Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, 1848-1900: Litigation and Fires Beleaguer The Family

The youngest of Simon Goldsmith’s children was his daughter Hannah; she was born to Simon’s second wife, Fradchen Schoenthal, my three-times great-aunt, making Hannah, like her brother Henry, my double cousin. Hannah was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 5, 1848. Since I have not written about Hannah in quite a while, let me recap what I’ve already written about her.

In 1850, Simon and Fradchen were living in Pittsburgh with Henry and Hannah as well Simon’s two daughters from his first marriage, Lena and Eva. Fradchen died later that year, leaving Hannah motherless when she was just two years old.

Simon Goldsmith and family, 1850 US census, Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census

Simon then moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, to live with his oldest child Jacob, presumably so that he would have support to raise his two youngest children.

Simon Goldsmith and family 1860 US census, Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1192; Page: 1188; Image: 627; Family History Library Film: 805192

In 1867, Hannah married Joseph Benedict. She was only nineteen, and he was 33. Joseph was born July 3, 1834, in Germany and had immigrated in 1857, according to the 1900 census. Hannah and Joseph settled in Pittsburgh after marrying. The 1870 Pittsburgh directory lists Joseph as a junk dealer. By the time the 1870 census was enumerated Joseph and Hannah had a five-month-old son named Jacob, born January 24, 1870, in Pittsburgh. Also living with them in 1870 were Hannah’s father, Simon Goldsmith, now a retired tailor, and Amelia Schoenthal, who was Hannah’s first cousin, her mother Fradchen’s niece and the older sister of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal.

Joseph and Hannah Benedict, 1870 US census, ensus Place: Pittsburgh Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1295; Page: 567A; Family History Library Film: 552794
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census

On June 6, 1871, Hannah gave birth to a second child, Herschel Newton Benedict, in Pittsburgh. Five years later, Hannah gave birth to her third son, Centennial Harry Benedict, born on September 24, 1876, in Pittsburgh (named for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence).1 Hannah and her husband Joseph Benedict continued to live in Pittsburgh where Joseph is listed on the 1880 census as a rag dealer.

Joseph and Hannah Benedict and family, 1880 US census, Census Place: Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1092; Page: 508D; Enumeration District: 122,  Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census

Unfortunately, the 1880s presented some difficult issues for Joseph Benedict and thus his family. In 1882 he became embroiled in litigation against the Antietam Paper Company. Joseph sold this company $813.03 worth of rags for which they had refused to pay, alleging that the rags were infected with the smallpox virus. The company argued that as a result of the infected rags, many people both in the paper company’s employ and in the surrounding area became ill and even died, causing the company to shut down its operations. The lower court rejected the paper company’s defense, and judgment in favor of Joseph was upheld on appeal.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5 Sep 1882, Tue, Page 1

[To my former Contracts students—why do you think Joseph won this case?]

Just two years later in September 1884, the warehouse where Joseph’s rag and paper business was located was severely damaged by fire. Not only was there serious property damage, two firefighters were injured while trying to control the fire. The newspaper reports differed on their coverage of the fire. The Pittsburgh Daily Post wrote:

Pittsburgh Daily Post, 10 Sep 1884, Page 4

According to this article, the owners of the building were fully insured for the $5000 loss, though the aggregate loss (including the property of the tenants) was more like $40,000.

But an article from the same date published by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a very different report on the insurance coverage for damages:

“Rags and Tea,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
10 Sep 1884, Page 2

So did the owners have insurance or not? Which paper had a more accurate report of the facts?

Joseph’s loss was partially covered by insurance, at least according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he nevertheless suffered a very significant loss. The Post-Gazette account noted that the fire was presumed to have started by spontaneous combustion of Joseph’s rags.

That was not the last time Joseph’s business was damaged by fire. In 1892, Joseph was now the owner of the building that housed his rag and paper business. A fire started when a gas stove overheated in the space in his building that was being used by a cigar business. Joseph’s business suffered only minor damage, according to the paper, because the fire did not reach the cellar where his business was located and thus only suffered water damage. The paper noted, however, that this was the third fire at this building within eighteen months.

