Benjamin Hughes (1824-1900)

Welsh-American Entrepreneur

Brynmawr, Wales to Scranton, Pennsylvania

Benjamin Hughes is perhaps the most visible connection between Brynmawr, Wales and Scranton, Pennsylvania. Hughes was born near Brynmawr in 1824. He was the son of Daniel and Esther Hughes. Daniel Hughes was a miner and it seems that early on the young Benjamin showed great talent for learning and mastering his father's trade. We see the Hughes family for the first time in the 1841 census of Brynmawr, and in subsequent returns. In 1845 Benjamin married Mary Davies, also from Brynmawr, and their first child, Esther was born the following year. Daniel and Esther Hughes remained in Brynmawr, while most of their children eventually emigrated to the United States. In 1848 Benjamin, Mary and Esther emigrated to America and eventually settled in Hyde Park. Within the next decade Hughes rose to prominent positions both with his employer and within the Hyde Park community. He was eventually put in charge of all underground mining operations for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company, who owned several large mines in Scranton, and in this capacity Hughes was responsible for recruiting hundreds of his fellow countrymen to Scranton. We know that many of these individuals were recruited from Hughes' home town of Brynmawr and from other communities of the Ebbw Vale. Because of his recruitment of Welsh mining talent to Scranton (along with other reasons not mentioned here), Benjamin Hughes is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of Hyde Park.

This page features biographical information on Benjamin Hughes, much of which has been taken from his obituary found immediately below. I welcome any additions or corrections to this record.

Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

Scranton Republican, Monday, April 2, 1900

BENJAMIN HUGHES DIES SUDDENLY
Pneumonia Caused His Demise at 2:15 O'clock Yesterday Afternoon

HIS WAS A USEFUL CAREER
Deceased's Family of Daughters Present at His Death Bed.
Was General Mine Superintendent of D.L. &W. Company for Nearly 35 Years.
Held Numerous High Offices in Institutions Which HE Organized.
Honored by All Who Knew Him.
Church Members Take Action.
The Funeral.

The residents of the West Side as well as other sections of the city and county are today mourning the death of Benjamin Hughes, the widely known and highly esteemed ex-general mine superintendent of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western mines, which occurred suddenly and very unexpectedly at 2:15 o'clock yesterday afternoon at his home, 1201 Washburn street. Pneumonia with which he was afflicted only since Wednesday last, is supposed to have been the cause of his death.

Mr. Hughes expired in his seventy-fifth year and was one of the best known and most useful citizens of the city. The announcement of his heath was a shock to the residents of Scranton, the majority of whom were unaware of his illness. So unexpected and sudden was the news that those who heard it were loath to believe the report true. Hundreds of the deceased's friends rushed to the home to verify the rumor. Mrs. Hughes, the widow whose age is 82 years, was the greatest sufferer from the terrible shock, but considering her advanced age and enfeebled condition, withstood the ordeal exceedingly well. She was the recipient of many expressions of condolences and is joined in her bereavement by thousands of friends. His death was the theme of conversation. At the First Welsh Baptist Church, where the deceased was the most prominent and active spirit, after his demise was made known to the Sunday School members and the congregation, there seemed to be something sadly wanting and there was little interest manifested in the religious exercises.

HIS FINAL ILLNESS

Possessing a wonderful physique and in the enjoyment of what evidently appeared to be excellent health, it seems yet difficult to believe that he is dead and could have passed away so fast. One of his last acts was to offer a prayer (?) at noon yesterday, during which he said, "Meet me there," to his loving wife and his devoted daughters, Mrs. A.B. Eynon, Mrs. Jenkin T. Reese, Mrs. William J. Stephens and Mrs. Luther Jones, who were present at his bedside. His other daughter, Mrs. John Evans of Westerly, R.I., who was called by telegraph at a late hour on Saturday night was unable to be present. She is expected here today.

