De Kalb's Own General: Thomas Benedict
by Bryan Thompson
When people think of the War of 1812 in the North Country, they often remember General Jacob Brown and his exploits during that war. Far fewer recognize the name of De Kalb’s Brigadier-General Thomas Brigdum Benedict, commander of the northern frontier from Sackett’s Harbor to Salmon River, and one of the highest-ranking officers of the War of 1812 from St Lawrence County.
Thomas B. Benedict was born in Woodbury, Connecticut, October 23, 1783. He was the youngest son of Reverend Noah Benedict and Rhoda Bennet. His father, a graduate of Yale, was congregational minister in Woodbury for over 53 years. His older brother Noah, also a graduate of Yale, was a prominent attorney, member of the Connecticut House of Representatives for 16 years, and a probate judge for 11 years. His sister, Rhoda, married another Yale graduate, Nathaniel Smith, the prominent US Congressman, Connecticut Senator, and Judge of the Connecticut Supreme Court.
In 1805 Nathaniel Smith became an investor in Judge Cooper’s concern in the town of De Kalb. Through Smith’s influence, Thomas Benedict, at the age of 22, entered into a business agreement to run Cooper’s store in De Kalb. “The family have been anxious that the young man should enter upon some of the learned professions, but his uniform attachment to trade led them to give up that…He now seems quite pleased with going to Williamstown [De Kalb]…He is however young and will want …your advice and assistance. I feel a great confidence of success for him being connected with you.” (Letter from N Smith to Judge Wm. Cooper May 14, 1805)
Thomas B. Benedict immediately became involved in the commercial life of the town. He bought and sold property, loaned money and held various town offices including; Assessor 1806-1811, Justice of the Peace, 1812-1820, Overseerer of Highways, 1819-1824, and School Inspector, 1818-1824. In 1807 he was one of the founding officers of De Kalb’s Northern Lights Lodge # 163 of the Free and Accepted Masons.
In June 1808 he married Mary Wilson, daughter of John and Jane Humphrey Wilson. They had three children born in De Kalb Village, : Noah, b. 1809, Thomas B., b. 1811 and Jane, b. 1822.
Thomas Benedict’s military career in St Lawrence County began in 1806 when he was appointed a Captain in the local regiment of the NYS Militia. He advanced to first Major in 1809. At this time in NYS history, the NYS Council of Appointments handed out Militia appointments above the rank of Captain as political rewards. These appointments were quite lucrative. During the militia’s detached service at Ogdensburgh a Lieutenant Colonel received $75/ month, a Captain $35/month and a private $10/month.
Benedict might never have advanced further in rank if it hadn’t been for a quarrel among his superior officers. The dispute in question was between David Ford and Joseph Edsall. When the St Lawrence county Militia was first organized in 1805, Edsall was made first Major and Ford, second Major. When Lieutenant Colonel Turner died, Ford used the influence of his brother, Judge Nathan Ford, to be appointed Lieutenant Colonel over the head of Edsall. When the Council of Appointments realized their error, they withheld David Ford’s commission. The struggle over who would command the local Militia dragged on for almost four years with first one then the other receiving the commission. In the end, Judge Ford was shown to have perjured himself in the proceedings and the Council refused to reappoint both men! Instead, in 1811, they commissioned Thomas B. Benedict as Lieutenant Colonel of St Lawrence County’s NYS Militia Regt. (David Ford did not give up even then. When Jacob Brown was appointed Brigadier General, Ford protested to Governor Tompkins that the appointment should have been his!)
The quarrel had a disastrous effect on the local militia. According to Governor Tompkins,” the disputes and controversies…. Had prevented the regiment from training at all one year, and had kept the Militia of St. Lawrence County in an unsettled, undisciplined, disorganized state.”(Tompkins Vol. 2 p. 407-8) This was a very bad time to have a disorganized Militia as the Embargo Act was carried out and border tensions were on the rise.
