Benjamin Leonard Fletcher Jennings was born on 17 May 1868 to Samuel Henry and Mary Ann Howl (or Howell) Jennings in Amherst County, Virginia. His father, Samuel, served with Company H, 19th Virginia Infantry during the Civil War with his brother, Daniel Rose Jennings, and three first cousins, one of which was my great grandfather. Benjamin was Samuel and Mary's fifth child out eight. For most of Benjamin's adult life he was a farmer, working on land he owned.
Sometime before 1894 he married Bettie Elizabeth Miller, daughter of Alexander and Ann Marie (Jennings) Miller. Benjamin and Bettie were first cousins. Over the course of their 14-year marriage, they had five children:
- Harry McCoy Jennings, born 10 March 1894
- John Lawson Jennings, born 20 July 1897
- Mary Annie Jennings, born 30 May 1900
- Rosa Mattie Jennings, born 29 December 1903
- Oscar Leonard Jennings, born 25 Jun 1908
Bettie died the day after Oscar was born, likely from issues related to childbirth. And that's when Benjamin did something a wee bit naughty...at least from a genealogist's point of view.
|Headstone of Bettie Elizabeth (Miller) Jennings,|
who was interred at Amherst Cemetery; photograph
of Find a Grave volunteer Martha Harrison
He quickly remarried on 18 November 1908, which is perfectly understandable with so many small children at home, including a newborn infant. However, he married someone with the same given name as his fist wife. This has caused several Jennings researchers no end of grief as many have assumed Bettie Elizabeth Miller and Bettie Lee Brizendine were the same person. Of the seven other public trees on Ancestry.com that included Benjamin Leonard Jennings, only two correctly indicate he married twice to different Betties. Two things enabled me to sort Benjamin's Betties out to my satisfaction: 1) Bettie Elizabeth's headstone, though very difficult to read, gives her date of death as 1908 and 2) the difference in Bettie Elizabeth and Bettie Lee's dates of birth. Bettie Lee was born on 7 Oct 1884. Once I knew there were two Betties, I went searching for a marriage record.
|Marriage index record for Benjamin Leonard Jennings and Bettie|
Lee Brizendine; image courtesy of Ancestry.com
Bettie Lee Brizendine was the daughter of James T. and Laura (Arthur) Brizendine. She grew up in Bedford County, Virginia, and she and Benjamin were married in Lynchburg. They had two daughters:
- Gertrude Elizabeth Jennings, born 9 August 1912
- Beulah Lee Jennings, born 21 July 1916
On 15 April 1934 Benjamin and Bettie Lee separated. She was granted an absolute divorce decree on the grounds of desertion on 21 January 1937. The next year Bettie Lee married Charles Smith in Winchester, Virginia, on 25 March 1938. He was the son of Alfred and Mary Ann (Burkitt or Burkett) Smith and he was born in Hull, England.
Benjamin never remarried and died on 21 February 1943 of heart disease at the Western State Hospital in Staunton where he had been a patient for over two years. Benjamin and Bettie Elizabeth, his first wife, were interred at Amherst Cemetery.
After only eight years of marriage Bettie Lee's second husband, Charles Smith, died on 25 March 1946 at their home in Lynchburg of tuberculosis. Bettie Lee lived as a widow for another 28 years before dying of cardiac arrest on 8 January 1974.
See my War Stories page for the series of posts I am writing about the five Jennings men who served with the 19th Virginia Infantry.