Silas was born about 1826 in Cayuhoga County, New York (probably Venice) to Elisha Covey and Lucy Main, the fifth of 11 children. Elisha was a farmer, and probably fairly prosperous, as indicated by his real and personal estate property values listed in the 1860 census.
Silas married Sarah A Perkins in Venice NY on 26 Jul 1840. After living together a short time, Silas was convicted of theft, and sent to Auburn prison. Released after a few years, Silas returned to live with Sarah. He was soon convicted of another theft, and sent back to Auburn prison for three more years. At Auburn, prisoners worked at hard labor to support the prison. Prisoners lived in individual cells, and although they shared a communal dining room, they were not allowed to talk.
During Silas’ second term in prison, Sarah decided she would not live with a thief, and moved to Ashfield, MA to live with Perkins relatives there. Sarah had no children. Silas’ brothers also distanced themselves from him, describing him as a “wayward boy”. Silas’ reputation during this time was bad – he could not go into a store without stealing. Meanwhile, a neighbor thought that Sarah was right to leave him, and her reputation was good.
In 1850, Silas lived with his parents and younger siblings in Venice. He was a farmer. Silas did not divorce Sarah, thinking his prison term annulled his marriage. Sarah later said that she heard Silas remarried in Elmira NY after getting out of prison, but Silas doesn’t have a wife in this census.
In about 1852, in Moravia NY, Silas married Amelia Chittenden, and had a daughter, Lucy H Covey, born about 1852. The next year, Silas, Amelia, and Lucy moved to Howell MI. Silas married again, but went back to Amelia to divide their property. Silas sold some land to Amelia’s brother (or father) Ira for $100 and a yoke of oxen. The land was deeded to Amelia and when she died, put in trust for Lucy. Lucy said her parents were not living together at the time Amelia died – not because of any problem between the couple, but because of some trouble Silas had. Perhaps this was the other wife, but rumor was that he had been in jail, and escaped and left Amelia.
Silas married Susan Adeline Woodruff 4 July 1856 in Coldwater MI. Their first child, Ella, was born in 1859. Later records listed this wife as both Susan A, and Addy (not to be confused with Adelia who shows up later.) The marriage was performed by Silas’ brother Ezra, and another brother, Joel, was also present. Some of Silas’ later pension records also refer to Susan as “the Coldwater woman.” Silas lived with Susan off and on, both before the Civil War and afterwards.
Silas was in the 1860 in Orange, Ionia County MI, with a woman named Sarah. She is probably his wife, although relationships are not listed in 1860. This is not his first wife Sarah, as she was living in Massachusetts. It is not Susan. I have not yet found Susan/Addy in 1860.
In 1863, during the Civil War, Silas registered for the draft from Orange, Ionia county MI. However, he returned to New York, and enlisted from his home town of Venice. On about 3 June 1864, while storming the enemy at Cold Harbor, Virginia, he fell on a breastwork, injuring his stomach. He was taken prisoner and sent to Richmond VA. In August, Silas went to Camp Parole at Annapolis, spending time at the convalescent hospital there. Eventually, those not fit for the field were furloughed to go home. He spent time at the Palmira hospital before receiving a medical discharge in July 1865. At that time, he filed for an invalid pension, which was witnessed by his father, and brother William. In 1870, in Auburn NY, Silas’ application for pension was denied as he had failed to provide the requested evidence.
Silas returned to Michigan, although he was not living with Addy and daughters in 1870. Addy went on an extended (1 year) visit to her brother in Indiana. While she was gone, in about 1870, Silas began working for farmer Isaac Morse near Lansing. Silas took up with the farmer’s daughter, Adelia. They had a child together, but it died when less than two years old. It is unlikely that they were actually married, although Silas told Adelia’s mother Lydia that they were. Lydia later said Silas would hold a paper saying it was his marriage certificate, but would not let Lydia see it. After Adelia’s father died, Silas sent her home telling her they weren’t really married. Lydia also later said that Silas claimed his daughter Ella, but not May, saying that she was born while he was away in the Army.
