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Benjamin C. Stuart


By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, XXXIII (Nov. 1997).

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Not often have a father and son duo left their imprint on Texas history. Certainly the easiest pair to recall were Moses and Stephen Fuller Austin, wherein the latter carried on in the colonization footsteps of his father. For almost a century, the city of Galveston enjoyed the fruits of labor from such a team of journalists, Hamilton and Ben C. Stuart. To date, the father, Hamilton Stuart, has received more acclaim since he was founder and editor of Civilian and Galveston Gazette for thirty-three years, before serving almost twenty-one more as 'state press editor' of Galveston Daily News.[1] Ben C. Stuart, although widely read by the East Texas reading public of a century ago, has received very little recognition for his journalist efforts, particularly his historical legacy. And today's East Texas historian might still find a wealth of information in the extensive Ben C. Stuart Papers, deposited at both Rosenberg Library in Galveston and at Tyrrell Historical Library in Beaumont. And beneath the former's headstone in the Stuart plot in Galveston's Old City Cemetery or Ben C. Stuart's tombstone in a remote corner of Beaumont's Magnolia Cemetery, the remains of each lie in total anonymity today.[2]

Hamilton Stuart was born nine miles south of Louisville on September 4, 1813, but grew to adulthood in Georgetown, Kentucky, where he was educated and soon became proficient in all branches of the printer's trade. By age 22 in 1835, he founded, edited, and published the Georgetown Sentinel. In 1837, he married Beline Chambers, whose grandfather, Fielding Bradford, published in Lexington the Kentucky Gazette, the first newspaper west of the Allegheny Mountains. Also in 1837, a physician told Stuart that he needed to leave Kentucky because of his weak lungs, and the newlyweds boarded steamboats bound for New Orleans and Galveston, arriving at the latter place in January, 1838.[3]

Hamilton and Beline Stuart were disappointed with Galveston, which at that time contained only a few houses and tents. The pair quickly left for Houston, where Stuart needed to present his letter of introduction to President Sam Houston. The president offered Stuart a glass of champagne, which the latter politely declined. However, President Houston took no offense, noting that he never insisted on anyone drinking with him.[4]

After settling in Houston early in 1838, Hamilton Stuart began his Texas journalistic career as editor of the National Banner, a position that ended abruptly, following a disagreement with the proprietors. In conjunction with Dr. Levi Jones and R. A. Irion, Stuart soon launched the Houston Civilian on May 8, 1838. In the newspaper's name, the editor expressed his aversion to assumed titles such as "general," "colonel," and "major" by prominent business men, who (to paraphrase Shakespeare) "knew nothing of battle more than a spinster." After a few months, Stuart moved the Civilian to Galveston, apparently sensing that the Island City would soon develop into the principal seaport of Texas.[5] According to a surviving microfilm issue of October 19, 1838 (Vol. 1, No. 4), Stuart's paper had already been renamed Civilian and Galveston Gazette. According to Ben Stuart, his mother did not take kindly to Galveston at first, where there was then a great shortage of trees and a great surplus of "fiddler crabs." At first the couple resided at a boarding house owned by two ladies from Kentucky, but a year later they built their first home on Church Street near Tremont.[6]

From its beginning, the Civilian became a leading voice in local, state (republic), and national affairs. Its major competitor before the Civil War was Galveston Weekly (or Tri-Weekly) News, whose editor, Willard Richardson, kept up a "running feud" with Stuart for thirty years. Stuart was a conservative editorialist, an unwavering supporter of (President, Senator or Governor) Sam Houston, and an ardent opponent of secession, the 'Know Nothing' Party, and the "grandiose schemes of the filibusterers," the Knights of the Golden Circle. Nevertheless, Richardson accused Stuart of vacillating on some issues, particularly slavery, which was true. At first Stuart supported slavery, even the reopening of the slave trade, as necessary for the continued growth of Texas, but by 1859 he had reversed himself of many such opinions, believing that eventually slavery would die a lingering death. Often Stuart found himself allied with Ferdinand Flake, publisher of the German-language Die Union (later of Flake's Bulletin), and with its German immigrant readers on such issues as support for Sam Houston and opposition to secession. Nevertheless, Richardson wrote of Stuart that he "wielded a powerful influence over destinies of state and... the Democrat Party..."[7]

Perhaps foremost, Stuart was a politician, and he could not resist the temptation to support or oppose every issue or political figure, even in local elections. The Civilian quickly acquired contracts as Galveston city printer, much to the chagrin of Willard Richardon.[8] Stuart served first as Galveston alderman from the third ward in 1843, as mayor in 1844, and was reelected each year as mayor between 1849 and 1852.[9] He served as United States collector of customs under Presidents Pierce and Buchanan from 1853 until March 1861, when because of his ardent Unionism, he was replaced by Confederate Collector James Sorley.[10]