Though having complained of a heavy cold during the past few weeks, which gave the members of his household no unusual alarm, he was able to be about as usual and on the fatal Wednesday when he was re-elected president of the West Side bank for the sixteenth consecutive time at the annual meeting of the board of directors, he left the house to keep an engagement with an old friend at the bank building. There he remained for an hour and a half and contracted an additional cold, which produced such severe and repeated chills that he was compelled to return at noon to his home and sought his bed immediately. His physician, Dr. W.E. Allen, who had served him and his family for over a quarter of a century, was summoned. Faithfully, he labored for hours before the patient's former temperature could be restored. On Saturday afternoon Mr. Hughes lapsed into unconsciousness, but at times rallied sufficiently to converse. Every advancing hour seemed to inform him that his end was near and oftentimes he told them as much. At 8 o'clock on the same evening he became so delirious and so continued until noon yesterday, when he regained consciousness for a few minutes. Again he sank into a comatose state, never again to speak. As the hands of the clock pointed to the hour of 2:15 o'clock, death came peacefully.

FIRST CHIRCH NOTIFIED

One of the first duties which the family performed was to notify the Sunday school of the First Welsh Baptist church, which was then in session. Mr. David J. Davies, who succeeded the deceased as superintendent of the Sunday school department, after thirty five years of continuous service, relinquished only at Mr. Hughes' request, was among those who first received the sad message. To him it was an awful shock since Mr. Davies had acted in the capacity of assistant superintendent for Mr. Hughes for nearly a dozen years. They were staunch friends. The announcement made to the members assembled was equally as startling, and many in the room wiped from their eyes tears of sorrow and regret. Such was the effect upon the congregation which gathered to attend preaching services by the pastor, Rev. D. D. Hopkins, in the evening at 6 o'clock. In the meantime, the news spread with great rapidity.

AN INTERESTING LIFE

His was an interesting life, one worthy of emulation. The three-quarters of a century during which he had (unreadable passage) as well as the joy and benefit of others. To all who knew him, he appeared as a father, more than a friend, and thousands have profited by his indulgences. He possessed exceptional executive ability and conception. He was a champion of the Welsh people and enjoyed the confidence and esteem of the people of all nationalities.

He was born October 25, 1824 at Bryn Mawr, South Wales and his parents were identified with this history of that locality for many generations. He was one of twenty sons and daughters of Daniel and Esther Hughes, the latter having died at the age of 97 years, and the former at 68. Both were hard working, kind and pious. He was reared of a majority of the children, only three of whom are now living.

His education was limited to the knowledge he acquired during a brief attendance at the pay schools of his native land. At the age of ten years he began to assist his father in the mines and later was employed there. Afterwards he returned to assist in the management of his father's business. In the fall of 1848, at the age of 24 years, he left Liverpool on the sailer "Mary Pleasant," and after a voyage of 36 days arrived in Philadelphia whence he went to Pottsville, Pa. There he was employed in mining for the Philadelphia and Reading railway company until January 1850 when he came here.

CAREER IN SCRANTON

Mr. Hughes entered the employ of the Scranton Iron and Coal company. He resigned in July 1853 in order to accept with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western company as driver boss at the Diamond, and later as mine foreman. In 1865 he was promoted to the general mine superintendency of the company which he retained until he tendered his resignation on June 21, 1899. When Mr. Hughes began his service with the company there were only five shafts in this locality but today there are over thirty with twenty-one breakers, and nearly 1,200 men and boys employed therein.

In 1853 Mr. Hughes established his home on the West Side, and since 1870 had resided at the family homestead on Washburn street. He built several other dwellings in this community. When the West Side bank was instituted in the early 70s he was made vice president and assisted in its establishment. Sixteen years ago he succeeded Col. George Sanderson as the second president of the bank which position he had since retained. He was one of the organizers of the Cambrian Fire Insurance company, since disbanded, and was its first and only president.

