Benjamin Goss Donor of Universe Cemetery, Smith County, Texas

The following is a continuation of information provided by Vicki Betts (vbetts@gower.net) after she and others worked diligently to have the Universe/University Cemetery designated as a Historic Texas Cemetery in July 2020.
This information is about
Benjamin Goss Donor of Universe Cemetery, Smith County, Texas

Benjamin Goss was born in about 1835 in North Carolina, almost certainly a slave.  His owner’s name is unknown.  He married Edna Canadey about 1855, and they had fifteen children although only six or seven lived to adulthood. The oldest son, Henry, was born in North Carolina in 1846, but according to the 1870 census, the rest of the children, including Isaac, Isah, Andrew, Alice, Mariah, and Martha, born prior to June, 1865, and Cornelius and Mary, born afterwards, were all born in Texas.[i]

After emancipation, Goss registered to vote in 1867 and appeared in the 1868 Smith County tax records with one horse, two cattle, and $10 of miscellaneous property.  Although he did not own any land at that point, he did supervise at least one tenant farmer, because George Warren, also a free man of color, brought charges against Goss with the Freedman’s Bureau for refusing to give him his share of the crop.   Warren was subsequently paid $30.[ii]

On January 5, 1870, a large area of land came up for auction on the Tyler courthouse steps to settle a bankruptcy.  Benjamin Goss purchased half interest in 280 acres in the James Kelley survey three miles east of Tyler, for $201.25.  It included the area of the Confederate Headache Springs pharmaceutical laboratory.  At the end of the month he and William Taylor deeded 2½ acres of that survey to Orange Humphreys, Robert Daniel, James Evans, Daniel Curtis and himself as trustees of the University Colored Church.  The church and University (later Universe) Cemetery were established there with the oldest tombstones dated to 1871.[iii]

Then in April of 1870 Goss was able to buy the other half interest for $550, $100 of that in hand, and the rest due in twelve months.  The 1870 Agriculture Census noted that Goss owned 50 improved acres and 229 woodland acres, with the cash value of the farm being $714.  He employed hired help to whom he paid $82 that year.  He owned no horses, but did own three mules and/or donkeys, three milk cows, four other cattle, and twelve hogs.  He and his family and hired help produced 400 bushels of corn, seven bales of cotton, 111 bushels of Irish potatoes, 511 bushels of sweet potatoes, and ninety pounds of butter.[iv]

The 1870 Population Census showed Benjamin Goss with a personal estate of $400 and real estate worth $714, his wife Edna, sons Isah, Andrew, and Cornelius, and daughters Alice, Mariah, Martha, and Mary.  All are listed as unable to read or write, but also in the household was James Sears, 36, white, a teacher born in New York.  The next time the census taker came around, in 1880, Ben Goss was literate, as were several of his children.[v]

Goss continued to register to vote, being Smith County voter no. 21 in 1872.  He also served as a trustee for the C.M.E. Church in Tyler, appearing in deeds registered in 1878 and 1879.[vi]

The 1880 Agriculture Census and deed records showed that Goss had bought additional land in adjacent Cherino survey, so his total holdings were 507 acres, and of that 130 acres were cleared.  His farm was now worth $1300.  He owned one horse, one mule, three milk cows, two other cattle, 35 hogs, and 20 poultry which had produced 200 eggs.  He had 100 acres in corn producing 200 bushels, 100 acres in cotton producing 25 bales, one acre in sugar cane producing 90 gallons of molasses, had grown 20 bushels of cowpeas, 60 bushels of sweet potatoes, and had cut twenty cords of wood.[vii]

The 1880 Population Census revealed a large household—Ben, Edna, sons Cornelius, Isah and his wife, Isaac with wife and four children, and Andrew with his wife and three children.  Daughters Mary, Mariah, and Mattie with her husband, and four servants completed the list.[viii]

