What were Rebecca’s options? She was a 68 year old widow and by all indications, she was completely alone. What did elderly women do mid 19th century when they were left alone and with no means of support?

Many in that time period moved in with children, but what if they had no children? As the second wife to David Gurganus, there is no evidence that she ever bore any children. David’s children all came through his first wife, Mary Swain. Ellen had been murdered and his sons, James, John and David, had long since moved away. If she had other family living nearby, I have found nothing to support that possibility. But determined and likely desperate, Rebecca appealed to two sources for help.

 On the third of November of 1851, listed in the Inferior Court Minutes for Bibb County as “insolvent,” Rebecca received a sum of $10.00.  It is the last time her name appears on the Pauper Account for Bibb County. I am not sure how she survived from that point on. 

On the 6th of November of 1852,  Rebecca next applied for a widow’s pension for Revolutionary War Soldier. Sadly, her pension application reveals very few details about her. 
On the application, Rebecca indicated that she was born in Edgefield, South Carolina and she stated that she and David were married in the Edgefield County Court house in 1816, although she indicated that she had no record of that marriage.There was no mention of her maiden name nor whether or not she had ever had children or if even this was her first marriage. 
I am sure she hoped for a merciful outcome as she made the following representation:

“She further says that her said husband has always been reputed and regarded in every neighborhood in which he has lived by his neighbors and those who have known him the longest as a Revolutionary Soldier and she believe him to have been one.”

Locals came forward to testify in her behalf, indicating that she was very old and very poor, but worthy and deserving and that they believed her to deserve the pension.  But ultimately her claim was rejected for lack of proof.
I found one final mention of Rebecca. A few weeks following her efforts to get a widow’s pension, the following notice appeared in The Georgia Telegraph, p. 4 on 23 November 1852  for Bibb County:


“Will be sold before the courthouse door in the city of Macon, Bibb County, on the first Tuesday in December next, between the usual hours of sale, the following property to wit.  Ten acres of land in the county of Bibb, adjoining the land of John Burkner, Esq. lying on the Forsyth road about four miles from the city of Macon and known as the place occupied by Mrs. Gurganus, together with all improvements. . . “

“Charles Ethan Porter – Autumn Landscape – Google Art Project” by
Charles Ethan Porter (1847 – 1923)
At that point Rebecca seemingly disappears. With no apparent means of support, and no place to live, where did she go? What did she do?
According to “A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia” by Thomas Read Rootes Cobb, on page 1146, the Inferior Court was authorized to establish an asylum for the maintenance of the poor. Impoverished and aged, I wondered if perhaps Rebecca had turned to such a place. 
However, I was not able to find any information about whether Bibb County ever built such an asylum or if there was one nearby for the poor. I contacted the Middle Georgia Regional Library located in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia because of their genealogy collection and archives. They reported that there is no evidence of an asylum or facility for the poor in Bibb County during the 1850’s. 
I am uncomfortable with endings that leave me hanging and so, every so often, I return to Rebecca, determined to learn what happened to her, wishing I had her maiden name, wondering if she had children, wondering where she went when she seemingly had no one and was without means of support. 
Some day I hope I find out.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

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10 thoughts on “Without Means of Support Part 3

  1. No, I don't like this ending either. You have no death date, right? So most likely she died before 1860. I wonder if there were cousins nearby to take her in.

  2. No, Rebecca just "disappears" and I can find absolutely nothing more. I keep thinking about the three unclaimed letters at the post office that I mentioned in the previous post and wondering who wrote her? I don't think they had the junk mail that we have today, so it would seem that mail they received was intentional. She indicated that she was from Edgefield, SC, so I have wondered if she went back there, but I agree with you, she most likely died before 1860, so she does not appear on the census, which is very inconvenient.

  3. Thanks AK! It is hard to say how long it took. Without the benefits of vital records, anything I have found on this family has come with a lot of research. The day that I found David's daughter Ellen's murder in the Inferior Court records, I had spent 5 hours going through those unindexed records hoping there would be some mention of the family somewhere. I then spent hours researching the trial itself. Each piece has taken some time, but the rewards have been great and truthfully the hunt is half the fun. This family really hides good!

  4. Yes, it is extremely frustrating. I wish that she could have lived to be on the 1860 census somewhere. And of course, it is always possible that she is, and indexed incorrectly or any of the other dozens of reasons people are sometimes difficult to find on a census. But by 1860, she would have been about 77 years old and I doubt she would have remarried, although I know anything is possible.

  5. Yes, I agree, Michelle: how awful to not know the rest of her story. I kept thinking that, having been rejected by the pension panel, surely there would have been some entity of last resort for such hardship cases as hers–a church, perhaps? But apparently, there is no record. Yet, she had to have lived somewhere. It does make you wonder…

  6. If only I knew who wrote those unclaimed letters. I keep imagining someone that knew her situation writing and inviting her to come live with them. And you are so right, she had to live somewhere….if only I knew where that was.

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