HIS FIRST MARRIAGE

Before leaving Wales he married Miss Mary Davis who accompanied him to this country and remained here until her death. In November 1881 he was wedded to Mrs. Ann Rossar of Shamokin, Northumberland county, Pa., a native of the same town as her husband. In 1859 he was elected to the council of the borough of Hyde Park and served until 1862. A year previous he was school director, and for three years was a member of the select council for Scranton, serving as its president for one year. Fraternally he was a Mason, ranking very high in that order and having been one of the originators of Hyde Park Lodge No. 339 F. and A. M., in which organization he served in every official capacity

WAS A RELIGIOUS MAN

In the First Welsh Baptist church he was regarded as the pillar and nothing was done save with his approval. This was done because of his excellent judgement. He has occupied positions of honor and trust in the church and was president of the board of trustees, board of deacons, and at the head (unreadable passage). He was known as the father of Ivorism in this country and was the first grand president of the order of American True Ivorites for nine years. In this city he instituted the various lodges connected therewith. Mr. Hughes never wavered in his political affiliations, having always been an advocate of Republican principals. In 1892 he was a delegate to the convention at Minneapolis, Minn., that nominated Benjamin Harrison for president and had the honor of casting one of the original eleven votes of Pennsylvania for Mr. Harrison. He was accompanied by Judge E. N. Willard of this city, as co-delegate. In company with his bosom friend Hon. John T. Williams, and Congressman William Connell, he attended the National Republican convention at St Louis in 1896.

Deceased is survived by five daughters, namely, Mrs. John Evans, Westerly, R.I.; Mrs. Elizabeth Jones, widow of the late Luther Jones, Mrs. A. B. Eynon, Mrs. Jennie Stephens, Mrs. Jenkin T. Reese, all of Scranton; also 14 grandchildren. Three brothers, now deceased, were Daniel Hughes of Scranton, whose age was 86 years; Evan Hughes, foreman of the ill-fated Avondale mine, who died during that memorable disaster in September, 1869; Elias Hughes, foreman of the Clear Springs colliery, Pittston; a sister, also deceased, Mrs. Mary Meredith, Scranton, Mrs. Rebecca Hughes of Wales, Mrs. Rachel James, Scranton, and Charlotte Hughes, sisters, also survive him.

Personally Mr. Hughes was liberal enterprising and merited the success he achieved only after years of earnest and honest labor. In spite of his advanced years he maintained the vigor of his prime and his mental faculties were keen. His life principally was employed in devoting himself to his fellow countrymen, to whom he was ever loyal, and others. He always sought to assist those who were struggling against adversity by a kindly nature and unlimited generosity. He was respected by all with whom he had commercial or social relationships. By these his absence will be keenly felt.

CHURCH MEMBERS ACT

At the close of yesterday's session of the Sunday school and last night's preaching services, action was taken by the members. A committee consisting of the pastor, Red. D. D. Hopkins, Evan P. Davies and James Hughes was appointed by the board of deacons and elders to draft suitable resolutions of condolence. Messrs. James A. Evans, Miss Sarah Meredith and Hon. John T. Williams will represent the Sunday School in the same capacity.

THE FUNERAL SERVICE

Late last night the family decided that the funeral services will be held at the family residence tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock, and at the First Welsh Baptist church, on South Main avenue, at 2:30 o'clock. Rev, D. D. Hopkins, pastor, will officiate. Interment will be made in Forest Hill cemetery.


A Biography of Benjamin Hughes from the book
Portrait and Biographical Record of Lackawanna County,
Pennsylvania
, Chapman Publishing Co., New York, 1897.

(Some of the information for the obituary above was taken from this earlier article.)

HON. BENJAMIN HUGHES. This recognized leader among the Welsh people of the county, and one, too, who enjoys the esteem and confidence of people of all nationalities in the community, is Benjamin Hughes of Scranton, who, since 1865 has held the responsible position of general mine superintendent for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company, and is also the president of the West Side Bank. Mr. Hughes was born near Bryn-Mawr, Breconshire, Wales, and is a member of a family identified for many generations with the history of that locality. He is a son of Daniel and Esther Hughes, the latter of whom died at the age of ninety-seven and the former, who was proprietor of a leased iron ore mine, died when sixty-eight. Both were workers in the Baptist Church and were hard-working, kind and pious. They reared the majority of their sixteen children, but only three are now living, two of these being in America. Evan, who was foreman in the mines at Avondale, Pa., was killed in the nine disaster there in 1869. Elias, who was foreman at Crystal Springs, West Pittston, Pa., died in September, 1894.

