Pre-Civil War Case Study

Which Joshua Benton was the father of Henry W. Benton of Colleton County, South Carolina?
By Cynthia Benton Horn

When family historians lack direct evidence it can create one seemingly insurmountable brick wall after another. Piece by piece tiny shards of information may slowly evolve into larger but still disjointed pieces of information that do not fully answer a genealogical research question. In these instances the family historian must persevere, turn to unique problem solving tactics and sharpen his or her investigative skills in hopes of finding direct or indirect evidence that will correlate information and answer the question at hand. In some cases the only alternative is to answer the question by process of elimination. The question this paper poses, Which Joshua Benton was the father of Henry W. Benton of Colleton County, South Carolina, is an example of this scenario.

Initial research on the family of Henry W. Benton revealed moderate amounts of reliable evidence for Henry, his decedents and collateral relatives but very few for his mother, Mary Ann Crosby and none for his father, Joshua Benton(JB1). The common expectation of locating parental names on a birth certificate was foiled due to the fact that births were not officially recorded in the state of South Carolina until 1915. Nearly all church records in Colleton County, which may have contained birth information, were lost due to multiple fires over the years. To make matters worse both Henry and his siblings died before delayed birth certificates were necessary.

A search for Joshua Benton on ancestry.com resulted in ten member trees that included both Henry and Joshua Benton in the same family group. Of the ten member trees many contained similar data documenting the birth of Joshua Benton around 1820 with a marriage date of about 1855 and stated that South Carolina was his place of death. Others recorded a Joshua Benton who was born 10 years later and died in Louisiana. However further investigation revealed that most of the ancestry.com members were unable to recall where they found the information, making this information either secondary or inapplicable. Another online record documented the decedents of Joshua Benton accurately but provided less information on Joshua himself than the records on ancestry.com – omitting birth, marriage and death dates.

Henry’s 1925 death certificate states that he was born on 5 May 1856 in Colleton County, South Carolina. Unfortunately “UNKNOWN” was entered in the father’s and mother’s name fields. It seems that having been born in 1856 Henry and his parents would have been firmly placed in the 1860 US Federal Census however the family unit is not present. In fact the earliest record of Henry can not be found until the 1870 census where he is shown with his mother Mary Ann and three younger female children, presumably his siblings. No older males are listed in this family group, which implies that his father was either no longer living at the residence or had passed away by this time.

One other Joshua Benton(JB2) was found in the 1870 census living with a woman and children of different names than those in Henry’s family. The Colleton County Probate office has the will of the same Joshua Benton(JB2) which was written and proved in 1900. The will is consistent with the 1870 census in that it documents the names of the same children and wife. Children in both Benton households (JB1 and JB2) households are about the same age. This suggests that this Joshua(JB2) would have had two families. It does not seem likely that this is the correct Joshua(JB1). In addition Colleton County deeds exist for this Joshua Benton(JB2) in a part of Colleton County that does not seem associated with the recorded dwellings of Henry’s family.

A general search for men named Joshua Benton who were born between 1810 and 1840 yielded multiple results across the United States. While it is possible, it is not probable that these men are the correct Joshua(JB1) because of unlikely circumstances such as those below.

 Other household members included wives and children with the incorrect names and ages.
 Marriages to other women during the same time period that he would have been married to Mary Ann.
 Considerable age differences between Joshua and Mary Ann by as much as 30 years.
 Service for the Union during the Civil War.

Based on the possible birth years for Joshua(JB1) he likely served as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. Indeed compiled military service records documented three distinctly different men by the name of Joshua Benton in South Carolina. Two of the men enlisted in Colleton County. One of these men was born around 1820 and enlisted in a part of Colleton County that was consistent with the farm number of the same Joshua Benton(JB2) that was present in the 1870 census.

The second of the two men enlisted in an area that correlated with the residence of Henry, his Mother and his siblings in the 1870 census. This Joshua Benton(JB1) who was born in 1832 enlisted in January of 1862 and died in the Elmira Prison Camp on 1 October 1864.

Hypotheses

The time period in which Joshua lived would likely have been concurrent with the Civil War. During the Civil War the State of South Carolina experienced extensive damage and loss of all forms of court, church, and vital records. The records of Colleton County were no exception. Transporting important county documents for safe keeping in the state capital, Columbia, proved to be a disastrous decision when Sherman focused his troops on Columbia instead of Colleton County. The problem at hand in the search for Henry W. Benton’s father is that this occurrence limits the possibility of locating firm evidence. At this point no direct evidence has been uncovered and the small amount of indirect evidence appears to be both in agreement and in conflict with each other.

However because an exhaustive search was performed which compared each man one to another, measured relationships, identified neighbors, noted personal associations and explored county, state and federal records a process of elimination seemed the only way to surmise who Henry’s father was. With that said it may be that the only possible choice is the Joshua(JB1) who died in the Civil War at the Elmira Prison Camp in October of 1864. To substantiate this hypothesis we first should examine the birthdates of Henry Benton and the first female child. They were both born before this Joshua enlisted in the War. The third child was born eight months after his departure – Mary Ann would have been expecting when he left for the war. This evidence correlates with the whereabouts of Joshua(JB1) who died at Elmira.

In addition, if this is indeed the correct Joshua(JB1) his death in 1864 would explain why he is not listed on the 1870 census.

One piece of conflicting information in this hypothesis is the last child that is listed along with Henry, his mother and his two sisters on the 1870 census. The child was a female infant who was born in January of that same year. If the aforementioned Joshua(JB1) died at Elmira this would not have been his child. The child’s name was Hagar – which means forsaken. Her last name was Benton. Could she have been named Hagar because of some unfortunate occurrence such as an unwanted pregnancy? Could Henry’s mother have married another man by the name of Benton after Joshua’s death? If so why wasn’t he on the census? Could Hagar have been someone else’s child and Mary Ann her guardian?

Additional research may surface valuable information that will link Henry to his father. A closer examination of all compiled military records for both Confederate and Union soldiers that are named Joshua Benton is an appropriate next step.

1. Beulah Glover, Narratives of Colleton County, The land Lying Between the Edisto and Combahee Rivers (Walterboro: The Florentine Press, 1963), 142.
2. Ancestry.com, “Ancestral Files,” [database on-line], Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 Dec 2010), various family group records, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.
3. Chris Tuten, “Tuten Family GEDCOM File,” Tuten Family Geneology ForumI, discussion list, 21 Aug 2000 (http://genforum.genealogy.com/tuten : accessed 10 March 2011.
4. Ancestry.com. South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
5. 1870 United States Federal Census, Colleton County, South Carolina, population schedule, Walterboro Post Office, p. 2, dwelling 13 , family 13 , Benton family; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1492.
6. Walterboro, South Carolina, Colleton County Probate District, filed alphabetically, Joshua Benton: Probate Court, Walterboro.
7. Colleton County, South Carolina, “Deed Book A, ” p. 493-94; Colleton County Register of Deeds, Walterboro.
8. Footnote.com, “Civil War Soldiers – Confederate – SC,” [database on-line], Footenote.com (http://www.footnote.com/ image/72302814 : accessed 30 Jan 2010), Joshua Benton muster roll, Lindon, UT, USA: Footnote.com, 2011.
9. 1870 United States Federal Census, Colleton County, South Carolina, population schedule, Walterboro Post Office, p. 34, dwelling 247 , family 247 , Benton family; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1492.


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