Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Gooch was born March 20, 1831, in Machias, Washington County, Maine, the son of Benjamin (b. 1786) and Lucy (Boyington, d. 1834).
In 1834 Benjamin Sr. and his family left Maine. He and Lucy set out with their nine children traveling westward on the Erie Canal, “and while in the immediate vicinity of Rochester, in the middle of the night, the wife and mother rose from her berth, made her way to the deck, and as the watchman observed her she suddenly walked overboard and sunk from sight. The watchman roused the occupants of the boat and in half an hour her lifeless body was rescued from the cold waters. Every effort at resuscitation was made, but in vain, and she was buried in the beautiful cemetery of Mount Hope, in the southern suburb of the city of Rochester, and the bereaved family pursued their sad journey to their destination.” Benjamin “had disposed of all his business interests on leaving . . . and the money realized -- all in gold -- was in a belt clasped around the body of the wife, and was the means of her death, as its weight prevented her from rising to the surface.”
Soon afterwards the family settled in Wayne County, Michigan where Benjamin Sr. met and married Phebe Sherman; they had four children. In 1843 they moved to Kent County on the western side of the state where Ben Sr. died of smallpox (sometime after 1850 presumably). Phebe died in 1847 in Plymouth, Wayne County. Ben Jr. was described as
A level-headed boy, having a well-balanced temperament, formed of the excellent traits of a mixed Scotch and English ancestry, the former predominating and descending to him in the maternal line. The element of active effort is his leading characteristic and has marked all his life. He is an embodiment of the principle of doing a duty himself instead of delegating what needs to be done to the chance ogf a transferred duty. His education consisted chiefly of a comprehensive knowledge of Daboll’s Arithmetic, obtained by resolute braving of the wintry winds daily a distance of nearly two miles, where he was a pupil in a log school-house with horizontal windows, stone fireplace, “stick” chimney and slab seats. But in this instance, as in thousands of others, the achievements of Mr. Gooch attest the value of rugged training and lack of the effeminating appurtances of the life of today, which fosters weakness and extracts the vigor and fire from the human composition.
While still a young man Ben’s father was engaged by a Mr. Randolph to transport a load of stoves to Lansing, Ingham County, where the new state capital had been created, and Benjamin went along to help. “Mr. Randolph gave [Ben Jr.] in addition a quantity of cast-iron boot-jacks to peddle in the city on commission, which he did, and sold them when there was not a painted building in the place. All finishing material had to be drawn from Detroit with teams, and the people waited for the advent of winter and snow in order to facilitate transportation of heavy merchandise.” By 1850 Benjamin (elder) was working for a farmer named John Cotton in Alpine, Kent County, Michigan.
Two years after his stepmother died Ben moved to Virginia “where he worked by the month in a steam saw and grist mill, and also aided in the management of a carding machine. He operated in that capacity until 1853, when he returned to Michigan and engaged as a farm assistant and as a lumberman in the woods near Grand Rapids.” Sometime in the fall of 1855, Ben along with three other men driving an ox team,
proceeded to the northern extremity of the thoroughfare in Mecosta County, to a point four miles north of the present city of Big Rapids, when the site of the plucky and prosperous city was not marked by a single structure. On the fifth day of September he began cutting a road northward into the wilderness, crossing the boundary of Mecosta County into Osceola County on the 14th day of the same month. This was the first wagon road in Osceola County. A few settlers had come the previous spring, and had utilized the water routes, coming hither by means of canoes on the Muskegon [river], the general method of travel in Northern Michigan previous to the day of railroads and State thoroughfares. The line of road constructed by Mr. Gooch extended to Cat Creek, a distance of 16 miles. The party was joined by Delos A. Blodgett, who made a permanent settlement and became inseparably connected with the development of Osceola County, but who removed to Grand Rapids. . . . Nicholas Rescoe also came with them.
In late November of 1855 Ben hired a Mr. and Mrs. Dildine and their 11-year-old daughter at Grand Rapids and brought them to Cat Creek. That same winter he “shot a large number of deer and a lynx” as well as six wolves. By virtue of living on the frontier, “the exigencies of the time in which he became a resident of Northern Michigan developed his abilities as a hunter, and he [shot] deer in the counties of Kent, Newaygo, Mecosta, Osceola, Missaukee and Clare.”
That winter Ben worked as a foreman for a logging party and lumber camp. In the spring of 1856 he acquired some 160 acres of government land in what would eventually become Richland Township, Osceola County, and where he continued to live for many years; he eventually added 40 more acres. “He made a small clearing on his original purchase, built a log shanty and entered with characteristic vigor and energy into the work of clearing his farm.”
