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 Benjamin Watrous

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Benjamin Watrous

Benjamin Watrous was born 11 June 1831 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was the son of Jeremiah Waterhouse (1798-1855) and Sarah Lanphear (1799-1833) and came from a long line of New Englanders.

Jeremiah was a farmer. in Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Benjamin was his third child by Sarah. Benjamin’s siblings were Sarah Maria Watrous (1823-1894) and Leonard Waters (1828-1901). Jeremiah had two additional marriages, secondly to Cynthia Meacham, who died in 1844; and third to Mary McGregory in 1846. Benjamin had two half-siblings, Minerva Watrous (1835-1859) and Truman Waters (1838-1910). Their mother was Cynthia.

Benjamin received a common-school education and helped on his father's farm until in 1850 he set out for California with his brother-in-law, Abel Henry Calkins, the husband of Sarah Maria Watrous, to the call of finding gold and striking it rich.

They secured tickets at three hundred dollars each, which insured them a passage by the second trip of a certain steamship from Panama to San Francisco. They left New York 30 April 1850, by the steamer Georgia to Havana, and from there by the steamer Falcon to Chagres, then by boat to Gorgona, and from that point overland to Panama. But upon their arrival in Panama it was learned that their ship would not take the passage for some months, and, as they held a written agreement with the company issuing their tickets that they should not be delayed more than two weeks, necessary steps were taken and the agents at Panama were compelled to refund the three hundred dollars of the passage money. They then proceeded to their destination on board a French bark, arriving at San Francisco on 6 August 1850.

They proceeded to the southern mine area of the Mother Lode. While Abel engaged in mining for awhile, he turned his attention to practicing law and was elected judge. In June 1854, Abel resigned his office and returned home to his wife and farming in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

Benjamin went to mining in Tuolumne County and continued in that line of work seven years. Among other ventures he embarked with fifteen others in quartz mining at Carson Hill, Calaveras county, and lost money in the enterprise. He then engaged in raising hay, below Chinese Camp, about seventeen miles from Sonora, and sold some of his product at good prices. He once saw some hay sold there at $150 a ton.

By 1860 Benjamin was residing in Chinese Camp and was a drover engaged in hog-raising, which he continued for several years, together with other stock, in the later years.

In 1863 Benjamin went East by the Nicaragua route to be married to Ellen Maria Goff. Ellen was the niece to his brother-in-law, Abel H. Calkins.

Ellen was born in Ware, Massachusetts on 7 September 1846. She was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Goff (1816-1859) and Amelia Calkins (1820-1899). She was 2nd eldest of four children. Her siblings were Henry Franklin Goff (1844-1934), Mary Jane Goff (1851-1914), and Emma Amelia Goff (1859-1923).

In the spring of 1863 Ellen received a letter from her Uncle Henry (Abel H. Calkins) to teach school in Longmeadow. After discussing with her mother, Ellen responded that she would like the position and would report the first Saturday before school started. In May of 1863, Ellen was certified as the new schoolteacher in Longmeadow’s District School No. 7.

But it was exactly 4 months after she received her teaching certificate, and 5 days before her 17th birthday, that she was married to Benjamin Watrous married in Three Rivers, Massachusetts, on September 2, 1863. This was a surprise to many of Ellen’s young friends. One friend, Nellie Canterbury, wrote Ellen in December 1863, “You need not think you are going to escape a severe scolding though, for you are not. When the news came to Ware that you were married we were dreadfully angry. Then to finish the programme - you started away for Cal., without even bidding your long tried friends Adieu.” But Ellen was forgiven as Nellie admitted that the news made her friends angry only because they were not the lucky ones. Nellie was thirteen when she wrote the letter.

The new Mr. & Mrs. Watrous set out for California a few weeks after their marriage, leaving New York in October, and arriving by way of Panama and San Francisco in Chinese Camp, Tuolumne County, November 13, 1863.

Benjamin resumed his stock-raising pursuits in Chinese Camp. On 10 September 1865, the Watrous’ first child, Willie was born. Sadly, Willie passed away the following year on 8 May 1866 and was buried in Chinese Camp in the City Cemetery just east of the town. On 29 March 1867, Frederick Watrous was born, and on 26 October 1869, Emma Jane Watrous was also born in Chinese Camp.

On 25 June 1870, Benjamin, while on one of his many trips buying and selling hogs, Benjamin purchased a lot in Stockton from B. F. Foster for $250. He told his wife the next day that he had looked for a house, but none had suited him. He continued to look but decided to wait and see how a house that L. Creech (Laurel Lafayette Creech) was building nearby. Benjamin wanted the same plan, if he liked it. He must have like it, as by August 1870 the framing was going up and in November 1870, the family took residence in Stockton.

In July1872, Ellen’s mother moved to Stockton from Massachusetts. She had been married to Ephraim Fenton since 1869, but she came alone. Ephraim died in February 1880 and Amelia married a shoe maker, Thomas Henry Wright seven months to the day after Ephraim’s death. Ellen’s siblings also moved to California, except Mary Jane, who stayed in Massachusetts. Henry was in Stockton in 1872, but settled in Oakland by 1876. Emma Jane was also in Stockton in the 1870s. It should be noted that none of Benjamin’s relatives relocated to California.

