Undone by a Hat: The Drowning of Frank J. Donahoe

On the night of June 4, 1895, a message arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts for 75-year-old Peter Fitzpatrick, informing him his 30-year-old son, Philip H. Fitzpatrick, was dead in Savannah, Georgia. Peter instructed authorities to send his son’s body home to Lowell, however, Savannah replied, no way.

In a haze of grief, the elderly Fitzpatrick began packing a bag for the thousand-mile trip south. The dreadful news spread across the familial network of Fitzpatricks, Rileys and Donahoes, and, perhaps, his sister Bridget Donahoe, realized Peter should not undertake the journey alone. Frank J. Donahoe stepped up to accompany his uncle. From the downtown depot, the men took the train to Boston. They may have gone on to New York by rail, in order to board the first steamship bound south.

On arrival in Savannah, Peter and Frank had their grief compounded, as they learned Philip Fitzpatrick’s remains had already been buried in the interest of public health, and exhuming the body was forbidden.  the men were certainly shown to Savannah’s Catholic cemetery on Wheaton Street. There, they said their goodbyes and offered prayers over a mound of freshly-turned earth. Their mission a failure, the bereaved father and cousin left for home.

Their ship had covered hundreds of watery miles northward when a squall hit off New York City. The Lowell Daily News of Thursday, June 13, 1895 reported what happened:

THE DROWNING OF FRANK J. DONAHOE.

A GREAT WAVE SWEPT HIM OFF THE STEAMER’S DECK.

There was a High Wind and a Heavy Sea–his Hat blew off, and he Reached for it Just as the Big Wave swept over the steamer.
—-
Last night a dispatch was received from the agent of the steamer on which Frank J. Donahoe and his uncle, Peter Fitzpatrick, sailed from Savannah for New York. It stated that a man named Frank Donahoe was lost overboard from the steamer.

Peter Fitzpatrick arrived in Lowell on the nine o’clock train this morning and full particulars of the sad affair were made known. Mr. Fitzpatrick is looking well after his rough voyage, but he is terribly agitated at the sudden taking of his nephew. The steamer is supposed to be the Algonqula of the Clyde line, Capt. Pratt in command, but Mr. Fitzpatrick is not sure of this. The steamer had a very rough voyage, the passage being unusually severe, the captain informed Mr. Fitzpatrick and his nephew [who] were standing on deck. The sea was very rough. A gale of wind blew Frank Donahoe’s hat from his head at about 11 o’clock. He attempted to catch it before it fell overboard. It was a fatal attempt. A great wave swept across the deck and he was carried into the ocean. No help could be given him.

For the heartbroken Peter Fitzpatrick, there were two deaths, two bodies he could not bring home, yet the resilient old man lived 85 years. What of his nephew whose fate decreed he’d get just half that time on Earth?

Francis “Frank” J. Donahoe – Lowell businessman and politician

H.A. Thomas & Wylie. (ca. 1896) Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Man holding a bowler hat, circa 1896, Library of Congress [9]

Frank was born in 1852, an older brother of my great-grandmother (Mary J. (Donahoe) Roane), the fourth of ten children of Patrick and Bridget (Fitzpatrick) Donahoe. [1] As a young man, he started working in a woolen mill, but he had higher aspirations and, for at least eight years (1881-1889), he was a grocer on Lowell’s Kinsman Street. [2, 3]

Civic minded, Frank got involved in Ward Three politics. He just missed being an elected representative in city government in 1879. [4] He was a recognized democratic leader in 1893 as he planned to stand for a city council seat. It was reported he had “presided at caucuses and other political gatherings.” [5] In May 1894, he was voted chairman of the Ward Three Committee. [6]

Having focused on his grocery business and democratic politics, Frank didn’t marry until 1889, when he was 37 and well enough established to support a family. His bride was [3] 22-year-old, Mary A. Donahoe (likely, a distant cousin).

As befitted a man rising in the world, Frank would have carefully maintained his appearance. Susie Hopkins, in History of Men’s Hats, explains:

…the nineteenth century heralded a new age for men’s hats in the Western world, which reached its zenith at the turn of the twentieth century, when no gentleman would ever step out of his house without wearing a hat. Men’s clothing was dictated by sobriety and egalitarianism and hats fulfilled an important role in subtly marking differentials, personal and professional ones, as well as social class distinction. Top hats, bowlers, derbies, boaters, fedoras, panamas, and cloth caps were all created during this century and lasted well into the twentieth century. [7]

I can’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet Frank wore a bowler, also called a derby. It was the most popular hat worn by men in America in the 19th century, including Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Lowell had at least one store dedicated to male fashion in the 1890s, “Wm. P. Brazer & Co. Hatters & Mens Outfitters,” at Central & Market streets, advertised in the city directory.

In his personal life, the the family he hoped for never happened. The reason may have been Mary’s health. She died of tuberculosis in April 1894, leaving Frank alone.[8] Two months after Mary died, Frank’s younger brother Patrick followed her to the grave.

How Frank handled these tragedies is unclear. He left the grocery business at some point after 1889. The Lowell directory for 1895 lists Frank living on Keene Street with his widowed mother. His occupation was – janitor.

Frank wouldn’t have been the first man to fall apart on losing his life’s partner. Maybe he fell apart before the end. “Consumption” (tuberculosis) is a cruel wasting disease, and we don’t know how long Mary was sick and Frank surely suffered along with her. If he tended her during a protracted illness, he may have been unable to keep up with the demands of a grocery store. He may have sold out or lost the business. It’s possible Frank took to drink to ease the pain.

