue of my office as a Commissioner duly appointed by the Circuit Court of the United States, for the District of Virginia, in the Fourth Circuit, under and by virtue of the act of Congress, entitled "An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States," passed Sept. 24th, 1789, and the Acts entitled "An Act for the more convenient taking of Affidavits and bail in Civil Causes, depending in the Courts of the United States," passed February 20th, 1812, and March 1st, 1817) first cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in the matter of the claim aforesaid, I did carefully examine the said [Benjamin Summers] apart from all the other witnesses named in this case, and he did thereupon depose, testify and say, as follows, viz:

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Testimony of Benj Summers Claimant

First set of Questions

To question 1 He says In Suffolk was there in person, teamster 6 months prior to Apl 1st 1861

To question 2 He says Part of the time in Suffolk and in 1863 I came to Portsmouth, was personally in those places. In 1863 on the 24th day of December I enlisted in the 2d United States Colored Cavalry Co. D Capt Robert Dallard.

To question 3 He says No sir.

To questions 4 to 10 inclusive He says No sir.

To question 11 He says In 1861 or 62 I was taken handcuffed and carried to Craney Island and made to work on the earth works with Ball & chain on my legs. I was kept there two months when my legs were so bad from the Chain that I was sent back to Suffolk. This was by the Confederate authorities and because I did not want to go and tried to get away I was given 500 lashes and then rubbed down with salt brine (Claimant has shown me a fearful looking body where he has been whipped, his hips looking as though large pieces of flesh had been dug out—Berry) to remainder of question 11 No sir.

To questions 12 to 16 He says No sir.

To question 17 He says Only at the time mentioned in answer to question 11, was I arrested by the Rebels. I never took any oath for sake of being released from the Confederate authorities.

To question 18 He says No sir.

To question 19 He says only at the time I was

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arrested and taken to Craney Island.

To question 20 He says only as above stated.

To question 21 He says No sir, except as a soldier and working on fortifications for 6 months.

To question 22 He says Yes sir. I enlisted in 1863 and served as private & Corporal for two years & Seven months and have an honorable discharge and worked 6 months on fortifications in Suffolk for the U.S. without pay.

To questions 23–24–25–26–27–28–29 He says No sir.

To question 30 He says Only a corporal.

To question 31 He says No sir.

To question 32 He says No sir.

To question 33 He says At the beginning of the Rebellion I sympathized with the Union cause and like all colored men ought to have been I hoped for the success of the Union and talked so my friends I had no vote. I always [?] to the Union cause.

To question 34 He says my sympathizes were always with the Union cause and its success and I never did anything against in my life and was always willing to do all in my power for it and always did. All this I solemnly declare.

To second set of questions as to the taking of the property.

To question 1 He says I was present.

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To question 2 He says I saw the horse taken.

To question 4 He says in 1862 in August I think, by members of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry at Suffolk.

To question 5 He says Mary Johnson, David Scott, Charlotte Summers.

To question 6 He says There was an officer present with the Soldiers but I did not know him. he ordered the horse taken & a corporal untied him.

To question 7 He says The company of cavalry rode up and I asked them if they were going to take my horse they said yes. I told them it was all I had, but they said they needed all the horses they could get. They did not ask me for him.

To question 8 He says Removed by soldiers, one corporal lead him off.

To question 9 He says The horse was taken to the 11th Penna Cavalry Camp at Fair Grounds in Suffolk. I saw him there afterward with other horses.

To question 10 He says I don't know the use as I never saw him used, but suppose it was for the Cavalry.

To question 11 He says only as above stated.

To question 12 He says I did not ask for a voucher or receipt because I didn't know enough to do so.

To question 13 he says Horse was taken about dusk.

To question 14 He says Yes sir. Some in Suffolk

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and picket lines all around there. The 11th Penna Cavalry, the 1st> N.Y. Mounted Rifles, 13th Indiana Regt & 130th N.Y. Regt. I could not say where they came nor how long they staid. There had been skirmishes around just before the property was taken. I knew Capt. Dodge a Quartermaster, but dont know for whose use the horse was taken.

