Saturday, January 8, 2011

George S. Vrooman, May 11, 1837 - July 14, 1876

[Picture take by Kari Petersen, 2010]

Without his wife, and the paperwork she filed to receive a Navy Widow's Pension, I would know little of any certainty about George S. Vrooman. The dates above, listed on his gravestone, would have likely been the extent of the info I could prove because despite the seeming uniqueness of his name, there was another George Vrooman who fought in the Civil War who never arrived here in California but who is much more accessible in the available records.

You see, the George Vrooman buried in Oakland was in the Navy. The records of the various states' regiments and those of the regular army are more or less well documented. Even when existing regimental records are no longer available, the states often published reports after the war detailing the names and service of their veterans. This was, after all, a mark of pride for those states, that so many had served.

But to serve in the Navy was to fall under a cloak of some anonymity after the war. Individual Captains would keep logs of their ships, and presumably, there were additional records, but they have either not come down through the years intact or they were never complete. Even the pension records for naval veterans are less intact, and in many cases non-existent.

Regardless, Mr. Vrooman never filed for a pension on his own. He died before the more comprehensive of pension laws would have allowed for his filing as he did not receive an injury during the war that led to his discharge from the Navy. But after 1890, widow's of veterans, even those who had not died as a result of war injuries, could file for a pension if they were not currently married.

The 132 pages of materials that were ultimately filed for Margaret Vrooman (nee Dudley) give insight into her life, her late husband's life, and into the pension system itself. Although the latter I will explore in a different post. As all the information I will be discussing is, literally, from this one source I will not be bothering to enumerate the citations.

George was born in New York on May 11, 1837. He had at least one sister, Jerusha, who is listed in the pension records. It is likely that he already knew Margaret Dudley when he went to war, as two witnesses to his marriage were acquainted with both he and his wife long before they were married.

He was 25 when he enlisted, August 1, 1862, as an ordinary seaman aboard the USS J. P. Jackson. He would serve out his entire period of service on that same ship, being discharged January 16, 1864. He would have been serving on the ship when it was critically disabled under fire from the batteries at Vicksburg. Which gives partial support to an affidavit of a former crewman who reported that Vrooman had been injured when a cannon had exploded because it was double loaded with shot during the fighting at Vicksburg.

After the war, Mr. Vrooman returned to New York. He and Margaret were married in Albany, NY on April 25, 1866 by the Rev. J. Robinson, the Presiding Methodist Elder. They had 4 children together, 3 daughters who died within their first year, and a son, George S. Vrooman, Jr. who lived to adulthood, married and had 2 daughters.

I don't know why George and Margaret moved to California. I don't know what he did as a profession when he lived here. Margaret later supported herself by working as a shop keeper and some nursing, but it is unlikely that these were related to her husband's line of work.

The report of the SF Public Health Department reads that he died on July 14, 1876 at the Masonic Temple Baths of general debility and dropsy. Dropsy is an archaic term for edema or swelling, so he likely died of either kidney failure or congestive heart failure, as both would cause swelling and general debility. I am left to wonder if he had gone to the baths in hopes that he would sweat off some of the swelling.

Once her son was an adult, Margaret met and married another man, although they only had 4 years of marriage before he passed as well. Margaret died at a friend's house in San Francisco on August 22, 1917.

Navy Widow's Certificates #4243 and 4975 for Pensioner Margaret S. (Vrooman) Favor former widow of veteran George S. Vrooman. Can number 241, bundle number 14. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Found on, online , certificate downloaded November 11, 2010.

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