Print this page Make text larger Make text smaller
home history family photos records misc

Benjamin Minsker Retires, then Dies


Note: Benjamin Minsker was the son of Peter Minsker and Elizabeth Brownawell, the grandson of Benjamin Minsker and Elizabeth Mooney, and the great-grandson of Ludwig Minsker, Jr. and Mary Ann Cairns.
See also the Descendants page and the Manskers at War page.

The following story first appeared in the Leelanau, Michigan Enterprise on December 29, 1932.

Benjamin Minsker, grand old man of Leelanau county's official family,
will retire to private life on Saturday, December 31.

After more than a quarter century of uninterrupted service as county clerk, "Uncle Ben" as he is familiarly known to the people he serves, is at last preparing to take a well-earned rest in the quiet comfort of his little home here in Leland. He declined to run for office this year after having been elected to the office of clerk twelve times in succession, without opposition.

Mr. Minsker, who is 86 years old and a veteran of nearly four years service in the Civil War, became county clerk on October 21, 1907, when he was appointed by Judge Mayne to fill the unexpired term of Zimri El Hinshaw, who died in office. A special election confirmed the appointment, and thereafter "Uncle Ben" was nominated and elected on the Republican ticket every other year for an unbroken stretch of 24 years. Friends placed his name in nomination again in 1932, but he promptly withdrew, feeling that the county would be better served by a younger officer.

When it became know that Minsker would not run again, a hot race for the clerkship developed, there being five candidates for the Republican nomination, and one for the Democratic. The nomination, and eventually the election, were won by Miss Lucille Kolarik, who had been assistant to Mr. Minsker for 11 years.

Mr. Minsker served his country at an age when most boys are glad to remain at home and spend their time in less arduous pursuits than going to war. He enlisted in the Union army at the age of 14, and he served through the remainder of the war, emerging from the conflict a seasoned veteran at the age of 18.

The story of the veteran's life is an interesting tale of adventure and self-help. Born in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, Dec. 28, 1846, he was the second of six children of Peter and Elizabeth Brownawell Minsker. His sisters and brothers were Barbara, Maisie, Henry, John and Aaron. None of them survive. Minsker's parents were largely of German ancestry. His maternal grandmother's maiden name was Hoover.

Benjamin's first home was near Carlisle, the site of William Penn's headquarters. While he was still a young lad, the family moved to Dauphin County, across the Susquehanna River, and settled 7 miles from Harrisburg, the state capital.

In the spring of 1861, at the age of 14, Benjamin set out for Cumberland County in search of work. Penniless, he was unable to cross the toll footbridge across the Susquehanna, but he finally accomplished the crossing by riding in a box car.

He went to the home of his Grandmother Brownawell, and she secured him a place in the employ of a well-to-do farmer. There he spent the summer, but when the crops had been harvested in the fall, he returned to his home, which was now fatherless, Peter Minsker having died a few week previous.

The sight of the blue uniforms of the Union soldiers at Camps Curtin and Cameron, at Harrisburg, caught the boys eye, and he decided to enlist. Though, being large for his years, he might very easily have exaggerated his age, he told the truth, and asked to enlist as a drummer boy. He was told that he must have the consent of his parents, and his mother reluctantly gave her consent.

Minsker was a member of Company D, 76th Pennsylvania, known as the Zouave Volunteers, because their dress and drill were patterned after those of the Algerian troops in the French army, who were called by that name. He rose to corporal in 1864, and was acting sergeant as the was ended.

His first implement of war was neither a drum nor a gun, but a shovel. The 76th was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, besieged by the Union forces; and given the job of digging ditches while they were absorbing the rudiments of warfare.

After a period of training, young Benjamin himself was placed in charge of the drilling of a group of recruits. He had his first taste of fighting and bloodshed at Beaufort, S.C. in a brief skirmish. The 76th was then sent to Savannah, Georgia, and at that time occurred the battle between the second Monitor and second Merrimac, with the Union Monitor victorious.

Back again to Charleston, still besieged by the Union forces, the Zouaves took part in attacks on Fort Sumter, Gregg and Wagoner. Reduced to 300 men, the 76th came out of a charge on Fort Wagoner numbering only 96. Minsker was unharmed.

His enlistment expired in the winter of 1864, and he promptly reenlisted. He was given a furlough, and returned to Charleston to find that his regiment was being sent to Virginia, where the armies of both sides were now being concentrated.

