A pioneer cemetery in Witch Hazel

Tucked away like a little secret at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Hillsboro, Oregon, a wrought iron fence surrounds a tiny pioneer cemetery. 

The Stewart Family Cemetery at the end of SE Stewart Court is the final resting place of Oregon pioneers Ben and Betsy Stewart, their monument overgrown with brambles like a long lost time capsule amid the green lawns and multi-car garages of modern suburbia. The Witch Hazel neighborhood,1 as this area is known, takes its name from the Stewart family’s Hazelwitch farm, est. 1849. 

The grave marker for Benjamin and Elizabeth Stewart sits in an overgrown pioneer cemetery in Hillsboro.
The grave marker for Applegate Trail pioneers Benjamin and Elizabeth Stewart sits in an overgrown family cemetery in Hillsboro, Oregon.

There’s a Witch Hazel Road and Witch Hazel Elementary School, but the cemetery had been forgotten until the area was cleared for development in the early 1990s. 

Benjamin Stewart (1795-1856)2, along with his wife Elizabeth Wood (1790-1864)3 and their six grown children, crossed the continent by covered wagon in 1846. They were among the first pioneers to make their way to Oregon via the Applegate-Scott Trail, a new southern route as yet untraveled by wagons.4

The journey took eight months. Ben and Betsy’s only daughter Nancy, a 29-year-old mother, died along the way. “In the Umpqua Valley the daughter of a Mr. Stewart died. There were just five wagons of us then. They dug her grave with wooden shovels and cut down saplings and split them for the coffin.”5

It’s said that the Stewarts first arrived in Polk County and stayed about one year. Ben worked on the Clackamas River as a blacksmith, then took 640 acres of timberland east of Oregon City. In 1849, he found the land in Washington County to his liking and encouraged his sons to take land nearby. 

Benjamin and Elizabeth resided at Hazelwitch until their deaths in 1856 and 1864. There’s a crumbling headstone out in the yard. Nearby, granddaughter Sarah Ann Thomas is also buried in the family cemetery; a mother of two young children, she was just 19 years, 7 months and 21 days when she died of “bilious intermittent fever.” That sounds awful.

Benjamin Stewart was born on 10 April 1795 in Jessamine County, Kentucky, and died at ag 61 in Washington County, Oregon, on 19 May 1856. “He was an honest Democrat a good Baptist and a hard-working honest man.”6 Elizabeth Wood, a native of Virginia, was born 3 March 1790 and died at the age of 74 on 27 October 1864. Their children were:

  • Nancy Stewart Busey was born about 1817 in Missouri; died about 1846 on the Applegate Trail. Her husband was Landon B. Busey; they had two children, Roxalina and Charles DeMarcus Busey (1840-1872).
  • Charles James Stewart, was born 7 April 1818 in St. Charles, Missouri and died 30 September 1898 in Washington County, Oregon. He was married to Martha A. Wood and had 11 children, including Sarah Ann (Stewart) Thomas.
  • Thomas J. Stewart was born 18 June 1818 in Boone County, Missouri and died 24 October 1900 in Washington County, Oregon. He was married to Mahala and had at least 8 children.
  • Holman R. Stewart was born about 1822 in Missouri.
  • Twins Alfred and Albert were born 13 July 1825 in Callaway County, Missouri. Alfred Richard Stewart died 28 May 1908 in Santa Cruz County, California; he was married to Cordelia and had 7 children. Albert Stewart died 24 September 1897 in Washington County, Oregon; he was married to Mary Jane Shuck and had 10 children, including Nevada Stewart.

Sarah Ann (Stewart) Thomas7 was born 21 February 1847 in Washington County, Oregon, the third of 11 children and the first of this family to be born in Oregon. Her parents were Charles James Stewart and Martha Ann Wood. She married John Thomas and had two children, Winnie and William. She died on 3 October 1867, within a few days of William’s birth.

  1. Witch Hazel wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_Hazel,_Oregon
  2. Benjamin Stewart Find-a-Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/30136574/benjamin-stewart
  3. Elizabeth Stewart Find-a-Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/30136608/elizabeth-stewart
  4. “Applegate Trail,” Oregon Encyclopedia. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/applegate_trail/#.ZCDmxuzMKWY
  5. “West of the Cascades: Klamath Echoes”
  6. Source:  James Dewelt, Our Stewart Family, A Portrait.  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jpd51mar11/stewart/pafg01.htm
  7. Sarah Ann Thomas Find-a-Grave https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/30136618/sarah-ann-thomas

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