Posted in Research tips

Peter Parker’s (Spiderman’s) Double Life: Oh, What a Tangled Web

Spider-Man_(Ben_Reilly)Filed under “Truth is stranger than fiction (but both are fun to blog about)” the story of Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, gave the Fairy Tale Genealogist plenty of juicy details to uncover and document. Indeed, the saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to deceive” may very well have originated with Peter Parker, for he did indeed live a double life. Oh, and he had a secret superhero identity! Yes, he was Spiderman, but did you know he was also Bigamy Man? Of course it’s all right there in the records, the Fairy Tale Genealogist is about to blow his cover.

Ah, military pension records, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. You provide birth dates, marriage dates (to more than one woman), and death dates
  2. You document military service enlistment, battles fought in, and reports of  of the lucky break Peter Parker caught when his ship went down and he was reported among the presumed dead.
  3. You document Parker’s history of employment as a merchant seaman.
  4. You give us a detailed surgeon’s report in Parker’s own invalid pension application describing his war wounds and varicose veins (inspiration for the red suit, perhaps?)
  5. You include reports written by befuddled clerks at the War Department, wondering why two women have filed for pension benefits–after his first faked death and then again after he really did punch his ticket.
  6. You give the Fairy Tale Genealogist the best story EVER for her blog.

So let’s cut to the chase here. Peter Parker married Emmaretta Brown in 1859 in New York, and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy 3 October 1861 during the War of the Rebellion (Civil War). His ship, The USS Congress, sank and all were presumed dead on 8 March 1862.

The sinking of the USS Congress
The sinking of the USS Congress

Families were notified, tears were wept, funerals were held. But wait! Not all were lost. And apparently Peter Parker had a free do-over. Peter survived the sinking of the ship, was discharged shortly afterward, 24 May 1862, with a shrapnel wound, and married Elizabeth Randolph in 1864 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Emmaretta applied for a widow’s pension in 1873, which was granted, and Peter applied for an invalid pension in 1892 but died before it was granted.  Then Elizabeth filed for a widow’s pension. And THAT is when it all went down…

Peter Parker’s Pension Packet, as found on Fold3.com, contained 84 pages of fascinating reading. Page 11, as numbered on Fold3, gives us a hint that something is amiss.  “This case should be investigated by Special Examiner” it reads:

Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839589/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. “Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910.” https://www.fold3.com/image/27839589/

Yes, when Elizabeth Parker, filed for a widow’s pension in 1892 after the death of her husband it was discovered that another widow, Emmaretta Parker, had already been collecting a pension for his wartime death in 1862—a shock I am sure Elizabeth could have done without.  Her affadavits attest to the fact that she had no idea he was previously married, that she had known him since they were youth, and she had no idea he had ever been to New York. This does lead us to ask more questions:  Were there two Peter Parkers?  Or, was Emmaretta a con artist who saw a published list of sailors on the doomed USS Congress?  It gave the Special Investigator plenty to pursue. In the end, it was determined there was one Peter Parker who had artfully spun a web of deceit that neither woman was aware of. As a genealogist, it does make me want to research it further, but as a Fairy Tale Genealogist, it makes me want to write a really fun story!

Page 60, as found on Fold3.com, is the application by Emmaretta Parker in 1873 for a widow’s pension:

Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839926/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839926/

Page 65, as found on Fold3, is Elizabeth Parker’s application for a widow’s pension:

Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839982/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839982/

PAges 17-19 are the final report of the examiner, summarizing the whole situation.  He brings up some good points, including the fact that because Emmaretta Parker died 30 January 1892, and Peter Parker died 1 March 1892, that technically Elizabeth Parker was his legal wife at the time she applied for the pension. Well done, examiner!

Page 17. Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910.
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839612/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839618/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839618/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839612/
Peter Parker pension file no. 1940, NARA M1279. Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. https://www.fold3.com/image/27839612/

Military pension files are one of the Fairy Tale Genealogist’s favorite kind of records, and in Peter Parker’s case you can clearly see why.  Spiderman was spinning webs long before the comic books, movies, pajamas, and light-up sneakers appeared on the scene!

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Author:

I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

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