The Seventy-sixty saw action at Bermuda Hundreds, and was then sent to join the Army of the Potomac. Minsker and his comrades had a part in the bloody battle of Cold Harbor, after which they were assigned to protect the workers who were laying a mine under the fortifications. After the explosion of the mine, Minsker was one of a small force ordered to hold the breach. Promised reinforcements failing to arrive, they were compelled to retreat, and during this retreat the boy soldier, now 17 years old, received his only wound of the entire war. He was shot in the heel, and was sent back through the lines to the emergency hospital, later going to Hampton Hospital at Fort Monroe and then to Whitehall Hospital on the Delaware River, above Philadelphia.

This occurred in July. Three months of hospital life made him restless, and, though he could not yet wear a shoe on his injured foot, he left to rejoin his regiment. He went through Washington with one foot bare, and spent two more weeks at the convalescent hospital at Alexandria, Virginia, before going to the front. He was now a corporal, and, with his squad, was detailed for personal service to Gen. Butler, in command of an expedition against Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina. This was known as the "red herring" expedition, because the soldiers were given large quantities of these fish in their rations.

Gen. Butler soon abandoned the attempt on Fort Fisher, but another expedition went out under Gen. Terry, and again Minsker and his squad were part of the general's bodyguard. The fort succumbed in the general collapse of the Confederacy, and Terry's forces moved inland to Goldsboro, where they joined Gen. W.T. Sherman on his march north from Georgia. They pushed on to Raleigh, where news came of the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Courthouse, ending the war. Minsker was among the troops left at Raleigh for the protection of the inhabitants and their property.

After three months of this, the troops were ordered home, taking ship at Morehead City. The craft ran aground before reaching the ocean, and many of the soldiers, Minsker among them, jumped off and reached shore. They wandered through the marshy country, hungry and almost naked, until they reached the town of Beaufort, 15 miles from Morehead City, and there they were clothed and fed and given means of returning to their headquarters. The trip home was then made without incident, and Benjamin was honorably discharged at Camp Curtin on July 30, 1865.

Mr. Minsker twice had the privilege of seeing President Abraham Lincoln, both times at the battle front. One of these occasions was in Virginia, the other in North Carolina.

The hardships of the war had left him in poor health, and he remained at home two years before turning his footsteps west in search of work and his fortune. He worked on the road at Sunbury, Pa. and in a brickyard at Williamsport, where he earned the then large sum of $2 per day.

Joining forces with a boyhood friend, George Disney, they worked their way on the railroads to Akron Ohio. Benjamin, now 21 years old aided in the construction of a boarding house at a mine. Injuring his hands, he was forced to seek other employment, and found it in Akron. After two years of this, he drove oxen on a farm, but admits that he never became a skillful handler of oxen. He worked in a cheese factory and on a dairy farm, where it was part of his job to round up and milk 24 cows.

During these years, he had been studying bookkeeping, and he now obtained the job of managing a store and keeping books at a mine. In 1874 he was sent by his employers to Dorr County, Wisconsin, where they had business interests. He was placed in charge of a branch store and pier a few miles from Sturgeon Bay. Wood, bark, ties, and telegraph poles were among the products shipped from here to various points on the Great Lakes.

After a few years he severed his connection with Horn $ Joseph, and crossed Lake Michigan to Ludington. Failing to find work, he went to Chicago, then to Iowa, and in 1879 back to Sturgeon Bay, where he obtained work in a sawmill. This was not greatly to his liking, and he took a position as bookkeeper for Sam Perry in a large store at Algoma, where he remained until 1886.

In August of that year he crossed Lake Michigan again, this time to the lumber manufacturing and shipping town of Good Harbor in Leelanau county. He managed a store and when the latter sold out to the Schomberg Brothers, Otto, Henry and Dick, Minsker continued in their employ. He acquired an interest in the store, but a year later he moved away from the lake and built a store for himself on the main road, a half mile from the water.

For nearly thirty years this store was an important business center. It was not only a store, but also housed the Good Harbor postoffice until it was discontinued, and a telegraph office. The telephone had not yet penetrated the region.

He had learned telegraphy in his spare time since coming to Wisconsin, and he now used his knowledge to build up a telegraph service on the west side of the county. Meanwhile his public career had begun. He was director of the Good Harbor school district for 23 years, clerk of Centerville township for two years, and supervisor for nearly six years, in 1895 and from 1903 to 1907. He resigned in 1907 to take the post of county clerk.