Hamilton and Beline Stuart were parents of several children, four of whom reached adulthood, and others that died in infancy and childhood. In 1850 they also had in their household three teenage German boys as "apprentice printers," probably all of whom had been orphaned by yellow fever epidemics.[11] In 1860, Stuart was recorded as owning $5,000 worth of real estate and $3,000 worth of personal property. In 1880, only the parents and two children were still residing at their home on Post Office Street.[12]

Until 1847, Hamilton Stuart operated the Civilian alone. In 1847, S. J. Durnett, formerly of the Brazos Planter, acquired an interest and ran the mechanical department. In 1854, John Henry Brown, a Texas historian, acquired an interest in the Civilian, and the firm became Stuart, Durnett, and Brown. In 1861, Major E. W. Cave, later an aid to Confederate General J. B. Magruder, acquired an interest before Stuart shut down the Civilian's presses because of his pro-Union stance and his resulting unpopularity.[13]

After the Civil War began, Stuart took almost no interest or role in Galveston affairs, and in fact, soon moved his family to a farm near Anahuac. Nevertheless, in 1861 he became a private in Co. A, Ward 1, of the First Regiment of Texas State Troops, but his enlistment was brief and he saw no active military service, being already 48 years old.[14]

In July, 1863, Hamilton Stuart spent a week in Huntsville with Gen. Sam Houston, during the old warrior's last illness, and the attending physician asked Stuart to inform the general and his wife that there was no hope for Houston's recovery.[15] In June, 1865, Stuart returned to his home in Galveston, at which time he declined Provisional Governor A. J. Hamilton's offer to appoint Stuart mayor of Galveston.[16] At a time when he was almost penniless, Hamilton Stuart reactivated the Civilian's presses in July, 1865. In 1868, W. H. Pascoe acquired an interest in the Civilian, and in 1869, J. S. Thrasher of the New York Herald became one of the editors and owners. In January, 1874, after 36 years of editorial service, Stuart sold his interest in the Civilian to his partners, Pascoe and Thrasher, and Stuart accepted an offer from Col. A. H. Belo, the new owner of Galveston Daily News, to become that organ's "state press editor," the first such editor in the history of Texas newspapers.

Hamilton Stuart served in his new capacity for almost twenty-one years until his death on November 15, 1894. Beline Stuart had preceded him in death near their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1887. All of the family (except two children buried in Beaumont) are interred on the family plot in the old City Cemetery. According to Ben Stuart, all of the old files and issues of the Civilian burned in November, 1885, which perhaps accounted for the demise of the Civilian in 1886.[17]

Soon after Stuart's death, the Galveston News published a very complimentary editorial entitled "Hamilton Stuart." A part of it was worded as follows:

. . . In the death of Hamilton Stuart, Texas and the journalism of Texas have parted with an historic, bright, genial, and beneficient presence, uncommonly and peculiarly endeared to both....During his 21 years of connection with The News, it may be said that he touched nothing in the course of his routine duties without leaving some trace of the "sweetnss of light" inherent in his character....It would hardly be too much to say of him, in the quaint language of the old English poet: "No truer gentleman ever wore earth about him....."[18]

Named for his maternal grandfather, Colonel Benjamin Chambers, a War of 1812 army quartermaster, Benjamin Chambers Stuart was born at Galveston on April 20, 1847 and grew up to witness personally much of Galveston's earliest and best-known history. He was seemingly slated for a vocation of journalism both by training and family inheritance, since both his father and great grandfather had been editors, and his aunt, Annie Chambers Ketchum, enjoyed some stature as an author in mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860 census of Galveston, both Ben Stuart and his younger sister Mary were reported as enrolled in school, but the former was most certainly influenced and trained in the writing arts by his parents and older sister Florence.[19]

In an age long predating television, radio, or motion pictures, young Ben Stuart found many ways to amuse himself other than with school or homework. D. D. McComb in his Galveston: A History noted that about 1859, Stuart and other teenage boys liked to swim nude near the Sixteenth Street wharves, enjoying especially swimming in the wakes of the sidewheel and sternwheel steamers in the shipping channel. McComb added that the boys had no fear of sharks, but they did fear the constable, who sought to catch or chase them home in their advanced states of undress.[20]