Very little about Benedict’s service is actually known, as most of the original regimental records, donated by D. W. Church to the state, were destroyed in a fire at the NYS library in 1911. However, three letters Benedict wrote in 1818, 1819 and 1820 as part of an audit of Governor Tompkins’ books by the NYS Comptroller recently resurfaced in the NYS archives. These letters shed new light on the period from April 1812 to February 1813 at the Fort in Ogdensburgh. From June to the end of December, Benedict was in command of the detached Militia in the service of the US Government. After this period he was relieved of the command in favor of Captain Forsythe and was in command of the NYS Militia in the county who were stood down (sent home). Contrary to a published account by the NYS Historian, Benedict was not in command or present during the battle. In Benedict’s own words, “Thank God, Ogdensburgh did not fall while I commanded there”(April 15, 1813 Letter from Thomas Benedict to David Parish SLU Special Collections)
Here are his descriptions of the events of this period from the records at the NYS Archives :
De Kalb, St. Lawrence Ct. June 22, 1818
Your letter under date of May 27th postmarked the 11th instant, was not received by me until the 21st instant (Sunday). In consequence of it’s being directed to Ogdensburgh, and my residence being at De Kalb.
In answer to your inquiries, I have to inform you, that in the Spring of 1812 there was a draft of militia made for three months duty. Those drafted in this county amounting to about 73 to 76, If I correctly remember, were by the orders of General Brown directed to rendezvous at De Kalb. This was done. They remained there about ten days and as no provision was made for their maintenance I requested Mr. William Cleghorn [He ran a store in De Kalb Village in partnership with Asa Sprague] to furnish provisions for them, and I became responsible to him and paid him for them.
After these men were marched to Ogdensburgh, Lieutenant Elisha Griffin, [of De Kalb] their commander, informed me that they stood in need of blankets for the hospital and had no means to procure any. I immediately purchased some for them. When war was declared in June, after, I was assigned to the command of a regiment in General J. Brown’s Brigade, and took command of the port at Ogdensburgh. It was a long time before the Quartermaster’s department there was furnished with any money or means to procure necessaries for the hospital. I furnished money from my own pocket to purchase blankets and also some shoes, axes, etc., etc. not doubting that [the] Government would remunerate me those things, which were, necessary to have, it was indispensable. On presenting my account to quartermaster Sam Brown in the Fall of 1812, he doubted his authority to pay it, as also did Paymaster T. B. Baldwin.
I was in the six month service, which expired on the 28th [of] December 1812. I went to Albany in February 7, 1813 and presented the aforesaid accounts to Major D. Noon. After an examination of the accounts Major D. Noon told me he would show them to his Excellency Governor Tompkins, and obey his directions not doubting he would order it paid. I went in company with him to the Governor’s house. The Governor looked at the accounts, made several inquiries of me respecting the several charges, and concluded by saying that he saw nothing but what was reasonable and just in them. Thanked me for having advanced the money, and told Major D. Noon to examine the account and vouchers, and if he found them correct, to call on him again and he would draw for the money. Major D. Noon then examined the accounts; obtained the money from his Excellency (as he informed me) took the papers into his own hand at Mr. Dunn’s tavern, and paid me the amount of the account. The whole I received, I think was more than eight hundred dollars, and I think the $535.93 must be included in the $807.66 as conjectured by you in the postscript. Mr. Schormstead (?) from whom I purchased most of the articles is dead, and at the capture of Ogdensburgh, which took place while I was in Albany on the 22nd February 1813, all of my papers, except what I had with me in Albany, were taken and destroyed by the enemy. So that I have no copies of the account or data from which I can give you the particulars other than my memory. From this hasty statement you will find that I was not in the service when I received the money, that it was for cash advanced several months previous. That it was paid to me by Major D. Noon by direction of the Governor and that the papers and vouchers were by me left with Major D. Noon.
I presume that the Major will be able to recollect all the circumstances if called upon, as he took upon himself considerable trouble to obtain the money and correct and arrange the account. In extreme haste I remain with great respect.
Your humble servant,
Th. B. Benedict
De Kalb, St. Lawrence co., NY Aug 21, 1819
Your letter under [the] date of the 6th inst. Has come to hand on the 21st of June 1818. I received a letter from the comptroller dated the 27th May, previous calling on me for information respecting monies paid to me by his Excellency Governor Tompkins for advances etc. during the late war. An answer was returned to that letter which I was in hopes would be satisfactory. However as it appears that this account is still unsettled, I will with pleasure endeavor to give you such information as will lead to an understanding of it’s real situation.
In order to affect this I must have your indulgence while I give you a short narration of my instructions and management, while in the service of the US during the late war.
