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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Today’s ancestor biography is Part Two of ‘How I Became a Family Historian’. Part One focused on my 3x great grandfather, Amos Fielding. This post focuses on my 3x great-grandmother and one of the women from his story – Jane Benson.
As I have been writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘controversial ancestors’ and genealogy in general. One of the first ‘rules’ of genealogy is that if you haven’t found an ancestor who has done something controversial, uncomfortable, or otherwise socially unacceptable at some point, you probably haven’t dug deep enough.
People are complex. They do things for irrational (or rational to them) reasons. They get emotional and do things that descendants (or future generations in general) might not agree with. But as is the case with most disciplines that study and investigate people (such as sociology or anthropology), you’ll find the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright confusing in genealogy. And that’s what makes it so utterly fascinating.
In regards to Jane Benson and Amos Fielding, this is certainly true. There is the good (both were known to have good qualities about them), the bad (both were known to have not-so-good qualities about them), the ugly (their relationship after coming to Utah and reputation among various descendants), and the confusing (what really happened?)
2) That relationship after 1852 was about as warm as a dead body.
The Life and Times of Jane Benson
Jane Benson was born in Wrightington, Lancashire, England on June 4, 1824. She was the 8th of 10 children born to Thomas Benson and Margaret Marsden. Family lore has it that Thomas’s mother came to live with them when Jane was a young child and it was one of Jane’s tasks to take care of her grandmother. This story is partly verified by the 1841 England census showing that Thomas Benson’s mother was indeed living with them at that point.
Jane Benson and the LDS Church in England
When the LDS missionaries arrived in the Lancashire area in 1837, the (extended) Benson family were among the first converts in the area, even with the initial hesitation of Jane’s father to listen to the missionaries.
Another family story tells of him going upstairs whenever the LDS missionaries came by and coming back down after they had left. It was soon realized by one of his children that he was listening but through a loose knothole in the floorboards upstairs. When questioned on why he was he was listening through the floorboards (and not with his family), he supposedly said, “An infidel converted against his will, is an infidel still.”
Regardless of the veracity of the story, it is true that by the end of 1837, most, if not all, of the Bensons had joined the LDS church, 13-year-old Jane included.
After the Benson family joined the LDS church, there are few records about Jane. She shows up as a 15 year old (though she was probably closer to 16/17 – it looks like the census taker mixed up the ages of her and her younger brother Nathan as well as her older brother James) in the 1841 England Census, with her parents, a few of her siblings and her grandmother.
Jane Benson and Hiram Benson
In 1848, Jane, supposedly, shows up in the birth record for a ‘Hiram Benson’. While it is likely that this is the correct record, due to the information indexed from it, because I have yet to see the actual birth record (only an index record is available online), I can’t verify that it is her yet.
While this may be the oft-cited record, it is something that I’ll continue to investigate and an example of why you always double check your sources when doing genealogy.
This birth certificate is a major part of Jane’s legacy, fueling stories of her either being an unwed mother (as some descendants claim) or possibly the polygamous wife of Amos Fielding (as most of her descendants claim).
Jane Benson in America
In May of 1849, Jane and her son Hiram set sail from Liverpool, England to St. Louis, Missouri. There she and Hiram stayed with her brother Richard and his wife, Phoebe Forrester prior to them leaving for Utah in 1850. It is interesting to note that when they did leave, Jane stayed behind in St. Louis for at least 2 years until 1852, when Amos Fielding arrived with his new wife, Jane Southworth. There is also a possible record of Jane and Hiram living with Amos in St. Louis in the 1850 US census.
Either way, the fact that Jane stayed behind in St. Louis while her brother and his family headed west begs the question – why? If Jane had no connection to Amos Fielding, then why didn’t she head to Utah with her brother? What reason did she have for staying in St. Louis and why did she wait for two years and then travel to Utah with Amos Fielding?
