Family history can be an amazing treasure especially when a family member leaves behind memoirs and personal biographies. One of my favorite ancestor histories is my great, great, great, grandfather Benjamin Williams Chidlaw. (My 3rd great grandfather)
Benjamin left behind not only his biography, “The Story of My Life,” but his wife, (third wife Henrietta), wrote a memoir “Sunset and Evening Star.” In my research, I also found a Welsh copy of “The American,” which was sort of a Welsh traveler’s guide to Ohio for early Welsh settlers.
Thumbnails of sources:
Benjamin was born in Bala July 14, 1811 on the shore of Llyn-Tegid in North Wales. I learned immediately, that his family were non-conformists, which tends to be a theme with all my ancestors coming to America. (Non-conformists in this context refers to not following the predominant religion of the times). When he was younger, there was an artist who visited the home and apparently sketched a picture of him as a young boy holding an American flag, and the caption, “Where Liberty dwells there is my Country.”
He first heard about America when he was about nine years old. His father believed America was “…a great and good country beyond the ocean, where there is no king, no tithes, and where poor people can get farms, and where apples abound.” (Page 17)
From the biography I learn that his father, also named Benjamin, had visited America in 1794 to 1799 for his trade in New York. So he already had a taste for America and learned the language before moving his family to America. In 1821, Benji takes the family to Liverpool and boards “Manhattan” for New York. Now this trip took about 47 days on open sea. (I don’t know about you, but I get motion sickness just on car rides.)
They weave their way to Ohio, and within a few days, his father who brings them to America, dies of Typhoid fever. The mother and children continue to live the early pioneer life in Radnor, Ohio.
Flash forward, Benjamin grows up and is drawn to the a life of religious service. Most of his biography covers his accomplishments in supporting and establishing Sunday Schools across Ohio region.
Then the Civil War happened…
For those reading this blog who may not know American History: American Civil War, also called War Between the States, was a four-year war (1861–65) between the United States and 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. (Source: https://www.britannica.com/event/American-Civil-War)
Remember now, Benjamin was born in 1811, the Civil War started in 1861. He was 50 years old when this war started. I am currently 52, writing this short blog. (I can’t even imagine.)
Benjamin was officially asked to become chaplain of the 39th Ohio Infantry on August 14, 1861. (Sunset and Evening Star)
Now, to many this may not seem a big deal, but imagine it was your duty to unite men in battle and provide morale and some spiritual guidance as they fight their own brothers, in some cases.
“In some of the regiments of our army, the plan of establishing church organizations has been attempted, but found impracticable, on account of the various sects and creeds. Rev. Mr. Chidlaw, the chaplain of the Thirty-ninth Ohio, has adopted a plan that has been followed by others, for bringing together the Christian soldiers to help each other, and combine their influence for good upon others in a Christian association or brotherhood, to continue during the war, leaving their church relations undisturbed.” (Page 27, Sunset and Evening Star)
Unfortunately, Benjamin could not stay with the troops for more than a year due to illness. But this did not stop him from his work as a reverend and preacher. There is a record of one of his best speeches given at gathering of the U.S. Christian Commission, held in the Hall of the House of Representatives, Washington D.C. on Feb 11, 1866 and General Grant present. The speech is long but an amazing piece of history. (I won’t post it here).
He was truly a man of God and inspiration to many in his time.
I end with one of his favorite hymns
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