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Below is a family biography included in Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Monroe County, Arkansas published by Goodspeed Publishing Company in 1890.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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Mrs. Bena Black, widow of the late Maj. William Black, of Brinkley, was born in the State of New York in 1843, and her parents, John and Matelina (Leanhart) Colless, were natives of Germany. They were married in their native country, and three daughters were the result of this union: Catherine (wife of George Guisler), Julia (wife of John Bowers, of New Orleans), and the subject of this sketch. John Colless died in New Orleans in about 1847, and his wife afterward married a Mr. Frederick Buck, of New Orleans, and became the mother of five children, two sons and three daughters, all of whom are living in New Orleans. Maj. Black was born in Toronto, Canada, November 22, 1836, came to Memphis, Tenn., in 1856, and worked at ship carpentering for a while, after which he went into the grocery business on Jefferson Street. He carried this on successfully, but subsequently disposed of this business and built a saw mill just south of Brinkley, which business increased so rapidly that a more suitable and convenient place for handling lumber had to be selected, hence the mill was moved to what is now known as “Old Mill,” east of town. Again it was located on the site it now occupies, and the present corporation formed, The Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company, which, in the meantime, owing to its excellent business management, has developed into the largest manufacturing concern of its kind in the State, and one of the largest in the South. It at several times had large railroad contracts, building about twenty-five miles of the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad, and about forty miles of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad. He built what is known as the W. & B. R. V. Railroad as far as Tupelo, Ark. He built the Brinkley & Helena Railroad, and at the time of his death was busily engaged in extending the road through to Indian Bay, about twenty miles of which was ready for iron. He was a director and stockholder in the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad, was president and principal owner of the Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company, president of the Monroe County Bank, vice-president of the Brinkley Oil Mill Company, and principal owner of the business of T. H. Jackson & Co., the largest mercantile firm in Eastern Arkansas. About five years ago, through his great business sagacity, he saw an opportunity to start a lumber business in Memphis, and as a result, owned the Brinkley Lumber Company of that city, which is, without doubt, the leading lumber establishment of Memphis, receiving and selling more lumber and doing through his exertions a large and extensive business. Maj. Black served through the war with distinction, participating in all the battles in and around Memphis. Soon after the war he moved to what is now known as Brinkley, then a dense forest. At that time he had to walk twenty miles to the nearest railroad, which was the Memphis & Little Rock, at Palestine, while now, by his indomitable energy, Brinkley can boast of four railroads. Maj. Black was fifty-three years, nine months and twenty-six days old when he returned from Waukesha Springs, and looked the picture of health and vigorous manhood, with the exception of a large carbuncle on the back of his neck near the base of the brain, which caused much uneasiness among his friends, but were met with hopeful assurance from the friends of the family. There were in attendance the most eminent surgeons of Memphis and Little Rock in consultation with local physicians, and all felt hopeful until the fatal day, September 18, 1889, when at the close of a surgical operation, at about 1 P. M., he breathed his last. When the sad news spread among the people that Maj. Black was dead, a hush fell upon the town that will long be remembered. Business houses were closed, a Sabbath-like calmness rested upon the streets and in the dwellings, as if each one paused in the busy walks of life to commune with himself on the uncertainty of life and the awful change, death. On Thursday, September 19, the obsequies took place, and seemingly the whole city followed in mourning to the cemetery where they carried this honored and much-respected citizen. The funeral services took place at the Catholic Church, and were conducted by Rev. Father McGill, after which the K. of H. lodge took charge of the burial ceremonies. A procession was formed at the church, headed by members of the K. of H., followed by the carriages of the family and immediate friends; next came the employees from the mill, numbering about 100, and as the procession reached the school-houses it was joined by the teachers and pupils from both schools, numbering about 200. After them came numberless carriages and many on foot, variously estimated at from 600 to 1,000 persons. The ceremonies at the grave were impressive, and at their close the school children were each permitted to place a handful of flowers on the coffin—a most touching tribute. Those most intimably acquainted with Maj. Black knew best his noble traits of character, for, though possessed of wonderful business acumen, yet he was modest and retiring to an unusual degree. Though so active, he never neglected those delicate courtesies which beautify life, but paid the strictest deference to the feelings of all his business associates, instances of which will be kindly remembered by them in years to come. He never took a very active part in politics, although at one time he represented this senatorial district in the State Assembly. He was the founder and leader, as it were, of this flourishing city, and his death produced a shock on every side, making all feel, in the presence of such a calamity, as if the ordinary pursuits of life were vain. When his death was announced at a meeting of the Memphis Lumber Exchange, remarks of profound regret were made, and resolutions of sympathy adopted and sent to the bereaved family—commending his many virtues and his noble life as an example to those whom he left behind. He was the father of twelve children, eight of whom are living at the present, time, two sons and six daughters: Lena (wife of T. H. Jackson), Katie (wife of H. H. Myers), Anna (wife of Charles Labell), Maggie, Nellie, Garland, Sarah and Willie. Mrs. Black still resides in Brinkley, and is a most estimable lady.

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This family biography is one of 86 biographies included in Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Monroe County, Arkansas published in 1890.  For the complete description, click here: Monroe County, Arkansas History, Genealogy, and Maps

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