Private Benjamin S. Koons – A Plumber Whose Life Force Was Drained Away by Disease

Allentown, Pennsylvania c. 1840 (public domain).

Alternate Spellings of Surname: Coons, Koons, Kuhns, Kuns, Kunz

 

Born on 6 July 1846 in Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Benjamin S. Koons was a son of Pennsylvania natives, Esther (Stettler) Koons (1816-1888), a daughter of Daniel Stettler, and David Koons (1811-1895) who was, according to the History of Lehigh County, a weaver who “wove carpets, linen goods and linsey-woolsey.” One oft-quoted transcription by Family Search of records from this period states that the spelling of the family’s surname was “Kunz”; however, federal census records, biographical accounts of the family’s early life, and family gravestones indicate that the spelling was “Kuhns.”

The gravestone carving used for the surname of this biographical sketch’s subject, however, was spelled as “Koons” – as were military muster rolls and various federal census listings; therefore, that is the spelling used here.

Benjamin S. Koons was christened on 31 July 1845 at Ziegels Lutheran and Reformed Church in Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, the same house of worship where his two older brothers James Alfred Kuhns and DavidKuhns, Jr. had respectively been baptized in 1838 and 1841. According to the church’s history, “The stone church [at this time] had a wine glass pulpit with an altar shaped like the Ark of the Covenant before it.”

In August 1850, Benjamin Koons resided with his parents and brothers on the family farm in Weisenberg Township, where his father continued to support the family on the wages of a weaver.

* Note: This 25-acre farm was eventually passed down to Benjamin’s older brother David. Born in Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 13 February 1841, David Kuhns, Jr. received both his given name and first trade schooling (in weaving) from family patriarch and household goods weaver, David Kuhns, Sr. David Kuhns, Jr. later also engaged in cigar making, according to the History of Lehigh County, “and at the age of eighteen years learned shoemaking from his brother James and William Garmer…. He lived near Ziegel’s [sic] church until 1897, when he removed to 1145 Turner street, Allentown.” A member of the Lutheran Church, [h]e married, in 1865, Amanda, daughter of Jesse and Lydia (Smith) Quier, of Whitehall township, later of Weisenberg township. They had four children:  Mary, wife of Wellington Haaf; Emma, wife of Elmer Werley, and who died at age 24 years; Frank O. and Edwin S.”

By the time of the 1860 federal census, Benjamin Koons’ 48-year-old father, David Kuhns, Sr., had retired from the weaving profession, but the family was still together, residing on the family farm in Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, where Benjamin worked as a 15-year-old farm laborer. Also supporting the family at this time were Benjamin’s brothers, James Alfred Kuhns, a 22-year-old shoemaker, and David Kuhns, Jr., a 19-year-old shoemaker’s apprentice. Records also documented that Benjamin Koons had attended school sometime within a year of that census having been recorded, and that the real estate and personal estate of his father were valued respectively as $1,200 and $3,500.

Civil War

Norristown, Pennsylvania, c. mid-1800s (public domain).

According to an 1878 ledger entry documenting the admission of Benjamin S. Koons to the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteers at Dayton, Ohio, Ben Koons mustered in as a Private with Company F of the 196th Pennsylvania Volunteers on 15 July 1864, and served with that regiment for its duration – until it was honorably disbanded at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 17 November 1864. This information may have been incorrect, however; while a listing for a “Benjamin F. Kuntz” was made on muster rolls for the 196th Pennsylvania, both the middle initial and the spelling of the surname of the soldier serving with the 196th differed from that of the soldier shown on muster rolls for the 47th Pennsylvania as “Benjamin S. Koons.” In addition, no mention was made of service with the 196th Pennsylvania on the U.S. Civil War Pension and Civil War Widows’ Pension Index entries created for Benjamin S. Koons; those records only document his military tenure with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