About a year into this relationship with Adelia, Addy came back from Indiana. She at first claimed to be Silas’ sister, but then revealed she was his wife. Adelia left for a while, then returned and Silas lived with both women in the same house. He also lived for a while in Mason and Dewitt MI, with his sister, Lucina Covey Minturn, and also with his brother Dr. Calvin Covey. Since his war injury prevented Silas from doing hard manual labor, he worked as a tailor. Calvin loaned Silas money and Silas wanted to give him land in return, but Calvin didn’t think the current wife (Susan) had standing to sign the transfer papers, so he wouldn’t deal with Silas. He told Silas to divorce Sarah. Silas eventually showed Calvin divorce papers, and Calvin accepted the property.
I have not yet found Silas in the 1880 census. He was not with Addy in Lansing MI, although she listed herself as married. He at one point described himself as a land speculator, and perhaps was on the move when the census was taken. In 1881 in Lansing MI, Silas applied for an invalid pension, based on the injury received during the War. His claim repeated the history of his injury and medical issues. It was not approved.
In the 1880’s, Silas also visited family in New York, including his sister-in-law Diadamia Perkins who had married one of Silas’ Covey cousins. They talked about his escapades in the west, and about Sarah Perkins Covey, living in Massachusetts. Although she didn’t believe Silas had seen Sarah since she left, nor corresponded with her, in Diadamia’s mind, there was no question that Silas knew his first wife was still alive at the time he participated in the subsequent marriages. But he told her it was no trouble for him to get married, he could find a girl anywhere. Silas got “Texas fever” and after visiting family in New York, he went to Texas.
Silas lived in Texas several years, then returned to live with Addy, then went back to Texas. During the time he was away, he corresponded with Addy who remained in Michigan. The expectation was that Silas would dispose of property in Texas and return to the family in Michigan, but he died before that happened.
On 3 January 1883, relative to the pension claims, the examining surgeon’s certificate reviewed the history of Silas’ injuries. He found gastralgia/neuralgia of the stomach and dyspepsia, but no evidence of a rupture and determined him to be ¼ disabled.
While in Texas, on 23 March, 1883 Silas resubmitted his claim for a pension. He was described by the examiner as “known to be reputable and entitled to credit” meaning his statement was credible. Silas said in a follow-up letter that he originally thought he had enough money to live without asking the government. Silas also could not provide the name of a commissioned officer or two enlisted men to be witnesses. Those captured with him did not live to get back. The pension was denied in 1884.
In 1885, Silas was not well, and was staying at the home of an elderly friend, Littlepage Sims Green. During the night, Silas went outside to use the convenience, but stumbled against a gate, which fell, making a loud noise. Mr. Green got his revolver, and went to investigate. Seeing the figure of a man near the outhouse, he fired his gun in that direction to scare off the prowler. Sadly, his shot hit Silas in the head, destroying one eye.
Silas recovered from his injury, and four months later, married Green’s daughter Jennie. At this point, Silas still had several wives living – Sarah Perkins Covey in Massachusetts; perhaps the woman from the rumored marriage before Amelia Chittenden; Addy Woodruff Covey in Michigan; maybe the unknown Sarah from the 1860 census; and Adelia Morse Covey Mapes (who may or may not have married him) in Michigan. Ironically, Jennie had two years previously married in Texas, then left that man because he had several wives living in several states. Even more ironically, that man charged her with desertion, just before she married Silas.
28 May 1888, Silas reported that he was unable to furnish medical information as his New York doctor is now dead, he wasn’t sure about the Michigan doctor, and Silas was too weak to travel. However, his discharge papers confirm that he was hurt in the line of battle. Other witnesses who knew Silas described his injuries and medical complaints to the examiner. The spells were becoming worse, and with minimal exertion, Silas was confined to bed.
Jennie and Silas had a daughter, Nannie Mae, born in 1886. Silas and Jennie did not stay together although they lived together from time to time. She initiated divorce proceedings. He boarded with Mary Morrison, and he died at her house in Dallas on 15 August 1888. Silas had suffered with his stomach problem since inured 25 years earlier. His final doctor said that Silas had chronic dilatation of the stomach, with a very high temperature, and apparently died of exhaustion and heart failure having been feeble for some time prior to his final illness.
