Benjamin C. Stuart
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By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise April 21, 1997.

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In a remote corner of Beaumont's Magnolia Cemetery, lying in total anonymity beneath a darkened marble headstone, are the earthly remains of Benjamin Chambers Stuart. While his name rings no bells with the newspaper readerships of today, Ben Stuart was perhaps the foremost Texas journalist-historian of his day between 1870 and 1910. His greatest legacy to today's Texas historian is the vast Ben C. Stuart Papers at Rosenberg Library in Galveston, the titles to which cover eleven typrewritten pages, in addition to the 12 hardback volumes of Ben C. Stuart papers in Tyrrell Historical Library in Beaumont.

Many articles in Rosenberg Library are his newspaper articles pasted into scrapbooks. The 12 Tyrrell Library volumes are principally in Stuart's unique, although quite readable, pencil penmanship, for apparently he never learned to type. Stuart wrote about every conceivable topic of early Texas history - Galveston pirates, African slave trade, the Texas camel experiment, early priests and preachers, hurricanes, yellow fever epidemics, local Confederate history and blockade runners - the list is seemingly endless. And the Stuart writings remain 'primary' sources, since what he had not experienced himself came from interviews with elderly persons who had witnessed or lived such experiences.

Ben C. Stuart was born at Galveston on April 20, 1847, and he received as good education as the common schools of the 1850's could offer.

However, his principal education came at his father's 'knee,' for Hamilton Stuart for 33 years (1838-1874) was publisher-editor of Civilian and Galveston Gazette, and after 1874, was state press editor of Galveston Daily News for 21 years. Many Texas historians rated Hamilton Stuart as one of the four most influential Texas editors of the last century.

When Ben Stuart was only 15 in 1862, he described himself as "mate, sailor, and cook" aboard the Galveston Bay cotton and lumber schooner Experiment. When the Experiment sailed from Galveston as a blockade runner in 1864, the cotton schooner was never heard from again. In 1864 at age 17, Ben Stuart enlisted and served about one year in Co. I, of Col. J. J. Cook's First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, but the young Confederate did not see any offensive action.

Even while a newspaper editor, his father, Hamilton Stuart served both as mayor of Galveston and as U. S. collector of customs under Presidents Pierce and Buchanan. He was also a close friend, confidant, and editorial supporter of Gen. Sam Houston, and like Houston, opposed secession vehemently. That stance only gained for Stuart the rancor and ire of Galveston's militant secessionists, and Stuart shut down the Civilian from 1862 until 1865. When he restarted the Civilian's presses in 1865, Hamilton Stuart enjoyed much support from the Reconstruction government, and young Ben Stuart began his journalist apprenticeship at that time under his father's careful tutelage.

After the Civil War, some of Galveston's ex-pirates, such as Stephen Churchill and Charles Cronea, were still alive, and Ben Stuart learned much from them, as well as from Mary Campbell, widow of Capt. Jim Campbell, who lived on Galveston Island throughout Jean Laffite's 4-year residence there. Ben Stuart watched the blockade runners, which arrived daily with munitions and left with cotton. He lived throughout a dozen hurricanes and yellow fever epidemics there. He knew personally Bishops Odin, Dubuis, and Gallagher, as well as dozens of early Protestant ministers and rabbis. Hence, there was not much about early life at Galveston that Stuart had not witnessed himself.

Ben Stuart acquired a journalistic, if somewhat 'flowery,' writing style typical of the newspaper speech of his day. Nevertheless, he could 'turn' a delightful metaphor that many writers might still wish to emulate. After 15 years at the Civilian and 25 years as commercial and marine reporter, telegraph editor, and city editor of Galveston Daily News, Ben Stuart retired to a farm at Hitchcock to live with his sister, Florence Wheeler. Following her death in 1911, he moved to Beaumont to live with a younger sister, Eleanore (Mrs. F. D.) Minor at 2290 Calder Avenue.

However, even in retirement Ben Stuart continued to be a major feature writer and contributor to Galveston News. And in between, he labored tediously to produce his pencilled volumes of history that are characteristically found in the Ben C. Stuart Papers of both Rosenberg and Tyrrell libraries. His only published volumes, Texas Indian Fighters and Frontier Rangers (1916) and History of Early Texas Newspapers (1917), were published during his 17-year residence in Beaumont. He died at his sister's residence on Calder Avenue on March 11, 1929.

As is often the case, it is sad to pass many tombstones in Magnolia Cemetery and realize that there is actually a great story to be written about some of them. The story of Ben C. Stuart, as well as his father, is just one that should not be allowed to die.

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Copyright 1998-2023 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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