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The Hamilton Stories

Bishop Benjamin Franklin Hamilton

This article is excerpted from Gideon G. Yoder’s “The Oldest Living American Mennonite Congregations of Central Kansas,” an unpublished Master’s thesis, Department of Church History, Phillips University, Enid, OK, May 1948, Provided by Russel Yoder (Kansas City, KS), son of Gideon Yoder.

The third Bishop to serve the four oldest living American Mennonite congregations of Central Kansas was B.F. Hamilton. He was born on July 4, 1825 in Philadelphia, PA. His father was Franklin Hamilton, who was a nephew of Alexander Hamilton, and a personal friend of George Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Hamilton were members of the German Reformed church.

B.F. Hamilton came into the Mennonite church as a young man, following his conversion. In 1868 he was ordained to the ministry in Indiana by Bishop Daniel Brundage. In 1883 he moved from Indiana to Cherokee County, KS where a small Mennonite settlement was in the making. He served the Bethany congregation in Cherokee County until about 1886. At that time he planned to move to the Catlin community, but since it was impossible to rent a home, he located in the village of Canton, near the Spring Valley settlement. About a year later he moved near Peabody.

It was while living here that he was ordained to the office of Bishop, about the time that Daniel Brundage returned to Indiana. According to Harry Newcomer the ordination took place at the Spring Valley church. Mr. Newcomer recalls the day of the ordination when B.F. Hamilton stopped at his father’s house on the way home to warm up. In answer to the question, “How did the lot fall?” he replied, “It fell heavy, very heavy.”

Bishop Hamilton served the four congregations involved until 1890 when S.C. Miller was ordained bishop for the Spring Valley and West
Liberty congregations. Following 1890 he served the Catlin and the Pennsylvania congregations until 1898 when Tillman M. Erb was ordained bishop for the Pennsylvania congregations. Following T.M. Erb’s ordination he continued to serve the Catlin church as Bishop until the time of his death, which occurred near Peabody, KS on May 10, 1898.

Same Story, Another Version

This oral history was told by J.T. Hamilton who lived in Harper from 1912 until his death in 1971. It was recorded by his daughter Phoebe Hamilton, date unknown. It was provided for this paper by Hannah Hamilton, his daughter who still lives in Harper, KS

Our great grandfather was Bishop Benjamin Franklin Hamilton. He was born in Pottsville, PA on the 4th of July 1825 and died May 10, 1898. According to the doctor’s opinion his death was caused by an abscess in the left kidney. He had an iron constitution and had but few attacks of sicknesses. His ancestry on his father’s side were Scots. He grew to manhood in Alltentown, PA and in 1843, with a number of friends and
companions, went to Medina County, OH. In the fall of 1845 he was married to Elizabeth Nahragan. In 1846 he united with the Mennonite Church and also moved farther west to Williams County, OH where they lived until 1865.

On account of his wife’s health they moved to Owen County, IN where she died. They had four given sons. One died in infancy. The others were:

Samuel Hamilton, May 14, 1847
Benjamin Franklin Hamilton, Jr (our grandpa) Sept. 8, 1849
Joseph T. Hamilton, Aug. 1, 1852
David N. Hamilton, Jan. 6, 1855

In 1866 he married Catherine Holley. To this union were born six sons and three daughters:

Mary Ann, Feb. 15, 1867
William A., Oct. 5, 1868
Elijah (Eli), Aug. 27, 1870
John Henry, Mar. 7, 1872
Charles Ed., Oct. 30, 1873
Louisa Margaret, Sept. 10, 1875
Nathaniel Ira, Aug. 18, 1877
Susan Elizabeth, Mar. 2, 1880
Edwin Arthur, Mar. 25, 1883

He was ordained to the ministry in 1868 and to the office of bishop in 1887. Bishop David Brundage officiated in each ordination. He served churches in Livingston County, IL, Cherokee Co., KS and then to Marion County, KS until his death in 1898.

Paul Erb in South Central Frontiers (Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 1974) relates:

“J.T. Hamilton [Hannah’s father] was born in Illinois, and lived in Oregon, Minnesota, and Missouri after his marriage. While living at Alpha, MN he was ordained deacon. In 1906 he was ordained to the ministry of Oronogo, MO for service at the Berea Church, Birch Tree MO... in 1912 the Hamilton family lived briefly at Plainview, TX and then came to Harper. He took his turn preaching at Pleasant Valley, but after 1919 was not listed as a minister. However, he and his family have made a significant contribution to the church at Harper and elsewhere". His son, John, was the congregation’s first historian. James T. Hamilton died in 1971.

& The Trail to Harper

Alexander Hamilton, born in 1757 to James Hamilton of a wealthy Scottish family and Rachel Faucett Lavien, daughter of a doctor and the estranged wife of a merchant. He was born in Charles Town in the Caribbean. His parents never married. In 1765 the family moved to St. Croix, where the father abandoned them.

Alexander, a brilliant young man, 11 years old, took work as a clerk at a trading post. Here he witnessed the brutal slavery system and as an adult, consistently opposed it. Because of his great intellectual ability, leaders in St. Croix took up a collection to send him to the United States for a college education.

At the age of 17 he came to the American colonies (1772), and studied the following year at what is now Columbia University.

Very early in the war as a captain of the artillery, he impressed George Washington so much that he was appointed as his secretary, and Aide-de-camp. This appointment set the stage for his career with the Washington and Adams* families. He married Elizabeth Schuler, the daughter of General Phillip Schuyler. This connected him with an old and powerful family. He practiced law in New York City and was a member of the Continental Congress.

He was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804.

THE HARPER MENNONITE TRAIL Alexander Hamilton had one brother, James Hamilton, whose son was Franklin Hamilton who was the father of Benjamin Hamilton (the first Mennonite in the lineage) who was the father of J.T. Hamilton who was the father of Hannah Hamilton of Harper.)


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