In the spring of 1812 I received an order from Genl. J. Brown to make a draft of between 70 and 80 men (If my memory is faithful) from the two Regiments in this county, to stand as minutemen. The order was immediately executed. A short time after I received orders from the General to embody the Minutemen at De Kalb. That, as he stated in his order, they might be under my “immediate inspection”. This order was as promptly obliged as the first. The troops were assembled at De Kalb, but without Arms, Tents, Blankets, Camp Kettles, or any rations of any description. At my own expense, I furnished them with arms for drill, and rations of food and liquor, and lost no time in giving the General information of their organization at De Kalb and destitute situation.
He justified my proceedings and gave me assurances, that [the] Govr would amply remunerate me. Subsequent orders were received to have the troops stationed at Ogdensburgh. They accordingly marched there under the command of Lieuts. Griffin [of De Kalb] and Polley. War was declared in June, and his Excellency Govr. Tompkins assigned me to the command of a Regt. In General Brown’s Brigade.
Agreeable to orders my regt. Was assembled and organized at Ogdensburgh the last days of June. When I arrived at that port, I found the troops totally destitute of Camp Utensils of every description. I however met Major D. Noon there, who procured such necessaries as lay in his power, and informed me that he should use every exertion to forward camp kettles, blankets, etc. As the troops began to murmur I purchased a few of these articles and such substitutions as could be procured (at my own risk) in order to make the troops in some measure comfortable.
On the return of Major D. Noon some days afterwards, I informed him of what I had done, and presented him with my account. He declared himself satisfied, regretted very much the necessity, which had compelled me to make those purchases, and said he did not doubt but Govr. would make me ample remuneration, but thought his advice and intention would not warrant him to pay the bills and advised me to present them to the Govr., not doubting that he would advice them paid. On this advice and assurance I rested easy and during my command, until the arrival of Genl. Brown in September, I was at considerable expense for expenses and also furnished a few pair of shoes to the troops.
I also presented the amount to Majr. Samuel Brown Brigade Q[uarter] M[aster] of Genl. Brown’s Brigade: His answer was similar to Major D. Noon’s. My service expired about the 1st Jan. 1813. On leaving the service I went to Albany where I found Maj. D. Noon, who politely accompanied me on a visit to his Excellency the Govr. To whom I presented the accounts, and Maj. D. Noon had the goodness to explain to him, their peculiar situation, and the reasons why [they] remained unsettled.
After an examination and careful sorting, the Govr. authorized a part of them to be paid, but as the voucher for the remainder was incomplete he said on their being rectified, the whole were reasonable charges, and should be paid. I returned to St. Lawrence [county], procured the necessary vouchers, went back to Albany, presented the accounts to his Excellency, which he accepted and directed Major D. Noon (he being present) to pay them.
I had claims other than these, from individuals, which were also accepted. Major D. Noon assured the Govr. that he was not then possessed of funds to make the payments. On which his Excellency gave him a check or draft on one of the banks for the amount, and the next morning I received the amount from the Major who took the papers.
This took place the latter part of February 1813. It is impossible for me to say what the exact amount of my own Bills were, but I think they were something short of $1000.
I perfectly recollect that on one of the above visits at Albany I received a considerable sum from Major D. Noon by order of the Govr on an account, which I presented, in favor of a man by the name of Emerson for building barracks at Massena. If I am not greatly mistaken this sum received was not far from $550. It might have been something up. The above so far as I can recollect is a true statement of the monied transactions, which took place between Govr Tompkins, Major D. Noon and myself during the late war. Was it in my power, I would give you the dates and items of my accounts, but this is impossible. I can only write from recollection. My family resided at Ogdensburg when that place was captured, February 22, 1813 and as the British did not relish my conduct at several different times when in command at that port, and especially on the 4th October, they then gave indulgence to all their malice and revenge, by seizing all my property and taking and destroying all my papers. [On October 4th, 1812 an attack by 25 enemy boats was repelled at Ogdensburgh. Hough p. 625 states that General Brown was in command but Benedict implies here that he was. This fact seems to be supported by letters in the Parish papers. ] From this statement of facts, you will be enabled early to ascertain, from whom I received pay and by whom the money so paid, should be charged to the state or genl. govt.
I shall be happy at all times to give you such information as I may possess on this or any other subjects.
In extreme haste,
With great respect
I subscribe myself your very humble servant.
