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Benedict Fritz
Born 15 October 1826
Lech, Austria
Died 21 September 1891
Blakesburg, Iowa
Buried Blakesburg Cemetery
Father Benedikt Fritz
Mother Veronika Jochum
Benedict Fritz was born in Lech, Austria on 15 October 1826, to Benedikt and Veronika Jochum Fritz. He died in Blakesburg, Iowa on 21 September 1891. He was buried in the Blakesburg Cemetery in Blakesburg, Iowa.


Benedict and Anna had eight children:

  1. Louisa Christina Fritz (3.1)
  2. William B. Fritz (3.2)
  3. Matilda Fritz (3.3)
  4. Henry F. Fritz (3.4)
  5. Matilda Fritz (3.5)
  6. George W. Fritz (3.6)
  7. Franklin Fritz (3.7)
  8. Gertrude Cornelius Fritz (3.8)


Growing up in Austria

Benedict Fritz was born in Lech, Austria on the 15th of October, 1826. He was the third child, and second son, of Benedict and Veronica Jochum Fritz.

At the time of Benedict's birth, he had a brother, Joseph, two years his elder. The following years brought Benedict's younger brothers Christian, Anthony, and Basil.[1] A younger sister, Maria, was also born, but she died a year later,[2] when Benedict was about seven years old.

During Benedict's childhood, he was affectionately raised alongside his brothers by their devoted mother.[3] The brothers were instilled with the Catholic faith, held by their parents and grandparents.[3] The time Benedict could spend with his mother was cut short by her death in early 1837, when he was only ten years old.[1]

About the mid- to late-1840's—the years are an estimate, considering Benedict turned 16 in 1842, and emigrated in 1853—Benedict joined the Germany army.[3] Four years of service taught Benedict to survive in an environment where necessities for life were scarce.[3]

Starting out in the United States

In spring of 1853, Benedict and his brother Joseph left Austria for the United States. The may have been on the Waltham which left Le Havre, France for the port in New York City, arriving on the 5th of April, 1853.[4] They spent 36 days at sea until their arrival in New York City.[3]

There is an account that Benedict's younger brother Christian left for America in 1852.[3] According to this time-line, Benedict and Joseph traveled to Cleveland, Ohio in search of Christian, only to find the younger brother had left there. Other accounts, including census information on Christian, his obituary, and a ship passenger log which may include him, all claim his immigration took place in 1854. History may never reveal whether Christian was in Ohio prior to Benedict's arrival, or if he arrived in the United States after his older brothers.

Benedict owned little, and much of that was spent to afford his travel to America.[3] Following his arrival in Ohio, Benedict traveled from Cleveland to Columbus, where he took employment as a house painter.[3] It is likely Joseph was with Benedict at this time, as Joseph took permanent residence in this city. Benedict only remained for about eight months before hearing of gold in California.[3] He returned to New York to take a steamship to California.

It was on the 5th of January, 1854 when Benedict set sail from New York,[3] leaving on the steamship Northern Light. With little money, or perhaps to save what he had, Benedict traveled in steerage, the cheapest class ticket. This meant poor meals and no privacy during the trip. Had he left a year earlier, Benedict would have spent 76 days on the ship.[5] Instead, Benedict found himself stepping off the Northern Light only a week later,[6] on about the 13th, in the town of San Juan del Norte,[7] and at the mouth of the San Juan River.[8]

Benedict's travels continued by river steamer along nearly 80 miles of the San Juan river, facing rapids along the way, until reaching the head of the river at San Carlos. The river fed into Lake Nicaragua, where the ship took Benedict and its other passengers across over 40 miles to reach Virgin Bay. A land trip by carriage spanned a little over 10 miles of pebble road, delivering Benedict to San Juan del Sur.[9]

The Brother Jonathan, a paddle steamer, pulled into port at San Juan del Sur on the 12th,[10] likely days prior to Benedict's arrival. Benedict and the other passengers from the Northern Light boarded the Brother Jonathan,[11] totaling 600 passengers,[10] and the ship left port on the night of the 18th,[10] starting the final leg of their journey, the 2,800 mile travel to California.

Conditions on the Brother Jonathan were poor for the higher paying passengers on the ship, and deplorable for Benedict and the rest of steerage.[12] Meals were commonly served on a table with no dish or knife or fork, and those who were given utensils and dishware found them too dirty to use. Food consisted of inedible beef and pork, half-putrid, and biscuits unfit to eat. When the meals went untouched, attendants served the same items day after day.[12] Attendants and petty officers, having charge over steerage, were abusive in their treatment of passengers, reacting negatively to even polite requests of passengers, and disregarding complaints.[12]

The Brother Jonathan made frequent stops to repair its engine.[12] A fire starting from the furnace slowed the trip further.[12] The ship stopped off of Cape St. Lucas on the 26th,[10] remaining there a full day to receive new parts for broken machinery.[12] Fog also kept the Brother Jonathan from travel for a day.[13] The 12-day sea trip ended with the ship's arrival in San Francisco in the morning of the 2nd of February.[14]

