One, possibly two, great-grandsons of Aberdeen founder Samuel Benn will likely be grand marshal of the first Founder’s Day Parade this summer.
Great-grandson William Benn Brasfield traveled to Aberdeen from Boise, Idaho, with his son Sean Brasfield, 21, to trace his family tree and share his family’s trove of history. Brasfield made an earlier trip with his eldest son, Paul, a couple of years ago.
He visited the Aberdeen Museum of History bearing yellowed newspaper articles, old photos and negatives of their ancestors to share with Director and Curator Dann Sears. Deb Carney Blecha, one of the administrators of the new Aberdeen Founder’s Day Parade page on Facebook, was on hand to ask Brasfield to be grand marshal.
Definitely a possibility, he said, adding he’d like to share the honor with his older and last surviving brother, Jim. Jim Brasfield, who lives in Reno, Nev., has also traveled to Grays Harbor to explore family lore.
Samuel Benn was born in Emo, Queens County, Ireland, on July 2, 1832. Aberdeen celebrated the first Founder’s Day last year. This year’s celebration will include a parade scheduled for Saturday, June 28.
Brasfield revealed he has the same yen to travel that possessed his great-grandfather. Samuel Benn emigrated with his family from Ireland to Massachusetts at age 10. His father died and the family moved to Brooklyn where he apprenticed in carpentry and coopering, the skill of making barrels, said Sears.
Benn worried when he did not hear from his brothers, who had headed west to pan for gold in California.
He traveled by steamship to Panama, traveled across the isthmus in a 21-day jaunt to hop a steamer up through Mazatlan to San Francisco, where he found both his brothers had drowned in the Feather River. He came north, finally settling on the Wishkah riverfront property known today as Zelasko Park.
Brasfield, who was raised in Northern California, took off after high school, camping and working his way through England, Scotland, mainland Europe and the Soviet Union. He headed Down Under and flew by Cessna to Tasmania. He was working in Australia when he got the news his mother was ill and returned home, he said.
His sons were born in Everett, where he worked for Scentsy until he went to work in warehouse management for Hewlett Packard. Sean plans to travel after he earns a degree in electrical and computer engineering at Boise State University and fulfills his commitment to Army Reserves, he said.
Brasfield displayed the wooden carving fashioned by another of his ancestors, Sam Benn’s nephew, Thomas Benn Dyer. Dyer carved the small book while a Union soldier and prisoner of war in some of the most notorious Confederate prisons: Libby, Andersonville and Florence.
In an inscription in the flyleaf of a book written about those searing experiences “The Tragedy of Andersonville,” Dyer writes in sculpted pencil script that he met the “founder of the Red Cross.” That may have been Clara Barton.
Brasfield shared articles and gleaned specifics of his family tree and the matriarchal branches while at the museum. His grandmother, Leta, was one of Sam and Martha Redmond Benn’s daughters. Leta married his grandfather Raymond Brasfield in Oregon — Sears has a copy of their marriage certificate from Portland. Guesses were made about how they met. Could they have encountered one another when Leta traveled to visit her sister Mary’s cattle ranch in Bend, Ore.?
For whatever reason, the couple returned to live in Aberdeen and had two sets of fraternal twins, Ralph and Ray, and Barbara and Sam. Their faces are memorialized in the 1941, 1943 and 1944 editions of the Quinault, the J. M. Weatherwax High School yearbook. Brasfield was surprised to find out his father Ralph was known as “Doc.”
The descendants of Sam Benn were due to leave Aberdeen Wednesday to travel to Everett to see other family landmarks. Honored to be asked to be grand marshal, Brasfield said of Sam Benn, “He really is important to the history of Washington.”
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin