John Benton Brown, Vernon Co, MO USGenWeb Project




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A Short Biography of John Benton Brown, 1837-1876

   John B. Brown was born about 1837 and raised on the family farm in Trumbull County, Ohio, to Daniel and Mary (Benton) Brown. In the 1860 United States Census, he is living with his sister Emily and her doctor husband, Newton Rice, in Braceville, Ohio. While there he is studying medicine under the tutelage of Dr. Rice.

   In September 1861, John volunteered for Company G, of the 19th Infantry Regiment of the Ohio Volunteers and was quickly promoted to Sergeant.  According to medical records, on January 1, 1862 while his unit was in Kentucky, he contracted Typhoid Fever and was sent to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Because of the debilitating effects of the disease, he was deemed unable to perform his duties and was discharged in May.

   Returning home, John began a slow recovery process living most of 1863 with his sister’s family. In an affidavit, Dr. Rice states that his brother-in-law is only a shadow of his former self and for months is unable to walk without the aid of crutches. Eventually he did regain enough mobility to get around and finish his medical training and by late 1865 is looking for a location to establish a practice.

   In October 1865, he married Mary Jane McCombs of Trumbull County.  After the death of her husband, Mrs. Brown struggled to survive and was forced to take on the U. S. Government in an effort to claim widows’ pension rights.

   While on a journey to the south looking for a place to set-up his medical practice, John is advised to go west and settle in Missouri, which is exactly what he did. And in April or May of 1866 he relocated to the town of Tipton in Moniteau County where he established himself as a country doctor and druggist. While in Tipton, he lived within a short distance of J. A. Payne, D. P. Swearingen and P. L. Swearingen who are all well acquainted with John and his wife Mary. Several years later, these three friends gave affidavits in support of the widow Mary’s claim to pension benefits. By February 1868, Messrs Payne and Swearingen had moved to the town of Metz in Vernon County, Missouri. Seeing the need for a doctor in Metz, D. P. Swearingen invited John to settle there. In May or June, John followed his friends to Metz and began practicing and for some months also was in the drug business in the little community of Pleasant Valley.

   Before leaving Tipton, a son, William McCombs Brown, was born on July 3, 1867. After his father’s death, Willie grew up in Ohio; briefly tried his hand as a druggist before settling in to a life as an orchard farmer in Ashtabula County. He died on December 12, 1942 at the age of 75.

   During the time the Brown’s lived in Metz, the extent of John’s physical condition is revealed through various documents included in the widow’s pension application. It is evident that the long-term effects of Typhoid Fever were manifested by spinal cord distress, lung damage that would frequently result in his coughing up blood, and bowel damage resulting in recurrent bouts with diarrhea. Additionally, the stress suffered by his leg muscles continued to hamper his ability to walk without a great deal of pain. The net result of these residual effects left John with little if any body strength and would indirectly contribute to his early death.

   Due to his diminished physical abilities, John applied for and was granted a War of 1861 (Civil War) Invalid’s Pension by the Army. However, because the Army regarded him as only one-quarter disabled (a position John would protest) the pension was set at $2 per month. Insulted by the paltry amount, he refused to collect the money. It was this decision that would instigate a series of documents intended to persuade the Army to award the pension’s unclaimed funds to John’s widow Mary Jane.

   On May 5, 1871, Lillian Clair Brown was born in Metz. Just like her brother, Lilly would grow up in Ohio, marry, and on August 26, 1917 die a premature death from tuberculosis. At 46 years old, she left behind 7 children ranging in age from 19 to 5. She is buried in her adult hometown of Conneaut, Ohio.

   For reasons unknown, in May 1875, John moved to the new boom town of Corry in Dade County, Missouri. Lead and other minerals had been discovered in the area, and overnight a rush was on. Originally satisfied to run a pharmacy, by mid-1876 John is caught up in the pursuit of riches and became a partner in a lead prospecting venture. In August, while inspecting a local mine, fate and the years of physical debilitation took their measure. A large rock fell on John, severely crushing one of his legs. The local doctor tried to set the bones, but the weakened condition of his legs would not promote healing; and it was decided that amputation was the only answer. Fourteen years after his bout with Typhoid Fever, John was unable to recover from the amputation surgery and died on October 11, 1876.

   Since John apparently died in Corry, it had been presumed he was buried there, but word was received from a local Dade County researcher that there is no record of him at the old Corry Cemetery. It is understood that the cemetery is in good shape and is part of what little remains of the small town whose bust came only a few years after its boom. So if he was buried there, his grave must be unmarked.

   After John’s death, Mary Jane returned to Ohio and settled in Youngstown where she supported her two children as a hat maker. During the late 1870’s she pursued the unclaimed money from John’s Invalid Pension award and beginning in 1891 launched a long but eventually successful struggle to collect his Civil War Widow’s Pension. A conflict she had with the Army was that they would not concede that John’s death was caused as much by his Typhoid Fever induced condition as it was by the mine accident.

   She eventually went to live with Lilly and her husband George Arthur in Conneaut, passing away on January 12, 1917, not knowing that her daughter would join her only seven months later. Mary was 80 years old.




   I first came across John while researching his mother who was a sister of my great-grandfather, George Washington Benton. With such a common name, his search proved to be a difficult task; but after many months I was able to find him in Vernon County in 1870. Because he seemed to be such a mystery, I dedicated a personal effort to tell his story. This effort has paid off with more personal information about John Brown than for most of the family in my genealogical records.

   I was able to identify the Civil War Window’s Pension Application filed by John’s wife and have received the same from the National Archives.  Because there were unusual circumstances surrounding John’s premature death at the age of 39, a number of affidavits and documents concerning his post Civil War movements are part of the file. These include approximate dates and the location of his tenure in Vernon County.

   Yet, it is odd that without the tragic illness suffered by John and without the contentious circumstances of Mary’s quest for pension money, much of what information I now know might never have been compiled. If he had lived to a grand old age as a country doctor, there may have never been a widow’s pension file with its 40 documents for me to read. After more than 130 years, John Brown has come back to life; only because he suffered so much in life.

   Because he was an early citizen of your County, I thought that some of this information might be of interest to the Society. Feel free to use this story in whole or in part as you see fit.

          Bob Benton

          September 3, 2006


(The above biography was written by Bob Benton and provided to the Tri-County Genealogical Society so that the information could be made available to others.)



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