The education of Benjamin Hughes was limited to the knowledge acquired during a brief attendance at the pay schools of his native land. When ten years old he began to assist his father in the mine, and later was employed in coal mines, but afterward returned to assist in the management of his father's business. In the fall of 1848, when twenty-four years of age, he left Liverpool on the sailer "Mary Pleasant," and after a voyage of thirty-six days arrived in Philadelphia, whence he went to Pottsville. There he was employed in mining for the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company until January of 1850, when he came to Slocum's Hollow and entered the employ of the Scranton Iron & Coal Company. That position he resigned in July, 1853, in order to accept a position with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company in the Diamond mine. After two years he became foreman of the mine, and in 1856 was promoted to be general mine superintendent, in which capacity he has since been retained. At the time he became connected with the company there were only five shafts here, but this number has since been increased to thirty, with twenty-one breakers. Six thousand nine hundred and forty-seven men are employed inside and three thousand three hundred and ninety outside, making the total number of men ten thousand three hundred and thirty-seven. The work at the mines is superintended by wire from his office in the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western depot. In 1895 one hundred and seven thousand, four hundred and forty and one-half kegs of powder were used in the mines. Of these mines all but six are in Lackawanna County, the remainder being in Luzerne.

In 1853 Mr. Hughes established his home on the west side, and since 1870 has resided at No. 1201 Washburn Street. He has built other houses in the neighborhood, having for years been interested in real estate operations. When the West Side Bank was organized in the early '70s, he was vice president and assisted in its establishment, but for a number of years he has been its president. He was one of the organizers of the Cambrian Mutual Fire Insurance Company on the west side and has been its president from the first.

Before leaving Wales Mr. Hughes married Miss Mary Davis, who accompanied him to this country and remained here until her death. They were parents of five daughters and one son. Those living are: Esther, wife of Rev. John Evans, of Westerly, R.I.; Elizabeth, Mrs. Luther Jones, of Hyde Park; Annie, wife of A.B. Eynon, cashier of the West Side Bank of Scranton; Norma, the wife of Jenkin T. Reese, a mining engineer with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western road. In November, 1881, Mr. Hughes married Mrs. Ann Rosser, of Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pa., a native of the same town as her husband.

In 1859 Mr. Hughes was elected a member of the council of the borough of Hyde Park and served until 1862. In 1861 he was school director. For three years he was a member of the select council of Scranton, being president of the board for one year. Fraternally he is connected with the Masonic Order. In the Baptist Church he holds the office of president of the board of trustees, served on the building committee and had been superintendent of the Sunday school for years. He assisted in organizing the Ivorites Society at Scranton and was the first grand president, which office he held for about nine years; he is still actively associated with the society. He has never wavered in his political affiliations, having always been a champion of Republican principles. In 1892 he was a delegate to the convention at Minneapolis that nominated Benjamin Harrison for the presidency, and had the honor of casting one of the original eleven votes from Pennsylvania for Harrison. He also attended the national convention of 1896 at St Louis. Personally, he is liberal and enterprising, and merits the success he has attained. In spite of advancing years, his body retains much of the vigor of his prime, while his mental faculties are as keen as in early life. His has been a busy and useful career, and not only has he succeeded in raising himself from poverty to a position of influence, but he has also helped many another who was struggling against adverse fortune, and by his kindly nature and generosity has gained the respect of all with whom he has business or social relations.


Hughes is mentioned prominently in the book by William D. Jones, Wales in America, Scranton and the Welsh, 1860-1920, University of Wales Press, 1993. In his book Mr. Jones explains why Benjamin Hughes was so important to the development of Hyde Park/Scranton:

Benjamin Hughes (1824-1900) was one of the most important men in late-nineteenth-century Scranton, and undoubtedly the most important Welshman. A leading figure in Hyde Park's political, cultural and commercial life, his influence was ultimately a consequence of the powerful position he occupied in the D.L. & W. Hughes was born in Brynmawr, Breconshire, in 1824, the son of a foreman at the Nantyglo Ironworks. He emigrated to the United States in 1848. In 1855, after working as a miner in Pottsville for seven years, he became superintendent of the D.L. & W.'s Diamond Mine in Hyde Park, and ten years later he was appointed as that company's general inside superintendent, the second most important position in the industry throughout the Lackawanna Valley. As such, he was in charge of underground operations in all the D.L. & W.'s mines, which by 1890 included responsibility for around 7,000 men. Hughes mining credentials were impeccable: widely regarded as the foremost expert on mining in the north-east Pennsylvania coalfield, he was a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers and served on the Pennsylvania Board of Examiners for mine inspectors.

Throughout his life Hughes dedicated himself to furthering the interests of his countrymen, particularly in the mining industry. He was in many ways the father of the Welsh community in Scranton, since he actively recruited Welsh miners to the city and provided them with jobs. He was also largely responsible for setting up the Welsh Philosophical Society, which was a training ground for Welsh mining supervisors. ...Such was his devotion to ensuring that the Welsh maintained their predominant position in the company's hierarchy that he often wrote to his subordinates in the Welsh language, especially regarding misdemeanors on their past which he did not wish the company and his superior, W.R. Storrs, to know about.


The Hughes plot in Forest Hill cemetery near Scranton.

The visible markers here include an obelisk of modest dimensions in the middle of the plot, inscribed on three sides, the names being Benjamin Hughes, his first wife Mary Davis and their son Benjamin. There is also a ground marker for daughter Elizabeth, wife of Luther Jones. There are other family members buried in the plot in unmarked graves. These include Rachel Jones, Benjamin's sister who was born in Wales, lived in Clark's Summit and died in Scranton on 18 May 1904 at age 86. Benjamin's daughter Norma Hughes Reese, and wife of Jenkin T. Reese, is also here. She died in Scranton on 28 July 1937 at age 69. Also present is Jennie Stanwich, Benjamin's daughter who died in Newton, Pa., on 29 June 1927 at age 62.

The ground marker for Elizabeth is in good condition, however the obelisk is in poor condition and here only the inscription of Benjamin Jr. is completely legible. The inscriptions for Benjamin Sr. and Mary are barely legible and will likely soon become completely unreadable. Therefore this record is an important one, as it documents the final resting place of one of Brynmawr's most successful native sons, and one of Scranton's most accomplished businessmen and citizens.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
October 2004

Below: general views of the Benjamin Hughes plot

Front panel of obelisk facing the road (barely legible)

Mary
Wife of B. Hughes
Born in Nantyglo
Monmouthshire
Jan 28 1826
Died
Oct 8 1880

Left panel of obelisk (barely legible)

Benjamin Hughes
Born
Oct 25 1824
Died
Apr 1 1900

Rear panel of obelisk (legibility good)

Benjamin D. Hughes
Born
June 5, 1859
Died
June 24, 1879

Ground marker in front and to the right of obelisk (legibility good)

Elizabeth H.
Wife of
Luther Jones
1849-1923


Follow this link for a genealogy report on the descendants of Daniel & Esther Hughes
Marriage certificate of Benjamin Hughes and Mary Davies, Llanelly Parish, Breconshire, Wales
Benjamin Hughes' naturalization papers.

Obituary of Benhamin's 2nd wife Ann
Return to the Prominent Welshmen of Scranton page
Return to the Brynmawr-Scranton connection page
Learn about Benjamin Hughes' friend and contemporary in Hyde Park, Thomas Eynon
Learn about John J. Thomas, also of Brynmawr and Hyde Park
Read more about the history of Hyde Park
Return to the Brynmawr, Wales pages
Return to the main page at the Thomas Family Web Site

Text and photographs copyright by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved
e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net