Watkins #1792

Thomas Watkins (1629-1689)

Probably born in England (or possibly Wales).  Arrived in Massachusetts before 1652 and

Elizabeth Baker (1632-1689)

Born in England.  Arrived in Boston, Massachusetts 14 May 1635.

Watkins #1792

The Watkins Home, built by Paul & Florence Watkins between 1924-27, is now operated as Watkins Manor, an assisted living community of nearly 60 senior apartments in Winona, Minnesota. Paul is my g-grandfather and the 5th great grandson of  my immigrant ancestor, Thomas Watkins of Boston, Massachusetts. The property is located at 175 E. Wabasha Street. (photo by Jonathunder)

Not much is known about Thomas Watkins, the man who married Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Alexander Baker and his wife, Elizabeth.  I have found no primary source to indicate his date or place of birth, as he does not appear on any list of ship passengers, and no record of his birth appears in the available records of Boston, Massachusetts, where he was a resident by 1652 (the date of his marriage to Elizabeth).  She arrived in Boston, Massachusetts from England on the ship Elizabeth & Ann on 14 May 1635.  Elizabeth was three years old in 1635, and she was accompanied by Alexander Baker (her father), Elizabeth (her mother) and Christian (her one year old sister).  What is known about Elizabeth’s arrival in Massachusetts is discussed under the heading of Alexander Baker and Elizabeth (Farrar?).

The births of the children of Thomas and Elizabeth are recorded from 1653 to 1670.  He was made freeman of Massachusetts on 30 May 1660[1].  There are also indications that he was a tobacconist by profession.  Deeds of Boston indicate that he purchased a tavern (the Hancock Tavern) from a Robert Brecke of Dorchester in 1653, which he owned until 1679, when he sold it to a James Green of Boston[2].

The first known child of Thomas and Elizabeth is Elizabeth Watkins (1652-1690).  It appears from the records they had several other children who did not survive to adulthood.  Joseph Watkins, the son of  Thomas and Elizabeth, was born 15 Jan 1668 in Boston, Massachusetts.  He died 23 Dec 1711 in Stratford, Connecticut.  Joseph married Johanna Blackman on 4 Dec 1688 in Stratford, Connecticut[3]Johanna Blackman was born 4 Dec 1667 in Stratford, Connecticut.  She died in Nov 1729 in Newark, New Jersey.   She evidently removed to New Jersey from Connecticut, possibly with her son, Benjamin, after the death of her second husband.  After Joseph Watkins died, Johanna married (2nd) Jesse Lambert (about 1714) and married (3rd) Samuel Camp.  The lineage then continues through their son Benjamin Watkins.

Benjamin Watkins and Sarah Marsh had a son, Joseph Watkins[4].  His approximate dates are 1732-1800.  My lineage passes through James Watkins (born 20 Jul 1768, Elizabeth, New Jersey; died 4 Jan 1849, Carthage, Ohio), who was the son of this Joseph Watkins who had migrated from Connecticut to New Jersey some time prior to 1761, when he married Elizabeth Frances Spinning.

Annals of Our Ancesters (published 1913) by Julia Watkins Frost[5] (1838-1920)

Annals of Our Ancesters (published 1913) by Julia Watkins Frost (1838-1920), title page

James Watkins, his wife Rachel Badgley and their family eventually continued their migration from New Jersey to Ohio in approximately 1799.  Their story is recounted in the book Annals of Our  Ancestors (published in 1913) by Julia Watkins Frost[5] (1838-1920).  In this work, she also records her memories of her parents, Benjamin Utter Watkins and Sophronia Keeler, as well as her other (maternal) grandparents, David Keeler and Abigail Skeels.  In addition, she provides details of other family members that otherwise would be lost to posterity.  I’ve also reproduced several portraits and illustrations from her book.  My line passes through her older brother, William Benson Watkins (1836-1898).

Julia Watkins Frost provides the following background concerning her g-grandfather, Joseph Watkins:

“Joseph Watkins was of English descent, and his name would mark him as of Welsh origin. It seems little that we know of him, and yet we do possess some authentic information concerning this ancestor.  He was a mechanic of Elizabethtown before the Revolution, and once owned a sailboat plying between a port in New Jersey and New York City. He lost all his property in the collapse of Revolutionary currency… He married Elizabeth Spinning, and the names of their children were John (Jonathan), Hezekiah, Joseph, James, Elizabeth, and Sarah.  The older sons took part in the Revolution.  It has come down to us that our great-grandfather, Joseph Watkins, was a man of fine mind and great energy.  His wife, Elizabeth Spinning, died July 5, 1787; he passed away about the beginning of the nineteenth century.”

