Author: Robert C. Kenzer

the William Binford Vest Professor of History at the University of Richmond
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Civil War Widows

Civil War widows in Virginia are defined as women married to Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The numbers of these women are difficult to determine—historians estimate between 4,000 and 6,000—but their characteristics are clearer. They were relatively young and their marriages had been relatively brief; if they had children, they were still too young to be of help in supporting the family. About half of all widows remarried during or after the conflict, with the youngest ones the most likely to do so; however, because of the war’s toll on young men, they were substantially more likely to marry men who were much older or younger than themselves. Few of these women worked, but beginning in 1888, some were eligible for a state pension that provided the minimal support of $30 per year.

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Civil War Pensions

In the immediate postwar years, Virginia tried to provide aid to its soldiers who had suffered significant disabilities during the American Civil War (1861–1865), especially those who had lost limbs. Over time the state shifted its artificial-limbs program to a commutation payment. By 1888 the state had begun to create a pension system that would allot annual payments not only to severely disabled veterans, but also to widowswomen whose husbands had died during the conflict. Over the next three decades the state legislature liberalized the requirement for this program to the point that it became an old age pension system for Confederate veterans. Relative to the federal pension program and the other former Confederate states that gave pensions, the amount of Virginia’s pensions was much smaller.

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Colson, William (1805–1835)

William Colson was a merchant who helped establish Roberts, Colson, and Company, one of the first African American transatlantic shipping companies. Born in Petersburg the son of a free black barber, he was probably self-educated. His partnership with Joseph Jenkins Roberts, another free black businessman, began during or before 1829. They acquired a schooner and began to trade between the United States and Liberia, where Roberts moved. The business did well and Colson lived well in Petersburg. In 1835 he visited Liberia to acquaint himself with the business there and to serve a year as a missionary. Not long after arriving, however, he became ill and died.

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