One of Ben Stuart's obituaries noted that he began his newspaper career in 1861, at age fourteen, but that early career must have been short- lived due to the Civilian shutting down in 1862, and he was probably an apprentice "printer's devil," sorting type. When the Civil War began, Hamilton Stuart moved his family to a farm near Anahuac, so young Ben Stuart probably performed a variety of farm chores as well. In one of his many blockade-running stories, Ben Stuart reported that in 1862, he had sailed as "mate, sailor, and cook" aboard the old Galveston Bay cotton and lumber schooner Experiment, owned by Captain Leverett Sherman of Turtle Bay. Later while the Experiment was tied up at Central Wharf, Sherman sold the Experiment to a Galveston merchant, Samson Heidenheimer, who sent the schooner to Tampico with a load of cotton and a crew of five. Stuart wrote that the schooner and its crew were never heard from again. Actually, the Experiment had been captured by the Union blockader Virginia, and its crew were imprisoned.[21] At age seventeen, Ben. C. Stuart enlisted in Co. I, of Col. J. J. Cook's First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment. However, the young Confederate soldier served only on Galveston Island, and he never engaged in any offensive action.[22]

In June, 1865, Hamilton Stuart moved his family back to Galveston, and a month later, he reactivated the Civilian's presses, which immediately became a voice for union, reconstruction, and the "healing of old war wounds." From that date, Hamilton Stuart trained his son to become a reporter, with probable intent that young Ben should replace his father as editor some day. The 1880 Galveston census reported Ben Stuart's occupation as "reporter," but did not specify which publication. By 1880, Hamilton Stuart had already sold his interest in the Civilian and had joined the editorial staff of Galveston News in 1874. However, Ben Stuart may have continued as reporter for the Civilian for some years after his father left. In 1880, Ben Stuart was still single and was residing in his parents' residence on Post Office Street, along with his younger sister Eleanore.[23]

The writer believes that Ben Stuart left the Civilian (or perhaps the Houston Post or Galveston Tribune) about 1878, at which time he became a reporter for Galveston Daily News, where he was to remain for the next twenty-five years. Gradually he worked his way up from marine and commercial reporter, to telegraph editor, and eventually to city editor before he retired. One of Ben Stuart's obituaries added that he had held "several different positions." The same obituary added that he also had worked for Houston Post and Galveston Tribune. How that service fitted in amid his years at Galveston Civilian and Daily News remains unknown. Along the way, Ben Stuart developed an affinity for Galveston Island and early Texas history. And always, if he had not personally experienced a story himself, he knew the person or people who had been a party to the story, or knew where the story could be found.[24]

Ben Stuart soon learned that all the stories he had written for the Civilian were destroyed in the fire of 1885, which might have accounted for his collecting his articles in scrapbooks. Because Stephen Churchill, Charles Cronea, and Mary Campbell were still alive during his early reporting years, Ben Stuart wrote many Laffite pirate articles for the Daily News, some of them as follows: "Laffite and His Lieutenants," April 21, 1878; "Buccaneers," May 25, 1879; "Days of Laffite," January 7, 1884; "Career of Jean Laffite," April 5, 1886; "Last of Laffite," June 4, 1889; "A Veteran Gone," March 8, 1893; "Story of Laffite," April 28, 1895; "Famous Laffites of Galveston," March 12, 1897; "Pirates Buried Gold," August 6, 1896; "Story of Laffite," March 3, 1907; and "Sailed With The Sea Rover," February 7, 1909. Stuart's admiration for Galveston's old "sea dogs" who ran Confederate cotton through the blockade resulted in many more stories in the News, namely, "Blockade Running Stories," May 13, 1900; "Exciting Sea Scenes," December 30, 1906; "Stories of The Sea," December 1, 1907; and "Some True Stories of The Blockade," July 11, 1911.

After twenty-five years at the Daily News, Ben C. Stuart chose to retire as city editor, although with the understanding that the News would continue to publish his historical feature articles. The 1900 Texas Spandex for Galveston County noted that in that year, Stuart was already living with his older sister, Florence (Mrs. Royal) Wheeler of Hitchcock. A few years afterward, his sister was widowed, and apparently she induced her brother to retire from the News and help her run her rice farm on Highland Bayou. The Thirteenth (1910) Galveston County Manuscript Census reported that Ben C. Stuart was "operating a farm" at Hitchcock, but the death of Florence Wheeler in June, 1911, caused him to leave Hitchcock to live with his youngest sister, Eleanore (Mrs. F. D.) Minor of Beaumont. Stuart had another surviving sister, Mary (Mrs. J. K.) Moore of Luling.[25]

