Death of Thomas Benton …

… And Dispersal of his Household of Five Daughters

When Thomas Benton died in Arnprior (Renfrew Co., Ontario) on 7 March 1890, he left behind one son and seven daughters.

His wife Hanora (“Annie”) Ryan had died over a decade earlier (28 January 1879), apparently of “inflammation of the bowels.”1 And three of the children of Thomas Benton and Annie Ryan had already married and set up their own households by the time of their father’s death:

That left five Benton daughters still at home when their father suffered a dreadful, and fatal, accident…

Thomas Benton Jr. was in Duluth, Minnesota with his wife Maggie Mulvihill (daughter of Michael Mulvihill and Bridget Cronin). 2
Catherine Benton, who had married John Finnerty (son of Peter Finnerty and Anne Havey) in 1875, was still in Arnprior, though she and her family would move to Cloquet, Carlton Co., Minnesota in 1892. And Bridget Benton, who had married James Finnerty (another son of Peter Finnerty and Anne Havey) in 1888, was also in Arnprior, with her husband and the eldest two of their eleven known children.

That left five Benton daughters still at home when their father suffered a dreadful, and fatal, accident.

Who Was Thomas Benton?

What little I know of my great-great-grandfather Thomas Benton is as follows:

He was born in Ireland 3 about 1831, and emigrated to Canada in the early- to mid-1850s. Since I have not (yet) uncovered a record of his marriage to Hanora Ryan, I don’t know whether the couple were married in Ireland or in Canada, but I suspect Canada. Certainly, the younger seven of their nine known children (one of whom died in childhood) were born in Canada; and the elder two, Catherine and Thomas Jr., were all but certainly Canadian-born as well (but I have not yet found their baptismal records).

Baptism of Bridget Benton, 1 March 1861.4

The first known records of the presence of Thomas Benton and Annie Ryan in Canada date from 1861: their daughter Bridget, born February 1861, was baptized (at Pakenham? the baptismal record is found in the register for the Mission at Fitzroy Harbour) on 1 March 1861; and the family (Thomas Benton, born Ireland; wife Anne, born Ireland; and children Catherine and Thomas, aged 4 and 3 respectively, born Up Canada [Upper Canada]) can be found in the 1861 census of the Township of Pakenham, Co. Lanark, Canada West (Ontario). By the late 1860s, the family can be located in Arnprior; and in an 1888 Renfrew County directory, Thomas Benton’s address is given as 36 Daniel St., Arnprior.

Unlike so many of my ancestors, Thomas Benton was not a farmer. In Canadian census records, he is listed as a labourer; his daughter Margaret would later describe him as a “millwright.” 5

How Did Thomas Benton Die?

It is a newspaper account of his death (Arnprior Chronicle, 14 March 1890) which identifies Thomas Benton as an employee at one of the mills of the McLachlin/McLachlan Brothers:

Last Friday we reported an accident that happened to Mr. Thomas Benton, sen., in one of Messrs. McLachlin Bros. mills a day or two previous. At the time of writing the paragraph it was reported that Mr. Benton was in a fair way of recovery, but during Friday his case took a dangerous turn, and terminated fatally on Saturday. The block which fell upon Mr. Benton’s head was about 3 feet long and 9 inches square, and weighed probably 75 lbs. It fell a distance of about 5 feet, so that it is probably that his skull was fractured. The deceased was 59 years of age, and had lived in Arnprior a number of years, where he was held in high respect. The funeral took place on Monday afternoon, and was very largely attended.6

So he died of head injuries (and probably of a fractured skull), after having been hit on the head by a heavy block of wood. An awful death; and I doubt his survivors got a penny out of the McLachlin Brothers as compensation (this was pre-Workers Comp, of course; this was the type of workplace calamity which eventually led to the establishment of Workmen’s Compensation Boards: in Ontario, from 1914).

Thomas Benton was buried on 10 March 1890, with his son Thomas Benton and a Michael Mulvihill (probably his son’s father-in-law, though possibly his son’s brother-in-law) serving as burial witnesses:

Burial of Thomas Benton, 10 March 18907

Where Did His Daughters Go?

And what happened to the five daughters still at home, after the death of their father?

Well, here are four of the five, in the 1891 census of Arnrprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario. Each one of the four can be found in a separate household, with three listed as “Domestics,” and one listed as a “Lodger:”

Bentons in Arnprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario, in the 1891 Canadian census

Mary Benton [Mary Elizabeth Benton, 1866-?], Domestic, is found in the household of Denis McNamara and his wife Catherine. Margaret Benton [Margaret Anne Benton, 1869-?], Domestic, is found in the household of James Havey and his wife Catherine Brien. Annie Benton [Anna Maria Benton, 1871-1947], Lodger, occupation Tailoress, is found in the household of George Barclay and his wife Mary. And Agnes Benton [Hanora Agnes Benton, 1873-1937], Domestic, is found in the household of Michael Galvin and his wife Mary.

The youngest daughter, Julia Gertrude Benton (1875-1965), is not found in the 1891 Canadian census (or, at least, I have not found her there). I suspect she had already moved to Minnesota, to live with her brother Thomas and his wife Maggie Mulvihill, where she is found in the Minnesota State Census of 1895.

When Thomas Benton died in March 1890, his five unmarried daughters ranged in age from 23 to 13 years of age; and they lacked the money and the resources to carry on living together in the same household. The youngest probably went to live with her older brother and his wife; and three of the five went into domestic service. My great-grandmother Annie Benton tried to earn a living as a “tailoress” in Arnprior, but by 1895 had moved to the metropolis, so to speak, of the Ottawa Valley, where she can be found as a “dressmaker” in Ottawa, and where she married the younger brother of the Mrs. Fagan with whom she lodged.

  1. Dysentery?  appendicits? colitis? enteritis? The cause of death might have been any of these, or perhaps something else entirely.
  2. Although Thomas Benton Jr. had emigrated to Minnesota in 1883, he had at least briefly returned to Arnprior in the late 1880s, where he married Margaret (“Maggie”) Mulvihill. In the record of their marriage, St. John Chrysostom, Arnprior, 13 September 1888, he is described as “Thomas Benton of Duluth, hotel keeper.”
  3. Possibly in the parish of Doon, Co. Limerick? though this is little more than speculation on my part at the moment.
  4. Fitzroy Harbour (Ontario), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1852-1968,
    Bridget Benton baptism, image 62 of 336: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/:
    accessed 4 December 2012), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967
  5. In the record of her marriage to Con Hazelton, widower of Mary McCourt, 16 April 1912.
  6. Arnprior Chronicle, Friday, 14 March 1890.
  7. St. John Chrysostom (Arnprior, Ontario), Register of Births, Marriages and Burials, 1883-1893,
    p. 185, S. 5, Thomas Benton burial: database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/:
    accessed 4 December 2012), Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.