Julia Watkins Frost relates the following regarding her grandfather, James Watkins:

“James Watkins, the fourth son of Joseph Watkins, lost his hearing in 1776 when he was but eight years old. He had measles and went in swimming too soon after the attack, which caused him to take cold and suffer with gatherings in his ears. This trouble totally destroyed his ear-drums and shut from him forever all sound. The last vibrations to which his ears responded were caused by the cannonading on the first Independence Day in the summer of 1776. Of course he remembered some words correctly, but through the long years of silence many imperfections of expression sprang up, till he had a speech of his own. His language was understood by his family but not by strangers. His mother suffered great anxiety when he was recovering lest he should have forgotten what he had previously learned, but it was her joy to find that, although her boy was totally deaf, he remembered how to read and write, and this greatly relieved the difficulty of communicating with him. He was a good penman, and I remember yet the fine quill pens he made for us. He used to like to set us copies and draw pictures of soldiers for our amusement.

“While Joseph Watkins had been what was called “well-to- do” before the Revolution, he had afterward to apprentice out some of his boys to learn trades. Our grandfather was early elected to be a blacksmith and it happened that he was apprenticed to a hard master, who provided but a wretched place for shelter in a log house with a loft beneath a leaky roof.  The apprentice was assigned to the loft, where he was awakened at four o’clock on winter mornings by his master pounding on the floor beneath his bed till the house shook. The vibrations awakened in an instant the deaf young man, who often bounded out of bed into a couple of inches of freshly fallen snow. This will serve to illustrate the hardness of his life in a day when the best might seem to us deprivation. Little is known of him during this period, but it is safe to venture the assertion that small attention was given to his training, either mental or moral. It speaks well for his stamina that he did not growl, but stuck to his job, learned his trade, and came out a stalwart man. His inherent goodness is also disclosed by the fact that, in spite of the poor influences and lack of opportunity for the development of the best that was in him during the formative period, and though handicapped by entire deafness, he grew into a man of intelligence and sturdy worth. We know that in the future he displayed natural ability of no mean order, and that the very hardness of his apprenticeship seemed to have prepared him for the great conflict and struggle that awaited the pioneers who turned westward at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

“Our grandfather was inspired by the love of adventure and was by nature a pioneer. Shut in though he was, there floated into his silence the dreams of the new repubic; the thrill of life which was to change the wilderness of the West into a blooming garden was felt amid the stony hills of New Jersey, and by the deaf young blacksmith with great keenness. In some way the stories of returned soldiers were related to him in a manner his understanding could grasp, and these tales from the young West probably inflamed his already active imagination. These soldiers had doubtless followed Washington over the  mountains in defense of the early settlers of Ohio, and brought back thrilling tales of the new land beyond the Alleghanies. The young man, James Watkins, learned with burning interest of great forests where deer and bear, raccoon and opossums, wild turkeys, pigeons, pheasants, and grouse furnished abundant game, while fur producing animals tempted the trapper. There were also tales of the wild forest fruits, crabapples, plums and grapes, besides the delicious wild berries. The sweep of broad rivers with their thousand murmuring rivulets was described; the whirr of mills yet to be sounded in the ears of his fancy. Not only was James Watkins wrought upon by these glowing accounts of natural stores and opportunities awaiting pilgrims to the westward, but his mother-in-law, Rachel Vrieland Badgley, urged him to leave New Jersey for this wonderful new land.  After her husband’s death she had come to live with her daughter. Our grandmother was of a different temperament from her mother; she was prone to look upon the dark side of any venture; her husband as well was her exact opposite. He had that quality of mind that gave him vision, and the young man who had tried to cultivate the stony land of New Jersey was enough of a seer to make the attempt to find a land more generous than the rough fields about him…

“… I wish we knew more of that journey, but our ancestors kept no diaries; they wrote no reminiscences and left no letters behind them, and there was little my grandfather could relate in detail to the children born to him in Ohio, because of his limited speech.”

