If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Private Payton P. Mathis

Payton P. Mathis enlisted as a private in Company C, 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops on March 28, 1862. The 22-year-old farmer stood five feet, eleven inches tall. He was fair-complected with dark hair and brown eyes. Private Mathis served with Company C until he was wounded in the hand at Cold Harbor. The Army grudgingly transferred the young soldier to the Invalid Corps a month before the war ended.

After the war, Payton moved to Duplin County and resumed his life as a yeoman farmer. Shortly after the turn of the century, he met and married Florella Johnson Cromartie. Florella, 12 years Payton’s junior, was a widow. Her first husband, Addison Cromartie, was also a Confederate veteran. He died in 1901 and left Florella a 144-acre farm. Florella married Payton in 1904, and the couple settled on Florella’s farm.

First Attempt

By January 1918, Payton Mathis was almost blind. He was in poor health and unable to support himself and his wife. With the help of his doctor, R. L. Carr, Mathis completed a pension application and mailed it to the Duplin County pension board. On the application, Payton cites his wounds: “part of middle finger of left hand shot off & shot in forearm. Also shot in top of head at Drewry Bluff.”

The board quickly rejected Mathis’ application. “Disallowed. Wife has property,” they scribbled on the outside of the application. State law at the time required prospective pensioners’ property to be worth less than $500. Florella’s farm, with a taxable value of $1,000, disqualified Payton from receiving his pension.

Second Attempt

Six months later, in June 1918, Payton Mathis tried again. On this application, Dr. Carr went into greater detail about Payton’s disability. After mentioning Payton’s war wounds, the doctor added that due to “impairment of sight and chronic nephritis,” Mathis was unable to perform any manual labor. He was completely disabled. The new application did not convince the pension board. The board scrawled, “Disallowed, property,” on the application’s cover and moved on.

Third Attempt

Undeterred, Payton tried again a year later. His third application, filed in June 1919, got straight to the point: “Loss about ½ middle finger. Wounded in top of head. Is totally disable[d].” The board’s reply was also brief: “Disallowed. Property $1100.00.”

But this time, Payton Mathis had an ace in the hole. Dr. Carr had been elected to the North Carolina Senate the previous year. The good doctor provided a statement on State Senate letterhead recommending that Mathis receive a pension. Carr’s statement was endorsed by the Clerk of Superior Court, Robert V. Wells. “This mans wife lists $1100.00 real estate,” wrote Wells. “But this man and his wife are both old and in feeble health and regardless of the fact his wife has some property over the $500.00, we recommend a pension in 4th Class. He is a very worthy citizen.”

The board agreed with this latest appeal and approved Payton Mathis’ application. Third time was the charm!

The Saga Continues

Payton Mathis only drew his pension for two years. He passed away in October, 1921, leaving Florella destitute.  Florella struggled along. Then in August 1932, at age 76, she applied for a widow’s pension. To be safe, she listed both of her dead husbands on the application. She still owned her farm and listed the taxable value as $3,000 but pointed out that the property produced very little income.

The pension board recalculated the farm’s value, “subject to mortgage and taxes approximately $1,000.00, well toward total value.” The new valuation aligned Florella’s assets with the then current cap of $2,000. Florella P. (Cromartie) Mathis was approved for a Class B pension on October 4, 1932.

Click HERE to see scans of the applications mentioned in this post.

Genealogical Note

The Pension Bureau in Raleigh returned Florella’s application because of the spelling of her last name (“Mathis” instead of “Mathews”). Clerk of Superior Court Robert V. Wells (the same one who assisted Payton Mathis; he served as clerk for decades) explained why the spelling was correct: “[T]he name is spelled MATHIS. This way of spelling the name, I am very confident, is the original way and the way it appears on the records here up until not very many years ago. On investigation I find that the name is spelled MATHEWS, MATTHEWS and MATTHIS. It is all the same name and the same family of people. Numbers of them being close blood relation, some spelling it one way and some another.”

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