The Trek to Utah
In 1852, Amos Fielding arrived in St. Louis with Jane Southworth. What Jane Benson’s reaction to this is unknown, but it can probably be surmised that she wasn’t happy about the situation. An interesting note to point out – without a doubt, Jane Benson and Jane Southworth knew each other prior to 1852. Jane (Benson)’s older brother James married an Ellen Southworth in 1847. Ellen Southworth was the older sister of Jane Southworth. If Jane Benson and Jane Southworth were married to Amos at the same time, then it would give new meaning to the term ‘sister wives‘.
Regardless of Jane’s initial reaction, it is at this point that she and her son Hiram make their way to Utah with Amos.
It is during this journey that a few of the stories from Jane’s life come to life. The most common family story recounts her and Hiram being treated as servants by Amos and his new wife, Jane Southworth. This continues until they reach Utah, where several other accounts begin to pop up. One story, in particular, notes that Jane Benson went to live with Heber C. Kimball and his family.
Jane Benson and Heber C. Kimball
This is interesting to note because Heber C. Kimball was well acquainted with both the Benson family (having baptized them in England) and Amos Fielding (having done missionary work with him). It is also interesting because:
1) one family story has Heber C. Kimball chastising Amos for how he treated Jane Benson (as noted in my post on Amos) and
2) Heber C. Kimball had over 30 wives at this point, so if Amos was having a hard time treating his 2 plural wives well, he probably wasn’t going to get any sympathy from Heber.
That said, in trying to verify whether or not Jane Benson lived in Heber C. Kimball’s household, I’ve come to find out that Heber C. Kimball wasn’t much of a diarist after 1848… so, unfortunately, that is one mystery that has yet to be solved.
Life after Amos
Where Jane and Hiram were living between 1852 and 1855 is technically still a mystery at this point in time. However, by 1855, we know that Jane’s story had departed from Amos’s for all intents and purposes. It is here that there are records of Jane getting married to one Edward Dalton in October of that year.
Jane Benson and Edward Dalton
Dalton family records note that Jane Benson and Edward Dalton were married by (and divorced) by Brigham Young. Family stories from Jane’s descendants state that Edward Dalton’s first wife begged Jane to be a plural wife to him. Then as soon as Jane had married him, his first wife turned around and began treating her (and Hiram) poorly. Jane apparently would take none of this behavior (which if she had been dealing with the same situation with Amos and Jane Southworth, isn’t a surprise.) Either way, Jane and Edward Dalton were divorced less than a year later in May of 1856.
Jane Benson and James Warner Bosnell
It is noted in FamilySearch that Jane Benson was married to a James Warner Bosnell at the same time as being divorced from Edward Dalton. Not much is known about this relationship other than it was polygamous as well, and Fielding family stories note that Jane’s son Hiram and James Bosnell’s son(s) from his first wife did not get along, causing contention in the family. Whatever the reason, Jane Benson and James Warner Bosnell’s marriage only lasted slightly longer. They were divorced in 1859.
Jane Benson and John Perkins
By 1860, Jane and Hiram were recorded in the US Census as living in Parowan, Utah, close to where her brother Richard and his family lived. It is here that she met and married one John Perkins. John Perkins was a pioneer and widower who joined the church in Australia and then immigrated to the United States with at least one of his sons. Jane and John were married in March of 1860 in Parowan and it seems from family stories that this was the happiest (and longest) of her marriages. Her marriage to John was monogamous and they had three daughters during the ten years they were married: Sarah Jane (born 1861), Phebe Madora (born 1863), and Eva Estella (born 1865).
In early 1870, John Perkins passed away, leaving Jane with two young daughters (Eva Estella having died in 1868). The 1870 census records her living in Parowan, Utah as a tailoress. Living with her were her two daughters and her step-son, George Perkins. Hiram, according to family lore, was in Tintic that year, working at the mines and bringing in income for his mother and sisters.
Jane Benson and the Mystery of the 1880 Census
In the 1880 census, Jane is still in Parowan, living alone but next to her oldest daughter Sarah, now married. An interesting tidbit in the 1880 census – Jane is noted as being ‘Par. Insane‘. In the 1880 census, there were 6 supplementary schedules (so 7 schedules in total), including several that are called informally the ‘DDD Schedules‘. DDD stood for ‘Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent‘ and were schedules noting extra information about specific demographic groups (such as the insane, idiotic, or impoverished).