After Silas died, friends in Dallas notified family members. As a result, three widows applied for Silas’ Civil War widow’s pension – Sarah Perkins from Massachusetts, Addy Woodruff from Michigan, and Jennie Green from Texas. Examiners were assigned the task of proving which woman, if any, was the legal widow entitled to the pension. They needed to determine whether Silas had actual marriages or divorces, or any minor children. Examiners interviewed witnesses and checked records in New York, Michigan, and Texas.
Susan died before a legal widow was determined, and by then both her daughters were of age so not entitled to the pension. About the same time, the pension requests from Jennie and Sarah were denied as neither had a marriage certificate.
The examiner expanded on his opinions about Jennie. In a summary filed 21 April 1889 in Dallas, the examiner said that he found Jennie to have a “shady reputation” and that even if she was the legal widow, “she would not be the most honorable of the Government’s wards”. He described Covey as a simple-minded old man, great talker, one of the class forever talking about riches he didn’t have. In his opinion, the girl and her parents probably didn’t make things pleasant for the old gentleman once they discovered he didn’t have the wealth he claimed. The father-in-law shot his eye out. (The examiner didn’t mention that this was accidental, and that the shooter became the new father-in-law several months after the accident.)
Besides interviewing the family members, examiners spoke to others in the community who knew of Silas, his wives and his travels. One said that Silas was ambitious, and that some men would not have worked with the injury that he had. The examiners found no records of divorce.
Sarah Perkins Covey filed again for the widow’s pension on 11 Mar 1891 from Cayuga Co, NY. Witnesses provided information that this was the first marriage for both and that she has not remarried. Her property was described as run-down and unproductive (establishing her need for assistance.) The examiner learned that upon the death of Silas’ father Elisha, Sarah Perkins Covey, Susan “Addy” Woodruff Covey, and Jennie Green Covey all tried to claim Silas’ $600 inheritance. Sarah was recognized by the New York court as the legal widow. Although she had no marriage certificate, Charles Covey testified that he was present at their marriage. After Silas died, Sarah paid for the undertaker costs and a store bill, further establishing her claim.
During the later series of interviews and statements, in 1893, Silas’ brother, Reverend Ezra Covey described Silas as having been a wayward boy. Ezra had, by then,remembered getting a letter from Ada (Addy) Covey who said that he, Rev. Ezra, had married her to Silas who used his middle name, Main. Ezra originally denied that, but later contacted the examiner and said that after thinking the matter over, he did believe me married Silas Maine to Ada Woodruff in the 1850’s near Coldwater MI. He said that the parties were strangers to him and had no license. After Silas went to prison, Ezra cut off contact with him, and would not have recognized Silas Main as Silas Covey. Ezra said that after the marriage, Silas violated the law and “skipt” away. The wife and children went with him, but he didn’t know where. Ezra said he wouldn’t have married them if he recognized Silas. The examiner described Ezra as very old and considered an upright Christian gentleman.
In Joel Covey’s statement from 1893, Joel claims he wasn’t sure if Ezra knew it was his brother Silas who he was marrying, as they hadn’t seen each other for so long. However, since Joel was also a witness to this marriage, it is hard to believe the claim of Ezra not recognizing his own brother. But these later statements were made 40 years after the event. Calvin Covey’s statement regarding this marriage to Susan was that Silas left Amelia and married Susan under his middle name, Main.
The examiner’s summary in 1893 after the above statements includes the statement that Silas “was known as a Mormon and Lord knows how many wives” he had. I’ve seen no indication that Silas considered himself a Mormon. However, his father’s brother Benjamin Covey was a member of the LDS church, travelling to Salt Lake, Utah in 1848. Benjamin’s Find-A-Grave biography lists 4 concurrent wives.
On 12 October 1894 after a review, the invalid petition was again denied because the claim lacked evidence linking the injury to Army service. However, Sarah was determined to be the legal widow, and was assigned a widow’s pension of $8 per month commencing 13 March 1891. She continued to collect the pension until she died 17 March 1915, in Massachusetts. In 24 years, she should have collected $2304.