On 29th May 1865 United States President Andrew Johnson issued an Amnesty Proclamation for those who directly or indirectly participated in the rebellion. However, the amnesty did not cover everyone in the former Confederate States; fourteen exceptions were outlined, and those who fell within any of them were required to petition the President directly to receive amnesty. One such individual was Bridget Bolen, a 36 year old woman from Cork, who in 1865 lived in Augusta County, Virginia. (1)

James Speed Attorney General

Attorney-General of the United States James Speed. Bridget Bolen addressed her petition to him. (Image via Wikipedia)

The fourteen exceptions to Johnson’s amnesty were as follows:

1. Confederate Civil or diplomatic officials

2. Individuals who vacated judicial positions in the U.S. to aid the rebellion

3. Confederate Army officers above the rank of Colonel and Navy officers above the rank of Lieutenant

4. Individuals who left seat in the U.S. Congress to aid the rebellion

5. Individuals who resigned commissions in the U.S. Army or Navy and afterward served the rebellion

6. Individuals who treated black prisoners of war or their white officers unlawfully

7. Individuals who absented themselves from the U.S. in order to aid the rebellion

8. Confederate military personnel who were educated at the U.S. Military Academy or U.S. Naval Academy

9. Former Confederate Governors

10. Individuals who left home in the U.S. jurisdiction to aid the rebellion

11. Individuals who engaged in the destruction of U.S. commerce

12. Individuals in federal custody

13. Voluntary participants in the rebellion who held taxable property worth at least $20,000

14. Individuals who had broken the oath of allegiance issued on 8th December, 1863 (2)

Bridget Bolin Signature

Bridget Bolen's signature 'her mark' as it appears on her amnesty petition (Image via Footnote)

The U.S. Government received approximately 15,000 applications for amnesty between 29th May 1865 and 6th September 1867. Of these c. 13,500 of the petitions were successful. Clearly given the breadth of the fourteen exceptions and the numbers of people who eventually applied, many of those who fell within the terms of reference did not bother to petition the President for amnesty. Of the c. 15,000 received, Bradley R. Clampitt has identified that only some 389 were from women. The majority of these women applied for the amnesty under the thirteenth exception, namely those who held taxable property worth over $20,000. Their motivations for doing so appear to have been a fear that they would lose their property if they did not secure the amnesty. Bridget Bolen fell into this category, and it was to guard against the loss of property that she decided to petition the government. (3)

Bridget Bolin Petition

Bridget Bolen's petition for amnesty (Image via Footnote)

On the 7th August 1865 the Irishwoman had the following petition written, which was witnessed by E.B. Dull:

Staunton, Augusta County Virginia, Aug. 7th 1865

To the Hon James Speed

Attorney General of the U.S.

The petition of Bridget Bolin [sic]. Respectfully represents that she is a native of Cork, Ireland a citizen of Augusta County in the State of Va. where she has resided for the last 11 years. That she is in the 36th year of her age, is the owner of land and has been as she is now, engaged in commercial pursuits, during the war. That she is not a slave owner; will never again use slave labor or recognise the Institution of Slavery in the U.S. That her participation in the late rebellion consisted only in the past of taxes and contraction of supplies for the army levied under the authority of the so called Confederate States Govt. That her property may or may not be worth $20,000 but whether more or less no proceedings have been instituted against her by the U.S. authorities for its confiscation. That she has taken and subscribed the annexed oath of Amnesty, and as a legal citizen of the U.S. intends to keep the home in good faith. She therefore coming, probably, within the 13th exception of the President’s Proclamation of the 19th May last, prays for special pardon on the terms and conditions prescribed.

Her mark: Bridget Bolen


E.B. Dull (4)

Bridget Bolin Amnesty Oath

Bridget Bolen's signed Amnesty Oath (Image via Footnote)

Bolen’s petition was accompanied by a signed amnesty oath which was witnessed by William A. Burnett, a notary public. As with the majority of women who applied for amnesty under the thirteenth exception, Bridget Bolen’s petition was successful, and she was pardoned on 16th August, 1865. (5)

Many intriguing questions about the Corkwoman’s life remain. Did she leave Cork as an already wealthy woman, or did she marry into or acquire her money in Virginia? What was the nature of her wealth? What activities was she engaged in during and after the war? Given her claim that she had resided in Augusta County for 11 years it should be possible to identify her on the 1860 census, although no Bridget Bolen appears. Perhaps Bolen was a married name adopted post 1860- two other Irishwomen named Bridget of the right age do appear on the census for the county, namely Bridget Miligan and Bridget Cochran, and she may be one of these women. There is much research yet to do to find out more about Bridget Bolen and her circumstances; a woman of such means is unlikely to be absent from contemporary local newspapers, for example. It is to be hoped that more can be discovered that will facilitate a follow up post on her in the near future.

(1) Clampitt 2010: 327, Footnote: Confederate Amnesty Petitions; (2) Clampitt 2010: 327; (3) Clampitt 2010: 325-329; (4) Footnote: Confederate Amnesty Petitions; (5) ibid;


Clampitt, Bradley R. 2010. ‘”Not intended to dispossess females”: Southern Women and Civil War Amnesty’ in Civil War History, Volume 56, Number 4, pp. 325- 349

Footnote Confederate Amnesty Papers (subscription required)