Luke Jaco's Children: Benjamin Jaco and Emeretta Tucker, Part I
A few weeks ago I told you about Luke Jaco and the illegitimate children he had with Susannah Tucker. This week I want to tell you more about their children, Benjamin Jaco and Emeretta Tucker. After the paternity suit (or bastardy case, in the parlance of that time) against Luke Jaco was settled in Doddridge County Chancery Court in 1846, the two children were separated. Benjamin (age 3) went to live with Luke, while Emeretta (age 1) stayed with Susannah. But this was not the end of the story for these two siblings. It was through sheer happenstance that we can now witness how two siblings reunited after decades of separation.
There are some genealogists who have no interest in history and some historians who have no interest in genealogy. As far as I’m concerned, the two studies go hand-in-hand. Before I can discover someone’s story, I first have to learn who their family members were, who their neighbors were, where they lived, and what their occupation was. After I have all this information, I can then look for the records that put flesh on these bare facts.
The Children of Luke Jaco
(From a series of articles that appeared in The Doddridge Independent)
One of the best places to look for this information is at the West Virginia State Archives in Charleston. While I was looking through their online catalogue of manuscript holdings, I saw that they had a box of papers on the Bennington and Reddehase families and the military papers of Frederick Reddehase.. There was nothing in the description that led me to believe that it was anything other than a collection of genealogy and military information. But having done Emeretta’s genealogy, I knew that she had married a man named Frederick Reddehase, so on my next trip to Charleston, I made a point of asking to see these files. As I looked through the various folders, I found exactly what I thought I would find, with the exception of one folder. Folder #15 was labeled “Letters from Benjamin Jaco to his sister, Emeretta Reddehase.” Inside was a bundle of aging letters from Benjamin to Emeretta ranging from 1917 to 1930. These papers had been kept in a trunk after Emeretta’s death and were later donated by Emeretta’s granddaughter, Joette Bennington Mealy, to the West Virginia State Archives. I will share excerpts from these letters, but first I need to fill you in on their lives up to that point.
Benjamin in Civil War (POW), Marries and Moves West
Benjamin Franklin Jaco grew to adulthood on his father Luke’s farm on Arnolds Creek in Doddridge County. We have no way to know what contact, if any, he may have had with his natural mother and sister after he moved in with his father. He enlisted at the age of 18 in Company E, 6th W.Va. Infantry, on September 16, 1861 at Camp Haymond in Ritchie County. The Company Descriptive Book states that he was a farmer, 5'10" in height, with a fair complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. His job was solely to protect the B&O Railroad from Rebel attacks.
Benjamin was captured by the Confederates at Bridgeport on April 30, 1863. After being imprisoned at Richmond, Virginia, he was paroled from Convalescent Camp on May 12, 1863. He was discharged on September 27, 1864 in Cumberland, Maryland upon expiration of his term.
In about 1866, Benjamin married Sarah Terry from Ritchie County. Sarah was the daughter of James Terry and Elizabeth Jaco, his father’s sister. So Benjamin Jaco and Sarah Terry were actually first cousins. They immediately moved to Pettis County, Missouri, where they had three sons. Their middle son, Luke, died there in 1876, at the age of seven. In 1887, Benjamin, Sarah and their two surviving sons, Robert and James, moved from Missouri to Cherokee County, Kansas. In 1910 Benjamin lost both his wife and his oldest son Robert to a “lingering illness.” They died less than two months apart. A few years after Sarah died, Benjamin married a widow named Cordelia Eliza Rodarmel Beechem.
Emeretta Stays in West Virginia
Emeretta Tucker and her mother Susannah moved from Doddridge to Grafton sometime prior to 1870. In Aug 1871, Emeretta married Henry Reddehase. Henry was born in Braunschweig, Germany in 1845 and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1857. Both Henry and his father, Frederick, served in Company H, 6th W.Va. Infantry, during the Civil War. Ironically, as a Sergeant, Henry Reddehase became Commander of Blockhouse #10 in West Union.
After their marriage, Henry and Emeretta remained in Taylor County where they raised five daughters and one son. Emeretta had an illegitimate daughter named Louisa in May 1870, prior to her marriage to Henry. Louisa died in 1874 from an unknown cause. Henry died in 1912, at the age of 66, from cancer..
Letters in a Trunk
This brings us to the bundle of letters. The first letter is dated Jan 31, 1917. At this point, Benjamin had already remarried and was living at the National Military Home for Veterans in Leavenworth, Kansas. Emeretta’s husband had died and she was living with her daughter in Parkersburg. Since we have only Benjamin’s letters to Emeretta, we can only speculate from his answers what Emeretta had written to him. This first letter appears to be a response from Benjamin to a letter he had received from Emeretta.