The following information regarding James Watkins was included in “Notes of Family History” (hand-written in 1893) inserted in the Bible of James Watkins (1768-1849) by William Watkins (1836-1898):

“James Watkins was a man of a little more than middle height; his hair and beard were black and his eyes blue; his nose was aquiline.  He was considered handsome when young.  No picture of him was ever taken; when at the age of twenty I first saw the lithograph portrait of Thomas Campbell, the father of Alexander Campbell, it looked to me like a portrait of my grandfather as I then remembered him.  My grandfather was totally deaf, but having lost his hearing after he learned to speak, he could speak in a confused and broken way which strangers could not understand; he could read and write and was very quick to understand signs, and in his family a complete code of sign language developed.  He was a happy man and well satisfied with his own things and always preferring the present to the past.

“His mind had a speculative cast which has reappeared in his sons and grandsons.  His literature was the bible and the hymn book; he knew the best hymns by heart and would croon them to himself which he called singing.

“He married at the age of thirty and removed from Elizabeth, N. J. to Cincinnati O. in 1800.  He was a man of pure and upright character and his walk and conversation were above reproach.  By profession, he was an ‘Old Christian’.

“Rachel, daughter of Robert Badgely and Rachel his wife, born Vrieland, was born in the Passaic Valley N. J. Oct 10, 1770.  She was twice married, first to Benjamin Utter on 12 June 1791.  By him she had two children, William born 26 Sep 1792 was reared by his father’s parents in N. J. and died at the age of 20; and Robert, born June 16, 1794, married Susan Van Winkle 15th Feb, 1814 and died in 1869.

“After the death of Benjamin Utter she married James Watkins on the 30 Sept. 1798 to whom she bore: —

  1. Sarah, born Friday 4 April 1801; married James Coal 3 April 1817 and died 8 June 1828 —
  2. Joseph born Saturday 26 Oct 1805 and died 2 May 1882 —
  3. Benjamin brom 14 Sept. 1811 and died 14 March 1892 —

“She was a rather large woman, well clothed with flesh but not corpulent.  Her hair, a fair brown in youth turned grey early in life.  Her eyes were black and expressive.  Though penurious she was the soul of honesty.  She always looked upon the dark side and was hard to live with, but many valuable traits are found common to her descendants by both husbands which must have passed through her.  She fell dead in the road on her way to market on the 31st Oct.1843 at the hour of sunrise and in the presence of her husband, her son and of me, William, her grandson.”

James Watkins and three generations of his family (including his mother-in-law, Rachel Vreeland Badgley) settled in the village of Columbia, Ohio, which is now within the city limits of Cincinnati.  It is recorded that James Watkins raised a blacksmith shop on the estate of Colonel Israel Ludlow, who laid out the town of Cincinnati, and there made his living.   However, finding the site unsuitable, the family soon moved to a new place in a rural area slightly north of Cincinnati where according to Julia Watkins Frost, they bought eighty-six and a quarter acres, all deep, primeval forest excepting a tract large enough for a garden, which the Indians had cleared and planted to corn.  Frost continues her description as follows:

“After the land was cleared, corn and flax were planted, often among logs not yet removed, and our thrifty ancestors were soon cultivating the garden spot and all the places between the felled trees where they could put in seed. Our g-grandmother, Rachel Badgely, brought apple seeds in a snuffbox over the mountains to plant in the new land. I do not know whether she lived long enough to eat of the fruit, but I do know that her descendants did, and blessed her name for her thoughtfulness. The garden south of that old home was always connected in our minds with the primitive garden of the first parents of all, because of the abundance of fruit trees there; it seemed only to lack the flowing rivers to become an ideal Eden to our child eyes.”

Julia Frost Watkins recorded several anecdotes of family history from a book written by her brother, Joseph Ray Watkins (1840-1911) entitled Tales of the Tribe of Benjamin.  The complete text of this work and the original manuscript have been lost.  In one interesting passage, Joseph Ray Watkins presents a fictionalized “Journal of Rachel Badgley” that describes the family’s journey from New Jersey to Ohio (from Annals of Our Ancestors, pp. 308-312).  The “Journal” was read aloud by William Benson Watkins at the Golden Wedding Anniversary of his uncle and aunt, William Utter and his wife Laura (Smith) Watkins, in about 1876.

James Watkins established a blacksmith forge near the cabin that they built on the land.  This cabin was eventually replaced by a hewn log house of larger proportions, and it was in this house that the children of James Watkins and Rachel Badgley were born: Sarah (or Sallie) (born 1801), Joseph (born 1805) and the youngest, Benjamin Utter Watkins, born on 14 Sep 1811.

