Sarah Simpson, wife of Thomas N Bembry, was born in 1833 in Sumter County, GA. (She did not know what her actual birthday was, according to pension documents she filled out later in life.) Her father, James Simpson, born in 1795, was either out of a clan of Simpsons living in the northwestern corner of South Carolina, or a clan of Simpsons from North Carolina. I believe that the latter is more likely. I have tentatively placed him as one of the younger sons of a Thomas Simpson who was born in 1765 in NC and is found on the 1805 Georgia land lottery, making him one of the earliest settlers of Pulaski County.
This James had eight siblings, including a baby sister named Sarah. I have not traced the family further back than Thomas, but most Simpson immigrants to both North and South Carolina came from Scotland, and James was a popular name among the Scots, for obvious reasons. (The sheer number of James Simpsons makes our James difficult to trace.)
James probably lived with an older brother, Jacob Simpson, in Pulaski County until another land lottery in 1827 opened up former Indian territory in Houston County. He is found there in 1830 in a small household with no slaves. But, if Sarah was correct that she was born in Sumter County, the family had moved on to that county by 1833, where they are found on the 1840 census, again, as a small farming household with no slaves.
Known children include George, James, Henry, Sarah, Moses, Aaron, Morris, and Peter. According to a local history book about Georgia Simpsons, James died on 28 Nov 1844 (I believe this originally came out of a Bible record.) In any case, he is not found on the 1850 census, and the last of his children was born in 1842, so that date is probably accurate.
Dolly Tilman Simpson, James’ widow, was left with seven sons ranging in age from two to seventeen and one eleven year old daughter to raise on a small farm. At some point between 1844 and 1848, Thomas Bembry came to board with her as a “laborer”–and no doubt to help keep all those boys in line. He married Sarah in 1848, when she was no more than 15 years old.
Sarah’s first known child was born in 1851, when she was about eighteen. (There may, of course, have been another one before that which didn’t survive.) She had eight more children that we know of, all of which survived to adulthood.
When she was 29, Thomas went to war, leaving their first six children in her care. His war records show one absence with leave from 30 July to 2 Aug 1863. Nine months later, Sarah had a seventh child which she named Aaron, after her brother who had died at Gettysburg the year before.
Thomas returned from service with a lifelong disability, but at least he did come back in one piece. Several of Sarah’s brothers did not return at all, and her mother, Dolly, died at some point between 1860 and 1870. It must have been a rough decade for Sarah.
Thomas and Sarah never had much money or property, no doubt due to his disability. When he died in 1904, Sarah was left in dire poverty. There was a mix-up regarding her Confederate widows’ pension which contributed to the problem. Apparently, she did not understand that her widows’ pension was separate from his soldiers’ pension, and delayed applying for it for at least a year.
Clearly a tough old bird (and probably completely illiterate, as she signed all documents with an “X”) she dictated the following letter to a neighbor on May 13, 1912 and sent it to the Florida State Treasurer:
Honorable W V Knott
I am writing to you in regards to my pension. (I am 82 years old.) I am very feeble and am nearly blind and am perfectly helpless. My husband who was in the Confederate Army died September 21 1904 and it was something over a year before I began to draw a pension. Now the records will show these facts, Now Mr Knott! Is it not possible for me collect that back pension of over a year? Please help me to collect it as I deserve it and am in sore need of it. And again! I am only getting $30 every quarter. Does the law not provide more or does it not. Please investigate this matter and help me all you possibly can and I will be greatly indebted for your kindness.
Hoping to hear from you in regards to this matter at an early date.
I am Yours Very Truly
Mrs Sara Bembry (in care John Lee)
The subsequent document trail shows that her letter was unsuccessful and she never was paid the back pension.
At the time Sarah wrote the letter, she was living in Pine Mount, Suwannee County, FL with her oldest daughter Laura Bembry Wrede, who was also a Confederate widow. On a 1909 pension application, Sarah listed her net worth as $25, and on a similar application Laura listed hers as $15. So, they really were very poor, and at that point, Sarah had outlived several of the sons who might have helped support her. Neither woman is found on the 1920 census, so both presumably died before that point.
Sarah is probably buried in an unmarked grave in Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery near her husband of over fifty-five years, Thomas N. Bembry.