“Fire in Allegheny,” The Pittsburgh Press – 23 Nov 1892 – Page 1

But Joseph was still operating his paper business at that location in 1894.2

Meanwhile, Hannah and Joseph’s sons were growing up in these years. In 1889, Jacob, the oldest son who was then nineteen, was working as a bookkeeper. The following year both Jacob and his brother Herschel were listed as bookkeepers in the Pittsburgh directory. Both were still listed as bookkeepers in 1898.3

At that time the youngest brother, C. Harry Benedict, was a student at Cornell University.

U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012; Yearbook Title: Cornell Class Book; Year: 1897
Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990

In 1900, Hannah and Joseph and their two older sons were living in Pittsburgh, where Joseph, now 65, was retired, Jacob was working as a bookkeeper, and Herschel was a salesman.

Joseph Benedict, 1900 US census, Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 11, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Page: 6; Enumeration District: 0142; FHL microfilm: 1241359
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census

C. Harry was living in Lake Linden, Michigan in 1900, working as a mechanical engineer, according to the census record. But “chemical” was crossed out, and later records indicate that Harry was a metallurgical engineer, so I think either the enumerator or the person reporting to the enumerator was confused.

C Harry Benedict, 1900 US census, Census Place: Schoolcraft, Houghton, Michigan; Page: 19; Enumeration District: 0196; FHL microfilm: 1240715, Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census

Thus, by 1900, all three of Hannah and Joseph Benedict’s sons were adults, and their father had retired from his fire-prone business.  Soon there would be weddings and grandchildren.

UPDATE: Thank you to the great-great-grandson of Hannah and Joseph Benedict, I now have these photographs of Hannah, Joseph, and their three sons, taken in about 1890.





  1. J.-M. Flaud, C. Camy-Peyret, R. A. Toth, Water Vapour Line Parameters from Microwave to Medium Infrared: An Atlas of H216O, H217O and H218O Line Positions and Intensities between 0 and 4350 cm-1, Pergamon, 1981 (dedication). 
  2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1894, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1889, 1890, 1898, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 

21 thoughts on “Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, 1848-1900: Litigation and Fires Beleaguer The Family

  1. Newspapers and their reporters were probably not very different from today’s. Getting the story out as quickly as possible often meant not having all the facts the first time around.
    I found it interesting Hannah and Joseph named their son Centennial. If there was as much hype about the anniversary as there was in 1976 when I graduated from high school with “the bi-centennial class” then I can understand why they’d choose the name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question—somehow it seems very unlikely, and that’s why I think Joseph won the case. Proving causation would have been very difficult.



  2. Reading your post on Hannah Goldsmith I am no longer surprised that there was yet another German immigrant who married into your family. In those days in a country of great cultural diversity people most likely would gather in places of similar ethnic or regional backgrounds.
    A very nice portrait of Centennial Harry Benedict!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am viewing rag and junk dealer in a whole new light. I have always associated it with push carts and poverty but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. Ready for some weddings and I am hoping you found sound some great write ups on them too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So I guess he went by Harry and not Cenny haha. Fascinating story. I am trying to imagine a rag business. He collected actual used rags, washed, and packaged them. Is that it? Ok, why did he prevail in the case? This layperson thinks they had no proof the rags caused a contagious illness. Would there have to be intent? I give up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually I read somewhere that they called him Uncle Cen. Now I can’t for the life of me remember or find where I read that. GRRRR

      Yes, I think that’s what they did—recycle rags and paper in some fashion!

      As for the legal analysis, it would be hard to prove that the rags caused people to get sick when there were so many (more likely) ways that smallpox could have spread among the workers. Intent is not necessary for a breach of contract case (or even for a torts case where negligence could be proved). Ready for law school now? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Hannah Goldsmith Benedict 1900-1920: Gains, Losses, and Laws | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  6. Pingback: Hannah and Henry Goldsmith, My Double Cousins: An Update | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  7. Pingback: Two Cousins Whose Lives Tell the Overall Story of the Goldschmidts | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  8. Pingback: More Photos of My Double Cousin Hannah Goldsmith Benedict and Her Family | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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