submitted by Neal Carter, October 13, 2007


Death this Morning of Benjamin Mathews, the Well Known Colored Citizen – Sketch of His Life

The death at 9:30 o’clock this morning of this old citizen of Muscatine at his home, corner Sixth and Cedar streets, will be learned with regret by many who have long known the “old man.” A native of Frederick county, Md., and a slave by birth, freed by his master Alex. Warfield, when his mother was given her freedom, he came to Muscatine about 1839 and worked for the Warfield family on the old homestead, near what is now known as Park Place. He was the first colored person to settle in Muscatine. His age was 82 years, 9 months and 17 days.

When Ben Mathews came here he was the only survivor of thirteen children. He always supported himself, driving team, raising vegetables, and finally became the leading white-washer in the city. No man was more respected by his fellow citizens, and none greeted more cordially upon the street. “Uncle Ben,” years ago, affiliated with the Democratic party and during the exciting Greeley campaign donned the white hat and marched in the ranks. One of the unique reasons for his Democracy was the failure to admit California as a State in such a way as to allow the slave-holders to carry their slaves there; also, because the Republican party did not protect the colored voters in the South. In regard to the first reason he seemed confident the colored men could have dug gold enough in California in a short time to buy their freedom. He was once summoned as a juror, and his old friend and playmate, Major A. O. Warfield, hearing of it, went to the Court House and took a look at him in the box, saying, “Well! If any one had told me that I would live to see Uncle Ben on a jury, I would have set them down as foolish if not crazy.”

For some years past Ben. Mathews was seldom seen on our streets, and his silver gray hair and beard told of his increasing years. He was confined to his house and bed several months before he died. He was a devout Christian and loved his fellow-men, and awaited the final summons patiently and cheerfully. “Uncle Ben” is the last of the colored old settlers, Tom Motts and Jane Watkins dying years ago.

The time for the funeral has not been fixed.

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