14 September 2009

A Patriot Non Compos Mentis

So far, I've only discovered the term non compos mentis applied to one ancestor, and that happens to be my DAR Patriot, Benjamin Barnes [Jr.] Benjamin was born in 1747 in Hingham, Massachusetts, about 20 miles south of Boston, right on Massachusetts Bay. He owned quite a bit of land that reached right down to Hingham Harbor, where I recently had the pleasure of boating with my best friends from college.

Benjamin has a pretty nice Revolutionary War pension application file, submitted in 1832 on his behalf by Ned Cushing, his caretaker, when Ben was 85. They mention that Benjamin was "himself incapable of recollecting the past events of his life with correctness" so they get his war buddies to give affidavits telling about his service: in 1775, like half of the state, he was called to Lexington to "march on the alarm of April 19, 1775, then he "guarded the sea" in Hingham (they don't mention that he could probably do that from his front yard!); in 1776 he did the same in Nantasket" (two minutes up the road). But in 1777 he was present at the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne. And there is more. Length of service for him was anywhere from three days (Lexington) to eight months. I believe he remained a Private for the entire war.

What is sort of interesting is that the service accounts vary slightly. Of course they do! How can 75-85 year old men remember back 58 years to which three-month stint they served with whom? Because in the Revolutionary War that was the volunteer militia's term of service: three months. Not a year, certainly not four years. Nearly sixty years after the fact, these very old men were putting their heads together on behalf of poor Benjamin so that he could get some relief from the government.

I love pension files because you find attestations by Town Clerks to vital records. In this, case it is said elsewhere in the pension that this birth was found in the diary of Rev. Ebenezer Gay, not in the church or town records. I love that. And someday I will go gaze at it, for I believe it still exists.

Benjamin Barnes, son of Benjamin & Hannah
born June 7, 1747 ––
A true copy from the Records of births in Hingham
James I. Lewis
Town Clerk

Beneath that it says that the Town Clerk "verily believes it to be a record of the birth of Benjamin Barnes of said Hingham now under the Guardianship of Ned Cushing who applies in behalf of said Benjamin for a pension under the law of the United States passed in June last –– and I hereby certify that the said Lewis is personally known to me and that his reputation for truth is unquestionable.
Ebenezer Gay, Jus. Peace

Then, it makes me laugh because on the next page, they get the Register of Probate to attest that Ebenezer Gay is honest and forthright as well. Then George Washington does the same for the Register of Probate. Just kidding. But really, when does it end?

I use the Revised Fourth Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, published in 1968 because it is pretty good for older legal terms. On page 1200 you can find a definition of Non Compos Mentis:
"Lat. Not sound of mind; insane. This is a very general term, embracing all varieties of mental derangement. See Insanity. [Then, the best part follows...]
Coke has enumerated four different classes of persons who are deemed in law to be non compotes mentis: First an idiot, or fool natural; second, he who was of good and sound mind and memory, but by the act of God has lost it; third, a lunatic, lunaticus qui gaudet lucidis intervallis, who sometimes is of good sound mind and memory, and sometimes non compos mentis; fourth, one who is non compos mentis by his own act, as a drunkard, Co. Litt. 247a; 4 Coke, 124."

I think that poor Benjamin, after his honorable service to the cause of freedom, was an example of Coke's definition number two: "of good and sound mind and memory, but by the act of God has lost it." I'm just thankful that everyone else was there to help him pick up the memories. Benjamin died in 1834, so he had a few comfortable years at least. I hope someone took care of Ned, too.


Bill West said...

Hi Polly,
Interesting post. I have some Barnes
ancestors through my Barrows line,
descended from John Barnes of Plymouth who was gored to death by his bull. I don't know if any of
the line made it up to Hingham, though.


Patti Hobbs said...

Interesting story, Polly. I've got two anecodotes related to your story. One was that because the town clerk attested to the records showing children of my ancestor for his widow's pension, I persisted in looking at town books labeled by the FHL as not containing vital records because the ones labeled as such did not contain said records. I knew the record had to exist.

2nd -- I have someone I've looked at as a possible ancestor who was judged non compos mentis. Here's what the town history (Woodstock, Vermont) has to say about him:

"On a certain celebration-day, when the company were paraded on the Common to fire thirteen salutes in honor of the thirteen original States of the Union, Beriah loaded his gun with bullets. But, as the bullets began to whistle over the heads of the people, anxious inquiries arose as to the source from which they came, and being traced to Beriah, the captain informed him the State had no further occasion for his services in the military line, whereupon Beriah took up his gun and departed." :-)

PFK said...

Bill, the Plymouth gang are a different line. I'm always running into John Barnes of Plymouth, but never knew the poor fellow was gored by a bull. Yeck.

PFK said...

Patti, love those!

The History Man said...

That was great. Stories like this always remind us about the men and women who have given a good portion of their lives to secure our freedoms. This also shows that we need to support them in anyway that we can after the conflict is over! Accolades to you for giving us another example!

The History Man