When the news of Philip’s death arrived in Lowell, it had been a year since his wife Mary and his brother Patrick died. Having so long felt powerless to help the people he loved, Frank rallied. Proven articulate and persuasive in city politics, he could assist his uncle with officials in Savannah. He could be of use to his loved ones.

Frank may have dressed hurriedly to make the train, but he took care to make a good appearance, from the shine on his shoes, to the finely made hat on his head.

 

Sources: 

  1. “Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FXC4-NTL : 1 March 2016), Francis Donahue, 1852.
  2. Lowell, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1881. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  3. Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook). Lowell, MA, 1889. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  4. The New Democratic City Committee Indulge in a Midnight Session – Recount of Ward Three Votes; More Lowell Daily Citizen and News Saturday, Sep 13, 1879 Lowell, MA Vol: XXIX Issue: 7247 Page: 2. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  5. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts), 1893 October 25; Page 1, Col. 3. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  6. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts); 1894 May 1; Column 2: Caucuses. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  7. History of Men’s Hats, Susie Hopkins; LoveToKnow: Beauty and Fashion; https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-accessories/history-mens-hats
  8. Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Lowell Deaths, 1894. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  9. H.A. Thomas & Wylie. Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014636873/.

Resources: 

 

 

Advertisements

Murder in Thunderbolt

A murder in the family always comes as a shock, even when you learn of it a more than a century after the fact. The victim was a first cousin (thrice removed), Philip H. Fitzpatrick, who was just 30 at his death in 1895. To make the matter worse, the affair was a nationwide scandal. The salient points appeared in newspaper headlines like the following from the June 5, 1895 issue of the Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA):

A TRAGEDY AT THUNDERBOLT

The Proprietor of a Leading Gaiety Saloon

Killed By a Mount Vernon Lawyer. A Handsome Gaiety Girl Caused the Difficulty

Newspapers across Georgia, in South Carolina, Illinois and California published versions the tale. On June 6, 1895, the story hit Philip’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. The evening edition of the Lowell Daily News reported it like this:

WANTED THE WOMAN
——————————————-
Particulars of Murder of Philip Fitzpatrick.
——————————————-
QUARRELED WITH ANOTHER MAN ABOUT A GAIETY GIRL.
Fitzpatrick Broke into a Room, and in Return Received Two Bullets in His Body -The Murderer Arrested and Locked Up – Father and Cousin of Dead Man Go After the Body. 

The catalyst of the tragedy was Helen (or Helene) Stockton, a singer and dancer who grew up in Washington, DC and whose real name was Emily Lazelle.[1]  We don’t know when Fitzpatrick hired her for his Savannah music hall, the Gaiety Theater, but she  became a fast favorite with the male patrons and Philip himself fell in love.

Anna Held was about Helen Stockton’s age in this 1899 poster from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. [2]

About six weeks before the murder, Helen left the Gaiety. Why? Philip might have popped the question out of the blue, sending the girl into shock. Or, in a less gentlemanly move, Philip might have pressed her to engage in an illicit affair. Either of those would be excellent reasons to quit a workplace. As it turns out, virtue and scruples didn’t play a big role in Helen’s decision.

At 19, in the bloom of youth and beauty, and a hit on the music hall stage,  why would marriage have any appeal for Helen? Wives of working men and tradesman faced a life filled with the endless drudgery of  housework, childbearing and child-rearing. The rare exceptions to the rule were wives who married into wealth, and Helen might’ve had that angle in mind when she hooked up with a Gaiety admirer named Charles Dixon Loud.

Loud was a somewhat shady attorney, [3] a 42-year-old Georgia native, [4] twice Helen’s age and married, [5] a fact he may or may not have told Helen. He set her up in a room at the Warsaw Hotel in the Savannah suburb of Thunderbolt. Loud provided horses enabling the couple to go riding in the countryside.

Meanwhile, back in Savannah….

Philip Fitzpatrick was dealing with romantic rejection (and, if reports are accurate, the loss of his theater star) by drinking. However, although intoxication was a critical factor in the events that led to his demise, it’s unlikely Philip was an alcoholic (another possible reason for Helen’s flight). The reasons lie in the ambitious young man’s history.

In 1890, at the age of 25, Fitzpatrick moved away from family in Lowell, MA to make his way in Savannah, GA. Within five years, he established a profitable saloon, and expanded into popular entertainment. [6] By all accounts, the saloon and theater were thriving.  A habitual drunkard wouldn’t have the self-discipline essential to secure financing and licenses, to select locations, hire staff, manage operations and cash flow. 

However, there’s no question that on Tuesday, June 4. 1895, Philip Fitzpatrick stewed his brain in alcohol and fatally compromised his decision-making ability. He convinced himself that if he could only talk to Helen, face to face, she would agree to marry him.

The blow-by-blow of what happened was reported in the June 5 issue of The Constitution (Atlanta, GA):

This afternoon [June 4] Fitzpatrick, accompanied by some friends, went out to Thunderbolt, where he drank heavily. He declared that he would marry Miss Stockton, willing or unwilling. He first sent a friend to prevail upon her, but as she refused to consider the proposition, he determined to see her himself. Butler, the proprietor of the place, endeavored to keep him out, declaring that Miss Stockton had left the house. He found that she was still there, however. But still refused to let him see her, and the two engaged in a hand to hand fight in which Butler got the worst of it. The two were arrested by the marshall and were taken to the lock up, where they gave bond. Fitzpatrick promised not to go back to the house.