What is known for certain is that Private Benjamin S. Koons officially enlisted and mustered in as a Private with Company G of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 2 February 1865 at the Union Army’s Recruiting Depot at Norristown in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. On that day, he joined a veteran regiment – one with a large percentage of battle-hardened members who had endured difficult service since their respective enlistments during the Summer of 1861. In addition to fighting in Union Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign across Virginia during the Fall of 1864 and making history earlier that Spring as the only Pennsylvania regiment engaged in the Union’s Red River Campaign across Louisiana, the 47th Pennsylvania had also been badly bloodied during the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina during 1862. Having spent their most recent months in Winter quarters in Charlestown, West Virginia, where they were assigned to outpost and railroad guard duties, the 47th Pennsylvanians had been transferred in early February 1865 to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah. Ordered to head for Washington, D.C., they made their way via Winchester and Kernstown.

By the time that Private Benjamin S. Koons caught up with his new comrades, military records were describing him as a 19-year-old former machinist and resident of Pennsylvania who was 5’7” tall with black hair, hazel eyes and a dark complexion.

Matthew Brady’s photograph of spectators massing at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol for the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865. Note flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

By 19 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were encamped near Fort Stevens, and charged with helping to defend the nation’s capital following the shocking assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the key Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment and trial.

Sometime during this same month, while the regiment was engaged in duties near Summit Point, Virginia, Private Benjamin S. Koons developed chronic congestion of the liver. Known more commonly today as hepatopathy, the condition develops when failure of the right side of the heart increases pressure in a body’s veins – particularly those associated with liver function. Treated by regimental physicians, he continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry which, as part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.

Ruins of Charleston, South Carolina as seen from the Circular Church, 1865 (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

On their final southern tour, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Again attached to Dwight’s Division, this time they were members of the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they next quartered at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury in Charleston, South Carolina. Duties during this time were largely Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including the repair of railroads and other key infrastructure items which had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.

Personnel changes here increased as men mustered out upon expiration of their respective tree-year terms of service or were discharged on Surgeons’ Certificates of Disability. Private Benjamin S. Koons, who had enlisted less than six months earlier, was among those receiving the latter type of honorable discharge. Deemed too ill from his liver ailment to continue serving, he was released from service at Charleston, South Carolina on 19 July 1865, and sent back home to Pennsylvania.

* Note: If Benjamin Coons did serve with the 196th Pennsylvania prior to his enlistment with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, his tenure with that regiment was brief. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, the 196th Pennsylvania was commanded by “Colonel Harmanus Neff, and was recruited under the auspices of the Union League Association of Philadelphia, to serve for one hundred days, and was known as the Fifth Union League Regiment. It was organized at Camp Cadwalader, near the city, on the 20th of July, 1864, and a week later proceeded to Camp Bradford, at Mankin’s Woods, near Baltimore. About the middle of August, it moved by rail to Chicago, Illinois, where it was employed in guarding Camp Douglass, in which was confined a large number of prisoners of war…. The regiment returned to Philadelphia, early in November, and upon its arrival, was ordered to temporary duty at Fort Delaware, whither it immediately proceeded. It was mustered out of service at Philadelphia, on the 17th of November, 1864.”

Return to Civilian Life

Allentown, Pennsylvania (c. 1865, public domain).

Upon his return to Pennsylvania, Benjamin S. Koons resumed his life in Lehigh County. Sometime around 1868, he wed Aravina Brader. Born in Pennsylvania in December 1846, she was a daughter of Allentown shoemaker Thomas Brader and his wife Mary, and was shown on later federal census records as “Vina.” On 23 January 1869, they greeted the arrival of daughter Ella Amanda Koons.

By September of 1870, the fledgling family resided on their own in Allentown, where Benjamin Koons was employed as a plumber. Census records noted that although neither he nor his wife could read or write, he was still evidently quite a successful tradesman; his real estate was valued at $3,000 while his personal estate was worth $400 at this time. According to the Schuler Service, longtime Allentown-based plumbing contractors:

Indoor plumbing wasn’t widely available until the mid 1850s [sic] [when] it became economically feasible for average families to install separate indoor bathrooms [in lieu of outhouses]….