In 1918, Stuart's nephew and the son of his sister Eleanore, Lieutenant Farrell D. Minor, Jr. of Beaumont, was killed in action in France. Ben Stuart lived the last seventeen years of his life at the residence of his sister at 2290 Calder Avenue in Beaumont until his death on March 11, 1929 at age (almost) 82. Except for a few notations in Southwestern Historical Quarterly, very little is known of his final years, although he continued to write articles published in the Daily News, and Stuart worked tediously to complete his twelve hardback, pencilled volumes of history that are deposited at Tyrrell Historical Library.[26]

In 1909, Ben Stuart wrote about the "Twin Sisters" cannons of the Texas Revolution.[27] In 1918 he wrote his reminiscences about the United States Revenue Cutter service along the Texas coast.[28] Again in 1918, he wrote a long and interesting account of the early history of Galveston Island, Bay and City (a condensation of his many articles written between 1886 and 1889).[29] In 1919, Stuart wrote two articles about the early development of marine steam-sail transportation between Texas and the United States.[30] In 1918, he wrote a biographical sketch about the life, death, and unmarked grave on Galveston Island of George C. Childress, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence.[31] In 1919, Stuart wrote about the smuggling of African slaves into Texas between 1816 and 1838.[32] And in 1925, Stuart completed his long hardback, pencilled manuscript "Texas Tropical Hurricanes From 1818 Until 1915," which volume is deposited in Tyrrell Library.[33]

The Ben C. Stuart Papers in Rosenberg Library in Galveston, titles and topics of which cover eleven typewritten pages, are much too extensive for more than a brief discussion here. And the interested historian of necessity would have to examine them personnally. Topics deposited there include wild horse herds; sailors and soldiers of fortune from Luis de Aury to Juan Mejia; chronology and necrology of Galveston, 1814-1921; history of Galveston, including pirates, filibusterers, Texas Navy, steamboats, marine disasters, churches, newspapers, education, storms, legal executions, fires, police, Civil War and blockade runners. Other topics included the Karankawa and other Indians; state politics and governors, Republic of Texas officials, missions, French exiles, Texas camels, various biographies, slave trade and slave ships, Texas whales, frontier forts, early opera houses and theaters, shipwrecks, military companies, Regulators, and Rangers and Indian fighters. The list seems endless, and it might take a few days to examine all of the Ben Stuart Papers at Rosenberg, depending upon one's immediate interests.[34]

Ben C. Stuart's only published books occurred during his period of residence in Beaumont and included Texas Indian Fighters and Frontier Rangers (1916) and History of Texas Newspapers (1917).[35] After Stuart's death on March 11, 1929, his sister, Eleanore Minor, donated to Beaumont's Tyrrell Library the twelve hardback volumes of pencilled manuscripts that the old journalist had labored to complete before his death. The titles included "Pioneer Texas Presbytery," "Foreign Colonists in Early Texas" (1915); "Old San Augustine," "Rough Road to Texas," "Pioneer Texas Priests," "The Story of St. Denis" (1914); "Tropical Hurricanes of The Texas Coast' (1925); "Early Texas Railroads," "Story of Blockade Runners," and "Texas Naval Notes." A Beaumont Enterprise article of March 27, 1929, left a complete description of these, plus the names of journals, books, and historical treatises owned by him and donated by Mrs. Minor to Tyrrell Library.[36]

Many Texas historians might still evaluate Hamilton Stuart as the most important of this father and son duo because of his early editorial influence in Texas politics (54 years), his support of General Houston, and his opposition to secession. It is difficult, however, for this writer to make the same evaluation because of the great benefit, influence, and information to him of Ben C. Stuart's writings on a variety of topics. Under any consideration, the father and son duo of Hamilton and Benjamin Chambers Stuart should be remembered for their great contributions and legacies left to early Texas journalism and history.

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1 W. P. Webb et al, "Hamilton Stuart," The Handbook of Texas (Austin: 1952), II, 681.

2 Ibid., "Ben C. Stuart."

3 Ben C. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart," (Galveston) Daily News, June 3, 1917.

4 E. W. Fornell, The Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on The Eve of Secession (Austin: 1961), p. 147.

5 Ibid., p. 148; Walter B. Stevens, "Biography of Hamilton Stuart," (St. Louis) Globe-Democrat, Aug. 31, 1892, reprinted in (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 17, 1894, p. 6, cols. 4-7.

6 Ben C. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXI (April 1918), p. 384; see also Civilian and Galveston Gazette, Oct. 18, 1838 (and other issues), microfilm reel of "Early Galveston Newspapers," Lamar University Library.