IN MISS STOCKTON’S ROOM
About 8 o’clock Colonel Loud, who had an engagement to go horseback riding with Miss Stockton, arrived, Fitzpatrick heard that his rival was in the house and became frantic. He forced his way in, and learning that Loud and Miss Stockton had gone to the latter’s room in order to avoid him, he rushed upstairs to the room and kicked and broke the door. He had a heavy stick in his hand and rushed at Miss Stockton with the stick upraised. He turned from her, however, toward Colonel Loud who was standing in the window of the small room, pistol in hand. As Fitzpatrick advanced, Loud fired a shot over his head to warn him. Fitzpatrick still advanced, and Loud fired a second shot striking him in the body. Fitzpatrick continued to advance when Loud fired the third shot, striking Fitzpatrick in the mouth and passing upward through the brain. Fitzpatrick fell and died in a few moments. Colonel surrendered himself to the marshall, who brought him to the city and turned him over to the police.

Wow, there it is, grim and gritty.  The above details are consistent across the dozen newspaper versions, but for a single element, that Philip threatened Helen before he attacked Loud, and I don’t believe it. Considering how well the scandal played across the country, had Philip actually tried to beat the girl, this affair wouldn’t have been billed a tragedy. I suspect the local paper steered the narrative in an effort to justify a violent homicide by one of their own, as an act of southern chivalry.

Charles Loud equipped himself with a loaded gun and shot his “rival” for Helen’s favors twice, the second shot to Philip’s head. After learning more about Loud’s behavior, both before and after the murder, I’m skeptical of the assertion that Loud’s first shot was intentionally aimed over Fitzpatrick’s head “to warn him.”

Loud was held by law enforcement, and went to trial for Philip’s murder in August 1895. He had a sympathetic judge and was acquitted.[ref] Loud continued to practice law and engage in land schemes, even managed a banana plantation in Honduras. He got to die of natural causes in 1927 at age 74.

Charles Loud’s legal wife, Rebecca Ann (McGregor) Loud, died in 1901 and in the decades that followed, Charles is found with a variety of “wives” on census records and newspaper notes. None was the woman over whom he killed a man. Helen Stockton, aka Emily Lazelle, the “Gaiety Girl,” or “vamp of Savannah,” if you will [7], likely changed her name again and disappeared.

 

The tragedy was doubled for Philip’s Fitzpatrick’s Lowell family

In the second headline about the Fitzpatrick murder in the Lowell Daily News, the last line reads,Father and Cousin of Dead Man Go After the Body.” It’s a clue to the next awful thing to happen to my Lowell, MA ancestral folks. I’ll share the fresh bad news with you in my next post.

Advertisement for the Hotel Charles in Lowell, MA

Lowell’s St. Charles Hotel, with the “best service in the city,” was young Phil Fitzpatrick’s first employer. Here he learned of a world beyond Lowell’s textile mills. [8]

References:

[1] GenealogyBank; Evening Star (Washington, DC); 26 Aug 1895; Col. Loud Acquitted.

[2] Picture credit: Anna Held (v 1877? – 1918); Digital ID: (digital file from intermediary roll copy film) var 0179 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/var.0179; Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

[3] Evidence for Charles D. Loud’s questionable character includes the following:

  • Charged with opening letters…held for examination before the United States commissioner. Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA), Wednesday, Dec 15, 1886.
  • A Tragedy at Thunderbolt. Head of a syndicate that tried to sell 400,000 acres…to Gov. Northern’s old soldiers’ colony. Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, GA), Thursday, June 6,  1895.
  • Alleged Mexican Swindle. Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), Monday, May 8, 1911.
  • Sheriff Brings Lawyer [Loud] Into Court To Try Case. Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, TX), Friday, June 2, 1911.

[4] Ancestry.com; Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. Year: 1900; Census Place: Mount Vernon, Montgomery, Georgia; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0079.

[5] In addition to the 1900 US Census enumeration above, Find A Grave MEMORIAL ID 77229130 shows the couple’s son, John McGregor Loud who died in 1886; also MEMORIAL ID 77229158 for Rebecca Ann McGregor Loud who died in 1901.

[6] Ancestry.com; Savannah, Georgia, Licenses and Bonds, 1837-1909. Research Library and Municipal Archives City of Savannah, Georgia; Savannah, Georgia; Clerk of Council, Liquor Bond and License Books, 1890; Series Number: 5600CL-220, 230; Reel Number: 223111.Original data: Record Group 5600, City of Savannah, Georgia Records. City of Savannah, Research Library & Municipal Archives, Savannah, Georgia.

[7] Wikipedia.com; “Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah” is a popular song with words by Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow, and Charles Bates, and music by Milton Ager, published in 1924.

[8] Picture credit: Ancestry.com; US City Directories; 1886 Lowell City Directory

 

 

Part 2: Thomas Seth Benson (1830-1888) – A Much Married Man

To you gentle readers long awaiting Part Two, I apologize. My intention was to get to the bottom of all the odd facts attached to the life of Thomas Seth Benson, and deliver conclusions tied up with a pastel ribbon (appropriate for springtime). Alas, the scope of this follow on piece got out of hand. In order to move on, I acknowledge many mysteries remain, and present what I’ve discovered below.

Thomas Seth Benson was born about 1830 in Palermo, Maine to Isaac B. and Eliza F. (Pelton) Benson.[1, 19] He had an older brother and sister, Augustus and Almira, and younger siblings Octavia and William.[2] His mother, Eliza Pelton Benson, died in 1847,[3] when his youngest brother was seven years old.

By the 1850 US census, Thomas’s father, Isaac Benson, moved his now-motherless family from hard-scrabble farming in Maine, to the central Massachusetts town of West Boylston in Worcester County. All the workers in the household, including Isaac himself, were making boots. However, Thomas was missing from the household. He surfaced the next year, living in Methuen, MA, employed as a hatter, and gettting married.

Marriage #1 – Margaret J. Clement | 1851 – Newburyport, Massachusetts

On 14 October 1851, Thomas S. Benson married Margaret J. Clement in Newburyport, MA.[4] Margaret was born in Hampton, NH and lived there with her parents for the 1850 census.[5] Hampton, NH is where she gave birth in 1852 to daughter, Eliza Benson,[6] then in 1854 to a son, Charles Benson.[7]

Soon after that, the relationship broke down (there may or may not have been an official divorce), because on 30 October 1857, Margaret (Clement) Benson married Ransom Fogg in Hampton, NH.[8]

Marriage #2 – Ruth A. Taylor | About 1858 – Maine [?]

Barely three years after his first wife Margaret became Mrs. Fogg, Thomas Benson was enumerated in the 1860 US federal census in Kingfield, Franklin County, Maine. At 30 years of age, he had acquired real estate valued at $200 and $150 in personal property. His household consisted of 23-year-old Ruth A. (Taylor), his one-year-old daughter, Ida May Benson, and his 65-year-old father, Isaac B. Benson.[9]

Ruth was born in Farmington, ME, in 1836, to William and Amy (Oakes) Taylor. After a second daughter, Cora Benson, was born in 1861,[10] the family quit Maine for Boston, MA.

This was a key point in Thomas’s life, where he transformed himself from farmer to physician. If he got any medical training, it likely occurred in Boston, in the few months before he enlisted with the Union Army on 26 September 1862. From Doctors in Blue, George Washington Adams (1952) explains the state of medical education:

“In 1860, one year before the start of the Civil War, there were forty (40) existing medical schools… with total enrollment of 5,000… The demand for doctors outstripped the number of schools, and characteristically, students rushed through their classes in a year or less and then were free to hang out their shingle without (as was still commonplace in Europe) serving a professional apprenticeship.”

Ruth Benson lived in Boston the rest of her life. In the 1870 US census, she called herself a war widow. She raised her two daughters on her own, and when she died of cancer in 1878, she was identified as “widow of Thomas S. Benson.”[11] It is likely she never knew Thomas married three other women and fathered more children during her lifetime.

Marriage #3 – Clara Whitney | 1864 – Worcester, MA

Thomas was mustered out of the Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Company H, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 24 August 1863, after eleven months of a three-year hitch. Having enlisted as a physician with the rank of corporal (non-commissioned officer), he was discharged as a private, the lowest enlisted rank.[12] Something went wrong career-wise, but I don’t know what that was. Something went wrong health-wise, too. This was when Thomas began to have serious problems with his eyesight.[13, 19] He contracted “Purulent Ophthalmia”[20] in May 1863 in performance of his duty, and, from this point, his eye trouble made him incapable of returning to active service.[19]

Getting out of the war, and out of the military, must have improved his spirits, but not enough for him to return to Ruth and his daughters in Boston. He saw well enough the charms of Clara Whitney; Thomas married her on 2 November 1864 in Worcester, MA. On this record, Thomas identified himself as a physician and claimed the union was his second marriage.[14]

Thomas and Clara seem to have had no children. No other document of their life together has come to light. Interestingly, I was able to follow the fate of the four other wives, only Clara (Whitney) Benson seems to have vanished.

Clara, the daughter of Luther and Melinda (Wetherbee) Whitney was about two years older than Thomas. She had rejected her rural roots in Harvard, MA by the time she met Thomas, as she was residing in Boston when they married. She might be the 42-year-old Clara Benson, who was a dressmaker in Collins, Erie County, New York for the 1870 US census, but that’s where I ran out of clues for Clara.

Marriage #4 – Judith Spragg – 1868 – Springfield, New Brunswick (Canada)

Thomas’s trail led him northward to New Brunswick, Canada, the land of his father’s birth. Since I began Thomas Benson’s story here, with the 1871 Canada census, I’ll refer you back to Part 1 & Quack! Quack!! Quack!!! for related particulars.

I’m happy to report that Judith Spragg (b.1849), nearly twenty years younger than her groom, weathered her short alliance with Thomas Benson and came out okay. She bore him a son, LeForest  Benson (1871-1940)[15] and, about five years later, married a William Urquhhart (almost certainly related to the quirky 1871 census enumerator). Judith and William had a daughter together, and lived out their autumn years in Newton, Massachusetts, where Judith (Spragg) (Benson) Urquhart passed away in March 1930.[16]

Marriage #5 – Anna Elizabeth (Gale) Howard – 1873 – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

What was our Maine native, Thomas Benson, the blind doctor, war vet, and recent resident of Canada doing out in Iowa? Darned if I know. I have a better idea of why his fifth wife-to-be, Anna (Gale) Howard (1843-1915) was so far from home.

Ann, also born in Maine, accompanied her birth family on their move out west in early 1869. Anna had daughter, Minnie, and was pregnant with Charlotte Victoria, born in Iowa in 1869. She and her husband, George Albert Howard were not living together in 1870 when Anna was working as a domestic.[17]

How she and Thomas got together is a mystery, but they were married on 27 May 1873.[18] Interestingly, Daisy A. Benson, the couple’s first child, seems to have been born in 1872.[21] They went on to have four sons, Lewis Bernard, Thomas Ray, Solon F. and William Augustus Benson.

