Portrait and Biographical Album of Lenawee County, Michigan


Benjamin Hornbeck

Medina Township has been particularly fortunate in the class of citizens attracted to her borders by the fertility of the soil and the many other natural advantages. Its residents are composed mostly of those who came in the early days and usually remained upon the land where they first located. Upon the theory that a rolling stone gathers no moss, they have been content to stay and have for the most part been amply rewarded for their efforts.

The history of the Hornbeck family is one of more than usual interest, and the fact that they were far-seeing enough to preserve what they could obtain of it, denotes that they were people of more than ordinary intelligence. It is mostly the ignorant who have no history worthy of preserving, or of a character which they would not desire given to the world. The Hornbeck's are of English ancestry and were first represented in this country by three brothers who crossed the water during the Colonial days. The grandfather of our subject fought in the Revolutionary War and died at the battle of Bunker Hill. He had married and settled in New Jersey and the family remained there, the children being reared to men and women trained in those patriotic principles for which the father had yielded up his life. Their son James, the father of our subject, subsequently did good service in the War of 1812, being in the northern ision of the army. After marriage he settled in Milford, Sussex County, New Jersey, and there with his estimable wife, who was Miss Elizabeth, daughter of Capt. Cornelius DeWitt, of Revolutionary fame, lived until after the birth of two children, when they removed to Phelps, Ontario County, New York where their son, Cornelius D., was born October 29, 1811, and where they spent the remainder of their days. Cornelius has resided in Michigan since 1836.

The subject of this record was born in Milford, Sussex County, New Jersey, December 21, 1808, and was a child about three years of age when his parents became residents of the Empire State. He grew to manhood there, in Ontario County, receiving a good common-school education, and employed principally in farm pursuits. Upon reaching manhood he married one of the estimable young ladies of that region, Miss Phoebe, daughter of Robert Rhead who, like the Hornbeck's, was of English descent. His wedding was celebrated with great ├ęclat on St. Valentine's Day, 1833, and on the 8th of May, the following year, our subject with his young wife set out for the Territory of Michigan.

Upon reaching Detroit, Mr. Hornbeck left his wife with her brother at the little town of Plymouth, seventeen miles distant, and proceeded on foot westward for the purpose of seeking a location for their future home. He halted first upon the present site of Morenci, on the 12th of June, 1834, and taking up a tract of Government land, put up a log house, and going after his wife, installed her there in October following. They had no furniture, neither chairs, bedstead nor table, but necessity proved the "mother of invention" and they improvised a table out of a barrel-head, while a bedstead, chair and table were in due time provided from some boards and home-made scantling. Mr. Hornbeck had in money only $3.50 left after paying for his land. Wild game was plenty, and whatever else was lacking they had plenty of wild meat and managed to get through the winter without suffering. In the spring the Michigan-Toledo trouble was settled and the commissioners from Ovid made the house of Mr. Hornbeck their rendezvous, under pretense of being land-seekers.

The neighbors of Mr. Hornbeck and his wife at that time were few and far between. In 1835 Orville Woodworth from New Jersey came and stayed with the Hornbeck's while hunting a location, and was the first man to settle west of the creek. He was soon afterward joined by Hiram Farwell and William Coy, the latter of whom made his stopping place with our subject about six weeks before deciding where to settle. Mr. Hornbeck finally sold his property to Messrs. Roberts and Armitage, of Monroe, and purchased fifty-six acres from Mr. Dennis Wakefield on the north side of the road, besides eighty acres from Mr. Franklin on the south side. Early in the spring of 1835 he struck the first blow toward clearing his land which was covered with heavy timber, and the labor of felling the trees and preparing the soil for cultivation was no light task: his milling was done at Adrian and Tecumseh. During those times when men were required to exercise the utmost ingenuity in order to cope successfully with their environments, Benjamin Hornbeck proved often a "friend in need" to those hunting locations and to those frequently who found themselves embarrassed for lack of means. He supplied them with provisions and sustained their failing spirits by his hearty kindness and hopeful words. As time progressed and their prospects improved, no man rejoiced more over the dawning prosperity of his neighbors and none was regarded with warmer admiration and respect.

Mr. and Mrs. Hornbeck became the parents of nine children, most of whom are married and have families of their own. James, the first-born, married Miss Libbie Wilcox and they have four children - Frank, Clara, Freddie and Maud; they are residents of Dakota. Elizabeth became the wife of Sylvester Packer and the mother of three children, when she died at her home March 27, 1886; Judson married Miss Annis Colgrove and took up his residence in Saline County, Nebraska; they are the parents of five children - DeWitt, Rosa, Bert, Bertha and Pearl. This son, during the late war, enlisted in an Iowa regiment and served valiantly, being with Sherman in the famous march from Atlanta to the sea. Aden is in Gratiot County, this State; he married Miss Maria Beckwith and they have three children - Lewis, Rollin and Bertha. Benjamin is at home and has charge of the farm. Lewis is in Kalamazoo, having a post in the asylum there. Anna, the wife of C. W. Mallory, is the mother of one child, Ethel L., and a resident of Fulton County, Ohio. Emma married Melford Baker and resides in Morenci. Jennie has charge of the domestic affairs of her father. Mrs. Phoebe Hornbeck departed this life at the homestead on the 25th of October, 1869, aged fifty-five years.

Our subject, politically, votes the straight Democratic ticket and served as Justice of the Peace four years. He was contractor for the first frame school building in Morenci and was one of those concerned in the building of the first log schoolhouse in Medina Township. Not a school building has been erected in the township in which he has not lent a helping hand. His children have been thoroughly educated, completing their studies in the High School at Morenci and Oak Grove Academy. Mr. Hornbeck took a contract from the Government to clear and build one mile of the territorial road running from Toledo, Ohio to Michigan City, Indiana and took Jacob Baker in with him on the contract. They built the first bridge on this road that spanned Bean Creek (or Tiffin river) in the fall and winter of 1834.