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The Benfields

The Benfields are another line in my tree that only goes back so far, at least with a great degree of confidence. Even my immigrant ancestor, Thomas Benfield, has his early history shrouded in mystery.

It is documented that in 1728, Thomas Benfield was in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and help a tract of land in Amity Township (near present day Douglassville). In 1734, he sold that land and moved into the hills above Oley where he settled on a 152 acre tract that he secured through a land grant from John, Thomas and Richard Penn. This was actually made up of two tracts; a 100 acre and a 52 acre tract. He had purchased the 100 acres on 22 May 1734. It is unknown why Thomas sold his land in Amity which was considered much more desirable than the rocky, hilly patch to which he relocated in Oley. His last name has also appeared on documents as "Banfield."

Land Warrant for 100 Acres above Oley

Thomas had a brother named John who also lived in the Amity area and remained there. John appears on tax rolls in about 1723 and remained in the predominantly English settlement until his death in 1748/1749. The area was incorporated into Berks County when it was formed in 1752. John had a son named Thomas, who has often been confused with his uncle. On a side note, when John died, he left his entire estate to Thomas who was to provide for his widowed mother, Mary. There was an apparent connection between the Benfield and Boone families, if nothing more than being neighbors, as an uncle to Daniel Boone (yes, that Daniel Boone) was a witness to John's will and other estate papers. In the late 1750's, Thomas Benfield (Banfield) witnessed deeds of gift from Squire Boone, Sr., giving tracts of land to sons Daniel and Squire Jr. These deeds were recorded in Rowan County, NC, with no other record of Thomas, to date, having been found in NC. During the late 1750's in that area, there was an Indian uprising which led many families, including the Boones, to relocate until it was considered safe to return. Squire Boone, Jr. and his mother returned to Berks County for a while and Daniel went to Northern Virginia. It is quite possible that Thomas (assuming he is our Thomas) also returned to Berks County, since there was a record of a deed transfer by Thomas and his wife Ruth in 1762.

Meanwhile, Thomas and his wife Mary settled into the German community after their move. Their children married into that community and were active at the Hill Church near Oley. Thomas and Mary had at least six children: Samuel, Mary, Catherine, Anne Elizabeth, Susanna (Susan) and Johannes (John). The family would remain in the area, except for the youngest son, who would leave and seek his fortune in Lincoln County, North Carolina, emigrating in the late 1700's to early 1800's. There he would establish the roots of the southern branch of the Benfield family.

Now for some uncertainties. It appears certain that Thomas was originally from England. The question as to where in England is still a question. Several locations that have been suggested include the Stepney District of London, Corfe Castle in Dorset, and Great Rissington in Gloucestershire. If one looks at those places on a map, Gloucestshire is about 91 miles northwest from London and Dorset is about 125 miles southwest. While these are not great distances, it is still significant, in my opinion. The most compelling document is a baptismal record of Thomas, son of John Benfield and his wife Mary, on 24 February 1703 in Great Rissington. Is this our Thomas? Perhaps, but still not enough conclusive evidence, in my opinion and there are alternative theories.

There is another story that says that he was born and emigrated around 1712, settling in Union Township, west of Pottstown, PA. It is also said that he had been born in the Alsace region, in a small town known as Benfeld. According to this tale, the Benfields, along with many other English families had migrated from England to the Alsace territory 100 years prior to his reported birth. The people who lived in this area spoke a Germanic and English dialect more than French and claimed protection from Prussia. Then around 1716, the area suffered daily persecutions, killings and property destruction due to battles fought in the territory between the French and Prussians. This led to large numbers of refugees fleeing to the Dutch coast, where they were transported to England, who offered them sanctuary. They were placed in camps near London but, over the next three years, there was a lack of funding, leading to poverty and crime and raising the ire of the local English citizens. In response, British officials began dismantling the camps and shipping the inhabitants to the New World or Ireland, while others were able to find passage on their own. So this is an alternate version of how Thomas arrived in America. It may also explain why he moved to a German community from a predominately English one; it was a matter of comfort being around fellow speakers of German.

There is also a record that a Thomas Benfield was convicted of theft at the "Old Bailey" and 12 July 1721 he was sentenced to be transported, along with 15 others. This Thomas arrived in Virginia in 1721 as a bonded passenger. However, it has not been established whether or not this is our Thomas. If we accepted the baptismal record as being for our Thomas, then he would have been about 18 years old in 1721. It is possible that Thomas did serve his time in Virginia and then moved to Pennsylvania to be near his brother. Again, not enough conclusive evidence, purely conjecture.

Another unanswered question was when Thomas married. Some records state that he married on 29 March 1741 in Berks County, PA. There is another document that records the marriage of Thomas Benfield and Mary Hill on 29 March 1733 in St. Mary the Virgin Church, Harefield, Hillingdon, Middlesex, England (located on the NW outskirts of London). The day and the month are the same, but the years are different. Their eldest child, Samuel, was born on 10 January 1742 in East Oley, Berks County, PA. So while the 1741 date makes since for the birth of their son, it does not reconcile with the document.

It is possible that after settling in PA, Thomas then returned to England to marry and brought his new bride with him to America.

In his will, dated 1 September 1764, he bequeathed his youngest son John the 52 acres of land he had purchased last and the remainder of his estate, both real and personal, went to his eldest son Samuel. This may have been one reason why John decided to head to North Carolina.

No matter how and when he arrived or where and when he married, Thomas is the originator of my Benfield line in America. Additional research may shed light on some of the questions raised here and, if found, I will pass them along.


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