During the 1870s, builders used what materials were available to create pipes for plumbing systems. Since trees were plentiful, hollowed out logs were commonly used.

Less than a year later, on 9 July 1871, Benjamin and Aravina Koons welcomed newborn Harry A. Koons to their Allentown household. Daughter Mary C. Koons arrived four years later – in September 1875. Known by her nickname, “Mamie,” she ultimately grew up to be a teacher.

Disability and Pension

U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Dayton, Ohio (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

In moderately severe cases of hepatopathy (the chronic liver congestion endured by Benjamin S. Koons), the condition typically causes increasing pain as the organ of the sufferer becomes progressively enlarged (“hepatomegaly”). In rare cases, as the condition advances to a chronic state, this enlargement causes additional complications – high blood pressure, jaundice, liver cell atrophy, weakening of the heart and cirrhosis of the liver. At this point, for the unluckiest of patients, the condition damages the spinal cord.

Sadly, Benjamin S. Koons became one of those unfortunate souls. As a result, on 18 April 1878, at the age of 32, he checked himself into the U.S. Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Dayton, Ohio. His admissions ledger entry noted that he was married to “Erwina Koons”, had three children, and was a plumber. Discharged that same year by his own request, he returned home to Allentown, where he attempted to resume a normal life.

His deteriorating condition made that impossible; however, so in 1880, he changed jobs, and became a “grocer,” according to federal census records and newspaper mentions of his name that year. Still a resident of Allentown with his wife and their children Ella, Harry and Mary, their surname (and that of his parents and brother David, who all continued to reside in Weisenberg Township) was spelled on records that year as “Kuhns.”

Three years later, his medical condition was evidently dire. According to The Allentown Democrat:

Mr. Benjamin Koons, who keeps the fruit and refreshment stand at Kramer’s Corner, has been granted a pension by the government, together with back pay amounting to eight hundred dollars. He during the war of the rebellion enlisted in Co., G, 47th regiment, and while in the service contracted disorders which rendered his discharge necessary, becoming disabled to such a degree that he after his return could at times not move his body. Later his ailments developed into an affection of the spine, and to strengthen which the doctors kept him enveloped in a casing of plaster of paris [sic] for nearly a whole summer.– He has ever since been disabled for physical labor and stands prominent among the deserving claimants of pension who have received their country’s recognition. May he live many years to enjoy his well-earned though late recognition reward.

Benjamin S. Koons operated a fruit stand in front of Kramer’s Corner Store in Allentown, Pennsylvania during the 1880s (shown here across from the Lentz building on Hamilton Street in 1891, public domain).

That same year, The Allentown Democrat described him as “the fruit dealer at Kramer’s Corner,” and reported that while “unpacking a lot of freshly received bananas [he] found in among the fruit of one of the bunches a tiny bird’s nest.” In June of 1884, the same newspaper noted that he was selling “[v]ery fine and fully ripened watermelons, the very first of the season” which were “of Georgia growth.”

Despite his declining health (which was also documented in the 1890 U.S. Veterans’ Schedule as “Spine Disease, & Liver Complaint”), there were moments of joy for the Koons family. On 15 November 1887, daughter Ella wed Heister Kramlich at the Salem United Church of Christ in Allentown. Then, on 21 July 1892, son Harry A. Koons, who was employed locally as a plumber, married Catasauqua, Pennsylvania native Anna Stapleton. Aged 20, she was a daughter of William Stapleton and Sarah Phipps (Allison) Stapleton and a forewoman at a local silk mill. They welcomed the birth of son H. Stewart Koons (aka “Steward”) in February 1894, but shortly thereafter (on 22 August 1894), Harry was widowed due to what had evidently been a difficult childbirth for his wife. Anna Koons was subsequently laid to rest at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery. After this traumatic event, Harry then entrusted the care of their son to his parents.