7 Ibid., pp. 386-387; Fornell, Galveston Era, pp. 148, 223-225.

8 C. W. Hayes, Galveston: History of The Island and City (repr., Austin: 1974), I, 338, 351, 436.

9 Ibid., I, 433; Webb et al, Handbook of Texas, II, 681; B. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXI, p. 385.

10 Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," p. 385; Hayes, Galveston, I, 491; Fornell, Galveston Era, pp. 147, 293.

11 Seventh U. S. Manuscript Census, Sch. I, 1850, Galveston County, Texas, res. 468/480.

12 Eighth and Tenth Manuscript Censuses, Sch. I, Galveston County, Texas: 1860, res. 437; 1880, 2nd Ward, res. 98.

13 B. C. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXI, pp. 385-386.

14 Hayes, Galveston: A History, II, 585.

15 Ibid., I, pp. 488-489.

16 Ron Tyler et al, The New Handbook of Texas (Austin: 1996), VI, 133.

17 Ben C. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart," (Galveston) Daily News, June 3, 1917: Walter B. Stevens, "Biography of Hamilton Stuart: His Labors Ended," (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 17, 1894, p. 6, cols. 5-7.

18 Editoral, "Hamilton Stuart," (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 17, 1894, p. 6, c. 2.

19 Eighth U. S. Manuscript Census, 1860, Galveston County, Texas, res. 437; W. B. Stevens, "Biography of Hamilton Stuart," reprinted in (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 17, 1894, p. 6, cols. 5-7; W. P. Webb et al, "Ben C. Stuart," The Handbook of Texas (Austin: 1952), II, 681.

20 D. D. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: 1981), p. 21.

21 B. C. Stuart, "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," (Galveston) Daily News, June 3, 1917; Ben C. Stuart, "Stories of The Sea," (Galveston) Daily News, Dec. 1, 1907, p. 28, c. 1-2; Official Records of The Union and Confederate Navies in The War of The Rebellion, Ser. I, Vol. XXI, pp. 238, 273.

22 Ron Tyler et al, "Ben C. Stuart," The New Handbook of Texas (Austin: 1996), VI, 132.

23 Tenth U. S. Manuscript Census, 1880, Galveston County, Texas, Ward 2, res. 98;(Galveston) Daily News, March 12, 13, 1929.

24 "Funeral Services for Ben C. Stuart," (Galveston) Daily News, March 13, 1929, p. 2; "Pioneer Newspaper Man of Galveston is Dead," (Galveston) Daily News, March 12, 1929, p. 1, c. 7.

25 "Obituary of Ben C. Stuart," (Galveston) Daily News, March 12, 1929; Texas Spandex for Galveston County, No. S-363; Thirteenth Manuscript Census, 1910, Hitchcock, Galveston County, Tx., pct. 15, enum. dist. 55, res. 110; B. C. Stuart: "Hamilton Stuart: Pioneer Editor," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXI (April 1918), p. 384; Texas Death Certificate No. 22886, Jefferson County, 1903-1940; "Obituary of Eleanore (Mrs. F. D.) Minor," (Beaumont) Enterprise, April 2, 1946, p. 1.

26 Beaumont City Directories, 1912 through 1928.

27 "The Twin Sisters Cannons," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXI (July 1917), pp. 67-68; (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 14, 1909; (Houston) Post, June 6, 1910.

28 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXII (June 1918), p. 109; (Galveston) Daily News, June 16, 1918.

29 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXII (Oct. 1918), pp. 222-203; (Galveston) Daily News, Aug. 11, 1918.

30 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXII (April 1919), pp. 361-362; (Galveston) Daily News, Jan. 12 and 20, 1919.

31 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXII (Jan. 1919), pp. 281-282; (Galveston) Daily News, Aug. 11, 1918.

32 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XXIII (Jan. 1920), p.230; (Galveston) Daily News, Nov. 23, 1919.

33 Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXI (Oct. 1957), pp. 309-310.

34 Letter, C. E. Greene to W. T. Block, Feb. 10, 1997, and an 11-page list of titles and topics among the Ben C. Stuart Papers in Rosenberg Library, Galveston.

35 Ron Tyler et al, "Ben C. Stuart," The New Handbook of Texas (Austin: 1996), VI, 132.

36 "Texas History and Original Manuscripts....Gift to Library from Former Newspaper Man," (Beaumont) Enterprise, March 27, 1929, p. 12, cols. 1-2; see also "Days When Blockade Runners...Described in Stuart Manuscript," (Beaumont) Enterprise, Apr. 14, 1929, p. A-13, c. 2-6.

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