Kimmitt Genealogical Research

07 January 2015

Week #1 of 52 Ancestors: Benjamin Barnes of Hingham, Massachusetts (1747-1833)--Farmer, Patriot, Landowner

All right. I'm going to try--TRY, mind you--to participate in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for Geneabloggers! Well. I'll participate, but whether I'll manage to post 52 times cannot yet be known. To begin, I closed my eyes and selected someone from the index in my genealogy program, and voila, one of my favorite ancestors! So I'm commencing with my 4th great-grandfather, Benjamin Barnes of Hingham, Massachusetts. I posted about him in 2009, but wanted to update that post, so I'm not sure if this will count as 2015, but oh well!

So far, I've only discovered the term non compos mentis applied to one ancestor, and that happens to be him, poor guy. But he led a full life before that diagnosis and that is what I'd like to focus on. Benjamin was born in 1747 in Hingham (1), a pretty town south of Boston, right on Massachusetts Bay. He owned land near Hingham Harbor, where I go boating with my best friends from college every summer. The general area in which he owned land can be seen in the background of this photo. This is one of those moments when you wonder why that land hasn't passed down directly to you!

What has been passed down, however, is a precious 1777 framed deed. Until yesterday I was unable to scan it because of the glare from the glass. The back was sealed and I didn't want to mess with it. However, it fell off the wall and cracked open the frame, so yesterday I took it to a restorer to clean, deacidify and preserve it. It had been glued down to some acidic cardboard. I mention this because I was finally able to scan it.

I won't transcribe the entire deed, but on 15 March 1777, Benjamin Jr., yeoman bought two acres of salt meadow and upland (on the east side of Weir River, near the mouth, perhaps now part of Hull) from his father, Benjamin Sr., yeoman, my 5th great-grandfather, for 16 pounds, 13 shillings, 4 pence. Hannah (Beal) Barnes, my 5th great-grandmother, relinquishes her dower, with a signature next to the X. Oh yeah, female signature!

George Lincoln, in his History of Hingham, says that Benjamin was a farmer. I wonder if he grazed his sheep in the salt meadow as they still do in France around Mont St. Michel, where the lamb is said to be extraordinarily tasty because of it? I'm making a mental note to go kayaking there some day when the weather is fair. In the Weir Estuary, not Mont St. Michel, though that's not a bad idea...

Benjamin is listed in the Hingham census of 1790, near his father, and brother Canterbury Barnes. Two more brothers, John and Ensign, appear on the same page.

Benjamin was the patriot I used in my application to the DAR. He has a pretty detailed Revolutionary War pension application file, submitted in 1832 on his behalf by Ned Cushing, his legal guardian, when Benjamin was 85. It mentions that Benjamin was "himself incapable of recollecting the past events of his life with correctness" so they get his war buddies to give affidavits telling about his service: in 1775, like half of the state, he was called to Lexington to "march on the alarm of April 19, 1775. After that he "guarded the sea" in Hingham (they don't mention that he could probably do that from his father's front yard); in 1776 he did the same in nearby Nantasket. But in 1777 he was present at the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne. And there is more. Length of service for him was anywhere from three days (Lexington) to eight months. He remained a private for the entire war. (2)

Service accounts vary slightly among those giving affidavits. Of course they do! How can 75-85 year old men remember back 58 years to which three-month stint they served with whom? I think it's sweet that so many years after the fact, these very old men put their heads together on behalf of poor Benjamin so that he could get some relief from the government he fought to create.

I love pension files because you find attestations by town clerks to vital records: an affidavit of his birth on the Hingham town records.