Four years later, Harry Koons was united again in marriage – this time by the Rev. George W. Richards to Clara C. Seltzer in Allentown on 28 June 1898. A 25-year-old cashier and native of Reading, Berks County, she was a daughter of Reuben and Mary Seltzer.

As the old century waned, family patriarch and Civil War veteran Benjamin S. Koons continued to reside in Allentown with his wife and their daughter Mamie. Also living at the family’s 8th Ward home was grandson H. Steward Koons (the son of Harry A. Koons and his late wife Anna). Federal census records in 1900 noted that Benjamin Koons still supported his family through work as a plumber while daughter Mamie was employed as a school teacher.

Just one year later, she too was leaving the family home to begin her own household. On 9 July 1901, Mamie C. Koons wed Albert E. Diefenderfer. A 27-year-old machinist and native of Fullerton, Pennsylvania, he was a son of Solomon and Maria Diefenderfer.

By 1909, Benjamin S. Koons and his wife were no longer residing under the same roof. Benjamin lived in Allentown’s 11th Ward at the home of son, Harry A. Koons, a 38-year-old, unemployed master plumber. Also residing there were Harry’s wife and daughter Arlene, who had been born sometime around 1902.

Meanwhile, Benjamin’s wife Aravina had taken her 17-year-old grandson Stewart (Harry Koons’ son from his first marriage), and relocated to the Allentown 10th Ward home of daughter Ella (Koons) Kramlich and her husband Heister Kramlich, who was employed as a clerk at a local grocery store. They marked a milestone in Stewart’s life that year in grand style, according to a report in early February by The Allentown Leader:

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION. Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Kramlich of 639 North Sixth Street tendered a birthday surprise to their nephew, Steward [sic] Koons, last evening, in honor of his 16th birthday anniversary. An elaborate supper was served and music was furnished by the guests. Those present were the Misses Octavla Schaffer, Florence Missimer, Frances Neumoyer, Helen Neumoyer and Messrs. Steward Koons, Elmer Wentz, Herman Gladstone, Harold Lentz and Howard Breinig.

The split family arrangement continued over the next decade as Aravina maintained her residence at the Allentown 10th Ward home of daughter Ella and her grocery merchant husband Heister Kramlich. By 1920, their household also included Heister’s brother James, but not Aravina Koons’ grandson H. Stewart Koons, who had become a bank clerk, married and begun his own household with wife Frances in Allentown’s 8th Ward. Meanwhile, Benjamin Koons continued to reside with son Harry (now in Allentown’s 13th Ward), as well as Harry’s wife and their daughter Arlene.

During this period (sometime around 1913), Benjamin S. Koons was appointed as Constable of Allentown’s 13th Ward, a position he did not hold for long, according to The Allentown Democrat, which reported in 1914 that William J. George had been appointed to fill that post when Koons was unable to complete his full term of his service. Also around this same time, his Civil War His Civil War Pension of $22 per month had been steadily increased to that rate from $12 per month in 1908, $15 per month in 1912, and $19 per month in 1915, indicating that his declining health was interfering with his ability to work at his fruit stand. By 1918, his pension rate was boosted to $32 per month.

Death and Interment

Plagued by a chronic liver condition that eventually damaged his spinal cord, Benjamin S. Koons finally succumbed to his war-related illness in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 21 March 1922. He was then laid to rest at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery.

What Happened to the Wife and Children of Benjamin S. Koons?