While some states have their DDD schedules up and accessible online, the DDD schedules for Utah can only be accessed through the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service at the current time. I anticipate looking for those records the next time I’m in Utah.
While I doubt that Jane Benson (or Jane Perkins as she was known at that time) was legitimately insane (there is no record of her being in a mental institution at any point in her life and in the 1900 census she is living on her own in Manti), I am definitely curious to see if she is on the 1880 DDD Schedule 2 (for Insane people) and what is recorded there.
One point to make, and I believe this is valid in Jane Benson’s situation, is that during the 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for women who didn’t fit the status quo to be deemed ‘insane’ or sent to a mental institution for being ‘troublesome’. I could easily see Jane, who, from family stories, seemed to be an independent and strong-willed person, being marked as ‘uppity’ or ‘insane’.
Jane Benson’s Travels
After 1880, Jane is recorded in family lore as traveling between Manti, Utah (where the closest LDS temple was) and Mancos, Colorado, where her son (Amos) Hyrum was living, on a regular basis.
The stories specifically tell of her traveling through eastern Utah alone in order to do temple work. An impressive feat when you realize how difficult it is to get between Manti and Mancos, even in modern times. The two towns are over 300 miles apart and, according to Google Maps, it would take 101 hours to walk from one to the other. Even if you took a wagon over wagon trails (which Jane may very well have), the trip would have taken 4-8 days one way. It wouldn’t surprise me if she traveled to Manti every few months, did temple work for a time and then returned to Mancos to spend time with her family.
Jumping forward to the 1900 census (the page with Jane on it was taken on June 3rd of that year – the day before her 76th birthday), it is interesting to see what is indexed about her. It shows Jane living at Manti at the time and that she had lived in the United States for 51 years – over two-thirds of her life. It also shows that she could read and write and that she owned the house she was living in – free and clear. An admirable achievement for a woman in that day and age.
As feisty and strong-willed as it seems Jane was in her life, even she wore out and grew old. On December 6, 1900 (six months after the census notes her living in Manti), she passed away (presumably in Mancos, Colorado). At the time, her son (Amos) Hyrum was in the Colorado State Insane Asylum (family lore states that this was due to erratic behavior stemming from a brain tumor that was later removed) in Pueblo – over 300 miles east of Mancos.
Given the situation at the time – her son in Pueblo and her daughter-in-law, Ellen Agnes Hobbs, had passed away over a year prior, I am curious to see whether there was any notice of her death in Mancos. While Colorado has digitized many of its newspapers from that time (including those from Mancos), I have yet to find any newspaper clippings about her death and burial. (I’m assuming there might be some notice if she died in Mancos, given that there was an obituary for her daughter-in-law the year before.) However, this is a line of investigation that I’ll have to continue to research in the future.
That said, after her death, she was buried in the Old Mormon Cemetery along with several of her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law.
Jane Benson’s Legacy
Jane Benson’s legacy is certainly an interesting one. In the almost 117 years since her passing, her progeny has grown into the thousands. (In 1999 when the headstones for her and her family members were rededicated, it was estimated that she had over 1300 descendants from her son alone.) Depending on which descendants you talk to, she is either described a strong woman who made her own way in 19th century America or an ‘uppity woman’ who didn’t know her place in society. Certainly, as a female descendant of hers, I do have a decent amount of respect for her. She did a lot in her 76 years and lived an eventful life. The traits that allowed her to persevere in the face of trials were probably the same ones that got her labeled as ‘uppity’ and ‘high maintenance’.
In the end, I think that is the story (to the best of my knowledge) that we can tell about her. She was a strong-willed, independent woman who loved her family, but took very little guff from the men she married. Faced with less than ideal circumstances, she made the best of whatever situation she had and stayed strong to the faith she accepted as a young woman. It is those traits and those stories that make her such an interesting and, at times, controversial character. And it is ancestors like her that make family history so utterly fascinating.
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