Upon arrival in California, Benedict headed straight for the mines in Placer County.[3] He visited a gold claim near Placerville.[15] Benedict called into the shaft, inquiring whether there was a job available to him. He was met by Gebhard Schoech, an immigrant from Austria, and a co-owner of the claim. The two agreed upon terms, Gebhard hired Benedict to work for him. In time, Gebhard sold Benedict a third interest in the mine. For two years, the two and the other co-owner, Karl Walther, worked in that mine, before Gephart left California.[16]

Benedict and Anne

Following a third year of mining, Benedict left California in 1857. He returned to the east side of the country, then went went to Iowa to find opportunity.[17]} There, he invested in a farm in Adams township, where he improved the land and built a house.[17]

One his home was ready to settle into, Benedict was ready to marry an acquaintance he had known for some time.[17] He married Anne M\"{u}ller in Saint Louis, Missouri on the 20th of September, 1857.[18] Benedict purchased 160 acres of land—just south-east of Blakesburg—in Adams Township, Wapello County, Iowa, which he came to own by October of that same year.[3] He worked there as a farmer.[19] The two returned to Benedict's farm to start their life together.[17]

Not long after the marriage, Benedict transitioned away from farming to become a merchant, an occupation he would be better qualified for.[17] He purchased a site in Blakesburg, and there his general merchandise store was built.[17] The store carried most in-demand items, and found itself with a large patronage, especially trading stock and product with farmers.[17] If the farmers were hit by hard times, Benedict's store continued to keep them supplied with necessities until things improved.[17]

Less than a year after Benedict and Anne married, the couple's first child was born, their daughter Louisa.[3]

On the 29th of September, 1859, Benedict was naturalized as a US citizen. The naturalization took place in his home county of Wapello. It was also during this year when Benedict's father back in Austria died.[3]

Another child was born to the couple in 1860, their son William.[3] A daughter Matilda was born in 1861, followed by a son Henry in 1862.[3]

In 1863, Benedict left farming to become a merchant, dealing in general merchandise and feed-mill.[20]

Benedict and Anna faced the tragedy of losing a child with the loss of Matilda in 1864.[3] They named their next child, born that same year, Matilda, as well. Their final three children born were a son George in 1866, a son Frank in 1868, and a daughter Gertrude in 1871.[3]

The land Benedict owned had increased in size to 574 acres by 1878.[17] He also held the office of School Director for three years by that time.[17]

By the mid-1880's, Benedict's property spanned about 1,000 acres of land.[3] He dealt in both livestock and mercantile, also owning a gristmill.[3] To each child he provided a good education and assisted in the starts of their adult lives.[3]

Benedict had his next loses over a decade later, when his wife Anna and brother Joseph each passed away in 1884.[3] Benedict's own life ended on the 21st of September, 1891.

Notes on biography

While writing Benedict's biography, there were a few locations where a series of clues have been taken to present the most likely history. Below are notes on these decisions.

Travel to California

Benedict's travel to California has a strong set of facts, provided in "Portrait and Biographical Album of Wapello County, Iowa." Benedict:

  • "started on the 5th of January"
  • "for San Francisco via New York"
  • "thence by steamer"
  • "arriving on the Pacific coast on the 2d of February, 1854"
  • the length of trip was 29 days (inclusive)

In 1853, a man named John Hayward published a book titled, "A Gazetteer of the United Stats of America." On page 851, Hayward presents two routes for the travel to California from the east coast:

The Panama route entailed leaving from New York to either Aspinwall or Navy Bay (east of Chagres) in Panama. This part of the trip spanned 2,300 miles if via Kingston, Jamaica, or another 100 miles more if via Havana, Cuba. Because the Panama Canal had not yet been constructed, the journey went from boat to a fairly new rail line, which took passengers south to the city of Panama. From there the trip would return to the sea taking passengers on a 3,400 mile trip up to Acapulco, Mexico, to California, stopping by San Diego and Monterey before reaching San Francisco. Trips started the 5th and 20th of the month, taking 25 to 30 days to reach San Francisco.

The Nicaragua route started with a 2,000 mile steamship trip from New York to San Juan del Norte (known also as Greytown), at the mouth of the San Juan River. The voyage went next to river steamer for a 52 mile ascent to the Castillian rapids, where steamers could not travel. Beyond the rapids the voyage took passengers 27 miles to the head of the river at San Carlos. Crossing Lake Nicaragua to Virgin Bay comprised another 42 miles, then the trip would go to San Juan del Sur. On the Pacific Ocean side, a 13 mile trip on land lead next to a steamer ride across 135 miles through Isthmus of Panama. (I question this part of the route, as the Isthmus of Panama is further south of Nicaragua.) Overall, from San Juan del Sur to San Francisco would span 2,800 miles, for an overall trip from New York of 5,000 miles. Trips started the 1st and 15th of the month, taking 22 to 28 days to reach San Francisco.

Although the Panama route looks like a clear match for Benedict's trip, the Evening Post newspaper in New York's 5th of January, 1854 publication listed ships leaving that day, including the Northern Light leaving for San Juan (Nicaragua route), and the Illinois leaving for Apsinwall (Panama route). This leaves two places to find which ship Benedict sailed on: passenger lists, and the date of arrival in San Francisco.