By 1880, the family had moved from Iowa to Illinois (for 1876 birth of Solon) to Detroit, Michigan. The population census snapshot tells us Thomas is blind and has no occupation. Thirty-four-year-old Ann is caring for a 50-year-old blind man and five children ages twelve to four.[22] The 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes tells us more:

Thomas S. Benson – Pension, Self supporting

Form of Blindness = Total – at 33 years of age
Supposed cause of blindness if known = General Exposure. In Army and producing inflammation of the Eyes resulting in Total blindness in Six Weeks
Has this person ever been an inmate in an institution for the blind? = Boston Infirmary – 3 Wks – 1863

The youngest son, William A. Benson, seems to have been born outside Maine in 1882, presumably, it was after that the Benson family came back east to settle in Buckfield, Oxford County, Maine. Thomas S. Benson died there, on 10 March 1888, of “Consumption” (tuberculosis). He also died insolvent,[23] as per the following:

Oxford Democrat—-Buckfield August 28, 1888
Thomas S. Benson – insolvent – call to creditors to submit claims by Nov. 3, 1888
Fred H. Atwood, Edwin F. Atwood, Commissioners

That may have been a little embarrassing for the widow and children, but Ann didn’t let it slow her down. Three months after burying Thomas, Anna E. (Gale) (Howard) Benson married Charles H. Hodgdon, a Buckfield native, 12 years her junior. [24]

Though Thomas was dead two years, his name appears on the 1890 Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War:

Line 39. Anna E. widow of / Family – Thomas S. Benson – Rank: Private – Regiment: 22 Mass —
—2nd half page—
Line 39. PO Address: South Paris Maine | Disability Incurred: Consumption / Blindness | Remarks: Died Mar 10, 1888 Totally Blind

Anna was apparently receiving compensation for the minor Benson children. Now, Mrs. Charles Hodgdon, Ann died in Buckfield on 2 July 1915. I hope she had some good times with Charlie in those later years.

And in the end…

We should not judge others, but it’s hard to refrain. Not only did Thomas Benson leave several women, seemingly without ceremony and without support, he left children behind, too. I found ten of them. To say, and he never looked back, would be in poor taste (considering his blindness), but there it is. We can hope his progeny ended up having more joy in their lives than Thomas brought to them and their mothers.

References & Sources

[1] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915. Worcester, MA, 1864. Thomas S. Benson & Clara Whitney.

[2] Ancestry.com: 1850 United States Federal Census.  West Boylston, Worcester, MA; Dwelling #178, Family #214.

[3] Familysearch.org: International Genealogical Index (IGI). Entry for Moses Pelton, batch A22798-6.

[4] Familysearch.org: Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915. Newburyport, Essex, MA, 1851. Thomas S. Benson & Margaret Clemens (Clement).

[5] Familysearch.org: United States Census, 1850. Hampton, Rockingham, NH; Family #125.

[6] Familysearch.org: Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915. Boston, Suffolk, MA, 1871, Frank E. Sampson and Eliza M. Benson.

[7] Familysearch.org: New Hampshire Death Records, 1654-1947. Charles Benson, 15 Aug 1861.

[8] Familysearch.org: New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947. Hampton, 1857. Ransom Fogg & Margaret Benson.

[9] Ancestry.com: United States Federal Census, 1860; Kingfield, Franklin, Maine; Roll: M653_435; Page: 820; Dwelling #81, Family #85.

[10] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915. Ruth Benson (Taylor) Ruth A Benson Taylor, 3 Aug 1878; Boston, MA.

[11] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915.  Cora B. McConville, 10 Sep 1888; Chelsea, Massachusetts, v 393 p 451, State Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 960,239.

[12] Ancestry.com: U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Thomas S Benson, Enlistment Date: 26 Sep 1862, Rank at enlistment: Corporal, State Served: Massachusetts, Service Record: Enlisted in Company H, Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry Regiment on 27 Oct 1862. Mustered out on 24 Aug 1863 at Baton Rouge, LA.

[13] Ancestry.com: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes; Year: 1880; Roll: 73; Publication Number: T1164. Thomas S. Benson, Detroit, MI.

[14] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915. Thomas S. Benson and Clara Whitney,  2 Nov 1864, Worcester, Massachusetts.

[15] Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950.  Laforest Benson, Birth Date: 24 Apr 1871, Birth Place: St John, New Brunswick, Arrival Date: 27 Apr 1888, Arrival Place: Boston, Petition Date: 17 Oct 1896, Petition Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

[16] Ancestry.com: U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Newton, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1931. Judith Urquhart Death Date: 21 Mar 1930, Spouse: William Urquhart.

[17] Ancestry.com: 1870 United States Federal Census. Cedar Rapids Ward 4, Linn, Iowa; Roll: M593_405; Page: 56B; Dwelling #940, Family #983, Wm. K. Gale.

[18] Familysearch.org: county courthouses, Iowa; FHL microfilm 1,705,349. Thomas S. Benson and Ann E. Gale, 27 May 1873, Cedar Rapids, Linn, IA.

[19] Fold3 by Ancestry: Thomas S Benson; Civil War Service File. Thomas S. Benson, Co. H, 3rd MassachusettsCavalry: Muster Records and Disability Discharge Certificate #7130; (12 pages). https://www.fold3.com/image/314760708.

[20] Wikipedia: Ophthalmia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophthalmia

[21] Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/  Memorial No. 93338123. Daisy A Parkinson (18 Jun 1872 – 7 Mar 1929), Riverside Cemetery, Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine.

[22] Ancestry.com: 1880 United States Census. Roll: 612; Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Enumeration District: 293. Page: 523C; Dwelling #26, Family #26.

[23] Ancestry.com: Maine, Wills and Probate Records, 1584-1999. Thomas S Benson, Probate Place: Oxford, Maine. Estate Files, Drawer B18, Bangs, Henry-Brown, Elizabeth S, 1888-1892 (Table of Contents, 20 images).

