Pension applications were generally filed by the applicant to the state legislature, but they could also be filed to the county court system. For example, the widows and families of the individuals who were killed during the Engagement of Frankstown in the summer of 1781 filed their applications for pensions to the Bedford County Court. Transcripts of those proceedings can be found in the books, Bedford County Pennsylvania Archives, Volume 1 and Mother Bedford And The American Revolutionary War. Pension applications relating to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 can be found in the published Pennsylvania Archives.
The applications themselves are interesting to read. In order to explain to the county court or the state legislature why he deserved to receive a pension, the applicant was required to recount his war service. These accounts told much more about the actual experience of the war than the official histories often did.
The first type of pension program that the Congress of the emerging United States began giving to the soldiers who served in the American Revolutionary War was set up as a monetary one, but evolved into a land grant program. It involved the granting of tracts of land recently taken from the Indians. In the state of Pennsylvania, those tracts of land were located primarily in the northwest corner of the state in the present-day counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Lawrence, Butler and Beaver. These counties encompassed the region known variously as the Donation Districts or Donation Lands. The underlying basis for the granting of tracts of land in the Donation Districts lay in the failure of the General Assembly of the state of Pennsylvania to be able to adequately compensate the soldiers of the Pennsylvania Regiments of the Continental Line who had served the Patriot Cause faithfully through the duration of the American Revolutionary War.
The Congress of the United States had, during the war, established a program whereby men who had served in the state regiments of the Continental Line would receive payment for their service. The problem was that the money available, the Continental dollar, had no specie (i.e. money in coin) to back it up, and was therefore worthless. The people knew that. They made jokes about things not being worth a continental. The various states attempted to establish their own currency, but they too had little with which to back up its value. When it came time to make payments to the soldiers, the Congress tended to stall because of the lack of credibility of the currency. Lack of pay became a general grievance for the soldiers, and contributed to the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line on New Years Day, 1781.
On the 1st of March, 1780, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed an Act titled: An Act for the more effectual upply and honourable reward of the Pennylvania troops, in the ervice of the United States of America. That Act detailed the various provisions for compensation that were to be extended to officers and soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line following the conclusion of the War. The officers and soldiers were, according to this Act, to receive half-pay as a pension. Widows and orphans of soldiers would likewise receive such payment.
On 03 April, 1781 the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed An ACT directing the mode of adjuting and ettling the payment of debts and contracts entered into and made between the firt day of January, one thouand even hundred and eventy-even, and the firt day of March, on thouand even hundred and eighty-one, and for other purpoes therein mentioned. This Act of the General Assembly was enacted because "the good people of this tate labour under many inconveniences, for want of ome rule, whereby to ettle and adjut the payment of debts and contracts..." The Act stated, in its Article II:
The Act of the General Assembly of 01 March, 1780, in conjunction with the Act of 03 April, 1781 resulted in what is commonly referred to as the Depreciation Pay. It should be made clear that the depreciation pay was not extended to the men who had served in the militia; it only applied to the Continental Line troops. Whether it was what the soldiers felt they deserved for their service to their country is debatable. When grants of land were offered in lieu of the depreciation pay to officers and soldiers of the Continental Line, many of the took advantage of the offer. Between 1786 and 1813 over 2,100 tracts were surveyed and patented in western Pennsylvania by veterans of the Pennsylvania Line. A list of the tracts, the acreage contained in each, to whom it was patented and the date for the return of the patent is included in the Pennsylvania Archives, Series 3, Volume VII, pages 657 through 795.
As noted at the beginning of this section, the pension applicant for the Revolutionary War was required to provide a detailed account of his experiences during his term of service. He also was required to meet certain eligibility standards to prove he needed financial assistance. That often took the form of an explanation of his current financial situation. The pension applications provide interesting details in that respect, in which the applicant briefly describes his current way of life.
Originals and microfilm of pension applications for wars that took place after the War of 1812 can be found at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
Lists of pensioners of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were published in the Pennsylvania Archives.
The list below includes some books which contain transcripts of pension applications. An additional listing of books which may contain transcriptions of veterans pension application can be found in the section titled, Veterans Records.