Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Benjamin Jennings and the Eastern State Hospital

Benjamin T. Jennings was born on 20 February 1853 in Powhatan County, Virginia, to Benjamin and Julia Ann (Faudree) Jennings. He was the great grandson of Benjamin Jennings (c1740-1815), Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) patriot and my Jennings brick wall. Benjamin T. was the oldest of eleven children and his father was a farmer.

In 1870 Benjamin was enumerated twice. On 25 July, he lived at home and attended school. On 5 August, he was at The Public Hospital for Persons of Insane or Disordered Minds, in Williamsburg. It was established in 1773 and was the first mental hospital established in the colonies.

Eastern State Hospital, as the facility is now named as it looked in the 19th
century; image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg

On the 1870 census document, Benjamin was listed as insane. The column about his right to vote being denied or abridged on other grounds than rebellion or crime was also checked even though he was not yet 21 years of age.

In 1880, Benjamin was back in Powhatan County. His occupation was listed as farmer and he lived at home with his parents and some of his siblings. He was also enumerated that year in the supplemental schedule for defective, dependent and delinquent classes. He had mania and had first exhibited symptoms of mental illness at the age of 14. He'd had two previous episodes and his present one had lasted six months. He occasionally needed to be restrained with handcuffs!

His mother died in 1883 and his father in 1892. Apparently, his siblings were unable to cope with Benjamin's illness because he was back at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg in 1900 where he remained an "inmate," or patient until his death on 9 February 1916 of appendicitis. His death certificate indicated he had been committed almost 16 years previously.

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