Benjamin Wesley Baker
By: Gregory R. Aymond (email@example.com)
Benjamin Wesley Baker, also known as "Ben" or "B.W.", was born on October 26, 1844, near China Grove, in Pike County, Alabama. Ben was the eldest child of Milton Baker and Mary Lucinda Sheppard. Lucinda was the granddaughter of Andrew Sheppard, Sr., a Revolutionary War veteran of the North Carolina Line, who was born in Scotland, in 1757. Ben father, Milton Baker, was a farmer, land speculator, and business partner and overseer for Colonel Eli Townsend, of China Grove. From later writings of theirs, Ben and his siblings were well educated, probably attending the Orian School at China Grove.
The 1860's were sad and trying times for Ben Baker and his family. Being a strongly loyal Southerner, and the son of a slave holder, Ben enlisted, in 1861, at Pensacola, Florida, into the Perote Guards of the 1 st Alabama Infantry Regiment, Confederate States of America. Ben Baker's unit was captured while bravely defending Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River, in the Spring of 1862. Ben spent the next several months as a prisoner of war at Camp Douglas, Illinois, until his exchange. Ben Baker's unit was then sent to help defend Port Hudson, in Louisiana. Luckily, Ben and a couple of his comrades were sent home to gather clothing and supplies, just before Port Hudson fell to the Yankees. Ben, along with other elements of the 1 st Alabama, were consolidated into other units, at Mobile, Alabama, and sent to Atlanta, Georgia. Bens unit then evacuated Atlanta, and went upon General John Bell Hoods ill-fated Tennessee expedition. Ben later wrote, that he was charging next to Confederate General Patrick Cleburne, when the General was killed attacking Franklin, Tennessee, in November 1864. Ben stated that, after the Franklin, Tennessee battle, his company surrendered in April 1865, in Georgia.
While Ben Baker was off to war, his youngest sister, Mary Elizabeth Baker, died on October 15, 1862. Tragedy further befell the Baker family, when, on December 1, 1862, Bens father, Milton Baker, was murdered by a slave he was supervising on constructing a road. Col. Townsend apprehended the slave, chained him in his smokehouse overnight, and then burned the slave at the stake the next day, before a crowd estimated to have been over 1,000 people. Fear spread throughout the area, as it was believed that the slave had acted at the incitement of Northern abolitionists. Looking forward to happier times, upon returning from the War, Ben married Harriat E. "Hattie" Bickerstaff, daughter of Pollard and Mary Bickerstaff of Pike County, Alabama, on October 26, 1865, in Pike County. On August 26, 1866, they had a son, Pollard Milton Baker. Sadly, both Hattie and young Pollard died about 1868. Losing their money and land during the Yankee Reconstruction, the entire Baker family decided to leave Pike County, Alabama. Ben, his mother, Lucinda, and his three brothers, William Andrew "Buck" Baker; John Franklin Baker; and Alexander Stephen Baker; moved to Louisiana. Bens sister, Joanna Frances Baker Stewart, moved with her Confederate veteran husband, Normal Russell Stewart, to Biloxi, Mississippi, where Norman subsequently died in the Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home at Beauvoir. Bens other sister, Elizabeth R. Baker, married James Williams, and they too eventually made their way to Louisiana.
Ben Baker, his mother, and three brothers, possibly went first to the Ouachita Parish, Louisiana home of Bens maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Talley Sheppard, where Ben probably discussed his wartime exploits with several of his Confederate veteran uncles. His uncle, Hardy Sheppard, had died of wounds he received while serving in the Confederate cause. Another uncle, Captain William Fuller (Ben's aunt Kizziah Sheppard's husband) had been killed at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana. Eventually, by 1870, the four Baker boys and their mother moved to Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, where they operated the "Experiment Plantation." Once in Central Louisiana, Ben Baker remarried. On January 29, 1873, in Rapides Parish, Ben married Theodoscia Ernest Slay, the daughter of Southern Baptist minister, Rev. Daniel Slay. William Andrew ("Buck") Baker married Mary Ellen Hanes, on June 7, 1870, at Center Point, in Avoyelles Parish. Brother John Franklin Baker married Martha Elizabeth Clark, in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, on February 24, 1881 (Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of John Holloway, one of the earliest settlers of the area known as Holloway Prairie, in Rapides Parish). Alexander Stephen Baker married Mary Emma Simmons, in Avoyelles Parish, on December 16, 1885.
No doubt due to his marriage into a staunch Southern Baptist family, Ben Baker became active in church life. His father-in-law Rev. Daniel Slay, had been the pastor at the Philadelphia Baptist Church, in Rapides Parish, and at Simmons Chapel in Avoyelles, Parish. Ben served as church clerk at Corinth Baptist Church, in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1878, and at Hopewell Baptist Church in Center Point, from 1886-1892. Ben was then one of the founding members of Pine Grove Baptist Church, in Ruby, Louisiana.
In 1900, Ben Baker obtained a U.S. Post Office for his general store, located near Pine Grove Church. He named the post office after his daughter, Ruby. This is the origin of the name of the Rapides Parish community known as Ruby, Louisiana. Ben and Theodoscias children were: Mattie Lucinda (married Moses Gates); Joanna Frances (married Isham T. Corley); William Daniel (married 1 st to Lessie Hargis and next to Maude Smith); John Russell (married Olive Guynes); Carney A. (married Ada Williams); Emma (married Albert B. Guynes and 2 nd to J.L. McGrew); Benjamin Wesley, Jr. (married Clarice O. Creed) Ruby; Stella Gertrude (married I.A. Hargis); and Tollie D. (married Wtissia Ryland). Benjamin Wesley Baker died on October 8, 1914, and is buried in the Pine Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, in Ruby, Louisiana. Ben's descendants became productive and highly respected citizens of Central Louisiana, including his grandson, James R. Baker, the founder of Baker Manufacturing, in Pineville, Louisiana.
Sources: Census Records for Pike County, AL. (1850-1860); A History of Pine Grove Baptist Church ; Providence House Publ.; Franklin, TN. (1996); Research of: Gregory R. Aymond; Quincy L. Hargis; James O. Mathis; Michael Wynne; Susie K. Senn and Homer Jones; court records of Catahoula; Avoyelles and Rapides Parishes; LA.