February 21, 2017

Not Much Has Changed Since the Revolutionary War

By Amy Schafer

Source: VICE

Journalist(s) Mark Hay

Jackie Kilby, an archives technician at the National Archives, was parsing old letters to the US State Department when a name caught her eye: Caleb Brewster, a key member of George Washington's Culper Spy Ring, recently made famous by the AMC show Turn. The Long Island sailor-turned-revolutionary's 1792 letter to President Washington recounted how, on 7 December 1782, five years into his service, he'd led a battle against three British ships near Fairfield, Connecticut. During the encounter, Brewster took a musket ball to the chest, an injury noted in Washington's own journal. Three months later, the partially recovered Brewster led another attack on a British vessel, aggravating his wound. He was incapacitated—"confined two years & a half under distressing [surgical] operations & a most forlorn hope of cure," as he put it in his letter. The injury, sustained in the service of the very foundation of America, had left him with a long-term disability.

The rest of Brewster's story would be frustratingly familiar to veterans born two centuries later.

The Continental Congress had guaranteed disabled soldiers disability benefits in 1776. But when Brewster went to New York (states were supposed to pay claims), it wouldn't pay up. Neither would Connecticut, where he'd also lived and served. In 1789, the newly established US Congress took the responsibility for paying claims, so Brewster petitioned them—and in 1790 they explicitly granted him back pay on his claims and half pay for life. But the Treasury refused to settle his account, so Brewster beseeched President Washington personally to help him receive the benefits promised to him. It took the president's intervention in 1792, nine years after Brewster suffered his injuries, for the US to settle up.

Read the full article at Vice.

  • Amy Schafer

    Adjunct Fellow, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Amy Schafer is a Fellow at The Cohen Group, the strategic business advisory firm founded by the former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. As an adjunct fellow with CNAS sh...