[24] Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/ Memorial No. 30231437. Anna Eliza Gale Hodgdon (Jul. 3, 1842 – Jul. 2, 1915), Buckfield Village Cemetery, Buckfield,
Oxford County, Maine.

 

Part 1: Thomas Seth Benson (1830-1888) – An Illiterate Doctor

After a lengthy break (thank you, gentle readers, for your patience), I’m back with a look at the life of the enigmatic, 39-year-old, American-born Thomas S. Benson, living in Springfield, Kings County, New Brunswick during the 1871 Census of Canada. Benson was listed as a “Doctor” living with the Jacob Spragg [Sprague] family, whose daughter, Judith, married Benson in December 1868.

In addition to the memorable enumerator’s note, “Quack! Quack!! Quack!!!”, three other boxes on that form were checked for Thomas Benson, “Doctor:”

  • “Over 20 and unable to read.”
  • “Over 20 and unable to write.”
  • “Infirmities: Deaf and Dumb.”

Could this possibly be correct? What doctor was unable to read or write? A deaf doctor couldn’t effectively assess the condition of his patient’s lungs or heart, much less learn a patient’s symptoms or medical history. Maybe the opinionated enumerator had a valid point. I searched for records to support or refute Benson’s claim he was a doctor.

The Christian Visitor (Saint John, New Brunswick) of 17 December 1868 printed Thomas and Judith’s marriage announcement:

m. 3rd inst., at residence of bride’s father, by Rev. W.A. Corey, Thomas Seth BENSON, M.D., Studholm (Kings Co.) / Judith D. youngest d/o Jacob SPRAGG, Springfield.

Two years or so before the 1871 census, we can confirm Benson identified himself as a medical doctor. Moving back in time, in census records, I learned Thomas Benson was not in New Brunswick, but living in the USA.  The United States Federal Census picked up a Thomas S. Benson, age 30, born in Maine (USA) and living in Kingsfield, Franklin County, Maine:

Thomas S Benson – 30 – $200 Real Estate – $150 Personal – Farmer – Born Maine;
Ruth A Benson – 23 – Born Maine 
Ida May Benson – 1 – Born Maine
Isaac B Benson – 65 – Farmer – Born New Brunswick

While this could be our Thomas Seth Benson, the document that clinches his identity is a record of military service, specifically, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War:

Thomas S Benson, age 32, occupation Physician, signed on at Farmington, Franklin County, Maine 26 September 1862, and was enlisted as a Corporal in the Company H, Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry Regiment on 27 October 1862.  He was mustered out on 24 Aug 1863 at Baton Rouge, LA.

Well, not only does this track, it gives us new information: Thomas is married to Ruth and has a year-old daughter; the 65-year-old Isaac B. Benson is likely his father. Thomas could read and write, and had no physical impairments. Somehow, Thomas S. Benson morphed from a farmer 6 June 1860 (date of the census enumeration) into a physician by his 27 October 1862 enlistment with  the Massachusetts 3rd Cavalry regiment.

While the education and training that qualifies MDs today takes a minimum of six years, standards for medical practice in the mid-nineteenth America did not exist. The Civil War Society’s Encyclopedia of the Civil War puts it this way:

During the period just before the Civil War, a physician received minimal training. Nearly all the older doctors served as apprentices in lieu of formal education. Even those who had attended one of the few medical schools were poorly trained. In Europe, four-year medical schools were common, laboratory training was widespread, and a greater understanding of disease and infection existed. The average medical student in the United States, on the other hand, trained for two years or less, received practically no clinical experience, and was given virtually no laboratory instruction.

Bowdoin College operated the Medical School of Maine (1820-1921), but it’s unlikely Thomas attended. As today, there were also fraudulent medical schools that issued “diplomas.” As a farmer, husband and father, he likely had no medical training when he enlisted. Perhaps, he parlayed a genuine interest in medicine, knowledge of animal husbandry and folk medicine to get assigned as a “Physician.”

Thomas spent just ten months doctoring in the military. Shipped with the Army of the Gulf to hot, humid, and muddy Louisiana, he tended more men suffering mosquito-borne fevers, dysentery, and other complaints than combat wounds. He’d had enough and at the end of August 1863, he made his way from Baton Rouge (LA) north. 

Did Thomas Benson rush home to the waiting arms of his wife Ruth and little daughter Ida May? Maybe he did, but it’s hard to know. His widowed father, Isaac B. Benson, living with him in 1860, died in May 1864. And then, on November 2, 1864, in Harvard, Massachusetts he got married to a local girl, Clara Whitney.

That’s right, Thomas Benson’s wives, thus far, were Ruth in 1860, Clara in 1864, Judith in 1868, and he had two more I will tell you about next time.

 

Sources:

1860 United States Federal Federal Census; Kingfield, Franklin, Maine; Roll: M653_435; Page: 820; Family History Library Film: 803435.

1871 Census of Canada; Springfield, Kings County, New Brunswick; Library and Archives Canada (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/).

Daniel F. Johnson : Volume 26 Number 1936; Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (http://archives.gnb.ca/).

Civil War Home: Medicine

Civil War Home: Medical Staff

Medical School of Maine: Historical Records and Files, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library. (https://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/archives/msmg.shtml)

Civil War in the East: 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry

The Civil War Index: 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

US Army Medical Department History

“Quack! Quack!! Quack!!!”

John Urquhart – The Opinionated Enumerator

Perusing the 1871 Census of Canada recently, I was jolted by a comment written in the far right column, on the line for the entry of Thomas Benson, a married man of 39 years, whose occupation was given as “Doctor.” It read,

Quack! Quack!! Quack!!!

