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Early Mention of Black Servant
1820 Officer's Pay Voucher
1st Lieutenant William Wells
 
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While commonly found from the Civil War era, officer payroll vouchers are rarely seen from prior to that period. One of these forms was issued by the United States government each time an officer was paid, detailing the amount of money that was due to the individual for pay, clothing, forage and subsistence. Since the soldiers were not paid on a regular basis, their base pay would be multiplied by the number of days and added together to arrive at the total amount due. The officer was required to sign this form indicating that he had received his pay and that it was correct. This particular form was issued to "... 1st Lieut. William Wells ...", a veteran member of the United States Light Artillery. According to the records, William Wells was graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point on July 21, 1814 and entered the service as a 3rd lieutenant in the light artillery. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant on October 10, 1814, and to 1st lieutenant on August 28, 1819. From January, 1820 until his June 1, 1821 transfer to the 2nd United States Light Artillery, Wells served as the regimental quartermaster for his unit. He was brevetted Captain on August 28, 1829 for 10 years faithful service in one grade, and finally resigned his commission on December 1, 1834. William Wells died on December 19, 1851. What makes this form particularly interesting is the notation in the lower left corner that Wells had a servant, listed as "... James Newman ...", a 5' 5" "... Black ..." man with "... Black ..." hair and eyes. According to the form, Wells was being paid $60.00 for his two months service, with an extra $10.00 paid to him for his servant. While many freed slaves were paid as servants for officers during the Civil War, it is unusual to see this notation from this early date.

This document measures approximately 10.5 x 16.5 inches and is in very fine condition. All of the expected filing folds are present, the center one being quite hard. Some light toning and a few tears are noted near the edges, though these are well away from the printing and signature. It is very unusual to find payroll vouchers from this period, especially with this early reference to a black servant.


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