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Polly Benson (1816-1912): Biography

A brief biography of Polly Benson (1816-1912) compiled in May 2009 by W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah.

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For some time now I have had a desire to know more about the personality and character traits of my 2nd great grandmother, Polly Benson Bartholomew. I would like to know what she was really like as a person. Unfortunately, precious little has been written about her in this regard.

Of course, I never knew Grandmother Polly while she was alive. However, I did know my paternal grandmother, Sarah Jane Bartholomew Christenson, Polly’s granddaughter quite well. 1 Sarah did not write about her grandmother. But since their lives were similar in many respects, I have concluded that they most likely were of the same ilk.

I say this because it is my conviction that each person enters mortality blessed with innate capabilities, and that external circumstances are the lesser factor in determining what one actually becomes in life, circumstances only tempering what is already present from the pre-mortal existence. Moreover, it can be noted that upon entering mortality a person is often endowed with the same character traits that were possessed by his or her forebears.

Accordingly, I knew Grandmother Sarah to be a diminutive dynamo with an indomitable spirit, exhibiting a no-nonsense, far-sighted, focused approach throughout her life. Thus, though they lived many decades apart (Grandmother Polly was born 12 February 1816, in Bath, Steuben County, New York), I imagine the two shared a similar approach to life. Additionally, other noble attributes possessed by their mutual progenitors were evident in both women, as well.

With these thoughts in mind, then, in order to better understand Grandmother Polly’s personality, let’s examine various experiences from recorded history, especially her granddaughter Ella Grace Bown’s fine biography 2, and read between the lines, as it were.

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Looking at a sampling of Polly’s ancestors is revealing. They were courageous and persistent. Hence, I suspect that she was, too.

Concerning courage, early progenitors in her Holcomb and Bliss lines were some of the first English settlers in the American Colonies during the mid 1600’s, and helped found Massachusetts and Connecticut. 3, 4, 5

Regarding her maternal great grandfather, Isaac Messenger (1717-1790), it is recorded:

The family of Isaac and Hannah were remarkably strong and robust…All ten…sons stood over six feet in height and were noted, as was he, as being expert woodsmen and hunters…. Eight of their ten sons served in the Revolutionary War. 6

Another interesting forefather, her paternal grandfather, Stutson [also referred to elsewhere as Stetson] Benson (1741-1820), showed remarkable persistence. This is what is recorded about him:

At the time of his marriage, he was unable to read and write; like Andrew Johnson, he learned his alphabet of his wife; he became a well read man, particularly in the Bible, and occasionally engaged in preaching the Gospel; … his writing [which has been preserved] … is a neat legible hand with correct orthography…. 7

The attributes of courage and persistence were present in Polly, too. Along with other examples, this is evidenced by her having embraced the Church at a young age and then patiently endured subsequent persecution 8, managed alone without her husband amidst social ostracism 9, and helped to forge a new community on the untamed frontier. 10

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It is also clear that Polly came into the world with a believing heart. Several recollections support this fact:

When Polly was sixteen years old, before joining the Church, the following is recorded:

After the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, missionaries were sent to seek out the honest in heart. They entered Indiana. It was in this area that the family was introduced to the gospel and joined the Mormon Church. Polly was 16 years old; and one night in a dream, she saw the two elders who taught her the restored gospel; she was converted before they called at the home. So very vivid was the dream, that some time later when these two elders called at the home, she recognized them and called them by name. On another occasion, elders who had visited with them left to travel to some distant place and were to be away for some time; but a short time after they had departed, Polly came running into the house saying, ‘The elders will be back tonight.’ Her mother said, ‘Polly, what prattle is this? Those elders have no cause to return here tonight.’ Just before dusk, the two weary travelers were seen coming over the ridge and down the dusty road. The elders had returned, and the family was converted. 11

At the time of the Nauvoo Temple dedication, under the direction of Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1846, as well as earlier on 8 August 1844, when Brigham Young was transfigured, in a frequently expressed testimony, Polly declared:

