Friday, March 28, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #12 Benjamin Franklin Pryor, 4th Tennessee Cavalry, CSA

Have you ever wondered why an ancestor made a particular choice? For several years I wondered why a relatively wealthy man would leave Tennessee for Texas in the late 1870s. The surprising answer was found in a deed. Today I'll share that story about my great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Pryor.

Quick drop page from Off We Go, by Susan Bartolini for Digital Scrapper, August, 2011

Frank was a proud son of the Confederacy. Born on May 23, 1835, in Jasper, Marion County, Tennessee, he joined with friends and neighbors to defend his privileged way of life. His father, Green Hill Pryor, owned land valued at $15,000 in 1850 and $20,000 in 1860. Sadly, Green also owned 26 slaves in 1860.

Frank enlisted in H Company, 5th Tennessee Regiment Provisional Army (Stewart's Company), CSA, on September 6, 1861, at Camp Smartt, Tennessee. At the age of 26 he was mustered in with the rank of First Sergeant. He was granted sick leave on December 24, 1861, and that sick leave was extended until May, 1862. He entered a hospital about June 12, 1862, and his rank was reduced to Private. He was listed as in the hospital through the rest of 1862 and into early 1863. All told, from enlistment until March, 1863, he actively served less than 5 months in this regiment.

The regiment went through many name changes, with the National Park Service now identifying it as: 35th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry (5th Infantry) (1st Mountain Rifle Regiment). The last notation in the file shows he transferred to the 3rd Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry in March, 1863. 

Clues to Frank's activities while "sick" is found in old family stories. His father, Green, died on June 2, 1862. As the family attended his funeral, Union soldiers ransacked his home. Frank took it very hard and carried those resentments for the rest of his life. He also executed deeds in Marion County in late 1862 and early 1863. These deeds were related to distribution of Green's estate and resulted in Frank owning quite a bit of land. Was he hospitalized for the depression that hindered him in later life? Were his commanding officers just covering for his desire to be home with his family? Or was it a bit of both?

Returning to active duty in March, 1863, he served only a few more months before being captured and sent to a Union POW camp. He was serving with Company H, 4th Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry, when he was captured at Dunlap, Tennessee, in August 21, 1863. This area of Tennessee, not far from his home in Jasper, was involved in the Chickamauga Campaign.

Frank spent time at the Military Prison, Louisville, Kentucky; Camp Chase, Ohio; and Rock Island Barracks, Illinois. It was at Rock Island that Frank made the mistake of signing an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. He wanted only to get home to tend to his property and hated that he had to sign the despised Oath to do so. The record shows that Benjamin F. Pryor of Jasper, Tennessee, signed the Oath on October 10, 1864. He was 28 years old, 6 foot 2 inches tall, with a dark complexion, black hair and hazel eyes.

Frank returned home and set to work to repair his home and cultivate his land. Over the years he bought and sold land, owning in 1870, property worth $10,000. He married Mary Jane Smith on December 1, 1870. Their first two children were born in Jasper in 1871 and 1873. 

The 1880 census shows Frank and Mary Jane living in Palo Pinto County, Texas. Their third child was born in Arkansas in 1879.Three more children were born between 1882 and 1887.

Frank died on November 24, 1889. The old family story is that he committed suicide due to his depression and bitterness. He left a widow and six children. His widow's application for a Confederate pension was denied, due to the Oath of Allegiance that Frank had signed before the end of the Civil War. Had he waited just a few more months, he could have signed the Oath at the end of the War without any consequences.

So why did Frank uproot his family and move to Texas? His brother, Washington Pryor, left us a huge clue in the last deed executed between Washington and Frank.

Frank held, by 1871, about 1500 acres. His property straddled the road to Pikeville and included Cave Spring, a grist mill and the former homes of Green Hill Pryor and D. Curtis.

In October, 1871, B.F. Pryor lost a lawsuit(s) for three large judgements in the Superior Court in Knoxville. He had acted as surety for loans incurred by friends, neighbors, relatives and possibly himself. Those named in the suits were: E.F. Redfield, H.V. Redfield, W.H. Byrne, B.F. Pryor, J [Jermiah] Pryor, D.O. Hoge, Daniel Riggle and William Hall. Frank Pryor was the only defendant who owned property with which to cover the judgements. All 1500 acres were seized by the Sheriff and sold at the courthouse door in March, 1872, acquired by the men to whom the judgements were owed.

Washington apparently did not want to see this land leave the Pryor family. He was able to recover the land from the purchasers by paying off the judgements. He also paid some other small debts that were not part of the judgements and gave B.F. and M.J. Pryor one thousand dollars. The total he paid was about $9500. The final deed, which described all the debts paid and all the land transferred, was executed on September 1, 1879. The clerk of the court claimed to have interviewed Mary Jane on that date, which puts them in Marion County that day.

The deed gives the appearance that Washington was skeptical of Frank's ability to handle money and property. It says:
"... I promise to pay to B.F.Pryor and his wife Mary Jane Pryor one thousand dollars in trust for the said Mary Jane Pryor and their children ... this note or debt may be discharged in land or money which is to be by the said B.F. Pryor and wife, Mary Jane Pryor invested in property in trust for the use and benefit of the said Mary Jane Pryor and their children and I Washington Pryor to be in no event responsible for the investment of the said one thousand dollars ..."

Frank's bitterness must have extended beyond the Union Army and encompassed those who took advantage of him and cost him his birthright. In the end, his resentment must have indeed been overwhelming, if it led him to take his own life.

Benjamin Franklin Pryor and Mary Jane Smith Pryor are buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County, Texas.

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