In the spring of 1857 he set out 100 apple-trees on his farm, which he bought from John Foxbury, of Walker Township [Kent County], and drew from Grand Rapids with an ox-team, a distance of 75 miles, as the road was constructed. . . . When these trees were planted the ground was still the resort of deer, wolves and foxes. The orchard scheme of Mr. Gooch was the source of much comment among the farmers of Grand Rapids and vicinity, as it was firmly believed that apples could not be raised so far north as Osceola County. He was told by one distinguished gentleman that some of his trees would live and blossom on the southern side and perhaps one or two apples might mature on the south side at the core, but the severity of the climate would prevent the sap circulating all around the apple. The apple crop of the orchard in 1884 is 400 bushels. The fact is, the fruit is more perfect and hardy than in regions farther south.
Benjamin also became well known for his faculty as a “pedestrian.” According to one story in the fall of 1857 he became troubled by a decayed tooth. Seeking to relieve the suffering himself he applied the only available instrument, “an old fashioned pair of turnkeys and on their application to the tooth it was crushed proving only an aggravation of the difficulty. Mr. Gooch retired with a determination to endure the suffering, but it proved too much for his endurance, and he arose before morning and started afoot for Grand Rapids, walking the entire distance to that city, where he procured the services of L. D. Rogers. . . . Traversing the distance from Richland Township to Grand Rapids in those early days was a common practice with Mr. Gooch, who has preserved no record of the number of times he has made the trip -- ‘hundreds of times’.”
By 1860 Benjamin was living in Greene Township, Osceola County (he owned $1000 worth of real estate); two farms away lived the Robbins family. Frank Robbins would also join the 3rd Michigan.
Benjamin also donated the land in Richland Township for the first schoolhouse -- which was built on the northwest quarter of section 24. Ben served as Highway Commissioner for the entire County “which was then attached for municipal purposes to Mecosta County, and known as Green Township.” In the spring of 1861, when Richland Township was formally organized he was elected Town Treasurer, Justice of the Peace and School Inspector. He was also one of the judges of election.
Benjamin stood 5’8” with hazel eyes, brown hair and a light complexion, and was 30 years old and probably living in Big Rapids, Mecosta County, when he enlisted in Company F on May 13, 1861. The regiment left Grand Rapids for Washington on June 13, 1861, and arrived at their first encampment in the east at Chain Bridge along the Potomac on Sunday afternoon. According to a story he told years later, “when foraging in the corn and potato fields beyond the lines of Union pickets, the party was discovered by rebels, who sent a shell into the field they had just left. No one was injured, but they returned to gather the potatoes dug by the missile, which they ate with a grim relish, in consideration of the murderous intent which failed of its purpose and added to their stores.”
According to Benjamin he was wounded four times during his service in the war. He was first shot in the right arm and struck in the right shoulder by a shell fragment at the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, but apparently the injuries were not serious and he remained in the ranks. According to information he gave after the war, at Fair Oaks he was shot through the biceps of the right arm “compelling me to carry my arm in a sling 16 days, and a fragment of a shell cut and burned the right shoulder blade.”
He was Color Corporal during the battle of Second Bull Run on August 29, 1862, and was wounded by a gunshot in the right thigh, and reportedly spent some two months in the hospital. Indeed, in 1865, Edwin S. Pierce, former Captain of Company F, stated that Ben was indeed the Color Bearer and saw him fall and carry the colors off the field.
By early September of 1862 he was reported as a patient in Cliffburne Hospital in Washington, DC, and according to a statement given by Dr. Louis Yerkes in 1907, “as a result of the second wound [on August 29, 1862] in the right calf he was confined to the hospital at Bull Run for some time, and then transferred to Washington and from there to Philadelphia, and recovered from the wound in November following. . . .” While in Philadelphia he was possibly a patient in Odd Fellows Hall hospital on Fifth Street, and was a Corporal detached on recruiting service from September 22, 1862, through April of 1863. (Later Ben reported that he remained in Philadelphia “until sometime in November, then was ordered home to Grand Rapids, Michigan, on recruiting service.”
He rejoined the Regiment probably sometime in April, and was possibly wounded slightly on May 3, 1863, during the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia (he was reported absent wounded in a hospital during the month of May).
Ben remained on recruiting duty in Michigan from late November of December of 1862 through the end of April of 1863.
He soon rejoined the Regiment, however, and was apparently wounded in the calf of his right leg on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “This injury was so severe as to cause him to be sent to the hospital, and his life was seriously imperiled by the appearance of gangrene in the wound, and from which he remained eight months in the hospital.” Indeed, he was subsequently hospitalized during August and September, and in October was absent sick in the general hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from wounds received at Gettysburg. Again, according to Dr. Yerkes, “as a result of the wound in the right calf he was confined to the Baltimore hospital, and from there transferred to [a hospital in West] Philadelphia; that while in the hospital the said wound on the right calf developed gangrene, necrosis and septicemia at three different times and the wound did not heal until the Spring of 1864. . . .” In any event, he remained absent wounded in the hospital until he was mustered out of the service on June 20 or 21, 1864.