[The family and descendants of Joseph, the elder son of James Watkins and Rachel Badgley, is discussed in Samuel Hunt Watkins’ book entitled  The Tribe of Joseph: Being a Descriptive Narrative of the Life of Joseph Watkins and His Descendants (Winona, Minnesota: J. R. Watkins Medical Company) 1917.]

Rev. Benjamin Utter Watkins (1811-1890)

Rev. Benjamin Utter Watkins (1811-1890)

In Annals of Our Ancestors, Julia Watkins Frost describes her father, Benjamin Utter Watkins, as a boy who relentlessly pursued his education, despite two major impediments.  The first was that Benjamin was nearly blind from an early age.[6]   The second was that he was not encouraged in his studies by his parents.

“Thus our father pursued his studies with interest and enthusiasm, while all this time our grandparents thought how strange it was that Ben wanted to study Latin and Greek and read history and poetry, which to them seemed to have no practical bearing on life or to be of any real value. The fences had to be built, and many were the rails to be split to make these barriers against the neighbors’ stock; flax had to be hatcheled and a thousand and one things done to help make the new home a place of comfort. They had serious fears that higher education tended to produce undutiful sons, who would forsake their old parents. We feel that our father deserves something more than ordinary commendation for the persistence he showed in the pursuit of knowledge, handicapped as he was not only by the spirit of his time but by his blindness. The former was probably harder to bear than the latter; but we must remember that the immediate forbears of the people of his generation were the men and women who had subdued the forest by main strength and had found every moment of their waking hours filled with exhausting labors…

“…Our grandparents thought the “three R’s” the climax of knowledge, and further education, such as a knowledge of foreign tongues, dead languages, and advanced mathematics, the height of folly. Because of this attitude, which was quite in accordance with the opinion of the neighborhood, our grandparents refused their aid to the education our father so deeply desired. This opposition grieved his sensitive spirit; and yet he was never one to hold bitterness long in his heart, and he became the shield of his parents in their age. Since his efforts to obtain a classical education were a success, and the discouragement and lack of aid did not frustrate his aspirations, he could let all pass and consider the difference in the times upon which he came upon the scene.”

Portrait from the title page of Annals of Our Ancesters (published 1913) by Julia Watkins Frost (1838-1920).

Portrait from the title page of Annals of Our Ancesters (published 1913) by Julia Watkins Frost (1838-1920).

Apparently, young Benjamin was encouraged in his quest for knowledge by the schoolmaster at his log schoolhouse, whom Julia Watkins Frost describes as “the Wise Young Man from the East [who] walked out into the country and taught a subscription school in the neighborhood.”  It was probably through his teacher that he was introduced to Woodward High School, “one of the first schools for classic learning in Cincinnati,” where Benjamin boarded.

Benjamin’s educational aspirations were also supported by his older brother, Joseph:

“He knew his younger and more afflicted brother desired knowledge above all things, and when the time came he was ready to help him. One day the professor told father he would need a new book for his advanced work. The announcement came almost as a shock, for he knew not how he could obtain a new book. As his parents so disapproved of his literary career, it would be useless to ask them for money for more books; then it was that his brother stepped in, telling him that he was in need of some extra help on the farm that day and would hire him to perform the task. In this way he obtained the money to buy the needed book. When he met the professor he displayed with pride his new purchase. ‘Well,’ asked the professor, ‘how did you come by that?’ In reply our father held up his bruised and blistered hands, while his countenance beamed with delight.”

As a man, Benjamin Utter Watkins was greatly influenced by what Julia Watkins Frost refers to as “the religious excitement which was stirring the wilderness” at the time.  Early in the nineteenth century a great religious awakening occurred, known as the Cane Ridge revival. Some leaders of the movement that developed were Peter Cartwright and Alexander Campbell.   There also appeared a Presbyterian minister, eminent as a scholar as well as a preacher and teacher, Barton W. Stone.

“It was an actual crisis in our father’s life when he met in Cincinnati this learned and deeply pious man [Barton W. Stone].  He was greatly enthused by his scholarly advocacy of ‘the Bible alone,’ and was persuaded to give the doctrine the ardor of a religious nature of intense activity. The plea for a return to the primitive simplicity of the Gospel touched him with a force which increased rather than abated through his long life… It was at this time that he turned to the critical study of the New Testament in the original Greek, becoming an authority among the people with whom he associated on the text in that language.”

