Question: Was the town of Benjamin, Utah, named after Benjamin Franklin Stewart, Sr.?
Answer: Benjamin Franklin Stewart was born on October 22, 1817, on the banks of the Ohio river in Jackson township, Monroe county, Ohio, the ninth child and third son of Philander Barrett Stewart and Sarah Scott. His parents were both of sturdy old Massachusetts stock. When Franklin was only six years old his father was drowned, while trying to rescue others.
In the spring of 1828, under the direction of their intrepid mother, the family emigrated to Morgan county, Illinois, floating about one thousand miles down the Ohio in a flat boat and crossing the State of Illinois by team. In Illinois the family sojourned for some time. Franklin was not able to attend school very much, but through his efforts and industry, he obtained a good education.
In 1837 he married Polly Richardson, of Kentucky. This union was blessed with eleven children, six of whom reached maturity. The bridal pair emigrated to Van Buren county, Iowa, where missionaries found them, and they were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Franklin was ordained an Elder on the day of his baptism. During the period after the Stewarts’ conversion, Nauvoo was suffering from mob trouble, and by the time Benjamin Franklin decided to take his family to Nauvoo in 1845 the people of Nauvoo were already contemplating a move to the west. In anticipation of the journey to the mountains Benjamin Franklin, with others of his fellow Saints, had made a trip south to the Missouri settlements for additional supplies to go west.
But the plans were changed and he settled his family at Keg Creek, Iowa, near Kanesville, for the winter. The Saints began to leave Nauvoo in February 1846, but due to weather condition, progress was slow. On March 6, 1846, Bishop George Miller and Henry G. Sherwood, who were in advance of the main company, came back and reported to Brigham Young that they had found a camping place near the home of Benjamin Franklin Stewart, fourteen miles ahead. From there they made their way to Winter Quarters.
He was ordained a Seventy by Joseph Young on April 6, 1847. Soon after this he was asked to be in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company, to find a place of refuge in the West for the exiled saints. He was one of the seven men left at the Upper Platte Ferry, in the midst of danger and Indians, for the purpose of ferrying the saints, who followed the pioneers that season, across the river. Here he was met by his heroic wife who came west with the emigrant company led by Abraham O. Smoot. She drove a yoke of oxen the entire distance and cared for her three children. The family arrived in Salt Lake City on September 27, 1847.
About 1851, after living in the Salt Lake area for a time, Benjamin moved on down into Utah County. On September 6, 1851 Benjamin married Elizabeth Davis as a plural wife; ten children came from this union, seven of whom reached maturity. Benjamin Franklin Stewart was one of the original settlers of Payson, Utah County. For years he served as a counselor to Bishop John B. Fairbanks of Payson. He also served in a number of positions, including the Payson City Council, its Mayor, City Attorney, and Justice of the Peace.
After his return from a mission to Iowa and Illinois, he moved his family to a settlement north of Payson. In the late 1860’s he with his brother, Andrew Jackson Stewart, and other sturdy pioneers, surveyed and laid out the foundation of a town. They laid out roads, built bridges and made fences and ditches. They also dug a canal from the Spanish Fork river to irrigate their crops. They fought the crickets and grasshoppers. They hauled logs from nearby canyons and built homes.
The small community was named Benjamin, in honor of Benjamin, thus fulfilling a prophecy concerning him given by Patriarch John Smith in the year 1847. This prophecy was that he would help found a town, and the town would be named after him. The Benjamin branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints was established in 1871, and Benjamin served as the “Presiding Elder.’ He was recognized as a leading spirit in the community–religiously, politically and otherwise.
He was appointed Mayor of Benjamin in 1871, a position he held until his death. He operated the first store in one room of his home. He carried general merchandise, which he would trade for all kinds of produce. He drilled the first artesian well and carried the mail from Payson and distributed it among the farmers. He also donated land for the first burial ground in Benjamin.
His active and useful life was brought to an untimely close on June 22, 1885. He was sitting in his carriage at the east end of the house when a bolt of lightening struck the chimney, and, glancing down, killed him instantly. He was buried in the Benjamin Cemetery.