If you read to the bottom of my last post, you found the big plot twist: Benjamin Black did not serve in the Mexican-American War at all, yet he fraudulently filed for and received pension benefits as a Mexican War veteran!
Before digging into the circumstances of Benjamin Black’s pension mess, let’s review the circumstances of his final years. As I’ve tried to reconstruct his life’s timeline, I realize that I have much work to do on this particular ancestor. So I’ll make some generalized assumptions here so that we can just get our bearings.
It seems like there’s nothing particularly notable about Benjamin Black’s life up until the point when his first wife, Louisa, died in 1866.
Benjamin and Louisa had been living in Indiana, but after the Civil War, they moved to Iowa with their eight children. Louisa’a father, T.Q. Mathews, had moved to Iowa 15 years earlier and was well-established in the small town of North English. The Black family hadn’t been there long before the double catastrophe of the loss of Louisa’s twins quickly followed by Louisa’s own death.
In 1867 Benjamin met and married a local widow Sarah Cole who had at least four children with her late husband. The 1870 census shows a blended family of six of Benjamin’s children and four of Sarah’s children. Benjamin is listed as an active member of the North English Christian Church in 1868 and officiated at the marriage of John Gilchrist, whose grandson would soon marry Benjamin’s own daughter Ellen. Benjamin and Sarah have two sons together, John and Earnest, but eventually their marriage dissolved. During this period, Benjamin’s youngest child Ida forms an attachment with a neighboring family, Edwin and Isobel “Belle” Rosecrans.
Everything seems to go off the rails for Benjamin in the late 1870’s. In 1879, Ida left Iowa with the Rosecrans family and settled with them near Ashland in Saunders County, Nebraska. Over the next few years, most of her older siblings also relocated to Saunders County. The Rosecrans family, the Black family, the Frasier family (Ida’s husband’s family), the Russell family (Belle’s siblings) and the Gilchrist family (Ida’s sister’s family) seem to form a tight-knit group in Nebraska offering mutual support with several marriages between the families.
In the 1880 census, Benjamin has been completely deserted by his family – or perhaps he alienated them. He is 57 years old and living as a boarder with the family of Merit and Mary Brown. Sarah, meanwhile, is living in a nearby township with their two young boys John and Earnest.
In 1887, he was still living in North English, Iowa, and filed for his pension benefits under an assumed alias. His pension application was approved and he began receiving his monthly benefit of $8.
By 1889, Benjamin had moved to Kenton County, Kentucky, not too far from his childhood home of Boone County. On September 26, 1889, he married his third wife Cynthia Jones.
In July 1891, he knows the end is near and puts together his last will and testament. He leaves everything to his wife Cynthia except for his watch and a trunk, which he requests to be shipped back to Iowa to his son “Earney” who is in the care of W.H. Smith in Keokuk. Benjamin died a month later on August 9, 1891.
It’s when Cynthia goes to claim her widow’s benefit that Benjamin’s scheme is exposed.
I have many questions that require follow-up (the answers to some of these are undoubtedly in my files, I just need to pull them together; however, additional research in Salt Lake City will be needed for some of these):
- When did T.Q. Mathews (Louisa’s father) arrive in Iowa? What is the connection between the Black family and the Mathews family during this time?
- Did Mathews purchase land? When did Mathews leave for Johnson County, Nebraska?
- Did Benjamin Black purchase land? How did he lose the land – through sale or foreclosure?
- Where were the Rosecrans and Russell families living during this time? Is the “neighbor” story supported by any land ownership or map evidence?
- Did the Rosecrans’ officially adopt Ida?
- What became of Sarah Cole and her two sons John and Earnest? Who was W.H. Smith of Keokuk, and why was Earnest in his care in 1891? Had Sarah died?
- When did the other Black sibiings move to Nebraska? Which one stayed behind in Iowa?
- Did Benjamin acquire land when he returned to Kentucky in the late 1880’s?
We’ll leave these questions simmering on the back burner and turn our attention next time to Cynthia’s shocking discovery.