As a very young man, therefore, Benjamin Utter Watkins became very interested in Bible study and religion.  Although there is no evidence of formal theological training, he eventually adopted the title of “Reverend” and became a preacher.  Apparantly, the entire family joined this religious movement and following its teachings with great earnestness.

In the spring of 1863, Benjamin Utter Watkins and his wife Sophronia Keeler migrated to Minnesota, along with their adult children.  Benjamin died 15 Mar 1890 in Cameron, Missouri, where he was attending a ministerial convention.  The following tribute in The Christian Evangelist was published at the time of his death:

“It is not our purpose here to speak at length of his work. He is known better and more widely as a writer than as a preacher. From the very beginning, and in spite of the obstacle of defective sight, he has been a close, constant, and conscientious student of the Word of God and especially of the New Testament in the original Greek. His original contributions on scriptural themes to our various journals have always been distinguished for simplicity of style, depth of thought, and sweetness and devoutness of spirit. He was emphatically a man of one book, all his studies bearing in some way upon the Bible; and all the varied riches of his scholarly researches were consecrated with a beautiful and child-like simplicity and humility to the triumphs of the Gospel and the edification of the church. We found him at eighty still a student of the blessed Book, and as eager as ever to discover ‘the mind of the Spirit’ hidden in some of its difficult passages — but we are to leave his work for other pens, while we speak briefly of the man. To know him was to love him. He combined in rare degree strength of intellect with tenderness of heart. We had occasion in speaking of him recently in these columns to call him the ‘Beloved St. John of the Christian Church,’ and we are confident that everyone who has enjoyed the privilege of intimate fellowship with him will appreciate the entire appropriateness of the appellation. He was as gentle and tender and affectionate as a gracious woman, and as spiritual as St. John himself. His presence and loving exhortations in the church always brought to mind the tradition concerning the beloved disciple, that when he was no longer able to walk he was carried into the church at Ephesus and closed every exhortation with the memorable words, ‘Little children, love one another’.”

Sophronia (Keeler) Watkins (1804-1879)

Sophronia (Keeler) Watkins (1804-1879)

Julia Watkins Frost recounts that her mother Sophronia Keeler (the wife of Benjamin Utter Watkins) was born 17 August 1804 to David Keeler and Abigail Skeels in Essex County, New York, near Lake Champlain.  She was first-born daughter of her parents.  Her brothers are William (1800), Jesse and Hernando Cortez and her sister is Julia Ann.  She is described as a religious woman, with little in the way of formal education.

“From her conversation in after years we know that she had, as she said, “a thirst for knowledge” in those days of scant opportunity; and that she used every possible advantage which came to her we also know. Her share of only three months in school gave her a few fundamentals, and upon these and the teaching at her mother’s knee she built an education, with the aid of her bright young mind and hunger for knowledge… She was so fond of history that as soon as conditions changed in her life and books had their part she read and studied history. Her love of learning fitted her for a teacher when she became a young woman, though she had had so little of training in the schoolroom. I do not know how long our mother taught, but she was a schoolmistress for a time.”

Sophronia’s family left upstate New York in about 1821 and settled in Franklin County, Indiana.  At some point, she experienced a religious conversion and joined a sect known simply as “the Christians”.  She met a kindred spirit in Benjamin, and they married on 10 Aug 1834.

The children of Benjamin Utter Watkins and Sophronia Keeler are listed as follows:

  1. William Benson Watkins, see below
  2. Julia Ann, born 13 Oct 1838 and died August 1921 (?)
  3. Joseph Ray, born 21 Aug 1840 and died 21 Dec 1911 at Kingston, Jamaica
  4. Ida Louise, born 3 Mar 1844 and died 9 Jul 1931 at Long Beach, California

Benjamin and Sophronia’s son William Benson Watkins was born 5 Oct 1836 at Cincinnati, Ohio and died 19 Dec 1898 at Dayton, Ohio.  On 5 Oct 1858 in Warren County, Ohio, he married Julia Ann MorrisJulia was born 23 Feb 1834, the daughter of Isaac Morris (1800-1881), whose father and grandfather removed from New Jersey to Ohio after the Revolutionary War, and his wife, Margaret Chambers (1808-1809).  Julia lived until at least about 1906, as she appears in a photograph (click here to see additional Watkins family photos) with her grandchildren (Roderick and Florence Watkins) in which Florence appears to be at least 3-4 years old.  Both William and Julia were 4th great grandchildren of Humphrey Spinning (1630-1689) and Abigail Hubbard (1640-1689), making them 5th cousins.


