Mrs. Hartshorne’s Estate Sale and the Joking Neighbor of Patrick McGroury of Manalapan, New Jersey

Today’s post is by Claire Kluskens, Genealogy/Census Subject Matter Expert and Digital Projects Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On August 28, 1884, a lawyer named A. A. Chambers helped Patrick McGroury of Manalapan, New Jersey, write a letter of inquiry to the Bureau of Pensions about James Hogan, who lived nearby. McGroury was mad and embarrassed. Hogan had made a fool of him. Hogan had also sued McGroury for money due on a $50 promissory note, and McGroury was upset about that, too. He wanted revenge. “Warm friends” were now “bitter enemies.” 

McGroury, a farmer, was a Civil War veteran who had applied for a pension. Hogan also was a veteran but financially better off. He was a “well to do” farmer with 40 or 50 acres of cleared land, some woodland, and enough money to lend it out at interest to other people, such as McGroury. Hogan also rented out nine acres to McGroury on which he planted corn. 

On March 4, 1884, Hogan went to McGroury’s house and “said he was a United States Detective and pension examiner” and was there to examine him. Hogan told McGroury to strip off his clothes. So, McGroury said, “I took off all my clothing at the foot of the bed there, where my wife lay sick. He examined me all over, felt of [sic] my limbs, and body all over, put his finger in my behind, examined my breast, and examined me all over. As he was examining me he said my legs were not very bad, but that my hips, body, and sides were bad, and also my shoulders.”

Letter from Patrick McGroury to Pension Bureau, August, 1884, inquiring about the authority of James Hogan.

Impersonation of a U.S. Government officer was a violation of federal law. The Bureau of Pensions took allegations of impersonation very seriously, especially when the impersonator obtained money or benefits of some kind from his or her impersonation. The Bureau frequently prosecuted impersonators who tricked gullible pension claimants into giving them cash, food, or lodging.

The Bureau assigned special examiner T. J. Shannon to investigate. First, Shannon “made quiet and carefull [sic] inquiry among old soldiers and Grand Army [of the Republic] men as to whether any knew of any person or persons who had personated [sic, impersonated] a Government officer.” None of the unnamed men he spoke with had heard of such activities.

Then, on October 3, 1884, Mr. Shannon went to Patrick McGroury’s house to obtain testimony under oath from him, his wife, Roseanna McGroury, and his son, Edward McGroury. He also obtained testimony from Charles Herrmann and Louis G. Davison. He talked with Charles Davison, who could add no additional information to his father’s testimony, and a man having the unusual name of “Mount Duncan” who claimed he knew nothing. 

First page of the sworn testimony of Patrick McGroury, October 3, 1884.

After taking testimony under oath, seeing the witnesses and their demeanor, and assessing the character of James Hogan, Special Examiner T. J. Shannon concluded that “James Hogan did call upon Patrick McGroury” as alleged, “and examined him, probably representing that he was empowered by the Pension Department to do so.” Thus, Hogan was guilty of impersonation. 

However, criminal prosecution was not warranted because Hogan had not profited financially. Shannon’s written report continued: “But is also my opinion that Hogan received a letter from the Office asking him what he knew relative to the disability of Patrick McGroury, or in an interview with a special examiner or pension agent or attorney, when urging the merits of McGroury’s claim for pension . . . has been asked how he knew he was disabled, has examined McGroury as alleged, pretending he was an examiner, merely to show his superiority over McGroury.” Furthermore, Shannon said, “It appears that Hogan sometimes drinks to excess, and has a hobby of declaring himself a Detective, but I can not find a person, not even the complainant McGroury, who knows that Hogan pretended to be, or personated any officer for the purpose of injuring any person, or profit to himself.” Mrs. Roseanna McGroury believed that Hogan’s actions were “done in a joke” and Special Examiner Shannon reached the same conclusion. 

Louis G. Davison described Hogan as “quite windy, a great talker, and one who likes to show his Authority, and be a little above the common Irish. My opinion is that this Detective business is a hobby of his which he delights to ventilate, and make pretensions that he has some influence.” Thus, one can imagine Hogan going around the neighborhood telling everyone who would listen about his fake examination of McGroury. That, coupled with the lawsuit, was enough to make McGroury furious. 

This tale of neighborly ire has been preserved as the “Case File of James Hogan” (National Archives Identifier 147985366), which has been digitized and made available in the National Archives Catalog. In addition to giving insight into the character, families, and post-war circumstances of two soldiers of the American Civil War, this file also preserves an unexpected find: ephemera from a woman’s history and local history.  

“Ephemera” is transitory written or printed materials that were not meant to be retained or preserved. The word comes from the Greek word “ephemeros” that means “lasting only one day” or “short-lived.”

Patrick McGroury remembered that Hogan examined him on “the day of the vendue of Mrs. James Hartshorn [sic], that was on the 4th of March 1884.” The “vendue” was the estate sale advertised by Elizabeth S. Hartshorne [sic], Administratrix, of the “entire stock of household goods, farming implements, and livestock of James B. Hartshorne, deceased, near Freehold, New Jersey, “on the Freehold and Manalapan pike.” An estate sale was a big social event and a potential opportunity to obtain needed and useful items at a good price. 

How did McGroury remember the date of the sale? He had helpful ephemera: an auction advertising poster that might have been given to him or posted in a nearby public place. Thus, even though Elizabeth Hartshorne herself had nothing to do with the complaint against Hogan, the ephemera memorializing Mrs. Hartshorne’s sad duty to liquidate all of her husband’s property became part of this file when McGroury gave the 12 1/4-inch by 18 3/4-inch poster to Special Examiner T. J. Shannon as “evidence” of the date of Hogan’s examination.

Advertising Poster for Estate Sale of James B. Hartshorne.

The “Case File of James Hogan” (National Archives Identifier 147985366) is in the “Case Files of Attorneys, Agents, Pensioners, and Others Relating to the Prosecution of Pension Claims and the Investigation of Fraudulent Practices, ca. 1862-1933” (National Archives Identifier 2538355) in Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Over 12,900 case files in this record series are currently searchable by name and geographic location in the National Archives Catalog. In addition to giving insight to problems arising within the military pension claim system, these files offer useful insights into local history and personalities. These files are not military pension files. Instead, they were the files that the Law Division of the Bureau of Pensions kept relating to administrative matters and alleged violations of pension law.

For more information about these and related records, read these articles: “Thieves, Scoundrels, Impostors, and More” and “Special Examiners: Records of the Bureau of Pensions’ Efforts to Combat Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, 1862-1933.” 

09.23.2020: This post has been updated to reflect that the correct spelling of the town is “Manalapan” not “Manalapin.” In the documents, the special examiner misspelled it every time but the people who lived there (and knew better) spelled it right every time.