Cures by laying on hands

Wowee, that’s not information typically recorded on a census. Governments charge census officials to collect specified, statistical data, not opinion. And that wasn’t the only one provided by John Urquhart on his house-to-house survey in April 1871.

Urquhart, like most enumerators, was a resident of the district he was assigned to cover, Springfield, Kings County, New Brunswick. (They were paid $3 for each day of service.) According to the 1871 Census of Canada “Manual Containing Instructions to Enumerators,” a successful census required “intelligent, honest and well-trained” individuals. They were directed:

  1. Not to omit anything of importance.
  2. Not to record the same thing twice.
  3. Not to exaggerate anything.
  4. Not to underrate anything.

“…the enumerator is never to take upon himself to insert anything which is not stated and distinctly acknowledged by the person giving the information.”

On the official form, the far right column had two uses, to record “the date of each day’s operation” and “to be entered any remark which may be found necessary ; but in general enumerators should not have to resort to explanations, unless in special cases.”

After the quackery remark, I combed the entire census in search more of Urquhart’s “special cases.” Sadly, no other comments reach that level, but the following clues us in to things that bugged John about his Springfield neighbors:

“Lives all alone”

William Corey, a 35-year-old Baptist clergyman, who happened to be Irish.

“Religion not defined”

Caroline Sims was a 60-year-old widow, born in the United States, who lived with her 30-yr-old son William and apparently refused to declare a church affiliation.

“Don’t live with Wife”

Thomas Wilson was 33, also born Ireland, and residing in the Charles Gunter  household.

“Lives alone in his Shop”

Smyth Keirstead was a 25-year-old Merchant, born in New Brunswick, and a Baptist of German ethnicity.

Urquhart disapproved of young men who lived alone, and a possible female freethinker. However, we can’t write him off entirely as a judgmental grump. In the comments column for a widow, Mary Ross, who gave her age as 106, he wrote,

“Slightly advanced in years.”

Yeah, John Urquhart had a sense of humor – or he just couldn’t help himself.

 

Next time: There’s something about Thomas Benson

John Urquhart may have known more about “Doctor” Thomas S. Benson than we can know from mute documents. Benson was born in the United States and his young, New Brunswick bride, Judith Spragg, wasn’t his first wife, nor would she be his last, and do his medical credentials exist?

Sources | Resources 

 

 

 

 

Ebenezer W. Peirce – An Appreciation, Part 2

Portrait of Ebenezer Weaver Peirce c. 1878

E. W. Peirce From the 1878 Indian History.

Who can look at a portrait of historian, genealogist and general, Ebenezer Weaver Peirce (1822-1902) and not wonder what he was like in life? As a white, privileged, nineteenth-century male, obsessed with research, we might suppose Peirce was a social bore whenever he was away from his Old Colony club fellows. He was honored in the public sphere, beginning in 1867 when the E. W. Peirce Encampment, Post 8, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was established in Middleborough. In 1880, he was elected selectman of Freetown. He might well have been stereotypically stodgy, but Ebenezer stepped outside conventional lines a number of times.

Evidence for indecorous behavior (and a hearty sense of humor) came early in his Civil War service when “He was court-martialed for presenting burlesque shows to the troops of his command.” (He was acquitted at trial.)

Ebenezer widened his horizons through travel in the American South and West. Interactions with people from different backgrounds and cultures had lasting influence. For example, while virtually all the residents of rural Freetown were white, here’s an interesting snapshot of the Peirce household from the 1865 state census:

Ebenezer W Peirce – 43 – White – Born Freetown
Irine I Peirce – 40 – White – Born Freetown
Palo Alto Peirce – 12 – White – Born Freetown
John S Anthony – 24 – Black – Born North Carolina – Coachman

What Ebenezer’s wife, the former Irene Isabel Paine (1825-1900), and son Palo Alto Peirce (1853-1931) thought of this arrangement is unknown. How they reacted to the return of a husband and father with a mutilated body and life-long handicap is another good question.  Adjustment to life with one arm was hard enough for the vigorous, 40-year-old army commander (he continued to serve through the war), but adjustment for his wife and son may have been harder.

The 1870 US census shows the family together, however, on May 1, 1875, Irene was granted a divorce from Ebenezer. In June 1875, their son, Palo Alto married, suggesting dissolution of the marriage was arranged amicably. Ebenezer remained on his estate, and Irene moved back in with her mother and sisters in the same town.

 

Zerviah Gould Mitchell and Native Americans

Zerviah Gould Mitchell (1807-1898) was a Native American woman who commissioned Peirce to write the 1878 book, Indian History; Biography and Genealogy, Pertaining to the Good Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag Tribe, and His Descendants.

As a handicapped divorcee, ambling about a near empty house, Ebenezer likely welcomed a project to which he could bring exercise his research and writing skills. He surely thrilled to work with Mitchell, a direct descendant of the Massasoit who met Peirce’s own Mayflower ancestors.

The remarkable Mitchell was (briefly) a private school teacher, a wife and mother, and a lifelong advocate for native land rights. When she engaged Ebenezer Peirce to write the history, she was 71 years old, and as she explains in the book’s preface,

“I have come to the conclusion that Massachusetts does not intend to do me justice through its legislature… Before going to my grave, I have thought it proper to be heard in behalf of my oppressed countrymen.”

At a time in which bigotry against non-whites was the norm and the notion of the equality of women was laughable, that Ebenezer chose to collaborate with Mitchell was also based on his sense of justice. Zerviah wrote of Peirce,

“He feels, and has long felt, that the whole white race on this continent are vastly indebted to the aborigines of this country…and he most cheerfully joins in doing what little he can to cancel that indebtedness.”