Marriage Record of William Watkins & Julia Ann Morris (upper right record), Warren County, Ohio

Marriage Record of William Watkins & Julia Ann Morris (upper right record), Warren County, Ohio


William and his brother Joseph Ray Watkins (1840-1911) attended Farmers College[7] in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was located two miles from the Watkins home.  After earning a Masters degree, William went into the teaching profession and for twenty-eight years he followed his chosen profession.  He taught in country schools; later he became superintendent of schools in different towns in Ohio: Galion, Lebanon, McArthur, Middletown and Pomeroy.  He went on to reside in Dayton, Ohio, in 1873, and for three years was principal of one of the largest district schools in that city.  Later he became professor of modern languages in the Dayton High School, where he taught for twelve years.  He listed is occupation as “Professor of Languages” on his 1880 census form.  William gave up the profession of teaching in 1888, when he entered the abstract of title business.  This was to be his work for the rest of his active life.  At some point he migrated to Minnesota with other members of his family, but he returned to Ohio some time in the 1860s.  His sister, Julia remembered him as follows:

“Our meetings in later years were few and far between, but the tie of friendship was never severed nor loosened; and as circumstances favored us with more frequent meetings in the last few years, his varied scholarship, his advanced ideas, his broadening of character seemed but the rich maturity of the promise of earlier years. His brain was busy with the problems of life, problems involving the greater interests of humanity, with every thought modified by the pulsations of a heart throbbing with brotherly love, with a character free from all insincerity or sordidness. The keynote of his life was honesty, and the ruling passion love. With him love was the fulfilling of the law. In manner he was simple and unaffected, neither haughty nor obsequious. He respected worth in all conditions and loved virtue for its own sake. Strong in his own convictions, and having the courage of the same when occasion called for their expression, he was ever lenient to those who differed from him and considerately refrained from forcing his opinions upon friends whose views differed from his own… He hated, with all the intensity of his strong character, oppression in all its forms. He was a representative of lofty ideals, ideals too unselfish to be practical in a selfish world. He was an advanced thinker, which consigned him to the ranks of the minority; but the world in its revolutions of thought and by the logic of events more than once came around to his standpoint. He was an avowed abolitionist when such an avowal was odious; but he lived to see the ideas he began to advance with force and ability when a mere boy, and to which he adhered through life, adopted by our government and recognized as correct by the people.”

William and Julia Watkins, about aged 25

William and Julia Watkins, about 1861

William and Julia Watkins, about aged 50

William and Julia Watkins, about 1886

The children of William and Julia Watkins: Rosamund, Helen, Paul, Diana, Agnes and   Josephine

The children of William and Julia Watkins: Rosamund, Helen, Paul, Diana, Agnes and Josephine

The children of William Benson Watkins and Julia Ann Morris are listed as follows:

  1. Rosamund Leslie, born 10 Jan 1861 and died 17 Feb 1944 (known as “Little Nel”)
  2. Helen May, born 10 Apr 1863 and died 14 Jul 1894.  On 31 Dec 1885, she married John M. Truesdell, who was born 22 Jul 1859 and died 17 Mar 1982.  Their children were William Watkins (1890- ) and Paul Watkins (1887-1888).
  3. Paul Carl Emmanuel Watkins, born 9 Nov 1864 and died 24 Dec 1931.  See below.
  4. Diana Vernon, born 26 Jan 1866 and died 1938
  5. Agnes Wickfield, born 16 Oct 1867 and died 2 Apr 1919
  6. Victor, born 5 Mar 1869 and died 12 Sep 1869
  7. Grace Darling, born 5 Jul 1870 and died 17 Dec 1871
  8. Josephine Joy, born 12 Aug 1873 and married 16 Oct 1895 to Gustavus Adolphus Lehman.
Marriage Record of Paul Watkins and Florence E. Henderson (top left)

Marriage Record of Paul Watkins and Florence E. Henderson (top left)

Paul Watkins was born 9 Nov 1864 in Lebanon, Ohio.  He is the son of William Benson Watkins and Julia Ann Morris.  He was married 16 Oct 1889 to Florence E. Henderson, who was born 31 Jul 1869 and died 13 Jun 1956.  He was educated in public and high schools in Dayton, Ohio and was first employed in grain business in Toledo, Ohio from 1883-85.  He moved to Columbus, Ohio and was a purchasing agent for Columbus & Hocking Coal & Iron Company and was later Secretary and Treasurer of the Central Ohio Natural Gas & Fuel Company until 1892.  He moved to Winona, Minnesota and was President and Secretary of the J. R. Watkins Company.