The Evening Post's publication on the 6th of October, 1854 included a list of passengers for the Northern Light. The list of passengers is quite extensive, including a name which looks like "B Fritz" near the bottom. The publication did not include a passenger list for the Illinois.

Both ships took their passengers only half of the way to their destination, as outlined in Hayward's gazetteer, a second ship finishing each route. Newspapers out of California build up the other side of the puzzle.

The San Francisco newspaper, Daily Placer Times and Transcript published on the 3rd of February, 1854 about the arrival of the Brother Jonathan the day before, the day of Benedict's arrival. The paper included a partial list of passengers, which very closely matches the first half of the listing for the Northern Light. Rather than including a full list of 609 passengers, the paper referred to "270 in the steerage" where Benedict's name would otherwise have been listed, if he were on the Brother Jonathan. The paper also stated the ship "left San Juan del Sur" suggesting the route had been updated since Hayward's publication.

On the 4th of February, the same paper stated the California arrived from Panama on the the 3rd, and on the 6th of February, the Daily Placer Times and Transcript published that the Oregon had arrived from Panama on the 5th, bringing on it 169 passengers. One of these ships likely carried the passengers from the Illinois, having left New York the same day as Benedict, but arriving in California after.


Mr. Benedict Fritz, of Blakesburg, Ia., aged 65, died Monday, Sept. 21st, at 5 o'clock, of heart trouble. He was a very prominent and wealthy citizen. He was buried Tuesday.

Template:Missing:Source information. Received via Christine Masterson. There is a handwritten date on the scanned image: 24 Sept. 1891. This would have been a Thursday.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Probate of Veronica Jochum.
  2. Information from Bruno and Ida Fritz.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 Portrait and Biographical Album of Wapello County, Iowa.
  4. New York, Passenger Lists.
  5. From the book "California: Land of New Beginnings" by David Lavender. From page 228: "In 1853, the Northern Light ran from San Francisco to New York in 76 days."
  6. The Daily Alta California printed on 21 December 1854 stated the Northern Lights at that time traveled from New York to San Juan in seven and a half days. Likely the trip was about the same length for Benedict almost a year prior.
  7. San Juan del Norte is also known also as Greytown.
  8. Details about the Nicaragua route of travel are taken from the book, A Gazetteer of the United States of America (Hayward, 1853).
  9. Sacramento Daily Union (10 February 1854). An ad for the Nicaragua route states, "Only 12 Miles of Land Carriage—Macadamized Road."
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Daily Placer Times and Transcript newspaper (3 February 1854).
  11. Sacramento Daily Union newspaper (3 February 1854). Provides a list of non-steerage passengers, which matches the first portion of the list of the SS Northern Light's passengers from the Evening Post newspaper (6 January 1854).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Daily Alta California, Volume 5, Number 35, 4 February 1854. Letter to the newspaper regarding steerage on the Brother Jonathan. It's possible items in this letter are exaggerated, but are consistent with unrelated stories of steerage passengers from the time period.
  13. Daily Alta California newspaper (3 February 1854). "The Brother Jonathan was detained outside the heads 24 hours in a fog."
  14. Daily Alta California newspaper (8 February 1854). "Steamship Brother Jonathan: Off the Harbor of San Francisco, Feb 2d, 1854—8 o'clock A. M."
  15. Placerville at the time of Benedict's arrival likely still had its name Hangtown. The town was renamed to Placerville on the 13th of May, 1854. At the time, Placerville was the third largest town in California.
  16. The "Ottumwa Courier" in 1927 had a multi-issue biography called "Gebhard Schoech's Story: Biography of Well-known Blakesburg Pioneer, Dictated to Him to His Brother, Joseph Schoech."
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 17.8 17.9 History of Wapello County, Iowa, and Representative Citizens.
  18. Missouri Marriage Records. Jefferson City, MO, USA: Missouri State Archives. Microfilm.
  19. History of Wapello County, Iowa, Volume 1.
  20. The History of Wapello County, Iowa.


1860 United States Federal Census, Wapello County, Iowa, population schedule, Adams Township, Amador post office, folio 697 (back), page no. 110, dwelling 794, family 787, Frederick Fritz; digital image, FamilySearch ( : 23 December 2012); citing FHL microfilm number 803345; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 343.

1870 United States Federal Census, Wapello County, Iowa, population schedule, Blakesburg City in Adams Township, Ottumwa post office, folio 17 (front), page no. 3, dwelling 17, family 17, Benedict Fritz; digital image, FamilySearch ( : 23 December 2012); citing FHL microfilm number 545921; citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 422.

1880 United States Federal Census, Wapello County, Iowa, population schedule, Blakesburg, folio 214-B, page no. 30, dwelling 198, family 199, Benedict Fritz; digital image, FamilySearch ( : 23 December 2012); citing FHL microfilm number 1254368; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 368.

1885 Iowa State Census, Wapello County, Iowa, Blakesburg City in Adams Township, page 32 (penned, front), page 33 (stamped, back), dwelling 159, family 159, Benedict Fritz; digital image, FamilySearch ( : 23 December 2012); citing FHL microfilm number 1020188, roll number not provided.