To question 15 He says The Horse was a Stallion I paid $150 for him a year before. Bay 4 years old, ordinary sized, well broke & sound. I had been offered $200 for him. I had to get a white man who was friendly to me to keep him for me while the Rebels were there for fear I would lose him there. I was a free man.

To questions 16 17 & 18 He says Not applicable.

To question 19 He says I do believe for actual use.

To question 20 He says I do believe it.

To question 21 He says I do believe it.

To question 22 He says I do believe it.

To question 23 He says I believe it was.

John W. Farrell

Benjamin Summers X his mark

In answer to questions as directed to be asked by letter from Claims Commissioner of letter Jan 20 1872 He says No part of my claim has ever been paid and I never furnished or had taken away other property besides the horse claimed.

John W. Farrell

Benjamin Summers X his mark

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[Testimony of Mary Johnson]

Thereupon the said Mary Johnson being about the age of 30 years by occupation a servant and resident of Norfolk in County of Norfolk in State of Virginia having been by me (by virtue of my office aforesaid) first cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the matter of the claim aforesaid, I did carefully examine the said Mary Johnson apart from all the other witnesses named in this case and she did thereupon depose testify and say as follows, viz. as to the taking of the property.

To question 1 She says I was present.

To question 2 She says I saw the horse taken.

To question 4 She says I cant say when exactly, it was shortly after the Union troops took Norfolk, at Suffolk by Cavalry. I dont know the exact Regt but I think it was the Pennsylvania Cavalry.

To question 5 She says Ben Summers & his wife are all I recollect now were present.

To question 6 She says there was an officer present I dont know who he was. he ordered the horse taken.

To question 7 She says by the cavalry, was led off, said they wanted him for Government service.

To question 8 She says Just answered.

To question 9 She says I dont know.

To question 10 She says I dont know.

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To question 11 She says I dont know.

To question 12 She says I dont know.

To question 13 She says late in the evening about dusk.

To question 14 She says [?] yes sir plenty of them. I don't know what Regt they were or where [when?] the come or went one was a Pennsylvania Regt. I did not know any officers.

To question 15 She says the Horse was Bay about 4 years old, a young horse, ordinary size, well Broke. I dont know his worth.

To 16, 17 & 18 She says not applicable.

To question 19 She says I believe it was.

To question 20 She says I believe it was.

To question 21 She says I believe it was.

To question 22 She says I believe it was.

To question 23 She says I believe it was.

John W. Farrell

Mary Johnson X her mark

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The Testimony of Thomas Shields

Thereupon the said Thomas Shields being about the age of 38 years by occupation a Bartender and resident of Portsmouth County of Norfolk and State of Virginia (having been by me by virtue of my office aforesaid) first cautioned and sworn to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth in the matter of the claim aforesaid. I did carefully examine the said Thomas Shields apart from all the other witnesses named in this cause, and he did thereupon testify and say as follows, viz:

I became acquainted with the claimant about 4 or 5 years before the war. I was intimate with him during the war. I lived about 5 or 6 miles from his residence. I saw him about once a week during the first two years of the war, in 1863 we enlisted in the United States Army and were assigned to the Second Regiment Colored Cavalry Company D and remained together until the 12th day of March 1866 when we mustered out at City Point Virginia. I conversed with the claimant often about the war, he always said he wished the time would come when the United States Government would enlist colored men, that he should go at once.

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And I went with him. he always regarded me as a Union man. I knew his sympathies because we frequently conversed together we were always alone. He was always regarded among his neighbors as an unflinching Union man. He never contributed any money to the U.S. Government as I know of but he enlisted in the United States Service just as soon as he had a chance to. He never was threatened as I know of. I dont know whether he ever contributed anything to aid the Confederate Government or ever held any Confederate Bonds. I am satisfied that his being in the United States Army would have prevented him from establishing his loyalty tot eh Confederate Government had they been successful.

Witness S.[?] B Fould

Thomas Shields X his mark