The Watkins Home, built by Paul & Florence Watkins between 1924-27, is now operated as Watkins Manor, an assisted living community of nearly 60 senior apartments in Winona, Minnesota (photo by Matthew Hylbom, Jul 2012).

The Watkins Home, built by Paul & Florence Watkins between 1924-27, is now operated as Watkins Manor, an assisted living community of nearly 60 senior apartments in Winona, Minnesota (photo by Matthew Hylbom, Jul 2012).

This portrait of Paul Watkins (1864-1931) was painted in 1920 by Carl Bohner, a well-known Minnesota painter and printmaker in the first half of the 20th century, who completed portraits of state luminaries including Charles Lindbergh, as well as the portraits of several Minnesota governors that hang in the state Capitol. The portrait was stolen from Watkins Manor on 11-12 Sep 2014.

This portrait of Paul Watkins (1864-1931) was painted in 1920 by Carl Bohner, a well-known Minnesota painter and printmaker in the first half of the 20th century, who completed portraits of state luminaries including Charles Lindbergh, as well as the portraits of several Minnesota governors that hang in the state Capitol.

Joseph Ray (J.R.) Watkins (1840-1911) - my 2nd g-grand uncle

Joseph Ray (J.R.) Watkins (1840-1911) – my 2nd g-grand uncle

J. R. Watkins Medical Company Complex, 150 Liberty Street, Winona, Minnesota (U.S. Register of Historic Places) – photo by Jonathunder

J. R. Watkins Medical Company Complex, 150 Liberty Street, Winona, Minnesota (U.S. Register of Historic Places) – photo by Jonathunder

The J. R. Watkins Company was founded by Paul’s uncle, Joseph Ray (“J. R.”) Watkins, who was the son of Benjamin Utter Watkins and Sophronia Keeler.  J. R.  was born 21 Aug 1840 in Cincinnati Ohio.  In 1868, he was married to Mary E. Haberling.  He died in 1911. His company was founded in Plainview, Minnesota. He began selling liniment in 1868 by traveling to homes in the southeastern part of the state. The company moved to Winona in 1885 and added a number of products to its lineup. Baking materials including pepper and vanilla extract were added in 1895. By the 1940s, Watkins was the largest direct-sales company in the world, but it soon began to decline. The demographics and buying habits of the United States went through major shifts in the following decades, and the company was unable to keep pace. Watkins filed for bankruptcy protection in the 1970s, and was purchased by Minneapolis investor Irwin L. Jacobs in 1978.

J.R. Watkins Medical Products Company (constucted 1911-13) – George Washington Maher, Architect (exterior entry)

The Watkins Company headquarters building was the first of three progressive commissions that Chicago Prairie School architect George Maher carried out in Winona for the Watkins family, one of his wealthiest clients.  They also commissioned him to design a house, “Rockledge” (since razed, see below) and the Winona National and Savings Bank.  The Watkins Company continues to occupy the office (1911) and manufacturing buildings (1913).  The luxurious main offices, finished in 1912, were executed in Maher’s trademark classical-modern style.  Highly symmetrical, the marble-clad building has a central domed entrance hall that features a large art-glass window depicting Sugar Loaf Mountain, a Winona landmark.  Gold leaf covers the dome’s interior.  Art-glass lunettes adorn the north and south entrances, and art-glass skylights illuminate the office spaces.  Maher and Louis J. Millet, who worked with Sullivan and Elmslie on the glass for the National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna, collaborated on the window design.  The building now houses a small museum that tells the history of the company.

E.L. King House, “Rockledge”, 1912 (razed 1987)