After he was discharged Benjamin returned to his farm in Richland, Osceola County, and in the spring of 1865 he was elected Supervisor of Richland Township, “which then comprised the entire County.
He married New Hampshire native Desdemona Harrington (1831-1895), on October 17, 1865, in Ionia, Ionia County, and they had one child, an adopted daughter Sylvia E. (b. 1868, Mrs. Thomas Kincade).
Desdemona, who was born in New Hampshire, moved to the vicinity of Grand Rapids with her parents in 1838. (By 1860 she was living with her parents in Walker, Kent County.)
There were no district schools in those days in that region, and she was taught at home with her younger sister and brother by an elder sister who had been educated in the East. Before she was 16 she had read Rollins’ Ancient History and Josephus, besides Scott’s and Byron’s poems, and worse yet Young’s Night Thoughts, Milton’s Paradise Lost and other similar productions. Her mind did not give way however, as might be supposed. She didn’t even die, but came very near it; was very sick for more than a year, and was only saved by a kind mother’s intelligent care.
She went to Grand Rapids which had grown somewhat, and attended Prof. Everett’s Academy. The professor was a man of gigantic intellect, and she nearly worshipped him for his knowledge.
Mrs. Everett taught the female department, was remarkably sweet-tempered and agreeable, as gentle and considerate as a kind mother to all her pupils. Both of them understood making learning a delight, and she loved them both. . . . She left the academy to teach a district school, but returned again in company with her younger sister, after which she taught the village school of Newaygo a year, rode thither from home, a distance of 36 miles, on horseback (no stagecoach nor railroad from Grand Rapids to Newaygo then) -- rode a vicious black horse belonging to Benj. Wright, who then carried the weekly mail between the two places. Nearly every foot of the road led through dense, primeval forest, but she enjoyed its gloomy grandeur, also the spirited paces of the horse. He would pace, trot or gallop, at the behest of his rider. And here let it be stated, the same horse carried home the teacher in addition to the weight of the mail bags, when the school term was done. Then she attended the union school on the east side [of the Grand River] one term to study French and the higher mathematics. She also taught one term in the same school while Rev. James Ballard was Principal. . . . Afterwards she taught two years in succession in the upper department of the same school when Prof. Chesebro was Principal. Her health began to fail [and she] went home to rest, then taught at the village school of Laphamville (now Rockford) several terms, after which she taught the winter term of school in 1860-61 in Big Rapids. She returned home and commenced the study of medicine with Dr. Henderson of Grand Rapids. [She] helped run a soldier’s aid society during the war of the Rebellion (being Secretary of the same) and continued teaching off and on till the close of the war.
In the fall of 1866 he was elected Surveyor of the territory of Osceola and Mecosta, then included in one County, and held the position two years.” He also served as Superintendent of the Poor, several terms as Justice of the Peace and as a director of the County fair. He also served as a director of the Farmers’ Mutual Insurance Company of Osceola, Lake and Wexford Counties.
By 1870 Benjamin was working as a farmer (he owned some $10,000 worth of real estate) and living with his wife in Hersey, Richmond Township, Osceola County. (Also living with them was one Phebe Harrington, Desdemona’s mother.)
He was residing near Hersey in 1876, and in fact he lived in the Hersey area for many years. (Probably because Hersey had the nearest post office.) And working as a farmer and living with his family in Richmond, Osceola County in 1880. In 1883 he was listed as living in Hersey and drawing $4.00 for a wounded right thigh (pension no. 51,704).
On September 28, 1898, Benjamin married Canadian-born Caroline McCall Yerkes (1840-1922), in Richmond Township. Her husband Herman Yerkes died in 1893, in Hersey. By 1898 Benjamin had apparently moved to Reed City.
He was a member of the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry Association, of Grand Army of the Republic Bagley Post No. 97 in Hersey, was a Republican in political conviction, a member of the Masons and belonged to the “Old Settlers Union” in Mecosta County.
Benjamin died of heart disease on July 5, 1904, in Richmond, Osceola County and was reportedly buried in Hersey cemetery, Osceola County (his first wife Desdemona died in Hersey). Two of his brothers are probably buried in Everett cemetery, in Newaygo County.
His widow Caroline received a pension (no. 828453). By 1916 she was living with her daughter, Mrs. Bertha Aldrich and her family at 1617 Washington Boulevard. in Chicago, Illinois.