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A Story of Benoni Thompson, son of Micah and Grandson of Benoni of Richmond, VT.
Benoni Thompson had an unusual name. It is Biblical and from the Hebrew meaning “son of my sorrow”. He also had an unusual life that is recognized in award-winning historian Dale L. Walker’s book “Eldorado – – The California Gold Rush”. He writes about Benoni in California:
“At this place atop the northern mines, not many miles from the bed-and-breakfasts, boutiques, galleries, wine-tasting shops, and truffle and coffee bars of the state’s “restored” gold towns, stands a marker commemorating one Benoni Thompson, who ‘Died on August 15, 1902, age 75 years.’ The stone says nothing else of Benoni Thompson but it makes you think about that first name and what happened to this person who was born who-knows-where in 1827. Did he (she) come to these northern mines in a wagon company from the Missouri settlements? Across Texas and northern Mexico to follow the Gila River route to California? From a Mormon settlement in Utah? Via the Isthmus of Panama? Or did he come around Cape Horn on a leaky brig and wash ashore at this once-roaring camp with the tide of Argonauts in ’49? And what did Benoni Thompson do in the fifty-three years between the gold rush and his death?”
Had Dale Walker been a genealogist he could have learned much about Benoni.
Benoni Thompson was born in Vermont in 1827, probably in Richmond, VT, son of Micah Thompson and Phebe Douglas Thompson. In 1850 he and his wife Emily lived in Richmond, where he farmed. As the second son and third child, prospects for success most likely looked brighter out West. Imagine the discussions they must have had and her courage to leave home for the long trek out west. They were not alone in leaving Vermont behind. Two of his Douglas cousins, James (b. 1834) and Peter (b. 1830) also made the trip to California with them.
We don’t know exactly when the foursome arrived in California, but probably sometime after 1852 when Benoni sold his land in Richmond. The 1860 Census shows them in Mud Springs, El Dorado County. Benoni was a farmer, and James and Peter Douglas were miners. Benoni had 320 acres, but none were considered “improved.” In fact, he had two horses and four milk cows but did not report any crops. His land was valued at $400, or little more than $1 per acre. Perhaps he earned his living expenses from finding a few small pieces of gold or selling goods or services to the miners. More likely he earned it further north, in Nevada County.
Benoni did not become rich mining or panning for gold, but he did become a landowner and is memorialized in a historical marker not mentioned by Dale Walker. It is in the town of Rough and Ready, Nevada County, California and reads:
ROUGH AND READY TOLL HOUSE
BUILT IN 1859 BY BENONI THOMPSON
TO COLLECT TOLLS FOR USING THE GEPHARDT
UNION TURNPIKE RUNNING 6 MILES FROM
PENN VALLEY TO GRASS VALLEY
THE LAST REMAINING ORIGINAL TOLL HOUSE
IN THE WEST. IT SERVED AS A WELLS FARGO
EXPRESS OFFICE AND STAGE STOP
AND WAS THE SECRET RENDEZVOUS PLACE OF
JOAQUIN MURIETTA AND LOLA MONTEZ
DEDICATED OCT 4, 2009
WM. BULL MEEK – WM. MORRIS STEWART
CHAPTER 10 E CLAMPUS VITUS
NEVADA CITY, CA
NEVADA COUNTY HISTORICAL LANDMARK NEV 08-01
The following HTML link shows the marker and links to images of the toll house: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=39865 Note: The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV) is a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of the heritage of the American West, especially the history of the Mother Lode and gold mining regions of the area.
Whether Benoni built the toll house before or after leaving El Dorado County, records indicate that Benoni registered to vote in Rough and Ready Township, Nevada County in 1867, and in 1869 he obtained a land patent for 160 acres near Mount Diablo in Nevada county (follow this link to the Bureau of Land Management to see the 1869 and 1885 land patents, as well as a plat showing “gold diggings”: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov).
The 1870 Federal Census shows Benoni living with Emily and a two-year old daughter, Emma. He was working as a toll collector, which supports the recognition by E Clampus Vitus. His real estate was valued at $1,000 and his personal property at $450.
In 1880 Benoni and his family still lived in Rough and Ready where he continued to work as a toll collector; in August 1886 daughter Emma was 18 years old and married Rodger William Johnston. Rodger was from Illinois but had been in Rough and Ready long enough to register to vote in 1884. Benoni was probably armed with a shotgun to enforce the payment of tolls and so perhaps it was a “shotgun wedding” as the marriage took place just days after Emma gave birth to son Ernest. The new family lived in Rough & Ready so Benoni was likely able to spend time with his new grandchild, as well as Ernest’s future brothers Clarence, Edwin and Roger.
Even so, sadness followed as Benoni’s wife Emily died the following year. Find a Grave has an image of Emily Thompson’s gravestone in the Rough and Ready Cemetery, which is inscribed as follows:
Died April 9, 1887
Aged 62 yrs. 5 mos.
Just four years later, on June 2, 1891, Benoni married Annie Edwards, from England. She was born in 1840 and the Federal Census shows that she had given birth to one child who was no longer living. No doubt she had been married previously. In addition to Benoni and Annie, the household included a cook named Ms. Jones, who was also from England.
Even 50 years after the Gold Rush, many of Benoni’s neighbors in Rough and Ready were reported in the Federal Census as “miners – gold.” He reported himself, at age 73, as a farm laborer. Finally, on August 15, 1902, Benoni died. He is memorialized for his Toll House and on his gravestone in the Rough and Ready Cemetery. The inscription may yield some understanding of his nature:
August 15, 1902
A Native of Vermont
Only Good night, beloved,
not farewell; A little while
and all His saints shall dwell
in hallowed union indivisible
Perhaps Benoni requested the inscription or maybe his wife Ann or daughter Emma was responsible for the memorial. It is actually a verse from a poem published in “The Christian’s Friend” in 1882, titled “Sleep on, beloved” and put online by STEM Publishing: “The early Christians were accustomed to wish their dying friends ‘Good night,’ assured of their awakening at the resurrection.” Benoni’s wife Ann followed him in death in 1906 and she too is buried in Rough and Ready’s cemetery.
As for the Douglas boys of Vermont and their adventures mining gold in California, that is another story!
Researched and written by Richard Cummings firstname.lastname@example.org and edited by Betty Lou Morris.
© Copyright 1997-2017. Thompson Family Researchers.
Updated: 16 Jan 2017 12:51 PM