Jan. 31, 1917
Your letter of 29 received. I cannot express my joy to find out that you were my sister as I had heard you died at Grafton in childbirth. Judge Steward [sic] told me first, then I heard it 3 or 4 times after that. I was in W.Va. in 1886 when I heard it. Your picture and the last time we saw each other when the child was scalded fixes it beyond dispute. ...
Now sister you are getting old too fast. You are only about 71 years old. I will be 74 years old the 20th day of July next and you are about 18 months younger than I (the best I recollect). My first wife died about 7 years ago. I married again 4 years after. Got a good woman, but she had grown children and they took advantage of her in the change of life and caused us to separate. I have done all I honorably could to settle the trouble, but so far have failed. I made her two offers 32 days ago and have not heard from her, so conclude she has turned them down. I have had nothing but trouble for 35 years of one kind or another. I intend when I come back to W.Va. to spend my days there. ...
Deaths here this month is about 30 or 35 as near as I can learn. There is about 2800 in the Home, all decrepit men, most all above 70 years old. ...
Give my love to the children and accept all you want for your dear self for I have lots of it for you and when I come back to W.Va. do not think we will ever be separated again long at a time. From your affectionate brother, B.F. Jaco
National Military Home, Kansas
We now know that Benjamin’s second wife had abandoned him and, in his advanced years, he was forced to enter the Old Soldiers Home. He obviously had not seen Emeretta for quite some time. When he came back to West Virginia in 1886, he was told by no less than Doddridge County’s legendary Judge Chapman Johnson Stuart that Emeretta was dead, and Benjamin still thought she was dead when he received her letter in 1917. So they had not seen or heard from each other each other for well over 30 years.
Next week we’ll read more of Benjamin’s letters to Emeretta, in which he describes his train ride between Missouri and West Virginia, as well as his observations of the circumstances and effects of World War.
Luke Jaco's Children: Benjamin Jaco and Emeretta Tucker, Part II
Last week we left off with Benjamin Jaco finding out that his sister, Emeretta, was still alive, after believing that she had died over thirty years earlier. In January 1917, Benjamin responded to a letter from Emeretta, exclaiming his surprise and happiness at finding out that she was still alive. Remember that we only have Benjamin’s letters to Emeretta, so we can only speculate from Benjamin’s responses what Emeretta wrote to him.
Once he started corresponding with her, Benjamin immediately started making plans to come back to West Virginia to visit Emeretta and her family. Below are excerpts from his letters to her over the next few months. At this time, Benjamin was 74 years old and living in the Old Soldiers Home in Leavenworth, Kansas, after having been abandoned by his second wife. In these letters, he describes his happiness at being reunited with his sister and what his living conditions were like in the Military Home.
….Emma, I cannot express my feelings. I wake up of a night and study, for it seems to me like a dream hearing from you. I cannot hardly wait until the time comes to start….
….We just got through inspection, so I will write to the only one I have left to bestow my love on. I can hardly write for the tears in my eyes. I have had nothing but reverses and trouble since I buried my dear loving wife seven years ago. My second wife was a good kind wife until her children won her from me by lies and enchanting schemes. I have never heard a word since Dec. 30 last. I have given up all hope of a reconciliation and do not want any. Her and my son got all I had and now don’t even write me. My son got mad because I went back last fall to try and settle with her. So now I have found my dear sister. I feel through the goodness of our blessed Savior that He has given me one to love and be loved by what few days I have left. …
….Oh you cannot imagine the joy it gave me to hear from you, the one I had long given up for dead. I cannot express my feelings since I got your second letter and knew for certain that it was you. I cannot get you off my mind either day or night (when awake). To think that God in His goodness has made a way for our meeting again in this life. Oh what joy it will be, as well as sorrow, to talk over by-gone days….
….Say you make two small bows of white ribbon and send me one and you keep one. When I come, I will pin mine on my left shoulder and you pin yours on your left shoulder so we can recognize each other by them….
….Well, we have fine weather here and a fine Home and fine treatment, plenty of good grub and well prepared for to eat and the best attention by the waitresses. We have a large mess hall with 26 tables, each table seating 36 guests. A young lady waitresses at each table. There are 13 large brick and stone, three- and four-story buildings divided into wards. There are 22 men in my ward. Also large hospital with 2 annexes for the sick and cripples and invalids. Large hotel and Home Store. We all wear the blue uniforms like we had in the army. Clothing, washing and everything free. Don’t have to go outdoors for nothing, only to meals. I will tell you all when I see you. The home is simply grand and the beauty of it all is we are not paupers, nor wards, but invited guests of the government. We can come and stay or go when we want to. We can get a 9-day pass or a 90-day furlough and have them renewed. All we have to do is be Gentlemen and act the Gentleman and preserve our health. Have hot water to wash in and hot baths when we want it. Picture shows two nights in the week, everything to make the Home enjoyable….