Benjamin continued to trade in hogs and sheep for a few years. He also bought and sold lands in San Joaquin County as well as in Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties including 640 acres, mostly in Merced County, which was farmed by renters, and 6,000 acres in Kern County, not under cultivation. Among the property was land in Kern County known as the Rosedale Colony. This property stayed in the family until descendants sold it, but retained mineral rights. In the late 2000s oil leases were solicited from the descendants, but no drilling ever started and the leases expired without renewal in 2016. Rosedale Colony was never a success either, but today the area has homes as suburbs of Bakersfield.

After moving to Stockton, more children were born. Alice Maria Watrous was born 11 June 1872 in Stockton, and brother, Benjamin Franklin Watrous, was also born on 18 May 1875 in Stockton.

Then Ellen became ill in the mid-late 1870s and spent much time in Oakland and San Francisco seeking treatment. This caused Benjamin much concern for her recovery, although not much detail is known as to the true nature of the illness, but electric batteries were employed to help in treatment as was a practice at the time. During this time Ellen’s sister, Emma Jane , helped in caring for the children.

Ellen’s absence from home during her illnesses contributed to the many letters written over the years. There is one letter written on 4 July 1878 from a business associate of Benjamin’s from Chewaucan River area on the California-Oregon border. Benjamin had some horses up there being maintained by his friend. There was a hostile outbreak between the Indians and settlers, defended by US soldiers. This was part of the Bannock Indian War. It seems a young brave stole one of Benjamin’s mares, “if you want your mare, you better come up here and get her. as there is an Indian riding her.” Benjamin wrote his comments on the original letter and forwarded it to Ellen to read in Oakland, “I think I will let the Indian ride the mare a while before I go for her.” This was characteristic of the dialog between Benjamin and Ellen in their letters - the subtle and endearing humor of New Englanders.

As the 1890’s came, Emma and Frederick each married. Alice was in the first graduating class of Stockton High School in 1890. The youngest, Frank (Benjamin Franklin) had little interest in school and had to be prodded by his mother to even attend. But Alice had a yearning for higher education, and her parents fully supported her. So Alice proceeded to attend the University of California at Berkeley as a student in Literature. From this there is a wealth of letters that Ellen wrote to Alice while she was in attendance at the university.

In the letters Ellen discussed many of this issues a young woman encountered by attending university at that time. Such matters as should a young lady attend gymnasium. Alice’s mother decided that if gymnasium was good for boys, it must be equally good for girls.

Deciding if having their daughter's class photo with her hair down was appropriate, was actively debated in their letters. Both Ellen and Benjamin felt whether to have the hair up or down in the class photograph was a decision best left to their daughter trusting she would do what was best.

In the spring of 1892 it was time to remodel the house and bring it up to date. A bathroom was added on for in-door plumbing. New carpeting in places along with new wallpaper. But Benjamin was happy with the house the way it was. Things like in-door plumbing for baths were adverse ideas to him as he felt too much water was unhealthy. With wallpaper he had ideas for papering his out house as an upgrade. Benjamin threatened to take his hammock to Emma Jane’s basement for the summer as he said that was the best part of the house. Needless to say, changes were managed by Ellen. During this time, their buggy was also in for repair. Ellen could not wait to get it back as she enjoyed going for daily rides.

During this same spring of 1892, Emma Jane and her husband, Benjamin Woodhull, built their new home on a portion of the original lot that her father had purchased. Emma could sit by the dining room window of her parent’s house and look where her new house was to rise.

In 1893, Ellen again became ill and had to go to Oakland for treatment. She succumbed to her illness on 24 July 1893 in Oakland. It was now Emma and Alice who looked after Benjamin. Alice was to graduate from Berkeley in 1894, but instead she came home and never returned to school.

In August 1899 Sara and Mary Waters, Benjamin’s nieces, came form Massachusetts to visit the family. Around 1908, Benjamin traveled Massachusetts visiting both Watrous and Goff family. These bonds with the East held until the early 1950s when Benjamin’s daughter, Emma, was the last to pass away. It was with Sara Waters that Emma communicated with most
frequently. Benjamin lived his life out in Stockton in the house he built in 1870. He passed away on 10 February 1914 and is buried in the Stockton Rural Cemetery in a plot with Ellen and other beloved family.

Ironically, of the five children Ellen and Benjamin had, four survived. Of these children, there were five grandchildren, but only three survived to adulthood; and only two had descendants - Frederick Watrous’ children, George and Ethel Watrous.

George Watrous relocated to Sacramento. His two daughters had families around that area.

Ethel remained in Stockton. She and her husband, Roy Eugene Piper, had four children whose families and descendants live in California, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts.

It was Ethel who was fondly called “Kidlet” by her grandfather Benjamin. And it was Ethel who would remind her grandchildren of their pioneering ancestor who came to California in search of gold.


An Illustrated History of San Joaquin County California, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago 1890, pp. 321-322.

Biographical Review: This Volume Contains Biographical sketches of the Leading Citizens of Hampden County, Massachusetts, Fred H. Allis; Julius J. Estey; L. N. Hawley; D. Sherman; et. al., Biographical Review Pub. Co., Boston, 1895, pages 343-344.

Genealogical references and sources available at

Letters are available at

Photographs, images, and self sketches are in the possession of Ken Piper.

© Ken Piper 2016.

Family Members

  • Created by: Ken
  • Added: 24 Dec 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 32385205
  • Ken
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Benjamin Watrous (11 Jun 1831–10 Feb 1914), Find A Grave Memorial no. 32385205, citing Stockton Rural Cemetery, Stockton, San Joaquin County, California, USA ; Maintained by Ken (contributor 46850449) .