In the year his father died Benjamin Jones turned 20. His older brothers were in the blacksmithing business or the fishery of Gloucester but Benjamin had no interest in staying in Gloucester or going to sea. He set out to make his fortune by exploring America, as his father had done 35 years earlier. He was better prepared than Thomas was, being four years older at the time. Also Benjamin had 6 pieces of eight, ten axe heads made by Mother Jones and the gift of gab. He was a handsome, good natured young man, and people naturally gravitated to him.
Benjamin’s plan was to walk west and see what happened. He, of all the Jones sons was the most experienced woodsman, having spent much of his youth tramping around the wilds of Cape Ann, bringing back meat for the Jones table and the tables of their neighbor’s. He hoped to get as far as the Connecticut River, that he had heard of but of course never seen, before cold weather set in.
The wilderness in those days was not an unrelieved mass of thickets and brambles. The natives had been, for thousands of years, using trails connecting the river valleys. These trails were not highways by any means because the natives tread lightly on the land, but simply by walking the less obstructed path Benjamin was following in the footsteps of generations of wanderers.
Benjamin got as far as the trading post at the head of Salem Sound before he changed his plans. He had carried about 40 pounds of axe heads over 20 miles and thought he should lighten his load. At the trading post which would someday become the settlement of Danvers he asked the proprietor what he would give for a genuine Mother Jones.
“Let me see it”, the man said.
Benjamin pulled open his pack and exposed the ten axe heads. The trader took one and examined it closely.
“Where did you get these”?
“I am Mother Jones’s youngest son. She placed them in this pack herself.”
“Well, I’ve got one of my own and no man needs more than one. If you want to wait a couple of days I’ll put you in touch with a fellow getting up an expedition to steal some timber from the French up in the head of Penobscot Bay. He might want some.”
So Benjamin rested at Weaver’s trading post waiting for whatever might turn up. What turned up was a crew of the roughest sort of fellows, looking for Captain Petit Snow who had made it known that he wanted to hire woodsmen. In due course a shallop showed up to transport the wood cutters to the ship waiting out in the sound.
Benjamin wanted to sell his axes but the wood-cutters had no money so he decided to go with them to the ship hoping to deal with the captain and be taken ashore by the shallop. Unfortunately, the wood-cutters, Benjamin and the shallop were all hoisted aboard the ship, which pulled anchor and set sail up the Gulf of Maine to Penobscot Bay. Captain Snow told Benjamin to not worry they would be back next summer. He also offered Benjamin a more than fair price for his axes and agreed to hold the money until the return so Benjamin would not have to be concerned for thievery.
Benjamin ended up cutting towering pines all winter along the Penobscot River and floating them down to the bay in the spring on the runoff. The territory was at that time jointly claimed by England and France and the English Captain Snow was taking preemptive action.
Benjamin was returned to Gloucester on his twenty-first birthday, July 31, 1672, without having gotten west of Salem, without his axes but with a substantial nest egg from the sale of the axes and his wages. His expenses for the year were less than 60 shillings for powder and shot. The lumber camp provided room and board.
He tried again to travel west in the spring of 1673. This time he took a more northerly route so as to avoid any involvement with maritime adventures. Benjamin got as far as Topsfield on this excursion before he ran afoul of the same sort of change in plans that held up his father… he met a girl.
Benjamin had stopped to rest in the settlement and walking past the church on Sunday morning he saw a young woman leaving the service with her family. Suddenly Topsfield seemed as far west as he wanted to go. He took a sales job with a Topsfield merchant, cleaned himself up and began attending church. He learned that the girl was 23 year-old Bethany Wildes. He spent two years in Topsfield becoming a regular visitor to the Wildes household until finally Bethany agreed to marry. Bethany’s younger sister Elizabeth was pining for Benjamin herself but never let him know out of respect for her sister. In 1676 after nearly a year of engagement, Bethany disappeared and turned up a week later married to another man.
Ben picked up his broken heart and broken journey, and walked away. In July of 1676, Benjamin reached the Connecticut River near present day Holyoke. He rafted down the river to a point about eight miles below the English settlement called Springfield where the land flattened out. There he found natives curing the weed that grew wild along the river banks so they could use it in the smoking ceremonies.
Ben settled there experimenting with cultivating the wild tobacco. Around September of 1677 the natives all disappeared. Ben had been hearing rumblings of a native uprisings so he went back upriver to the English settlement. In October there was an attack and Ben was called on the help defend the village. During the fighting he got separated from the others and was taken prisoner by the natives.
Ben was removed from the battleground and taken to the native encampment on the Chicopee River near its confluence with the Connecticut. There he was bound and left in a log hut at nightfall. There was a lot of commotion as warriors came and went during the night. Somewhere near midnight Ben was roused from a doze by a quiet voice in his left ear.
“Not a sound”, the voice said in English. “I am Francis Small of Cape Cod. I am here posing as a French man for reasons I can not go into. I am going to cut you loose and point you in the direction of freedom. It will be up to you to make it out of here and get clear away. If you are recaptured please do me the courtesy of saying you do not know who cut you loose. Can you manage that?”
“I can” Ben whispered. “Name is Benjamin Jones of Gloucester. If we have an opportunity of meeting again I would like to thank you properly.”
Without another sound Ben’s bonds were cut and his visitor led him out of the hut and to the edge of the woods. The last words Ben heard were, “Head south”.
Ben made as much distance between him and the native encampment during the night as he could do silently. After daylight he added a little west to his southing and eventually came back to the Connecticut river south of Springfield.
Ben had an idea but not enough money to finance it so he wanted to go back to Gloucester to try to raise funds to establish a tobacco plantation in the Connecticut River valley. He floated down the river to Saybrook and from there to New London by fishing boat. Then by coastal trader to Gloucester.
Somehow word reached Elizabeth Wildes in Topsfield that Benjamin was back in Gloucester. She traveled there under the protection of one of her brothers and declared her love for Benjamin.
Benjamin was astounded at Elizabeth’s nerve and determination. In Connecticut he had been blinded by his infatuation for her sister Bethany. In Gloucester the younger sister far outshined the memory of the older. And she had already demonstrated her love for him.
They were married in January of 1678 and settled in with Mary, Benjamin’s mother since her health was not good. Mary lived to see Benjamin and Elizabeth have two children before she died in 1682.
In 1682 Benjamin traveled by ride and tie to Enfield in Connecticut with Jeremiah Meacham of Salem to explore the possibility of getting the tobacco land. On their return Jerimiah moved his family to Enfield to become Benjamin’s agent in buying land and setting up two farms. Benjamin supplied the money and Jeremiah got one acre to Benjamin’s two.
Benjamin and Elizabeth lived on in Gloucester until the spring of 1685 when they moved with their four children to Enfield, CT to pursue Benjamin’s tobacco plantation idea.
Connecticut Tobacco Drying Shed
Benjamin and Elizebeth had an additional four children, eight in all.
Thomas Jones 3/13/1679, Gloucester, MA
Priscilla Jones 6/10/1681, Gloucester, MA
Benjamin Jones 1683, Gloucester, MA
Ebenezer Jones 4/17/1684, Gloucester, MA
Elizabeth Jones 1/26/1685, Gloucester, MA
Ephraim Jones 7/31/1688, Enfield, CT
Samuel Jones 9/22/1690, Enfield, CT
Eleazer 4/12/1693, Enfield, CT
Gershom Jones 10/26/1695, Enfield, CT
Benjamin and Elizabeth became prosperous and lived comfortably until on 6/26/1718 they perished together in a tobacco shed fire.