I joined the Church in 1832. I knew the prophet Joseph Smith. I cooked for him, ate at his table and worked for him, I knew him personally and I know that he was a prophet of the Lord and that the gospel is true. I was present at the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple; I heard voices and saw beings from the other world. While we were driven by mobs and persecuted with the Saints, we were protected by the Lord and rejoiced in the gospel. After the prophet was killed and at the time that the people were trying to decide who should be president of the church, we were in conference, and Brigham Young got up to speak. I saw the Prophet Joseph Smith and heard his voice; Brigham Young appeared as Joseph Smith and the mantel of the Prophet fell upon Brigham Young while he was speaking. We knew then beyond a doubt that he should be president, and he was set apart at that time. 12

She heard heavenly choirs sing at the dedication of the Manti Temple on 23 May 1888. 13

And, then lastly, on her deathbed, she experienced another special manifestation:

On 19 December 1912 after eating her supper, Grandmother walked into the living room and, feeling tired, lay on the cot in the corner of the room. She then complained it was difficult for her to breathe. Her granddaughter put her arm under grandmother's shoulders and raised her a little. She then remarked, ‘Look at all those people; aren't they beautifully dressed,’ as she indicated where they were. In seconds she was gone, at the age of 96 years, 10 months, and 24 days. 14

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Certainly Polly seems to have been a generous and charitable person, as well.

She served as an officer in the Fayette Ward Relief Society for over twenty years, regularly carrying out the generous care so common in that organization. Furthermore, she wove many yards of carpet for the Manti Temple, where following its dedication, she performed much vicarious work for her dead ancestors and loved ones. 15

However, also very impressive to me in this category is the tender care and concern that she continually demonstrated for her blind sister, Electa, who became a permanent member of the Bartholomew household. Polly evidently even insisted then that Electa become her husband Joseph’s second wife. 16, 17

Likewise, she is reported to have been a fine homemaker, cook, seamstress, and a seemingly untiring hard worker. Notable is the story of her being so ill and weakened with a prolonged febrile illness while living near Gunnison, Utah, that she lost all of the hair on her head, could only move with help, and yet still performed regular family clothes-washing duties down by the side of the river. 18

Indeed, her daily chore schedule—twice daily milking of a cow, working in her garden, and performing her routine household duties—continued on into her ninth decade. 19 It goes without saying that such energy and dedication are not commonly seen in our current day and age.

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To be sure, I look forward to one day meeting Grandmother Polly, enjoying her dynamic persona, and hearing first hand about her multiple experiences. She had a full, rich, productive life.

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Listing of Sources:

1. See the Sarah Jane Bartholomew (1876-1966) section, on this website.

2. See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson (1816-1912), on this website.

3. See Thomas Holcomb (1601-1657) in the World Connect section, on this website.

4. See Nathanial Holcomb (1648-1740/41) in the World Connect section, on this website.

5. See Nathaniel Bliss (1621-1654) in the World Connect section, on this website.

6. See Isaac Messenger (1717-1790) in the World Connect section, on this website.

7. See Stutson Benson (1741-1820) in the World Connect section, on this website.

8. See Alvah Benson (1799-1883) in Additional Family History of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

9. See Eldon Bartholomew (1920-2005), in Additional Family History of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

10. See Martha Louise Wintsch Bartholomew (1896-1993) in Additional Family History of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

11. Op. cit.: See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson…

12. See George Marston Bartholomew, Jr. (1884-1950) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson (1816-1912), on this website.

13. Op. cit.: See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson…

14. Op. cit.: See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson…

15. Op. cit.: See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson…

16. See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975), Biography of Electa Benson Bartholomew (1812-1888), Joseph's second wife, in Additional Family History of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

17. See Documents of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

18. Op. cit.: See Ella Grace Bown (1894-1975) in Additional Family History of Polly Benson…

19. Family History of George Marston Bartholomew (1851-1925), Polly's son, in Additional Family History of Joseph Bartholomew, Sr. (1820-1901), Polly’s husband, on this website.

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