From 1907 until 1918, "Uncle Ben" as he came to be known, continued his business in Good Harbor, spending the week ends there. He lived six days a week at the New Hotel Leelanau in Leland, traveling back and forth on Saturdays and Monday with a fast-stepping team of trotting horses.

Mr. Minsker married Frances Mackey at Sturgeon Bay, Dec 24, 1877. She died in 1918, and he came to Leland with his youngest daughter, Abigail. This has since been his home. Mr. Minsker has four children living.. They are, besides Abigail, Mrs. Elizabeth Woodward of Cornell, U.P., David, a farmer in Elmwood township, and Gordon a sailor. Two sons, Harry and Glen, died after reaching manhood. The former was drowned in Lake Erie, and Glen died of pneumonia.

"Uncle Ben" will be missed at the courthouse, but he has earned a rest, and his friends wish him many peaceful years of retirement. He is still in fair health, and his memory is excellent. He recalls experiences of his earlier days very vividly, and his eyes light up as his narrates numerous instances in which "we peppered the rebels plenty and they peppered us plenty."


Benjamin Minsker's obituary appeared in the same newspaper on March 22, 1834:

Death of Benjamin Minsker

Known as "Uncle Ben" to the townspeople

Born in Pennsylvania - December 29, 1847 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

His first home was near Carlisle, Pa. near the site of William Penn's headquarters. While he was still young his family moved to Dauphin County, across the Susquehanna River, and settled 7 miles from Harrisburg.

His father died when he was 14. He was the 2nd of 6 children of Peter Minsker, and Elizabeth Brownawell. His brothers and sisters were: Barbara, Maisie, Henry, John, and Aaron. None survived at the time of his death. He was of German ancestry, and his maternal grandmother's maiden name was Hoover. In the spring of 1861, at the age of 14, he set out for Cumberland County in search of work. Penniless, he was unable to cross the toll footbridge that spanned the Susquehanna, but finally accomplished the task by riding in a box car.

In 1861 (at the age of 14) he enlisted in the Union Army. He was a drummer boy [Note: Another drummer boy -- see Manskers at War] and ditch digger. His regiment was known as the Zouaves, because they did a dress and drill patterned after those of Algerian Troops of the same name.

His regiment saw service in Charleston S.C. and faught at Beaufort. They were stationed in Savannah. In the winter of 1864, he renewed his enlistment, and was assigned to Virginia. He took part in the battle of Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg, during which he was wounded in the foot, and spent a few weeks in the hospital. After his return to active duty, he joined General Butler's expedition against Fort Fisher in North Carolina and then accomplished a second attack under General Terry which succeded in taking the fort. A portion of his regiment was send to Raleigh, while the main body marched north and joined Grant in forcing Lee's final surrender.

After suffering a shipwreck before returning home, he was forced to swim to shore, and wandered for days in a marshy area, nearly nude, before finding civilization. He was in poor health, and after a period of rest, he set out to make his fortune.

His quest for work led him to western Pennsylvania, and them to Acron, Ohio, where he did a wide variety of work. He emerged from all this is 1874 as a bookkeeper, and in was sent by his employer to Wisconsin, and placed in charge of a store, and pier near Sturgeon Bay.

After a few years, he went to Ludington, Mi., Chicago,Il. and Iowa seeking work, and then returned to Sturgeon Bay, where he spent a few more years as a bookkeeper in a large store.

In August of 1886 he went to Good Harbor, Mi. and was a bookkeeper for W.S. Johnson and later for Schomberg Brothers (they had a lumbering operation). He next had a store of his own on the main road, away from the lake. This store was an important business center for a number of years, housing for a number of years, housing the post office, and telegraph office.

He was director of the Good Harbor school district for 23 years, Centerville Township Clerk for 2 years, and supervisor for six. When he resigned, the towns main business had closed, and the residents were leaving. He took a post in October 1907 as county clerk in Leland, appointed by Frederick Mayne. He was elected to office on a republican ticket , without opposition for 12, 2 year terms after that. He retired in 1932, and died in 1934 of an illness complicated by pneumonia.

He was married to Frances Mackey on December 24, 1877, in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She died in 1918 and shortly after Ben and daughter Abigail came to Leland. He was survived by a son David of Elmwood, and Mrs. Elizabeth Woodard of Cornell U.P. A son, Gordon, is a sailor in the Great Lakes, and has not been heard from in 10 years. Two other sons, Harry and Glen, preceeded him in death, one having drowned in Lake Erie, and the other died of pneumonia. He had 14 grandchilden and 4 great grandchildren at the time of his death.