 

Former Slave, Amanda Watts

It’s most likely, around the time of his divorce (1875), Ebenezer hired Virginia-born, former slave, Amanda Watts (born about 1843), to run his household. Though details have been lost to time, Ebenezer met Watts when traveling in the south (possibly, Washington, DC) and where Amanda was employed by a lodging house. She so impressed him with her competence that he persuaded with her to come north and become his housekeeper. The younger woman also impressed Ebenezer with her sensitivity regarding his physical limitations, for she assisted him with personal tasks in addition to running the house.

In the 1880 US Census, the Peirce household is comprised of 58-year-old Ebenezer and 37-year-old housekeeper. Amanda held her position for the next 12 years. In 1892, quiet domesticity was shaken up when Ebenezer added a new young bride and mother-in-law to the mix. It did not go well. (More to follow.)

Despite the upset, Ebenezer stood by his faithful servant. A provision of his will gave Amanda Watts a lifelong right to a house on the estate, at no cost. She never married and died of heart disease in the house Peirce provided for her at the age of “80 thereabouts” in 1922.

 

Never too Late for Love

A few doors down from the Peirce place (as seen on that 1880 census), lived Mary Ann (Chase) Gardner, widow of Jeremiah Gardner, and her three children. The eldest, a daughter, was Ida Estelle Gardner (1863-1945).

Ebenezer watched the teen grow to adulthood and become a school teacher. With an educator’s mind, Ida would have appreciated the literary accomplishments of the valiant, old soldier. How these two people, so far apart in age, grew close isn’t clear. As a factually inaccurate “Special Dispatch to the Boston Herald” in November 1892 describes it,

“The general is 74 years old and practically an invalid. About a year ago, thinking he was going to die, he expressed a wish that he might be married to the lady of his choice, Miss Rose Gardner, a school teacher in Assonet.”

Another account implies Ida’s motive for marriage wasn’t pity, rather,

“Gen. Peirce wooed and won the hand of Miss Gardner, a young school teacher of good family. They were married in great state while the groom was propped up with pillows in a chair, only recently having recovered from a severe scalding accident in which his arm was frightfully hurt.”

Whatever the state of Ebenezer’s health, marriage to a woman 42 years his junior was a powerful tonic. Evidence his spirits and health revived is found in the 1900 US census which shows Ebenezer and Ida had a child together. (The unnamed child was stillborn or died soon after birth.)

 

A General’s Final Battle: Housekeeper vs Mother-in-Law

Along with the sweet things Ebenezer enjoyed late in his life, came domestic discord that turned into public embarrassment when his long-time housekeeper and Ida’s mother, filed suits against each other in the Fall River court, designated legally as Amanda Watts v Mary A. Gardner and Mary A. Gardner v Amanda Watts.

The Boston Herald acknowledged the racial component in its coverage:

“The charges in both cases were assault and battery and under ordinary conditions would attract no attention. Amanda Watts is a colored woman who was once a slave.

 

Two weeks after the marriage, Amanda Watts left the house and occupied a dwelling provided for her by the general. Mrs. Mary A. Gardner, his wife’s mother, assuming the place made vacant by the colored woman’s retirement. Miss Watts visited the house many times, insisting on holding private interviews with her former employer. These proceedings became distasteful to the young bride, and eventually, there came domestic quarrels in which the general sided with his wife. This action caused the negro woman to become jealous, and the cases tried today show that she made an onslaught on Mrs. Gardner, who, to protect herself, was compelled to throw a pot full of hot tea at the crazed woman.”

The paper characterizes “the negro woman” as “jealous” and says the “crazed woman”  “made an onslaught.” While the white lady’s hurled pot of hot tea was “to protect herself.” Hearing contradictory evidence, the judge found both parties guilty and split the court costs between them.

Ebenezer tried to prevent the scandal. He was able to get the first complaints for disturbance and assault made by his mother-in-law against Amanda dismissed, and he paid the costs. Though he desired to please his new wife, Ebenezer understood that after 18 years as his personal servant and housekeeper, the relationship that existed between himself and Amanda Watts couldn’t simply be turned off.

E. W. Peirce homestead c. 1878 (from Indian History)

Summing Up

August 14, 2017 marks the 115th anniversary of Ebenezer W. Peirce’s death. In addition to my gratitude for the genealogies and sketches Peirce left to posterity, I wanted to add respect that he acknowledged injustice and oppression in his time and never defended it. I love that he screwed up occasionally, because that makes him human. As a rich, white guy, he had advantages. He also lost an arm on the battlefield, and got right back to the war. He raised a fine son, and let an unhappy wife go in peace. He kept on writing. Then wham! as a septuagenarian, Ebenezer let love in again. Some thought him a bit odd, but I think he was wonderful…well, all except those sideburns.

Notes, Sources & Resources:

  • Wikipedia: Ebenezer W. Peirce; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebenezer_W._Peirce.
  • Indian History; Biography and Genealogy, Pertaining to the Good Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag Tribe, and His Descendants is available to read at Archive.org. Note 1: Disappointingly, Mitchell’s Native American genealogy doesn’t start until page 211 and is brief. The bulk of the work is a chronicle of English militia men and natives slaughtering one another. Note 2: Ebenezer’s son, Palo Alto Peirce, was an artist and contributed illustrations to the book.)
  • GenealogyBank.com: (1) Boston Herald (Boston, MA); November 30, 1892; Page: 6; ROMANTIC AND OTHERWISE. (2) Boston Herald (Boston, MA); January 27, 1893, Page: 12; Threw a Potful of Hot Tea.
  • Ancestry.com: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) United States Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, Freetown, 1850, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920.