Benjamin Barnes, son of Benjamin & Hannah
born June 7, 1747 ––
A true copy from the Records of births in Hingham
James S. Lewis
Town Clerk

Then, Justice of the Peace Ebenezer Gay attests that he "verily believes it to be a record of the birth of Benjamin Barnes of said Hingham now under the Guardianship of Ned Cushing who applies in behalf of said Benjamin for a pension under the law of the United States passed in June last –– and I hereby certify that the said Lewis is personally known to me and that his reputation for truth is unquestionable." 
Then, it makes me laugh because on the next page, they get the Register of Probate to attest that Ebenezer Gay is honest and forthright as well. Then on the next page, George Washington attests that Ebenezer Gay is trustworthy and true, also! Just kidding about that last one. But really, when does it end?

I use the Revised Fourth Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, published in 1968, because it is pretty good for older legal terms. On page 1200 you can find a definition of Non Compos Mentis:
"Lat. Not sound of mind; insane. This is a very general term, embracing all varieties of mental derangement. See Insanity. [Then, the best part follows...] Coke has enumerated four different classes of persons who are deemed in law to be non compotes mentis

  • First an idiot, or fool natural; 
  • Second, he who was of good and sound mind and memory, but by the act of God has lost it; 
  • Third, a lunatic, lunaticus qui gaudet lucidis intervallis, who sometimes is of good sound mind and memory, and sometimes non compos mentis
  • Fourth, one who is non compos mentis by his own act, as a drunkard, Co. Litt. 247a; 4 Coke, 124."
I think that poor Benjamin, after his honorable service to the cause of freedom, was an example of Coke's definition number two: "of good and sound mind and memory, but by the act of God has lost it." I'm just thankful that everyone else was there to help him pick up the memories. Benjamin died on 30 December 1833 and was buried in January of 1834 (3). I sure hope someone took care of Ned Cushing when he need it, too.

1. George Lincoln, The History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, 3 vols, Vols 2-3, The Genealogies (Somersworth, New Hampshire: New England History Press, 1982), 2:26. Also, "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Application Files," online subscription database linked to original images, Benjamin Barnes, private, file n. S. 30,262, Massachusetts; ( : accessed 7 January 2015); citing NARA microfilm series M804, RG 15;
2. Revolutionary War pension application file, Benjamin Barnes.
3. "Index to Selected Final Payment Vouchers, 1818-1864," online subscription database linked to images of cards, Benjamin Barnes, Massachusetts, date of death 30 December 1833; ( : accessed 7 January 2015); citing NARA, RG 217. Also, The Hearse Account, Hingham, April 1, 1830, account book, Benjamin Barnes was buried in January 1834; microfilm 76.13, Hingham, Massachusetts Public Library.


Bill West said...

Hi Polly,
Interesting post. I have some Barnes
ancestors through my Barrows line,
descended from John Barnes of Plymouth who was gored to death by his bull. I don't know if any of
the line made it up to Hingham, though.


Patti Hobbs said...

Interesting story, Polly. I've got two anecodotes related to your story. One was that because the town clerk attested to the records showing children of my ancestor for his widow's pension, I persisted in looking at town books labeled by the FHL as not containing vital records because the ones labeled as such did not contain said records. I knew the record had to exist.

2nd -- I have someone I've looked at as a possible ancestor who was judged non compos mentis. Here's what the town history (Woodstock, Vermont) has to say about him:

"On a certain celebration-day, when the company were paraded on the Common to fire thirteen salutes in honor of the thirteen original States of the Union, Beriah loaded his gun with bullets. But, as the bullets began to whistle over the heads of the people, anxious inquiries arose as to the source from which they came, and being traced to Beriah, the captain informed him the State had no further occasion for his services in the military line, whereupon Beriah took up his gun and departed." :-)

PFK said...

Bill, the Plymouth gang are a different line. I'm always running into John Barnes of Plymouth, but never knew the poor fellow was gored by a bull. Yeck.

PFK said...

Patti, love those!

The History Man said...

That was great. Stories like this always remind us about the men and women who have given a good portion of their lives to secure our freedoms. This also shows that we need to support them in anyway that we can after the conflict is over! Accolades to you for giving us another example!

The History Man