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Willis B. Benedict    

BENEDICT, WILLIS B., was born in the village of Enterprise, township of Southwest, on the 19th day of February, 1838. He comes of an ancient English family, the first emigrant from which to this country, Thomas Benedict, settled in Massachusetts Bay in 1638, removing from there to Connecticut. He died at Norwalk in 1690, where many of his descendants are now living. The great-grandfather of the subject of our sketch, named Thomas Benedict, bore an active part as a soldier throughout the War of the Revolution, and was afterward a pensioner, as was also another great-grandfather, James Spencer. W. B. Benedict’s grandfather, Jare Benedict, was the first of the family to settle in Southwest. He was born in December, 1787, in West Stockbridge, Mass. His father emigrated from Massachusetts to Onondaga county, N.Y., whence, in the winter of 1833, Jare Benedict removed to Southwest, bringing his family and worldly effects with him in sleighs. His wife Annis, daughter of James Spencer mentioned above, was born in West Stockbridge, Mass., in 1791, and died in Southwest township on the 9th of August, 1858. When they came to this township, in 1833, their children, Elbridge G., Selden Spencer, Major F., and Harriet, afterward wife of George C. Pettit, of Fabius, N.Y., were all born. Jare Benedict, at once upon his arrival in Warren county, formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Selden Spencer, for the purpose of engaging in the manufacture and sale of lumber. They purchased large tracts of lands covered with a dense growth of pine timber of the best quality, and erected what was in those days a fine saw-mill on Pine Creek, at what is now the site of Enterprise village, on the ruins of the first mill ever built in this part of the county. Mr. Benedict continued in a most successful prosecution of the lumber business until his death, on the 19th of July, 1844, when he had reached the age of fifty-six years, six months and twenty-eight days. He was a noted than in his day, both for his superior sagacity and energy in the management of his private affairs, and for his unbounded public spirit. He was an acknowledged leader in all matters relating to the welfare of his town and county. He was a staunch but intelligent Democrat. To his enterprise and industry are due the laying out and opening of many of the roads in this vicinity. He and all his family were members of the Baptist denomination. Before coming to Pennsylvania he and his brother Aaron, almost unaided, built a Baptist house of worship in Fabius, N.Y., which is still standing. His only surviving son, Major F. Benedict, resides in Titusville. Major F. and Selden S. Benedict succeeded to their father’s estate.

Selden Spencer Benedict was born in Fabius, Onondaga county, N.Y., on the 27th day of March, 1817, and was consequently sixteen years of age when he came to Southwest with his father’s family. In July, 1836, he married Mary H., daughter of the celebrated Dr. John Heffron, of Erieville, Madison county, N.Y., where she was born on the 22d of March, 1817. Her father was a graduate from Dartmouth College, and a surgeon, in the War of 1812. Selden S. Benedict and wife reared a family of five children: Willis B., the eldest; Eugenia, now the wife of W. J. Booth, of Titusville, Pa.; Francis Wayland, who died November 22, 1865, aged twenty-two years; M. Laverne, who became the wife of Dr. John Chick, removed with him to Kansas City, Mo., and after his death, in 1881, removed to Titusville, where she now resides; besides a son, born next after Wayland, who died in infancy. Selden Benedict succeeded not only to a share of his father’s property, but inherited his energy and public spirit. He was esteemed for his open-handed charity and liberality; was a member of the Democratic party until 1856, when he joined the ranks of the Republicans, during that period of general osmosis between political parties; and was a member and supporter of the Baptist Church in his own town. In 1865 Major F., his brother, retired from business and settled in Titusville, after which he conducted the business in his own name until his death, on the 6th of February, 1873. His wife died on the 23d day of May, 1879.

Willis B. Benedict passed his boyhood in attendance upon the district schools of Southwest township, after which he underwent a thorough training at the Waterford Academy in Erie county. In 1856 he had the benefit of a course of study in Duff’s Commercial College of Pittsburgh, the first and about the best institution of the kind west of the Allegheny Mountains. Thus equipped for the serious business of life, he returned to Enterprise and busied himself in aiding his father; until the oil development of 1859, when he added the production of oil to the manufacture of lumber. He commenced the production of petroleum in the fall of 1859, when he drilled a well in Rouseville, Venango county. From that time to the present writing Mr. Benedict has united the two industries— that of operating in oil and that of manufacturing lumber— with a degree of success. He has drilled many hundreds of wells, and still owns large tracts of timber and oil lands. He was, unfortunately, a victim of the great oil fire, which caused the death of Henry R. Rouse, on the 17th of April, 1861, and himself escaped only with serious injuries.

Though not ambitious for political eminence, Mr. Benedict’s ability for management, and his personal influence, has made him, of necessity, active in public affairs. He is in principle a Republican, and while a firm and unyielding one, is not an "offensive" partisan. ‘In 1862 he was elected treasurer of Warren county, and during his administration demonstrated his fitness for the position. He was elected to a seat in the State Legislature in the fall of 1880, and served with credit to himself and his constituents. He is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Enterprise, and contributes liberally to its support.

Mr. Benedict has been thrice married. His first wife, Mary, daughter of Elisha Sprague, of Fabius, N. Y. (an early friend of his father) he married on the 18th of September, 1860. She died in July, 1872, leaving one daughter, Myra E:, who was born on the 30th of December, 1868, and is now living with her father. In June 1874, he was united in marriage with his second wife, Jennie, daughter of judge Richard Irwin, of Franklin, Venango county. She died in April, 1877, leaving one child, Selden S., born on the 23d of June, 1875, and also at home. On the 25th, of July, 1878, he married Edna J. Ruland, then of Shamburg; Pa., though formerly of Batavia, N.Y., who is his present wife. By her he has had four children - Willis B., born on the 16th of March, 1880; Wayland R., born on the 19th of January - 1882; Harry H., born on the 4th of January, 1884; and Robert B., born on the 8th of March, 1886.

History of Warren County: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, J. S. Schenck, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1887.  More Warren County History Books  Search Hundreds of 1880s-1890s Pennsylvania County History Books for biographies and historical information on your ancestors.  View the book page images on line and print them out for your genealogy file!  Free Access to the old history books - plus birth & death records, census images and ALL other records at ancestry.com.

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