600 Block of Hamilton Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania, c. 1921 (public domain).

Following her husband’s passing, Benjamin Koons’ widow, Aravina (Brader) Koons was able to live a reasonably comfortable life in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley both because she continued to reside at the Allentown home of daughter Ella (Koons) Kramlich and because she received monthly checks from the U.S. Civil War Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension program. According to federal records, her pension rate in August 1922 was $30 per month; it was then increased twice during the remainder of her lifetime – to $40 per month in June 1928 and to $50 per month in April 1929. Those same pension records also document that she passed away in Allentown on 6 July 1929 – a fact also confirmed by the Easton Public Library’s finding guide for Easton area newspaper obituaries published in 1929. She was then also interred at Allentown’s Union-West End Cemetery.

The same year of Aravina Koons’ death, daughter Mamie was widowed by husband Albert Diefenderfer. Sometime afterward, Mamie moved in with her older sister Ella and her husband Heister Kramlich – a living arrangement which continued through at least the 1930s and early 1940s.

Then, on 8 March 1946, Mamie’s older sister – Ella Amanda (Koons) Kramlich – also died in Allentown, and was also laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown, as was Heister Kramlich, who died in Emmaus, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on 17 March 1957.

Meanwhile, Mamie (Koons) Diefenderfer and her brother Harry A. Koons went on to live long, full lives. Widowed by his second wife at the time of his death at the age of 85 in Evergreen Park, Cook County, Illinois on 14 November 1956, Harry Koons’ death record documented the names of his parents as Benjamin Koons and “Arravina Brader,” that he was born on 9 July 1871 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that he had been employed as a contractor, and that his remains were returned to Allentown for burial at the Greenwood Cemetery.

Mary C. (Koons) Diefenderfer continued to reside in Allentown until her passing in 1973. Known throughout much of her life as “Mamie,” she was then also interred at the Union-West End Cemetery, where her parents had been laid to rest years earlier.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Benjamin Koons, in A Curiosity, and in Pension Money Well Placed, and in Nest from the Tropics, and in Watermelon. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, Wednesday, 18 August 1880, 23 May 1883, 4 July 1883, and 25 June 1884.

3. Benjamin S. Koons, in Constable Appointed. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 19 September 1914.

4. Benjamin Kunz, David Kunz (father and son), James Kuns, and Esther Kunz (mother), in Birth and Christening Records of Ziegels Lutheran and Reformed Church, Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania Births and Christenings, 1709-1950 (Family History Library Microfilm 940,436). Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 31 July 1845, 28 Mar 1841 and 4 June 1838.

5. Harry A. Koons, Anna Steapleton/Stapleton, Benjamin Koons, and William Steapleton/Stapleton, in Marriage License Docket of Lehigh County, PA. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Orphans’ Court of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, 21 July 1892.

6. Harry A. Koons, Clara C. Seltzer, Benjamin and Aravina Koons, Reuben and Mary Seltzer, in Marriage License Docket of Lehigh County, PA. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Orphans’ Court of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, 28 June 1898.

7. Harry A. Koons, Benjamin Koons and Arravina Brader, in Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 14 Nov 1956.

8. Koons, Benjamin, in Admissions Ledgers, United States Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Dayton, Ohio, 1878). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1878.

9. Koons, Benjamin S. and Kuntz, Benjamin F., in Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11, 47th Regiment and 196th Regiment). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

10. Koons, Benjamin, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

11. Koons, Benjamin S. and Aravina Koons, in United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1907-1922.

12. Mamie C. Koons, Albert Diefenderfer, Benjamin and Aravina Koons, Solomon and Maria Diefenderfer, in Marriage License Docket of Lehigh County, PA. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Orphans’ Court of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, 9 July 1901.

13. Roberts, Charles Rhoads and Rev. John Baer Stoudt, et. al. History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families, Vol. II. Allentown: Lehigh Valley Publishing Company, 1914.

14. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.

15. Steward Koons and Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Kramlich, et. al., in Birthday Celebration. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 9 February, 1909.

16. U.S. Census and U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940.

17. Ziegels Lutheran and Reformed Church, in About. Breinigsville, Pennsylvania: Ziegels Union Church, retrieved online 15 July 2017.

 

 

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