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

 

 

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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

Holiday Wishes

winter-04299rI’d like to convey my heartfelt thanks to all Poor Irish and Pilgrims readers, especially, since postings have been few in 2016. I’m working to make sure the coming year will bring more for you here.

Until then, please, go out for bracing walk, engage in winter sport (like ice skating above), and take part in your traditions this season. Gather loved ones near, make merry, and let your hearts be light.

Wishing you health, and warmth, and joy

in the year to come.

Image Credit: Winter. ca. 1874. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/2003654030/>.

The Brief Life of Hannah Roane – An Irish Mill Girl

This month is the 150th anniversary of the death of my Irish immigrant aunt, Hannah Roane (February 6, 1866), a Lowell mill girl. Never having married or had children of her own, the last vestige of Hannah’s existence disappeared 50 years later, in 1919, when her sister-in-law, Mary died. Mary was my ancestor, and the last person who might have recalled Hannah’s face, her voice, or a quirk that made her unique.  While the essence of long dead relatives (with rare exception) remain mysterious, it is often possible to learn much about the lives they led, as is the case with aunt Hannah.

Born around the year 1828 in County Galway, Ireland, Hannah was a few years older than her two brothers, John and Patrick, who also came to the world-famous, textile manufacturing city. Their family suffered the nightmare of the “Great Hunger” (1845-1849), the years of nationwide starvation and disease that took a million lives, and sent another million Irish out into the world in a desperate longing for a better life.

At this time in rural Ireland’s history, one son would take over his parents’ land and cottage. The anointed one (and his wife and children) would work the land and care for the elders. Perhaps, one lucky daughter would have a dowry enough to make a decent marriage (to another family’s heir). All the other sons and daughters of typically large, Roman Catholic families were out of luck. If they didn’t opt to become a priest or a nun, they faced a monotonous, solitary, laboring life.

Perhaps, it’s not so surprising then, that young, unmarried, Irish women came in such great numbers to America. In contrast with women of southern European cultures, Irish women were traditionally independent, capable and the money managers of the family. Many women made the voyage to America alone, and earned passage money for family members left in Ireland. Earning that money was no piece of cake.

Hannah Roane was on the vanguard of the Irish immigrants who replaced the Yankee female textile workers (the first American women to work outside the home), whose numbers peaked in the 1870s. For fourteen hours a day, six days a week, men, women and children labored amid the intense, ceaseless noise of machinery and inhaling air-filled with cotton or wool fibers. [Woman at Loom – American Textile Institute]Girl at factory loom, 19th century.

There were strikes in the 1830s over terrible working conditions, and, in 1845, workers agitated for a 10-hour work day, – a fight they lost. After that factory work became much less popular with native-born women. Then (as now), immigrants arrived to take the difficult, low-status, and low-paying jobs abandoned by those who had other options.

Mill Girls, 1870s

Mill Girls, 1870s

There were ten large mill complexes in Lowell, among them, the Massachusetts, Merrimack, Appleton, Hamilton and Boott mills; I don’t know which one employed my aunt. In a state census for 1855, Hannah was a resident in a boarding house with 30 other women, most of whom were New England born. As an Irish immigrant, Hannah would have begun her career working the least desirable, lower-paying jobs in the carding and spinning rooms. There is evidence that Hannah advanced in her career, however; in 1858, she opened an account with the Lowell Institution for Savings and listed her occupation as weaver, which was a skilled and better paying position.

I like to think that Hannah was among the Irish “mill girls” who spent some of their hard-earned on themselves and were considered good dressers compared to their Yankee counterparts.

Ten years after I first found Hannah in Lowell, her single working life-style had altered. The 1865 census lists 35-year-old Hannah in the household of her brother, John Roane, who ran a grocery business to support his wife, two sons and an infant girl. Hannah was enumerated as an operative (mill worker), but her death, just months after this census, makes it likely that she was, in fact, too sick to work. She died of tuberculosis.

For all her independence, courage, and endurance required to toil in the mills, the only blessing Hannah may have had in her brief sojourn on Earth, was to have been cared for, and to have died among family.

It is good to know Hannah had loved ones near in the end, and I would love to salute her memory and leave it at that, but for one sneaking suspicion, – I think that Hannah was “patient zero” for the contagion that nearly wiped out the family in Lowell.

Three years after Hannah’s passing, John Roane succumbed to an illness evidence suggests, almost certainly, was tuberculosis. Of John’s three children who lived into adulthood, two died of tuberculosis. What’s more, a few years after John died, the widow Mary, remarried and gave birth to two more sons, who both died of tuberculosis. 

Hannah certainly left lasting memories of love and laughter in the hearts of her brother’s family, but she may also have left them a tragic legacy.

 

Notes | Sources | Resources

Images: University of Massachusetts Lowell; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi06.htm; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi01.htm

Erin’s Daughters in America; Hasia R. Diner, 1983.

Mill Girls of Lowell; Jeff Levinson, Editor, 2007.

Living on the Boott – Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts; Stephen A. Mrozowski, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry, 1996.

Women at Work – The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860. Thomas Dutton, 1979.

Living in the Shadow of Death – Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History; Sheila M. Rothman, 1994.

“Hamilton” wins the Grammy

This isn’t strictly related, but since I recently referenced this founding father, I was elated to learn that the original cast album of “Hamilton” won a Grammy last night! To get an idea why, the following is a link to a video of the opening number (from Salon.com).  Enjoy! – Alexander Hamilton on Broadway