Maher developed a unified scheme of architecture and furnishings for Rockledge, a house built in 1912 near Winona, Minnesota, for businessman Ernest L. King and his wife, Grace Watkins King.  Mrs. King’s father was the founder of the J.R. Watkins Company.  Above the central doorway of Rockledge, Maher used a flattened arch, a commanding architectural element that echoed the solidity of the bluffs looming just behind the house.  He adopted the tiger lily, abundant at the site, as a motif for decorations within the house.  Maher’s “motif-rhythm” theory took the idea of a unified interior, as practiced by Wright, Purcell, Elmslie and other Prairie School architects, a step further.  He believed that repeating a few motifs consistently throughout the house, so that one was surrounded by them, would make the home-and, therefore, the inhabitants’ lives-harmonious.  Because the Kings were among his wealthiest clients, Maher designed lavish interior details and nearly every object that would be used at Rockledge.  The flattened arch and the tiger lily were the prevailing interior architectural motifs.  Rockledge was demolished in 1987, but its furnishings were saved, and they, along with period photographs, illustrate how successfully Maher realized his version of a unified interior.  An armchair, a runner, an urn, and the tea service from Rockledge are in the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  By the 1930s, Maher’s design scheme was out of vogue, and the Kings redecorated Rockledge in the fashionable Art Deco style.  At the time Rockledge was built, however, the Watkins family had admired Maher’s symmetrical, classical Prairie School approach enough to commission two other buildings from him: the J.R. Watkins Company Administration Building (see above) and the Winona Savings Bank (1914).  Both still stand in Winona and serve their original functions.

Click here for more photos —> Watkins Family Album

Paul Watkins died 24 Dec 1931 in Winona, Minnesota.  The children of Paul Watkins and Florence E. Henderson are:

  1. Roderick Henderson, born 22 Jul 1890 and died 27 Aug 1963
  2. Joseph Ray, born 9 Aug  1894
  3. William B. (1898)
  4. Florence E. Watkins (see below).
Florence Watkins Walholm (1903-1985)

Florence Watkins Walholm (1903-1985)

The Watkins Mausoleum, Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona, Minnesota (photo by Ealasaid Haas)

The J.R. Watkins Mausoleum, Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona, Minnesota (photo by Ealasaid Haas)

Florence E. Watkins was born 9 Mar 1903 in Winona, Minnesota and died 24 Mar 1985 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She married Roy Willard Walholm on 15 Oct 1932.  Roy Willard Walholm was born 7 Oct 1898 in Galesburg, Illinois and died 15 Dec 1965 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Both are buried in the Paul Watkins Mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona, Minnesota.  A list of known burials in that Mausoleum is located —> here.  Descendents of Paul and Florence H. Watkins can request space for burial on the grounds or within the mausoleum (as available). Space remains in the mausoleum and substantial additional burial space is available on the grounds surrounding the mausoleum.

For information on living descendants of Florence E. Watkins and Roy Willard Walholm —> click here.


[1] The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 21

[2] Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs by Samuel Adams Drake (W. A. Butterfield, Boston, 1917), p. 94.

[3] Stratford, CT Vital Records 1639-1854. From the Barbour Collection. Transcribed by Coralynn Brown

[4] There is confusion in some of the genealogical sources involving the parentage of this Joseph Watkins, probably due to the fact that Benjamin’s brother, Ephraim (1706-1751) also had a son named Joseph, born also in 1732 or thereabouts.  The parents of these cousins have been confused in some of the genealogies I have consulted.  However, my research reveals that Ephraim’s son Joseph did not migrate to New Jersey, but rather ended up in Ulster County, New York, where he died in 1774.  There is no record that he had a son named James.  He is identified as the son of Ephraim on his grave marker at St. Davids Cemetery in Orange County, New York, where he is buried along with his mother (Joanna Birdseye), son (Joseph Watkins) and brothers (Abel & Hezekiah).  Ephraim was apparently laid to rest elsewhere.

[5] Julia Watkins Frost is the granddaughter of James Watkins (1768-1849) and daughter of Benjamin Utter Watkins (1811-1890).

[6] Benjamin’s sister, Sallie, was also blind from an early age, and his brother, Joseph, became quite blind at the age of nine.  However, Joseph’s blindness was successfully treated, by a Dr. John Martin who came to Ohio from “the East”.  The cause of these vision problems is unknown, and Julia Watkins Frost relates that “this affliction is not known to have occurred before in the families of our ancestors, nor has it appeared in any of the generations since”.

[7] In 1833, Freeman G. Cary established Pleasant Hill Academy for boys in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Julia Watkins Frost recalls that Benjamin Utter Watkins served as a pallbearer at Cary’s funeral. The academy became an agricultural school called Farmer’s College in 1846. That school became Belmont College in 1885, and then formed the core of the Ohio Military Institute in 1890. A separate school, the Ohio Female College, was founded in 1852 by Reverend John Covert and operated until 1873 when it was sold to build the Cincinnati Sanitarium, the first private US psychiatric facility not on the East Coast.


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