Luke Jaco Died in Missouri
In one of Emeretta’s letters, she asked Benjamin for information about their father, Luke Jaco. She needed this information to apply for her husband’s military pension. Benjamin’s reply was:
….Father died in March 1868. I have lived in Missouri from Nov. 1864 to Mar. 1887 and in Kansas from that time until the present….
In another letter, she must have asked Benjamin his opinion on the World War. You can see from his reply that he was very much aware of what was happening outside of the Military Home and the circumstances surrounding this important event.
….You wanted my views on the War. Emma I think it is an awful grave matter, cannot see how we can escape War with Germany & Austria. (There has got to be someone back down.) Then this Mexico trouble is also a serious matter, if we get in a war with Mexico perhaps and we will almost sure have all the Southern Republics & perhaps Japan to fight. I talk with some soldiers from down there, they say we know nothing, only have newspaper reports and that the matter is an awful serious one. But Sister, I have the fullest confidence in our President, and if it possibly can be done, he will keep us out of this awful war. I also have confidence in Senator Stone of Missouri. I am personally acquainted with him years ago, an awful long-headed man.
Sister, this is the war the Bible speaks of (But the Honor of our nation must be protected) and if we do have to go to war, it will be awful, for there will sure be revolts here at home, for there is lots of sympathizers here in America. I hope our President may find some way out of the great Curse that is to follow if we get in….
Benjamin Visits Emeretta in Parkersburg
According to documents from the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Benjamin Jaco was granted a 90-day furlough on March 21, 1917. He left Leavenworth, Kansas the very next day to go visit his sister, who was living in Parkersburg, W.Va., with her daughter.
The next correspondence we have from Benjamin is dated May 9, 1917. He described his return trip back to Kansas and all that he saw from the train as he passed through Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois, especially military activities related to World War I. Because of this letter, we now know that Benjamin did finally make it back to West Virginia to visit his sister, at least one last time.
Benjamin’s Marital Troubles
Benjamin and his second wife never reconciled and she passed away in 1923. But Benjamin’s marital troubles were not over yet. Sometime prior to 1925 he married for the third time. His new wife’s name was Lydia Shepard. They were living together in Galena, Kansas in 1925. However, on January 11, 1929 Benjamin filed for a divorce from Lydia on the grounds of abuse. The following article appeared in the Joplin Globe in Missouri on Saturday, May 4, 1929 (pg. 13):
Man, 85, is divorced from his wife, 75
B. F. Jaco, 85 years old, was granted a divorce from Lidia Jaco, 75, on grounds of extreme cruelty by Judge John Hamilton in district court here today. The plaintiff was given his home and his furniture. The defendant was given her furniture and personal effects and $20.00 a month temporary alimony.
Benjamin’s Final Days
In failing health, Benjamin later moved in with his son, James Hamilton Jaco, in Chetopa, Kansas. On December 26, 1930, two weeks after Benjamin’s death, James wrote a letter to Emeretta’s daughter Julia, with whom Emeretta was living in Parkersburg.
We were glad to get your letter. Well, this has been a sad lonesome Xmas for us. We both miss Pa so much. He was always right here, was only away two nights in all the time he was with us. He used to talk so much of you, but when he took sick he did not talk of anyone. He was only sick 18 days & not very bad till about three days before he died. He didn't think he would never be up, as we wanted to have a barber come out and shave him after he took sick, and he said No, I will be up in a few days and go to town. He had lots of strength till the very last. We can't hardly believe he is gone, as he didn't seem to be very sick, but as he had to go, I am glad he didn't have to suffer a long time….
….Well, hope this finds you all well and hope you had a nice Xmas and will have a good New Year. We are having nice weather, didn't freeze out of doors for the last 3 nights. Write soon.
Love to all,
from your cousins
J. H. & Mayme Jaco
Doddridge County Roots
The trunk of letters found in the attic in Parkersburg and donated to the West Virginia Archives paints a poignant picture of a family that had its roots here in Doddridge, became separated and lived interesting lives elsewhere, and eventually was reunited to reminisce about their Doddridge County roots. The next time you cross Jaco Hill in West Union, think not just about the legendary Luke Jaco, for whom it was named, but also his children Benjamin and Emeretta, who now have a legacy of their own thanks to that trunk of letters.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)
Benjamin Jaco during the Civil War