In 1883 Ben and Edna Goss “in consideration of encouraging public free schools and the further sum of eight dollars” sold to C. G. White, the county judge of Smith County “for the benefit of Public Schools and especially for the benefit of Universe School community No. 116, Smith County, Texas, for colored pupils of which Robert Greenleaf, George McCorkle and said Ben Goss are now trustees,” one acre of land from his property.  Furthermore, “if not a school for colored [the land] reverts to us and our heirs.”  Then in 1891 Goss sold one acre on the Tyler and Henderson Road for two dollars to Andrew Goss, R. H. Mitchell, Jesse Warren, and N. T. Mosley, trustees for “Universe Church, Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America” and evidently a church was built out on a larger, more accessible road.[ix]

The 1900 Census showed Ben and Edna Goss still living in their unmortgaged home, married forty-five years.  Only four of their children were still living.  Andrew, 18, listed as a son but probably a grandson, was at home and attending school.  Another grandson, Monroe, age 3, was also living with them.  The 1900 Census did not list property values, but Redwine’s History of Five Counties, published in 1901, listed Ben Goss, age 63, with property valued at $5040.  Smith County tax rolls reported that he then owned 339 acres of land valued at $1250, having sold some of his land to his children and some to others.  He also owned three horses or mules, two cattle, three hogs, and one wagon worth $5.  He also maintained a $400 steam engine and boiler but its use was not explained.  For tax purposes Goss was worth $1750.[x]

Benjamin Goss died on September 16, 1907, age about 72, and Edna probably died between 1900 and 1907 because she did not appear in his will.  Goss carefully listed how his real estate was to be divided, and if those receiving land were to pay other survivors anything for it.  While many Goss family members have markers at Universe Cemetery, Benjamin and Edna do not.[xi]  

The Universe cemetery is currently located on private property (Map from THC (1)). For more information about historic cemetery preservation, you must visit  www.thc.texas.gov/cemetery

The Smith County Historical Society provides research information only and has no authority over the physical preservation of cemeteries.

[i] Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Schedule 1, (Population), Smith County, Texas, sheet 8, house number 144, family number 147, Ben Goss; Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, Schedule 1 (Population),  Smith County, Texas,  sheet 401A, dwelling number 162, family number 164, Benjamin Gaus.

[ii] 1867 Voter Registration Lists, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Smith County, Texas, p. 405, line 222; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861-1880, RG 105, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.,  Records of Freedmen’s Complaints, 1865-1872, Tyler, Texas, vol. 2, January-December 1868, p. 34, November 12, 1868.

[iii] Smith County, Texas, Deed Records, Q: 191, Y: 257; Findagrave:  Universe Cemetery, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/7355/memorial-search?orderby=d .

[iv] Smith County, Texas, Deed Records, Q: 101; Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, Schedule 3 (Productions of Agriculture), Smith County, Texas, Tyler Beat, p. 1, line 12, Ben Gans.           

[v] Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, Schedule 1 (Population), Smith County, Texas, sheet 401A, dwelling number 162, family number 164, Benjamin Gaus; Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, Schedule 1 (Population), sheet 140, dwelling number 162, family number 164, Ben Goss.

[vi] “Texas Registered Voters, 1872.”  Chronicles of Smith County, Texas, 28 no. 1 (Summer 1989):  29; Smith County, Texas, Deed Records, X: 252, Y: 117, U: 302.

[vii] Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, Schedule 2 (Productions of Agriculture), Smith County,  Texas, p. 12, line 3, Benjamin Goss; Smith County, Texas, Deed Records, V: 563.

[viii] Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, Schedule 1 (Population), Smith County, Texas, sheet 140, dwelling 107, family 109, Ben Goss.

[ix] Smith County, Texas, Deed Records, 30: 271; 82:377.

[x] Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Schedule 1 (Population), Smith County, Texas, sheet 8, dwelling 144, family 147, Ben Goss; W. A. Redwine, History of Five Counties, Tyler, Tex.: n.p., 1901, p. 72, reprinted in Chronicles of Smith County, Texas 11 no. 2 (Fall 1972); Smith County Tax Roll, 1900; Smith County, Deed Records, 32: 572, 32:573, 53:508.

[xi] Smith County, Texas, Probate Minutes, Vol. 18, 1905-1919, p. 90-91; Findagrave:  University Cemetery, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/7355/memorial-search

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