Continuing with our Women’s History Month features, this week we’re sharing a single post-Civil War document: A claim for damages filed in Lawrence County, Tennessee, in 1868. While the item itself may seem small, it had no small meaning to Elizabeth Hughes.
We can’t identify Elizabeth Hughes with 100% certainty, but the claim does give us some clues. We know where she lived during the war. (Lawrence County, TN, is located south and slightly west of Nashville, just on the Alabama border.) We know that she was born around 1818. Her husband, not named, enlisted in the Union army and was killed in service. And, judging by the spaces requiring a signature, she did not know how to write. Her name has been written around an “X,” indicating her mark.
However, these few tidbits can tell us a lot more about her. The U.S. Census in 1860 includes an Elizabeth Hughes who was born about 1817. She lived in a household with an “A W Hughes,” age 40, who we could guess is her husband. If so, they appear to have had five children. The National Part Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database includes only one Hughes with the initials “A W” who fought for the Union–Anderson W. (4th Tennessee Cavalry). Other genealogy records suggest they were born and married in Alabama, moving their family to Tennessee between 1847 and 1852.
On a side note, there are a few small changes on the claim, presumably made by the county clerk. Even though the form includes the phrases “he (or she)” and “man, (or woman,),” both the “he” and “man” have been crossed out. There’s no question about who this document represents.
The claim is one of many that would have been filed in states around the country following the Civil War, but it also tells an important chapter in one woman’s story. Elizabeth Hughes lost a great deal in a short period of time, including a husband and a household:
By the Burning of my House I lost all of my House hold. Kitchen Furnature Some valuable Papers and many other articles too tedious to mention Supposed to be worth about [1050.00] 6 Six Sides Leather Supposed to weigh about 18 pounds Each 108# at .50 cts per lb. 50 Bushels wheat @ $1.00 per Bushel 1 set wagon Harness for 2 Horses 1 Horse 5 Years old
She survived the war and was presumable compensated for her lost property (the claim was approved, according to the signatures on the last page). Nearly 150 years later, when this copy of her claim surfaced among unprocessed materials at Special Collections, this little piece of Elizabeth’s life gives us new insight into Reconstruction and to what it meant to be a woman reclaiming her household and identity in 1868.