Monday, January 28, 2013

Mystery Monday: Who Was Benjamin Franklin Gard?

On September 20, 1823, the State of Ohio granted Benjamin Franklin Taylor the right to assume and use the name Benjamin Franklin Gard. Benjamin was 21 years old at the time. Various genealogical entries on the Internet list Benjamin Franklin Gard as the son of Lot Gard (1779-1832) and Mary Taylor (1787 – 1856). Born December 2, 1802, Benjamin appears to have used the surname Taylor, which is, of course, his mother’s maiden name, until he was an adult, at which time he petitioned for a name change and was granted it by an act or resolution of the Ohio state legislature on December 20, 1823. Immediately after the name change, he sought support from Judge John Patterson, recently elected from Ohio to the Eighteenth Congress of the United States, for his application to West Point, which Judge Patterson gave, along with Judge Felton (or Fulton) “and many others.” On the West Point document which shows Benjamin’s acceptance into West Point under the heading “Nature of Qualifications,” the following note was inserted: “well-qualified; much military talent!” (Yes, oddly, there is an exclamation point.) Benjamin was appointed to West Point on March 11, 1824, and in the column headed “Remarks” is written, “Sent to Hon. J. Patterson.” He appears in West Point’s registry for three years: 1825 (fourth class, or freshman); 1826 (third class, or sophomore); 1827 (second class, or junior). His name is not listed for 1828, which would have been his year of graduation. Interestingly, young Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was in the same class and tended to have about the same class ranking as Benjamin. For example, in 1825, Gard was 28th and Davis 32nd; in 1826, Gard was 32nd and Davis 29th; in 1827, Gard was 26th and Davis 29th; in 1828, when Davis graduated, he was 23rd in his class, while Gard’s name does not appear. So, the first part of the mystery hovers around these questions: “Why did Benjamin Franklin Taylor change his name to Gard in 1823? Was Mary Taylor, wife of Lot Gard, his mother? (She would have been 15 when Benjamin was born.) If not his mother, could she have been his aunt, caring for the child of, say, her brother?” The second is, “Why did he drop out of West Point in what would have been his last year?” I have not been able to find this particular Benjamin Franklin Gard with any certainty in the United States census records, though there is an entry for a Benjamin Franklin Gard in Marietta (Ward 3, Washington County), Ohio, in 1830. Since the University of Ohio is at Athens, Ohio, which was originally in Washington County, this entry may mean that Benjamin was studying medicine at this time. Perhaps a desire to do so is what led him to leave West Point before graduation. This, then, becomes the third question, “Where did Dr. Benjamin Franklin Gard receive his medical education?” I should note before going further that there were three men named Benjamin Franklin Gard in the nineteenth century: our man, from Morgan County, Ohio; another in Illinois; and a third in Iowa. This makes it something of a problem to determine whom our B. F. Gard married. It is certain that he married a woman named Mary Dysart in 1842 when he was 40 and she was only 19. However, her youth made it possible for her to bear two children before Dr. Gard passed away. They were a son, David Hossick Gard (b. 1843), and a daughter, Rebecca (b. 1846). We know Mary Dysart was Doctor Gard’s wife because her obituary mentions the fact (at least so indicated by now deceased genealogy researcher Jo Ellsworth). Mary appears to have taken as her second husband John Sharp. Now, there are also references to Benjamin Franklin Gard of Ohio having married a woman named Elizabeth Pontius on May 12, 1834. Green Lawn Cemetery records indicate that she outlived Dr. Gard and took as her second husband Richard Long. If she did not pre-decease Dr. Gard, why was Dr. Gard married to Mary Dysart in 1842? So, the fourth question is, “Whom did Benjamin Franklin Gard marry and when?” When the cholera epidemic of 1849 broke out in Columbus, Ohio, it hit especially hard at the state penitentiary there. Dr. Gard was summoned in early July to tend to suffering prisoners. However, the doctor himself caught the disease and passed away on July 11. Green Lawn Cemetery, where he is buried, notes that “Dr. Gard was took [sic] ill at 11:00 p.m. that night of July 10th and died at 1:30 the next afternoon [the 11th].” All records agree that this was the date of Benjamin Franklin Gard’s death. But, like so much of his life, one last mystery remains. The Ohio Source Records from “The Ohio Genealogical Quarterly,” p. 304, includes this entry: “Gard, B. F., (C-121) (Benjamin Franklin Gard). Of Columbus. Dated July 11, 1849. Gives to adopted daughter of Mrs. Rebecca Wonderly, named Leona Taylor "all my right to a certain tract of land now in possession of said Rebecca Wonderly." (Parenthetically, I must note here that the executor of the will is a man named Charles Pontius, leading to the fifth question,  "Was he kin to the elusive Elizabeth Pontius?") So, here we reach the sixth question: “What was Leona Taylor’s relationship to Benjamin Franklin Taylor Gard?” Census records show that Leona Taylor was born in 1846, which means she would have been only three years old at the time of Gard’s death. That Benjamin made this declaration on the day of his death (July 11, 1849) while in the throes of death shows how serious this action was to him. Of course, it is entirely possible that the will was made out at an earlier date and that the executor simply filed the will on July 11, but as of yet no date for the writing of the will has turned up. Census records of 1850 and 1860 have Leona Taylor residing in Loudon (Seneca County), Ohio, with William and Rebecca Wonderly. Then, mystery upon mystery, she appears (age 14) in the census record at Gratic (Preble County), Ohio , living with the Joseph Shirely family and another single lady—Ann Gard! The census records actually show two locations for Leona in 1860: one with the Wonderlys and one with the Shirely family. The seventh, eighth, and ninth questions then are, “Who is Ann Gard, born 1815? What is her relationship with the much younger Shirely family (she 44, the Shirleys 24 and 26)? And why do the Shirleys have a son named Franklin?” In 1870, when she is 24, she is once again living with Rebecca Wonderly, now age 71 and presumably a widow, but she appears (again) to have resided in two different places in 1870 as the census picks her up the same year in Hagerstown, Indiana, with the Shirley family once again—as well as a woman named Eliza Taylor, age 30. The tenth question, therefore, is, “Why is Leona bouncing around so much between the Shirelys and the Wonderlys?” I suppose it’s possible that there are two Leona Taylors in early nineteenth-century Ohio, but , if so, what are the odds that a Gard woman, a boy named Franklin, and another Taylor woman similar in age to Leona would be included in these goings-on coincidentally? Leona eventually married a fellow named Jonathan W. Lounsberry and moved with him to Omaha, Nebraska, but when she died in 1926, age 80, she was laid to rest near Mrs. Rebecca Wonderly in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she had been residing since her husband’s death. And that becomes the eleventh question: “Why was Leona so close to Rebecca that she wished to be buried next to her?” I sense that the key to the whole thing is to determine who Mary Taylor was. Married to Lot Gard, she is considered B. F.’s mother (or adopted mother). Mary Taylor was only 15 when Benjamin was born, so the logical scenarios would be these: (a) Mary was married very young to someone named Taylor, who fathered Benjamin Franklin Taylor; (b) Mary was not married prior to her marriage to Lot Gard, but had a child out of wedlock (rape? incest?) whom she named Benjamin Franklin and raised on her own until she met Lot Gard; (c) Mary was Benjamin Franklin Taylor’s aunt, raising the boy for a brother also surnamed Gard. But who can know for certain? We must be content with the fact that a seemingly fatherless boy on the Ohio prairie “made good,” went to West Point, became a doctor, established a reputation in Columbus, Ohio, and died trying to make the world a better place. Not a bad legacy for a mystery man, now is it?



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