Th. B. Benedict
To Col. L. Pell Albany
De Kalb, NY January 22, 1820
Your letter postmarked, Albany, Dec 21st 1819, by misdirection or some other cause did not arrive to hand until a short time since. I will now give you such information as I possess. In answer to your inquiries. At the commencement of the late war, my Regiment was embodied at Ogdensburgh. Most of the troops arrived with out arms, and I received orders from Genl Brown to draw arms from the arsenal at Russell. On the arrival of the arms, which was about the last of June, they were found to be totally unfit for service. And I considered it necessary to have them efficiently repaired.
At least such numbers of them as would be sufficient for my Regt. And [William] Bigelow, an excellent gunsmith was employed. They were found to be very defective. I immediately advised Genl. Brown of their situation, and of my proceedings which were approved by him, as well as also by Genl. Jn. Rempilau(?). It will also be recollected that, but a few days after, war was declared, an attack was made on some schooners which were proceeding up the St. Lawrence [River] and one of them commanded by Capt. Montgomery was burnt and the rest returned to the port [of] Ogdensburgh (eight in number) for protection.
This excited a general apprehension through our country. It was conceived that an attempt would be made by the enemy to take them out of the harbour. Two of the enemies ships of war, the Earl of Moira & Duke of Gloucester came down from Kingston and anchored opposite to us for several days, and from the best information I could possibly obtain, their object was the capture of the schooners. Which if accomplished would give them the complete ascendancy on Lake Ontario.
I did not hesitate a moment to call in our Militia to our assistance, determined to defend them, but as we had no other ammunition except what I drew from the arsenal and as there would none be procured from the harbour [Sackett’s Harbor] and as the Arms which the Militia brought with them were of various calibers. I was under the necessity of repairing more arms drawn from the Arsenal, to furnish the Militia. General VanRensselaer came to Ogdensburgh at the time the ships lay at Prescott opposite and approved of all my proceedings. By the most strenuous exertions in collecting a formidable number of troops and giving them efficient means of defense and placing our forces in an attitude daring them to combat. They deserted, sailed up river and we had the pleasure not long after of sending the Nelson, in our port, to Sackett’s Harbour without molestation, where they were purchased by [the] govt. and made a powerful part of Comm. Woolsey’s squadron. These are the reasons why so large a bill of expenses was incurred for the repair of arms. Mr. Bigelow was faithful in the service, and by procuring a number of workmen, put the arms in repair in season: And as I before remarked, it was the opinion of Generals. Jn. Rempilau (?) & Brown that no other judicious means could have been adopted. These arms were afterwards in the fall transported to Watertown and replaced by new ones. Why this was done, I never was informed, but presume it was in consequence of their being reported unfit for service, when first drawn by me from the Arsenal at Russell. They were thoroughly repaired by Mr. Bigelow, and several of my men, with regret, parted with them.
In extrteme haste and under great bodily indisposition
I remain yours sincerely,
Th. B. Benedict
Late Comd. At Ogdensburgh
Col. Favis Pell
During Benedict’s time in command at Ogdensburgh he faced constant criticism from David Parish and others who opposed the war. On two occasions General Brown and Benedict himself wrote to Governor Tompkins warning him not to believe the rumors about Benedict. Brown went to great lengths to defend the bravery and aptitude of Benedict. Governor Tompkins always denied that he had heard anything negative but it was obvious from later reactions that he had.
Judge Ford and Joseph Rosseel worked for David Parish and both were ardent Federalists opposed to the embargo and later the war as it interfered with their business interests. “The embargo has paralyzed our little business. I never saw duller times.” “The drafting here of the militia yesterday put a stop to all the works.”(May 2 and 6, 1812 Letters from Joseph Rosseel to David Parish. SLU special collections)
In early September in response to intelligence reports Benedict called up additional forces of Militia. Parish commented “Alarm calling out of 200 of the St. Lawrence Militia, never less cause for alarm in my opinion.” “Our Colonel [Benedict] and many of our wiseacres have taken it into their hearts that we should certainly be attacked.” “Judges Ford, Raymond and myself had a conversation with the Colonel yesterday evening and we have prevailed on him again to send the militia home in a day or two. Detachment of Dodge’s Brigade on way by forced march, 500 men.” (September 12, 1812 Letter from David Parish to Joseph Rosseel. SLU special collections)
Perhaps Parish saw no need for alarm but on the 3rd of October Ogdensburgh was attacked by a fleet of 25 enemy boats. Only the presence of 1200 soldiers, there because of Benedict’s alarm, saved the port from capture. Despite this narrow escape (or perhaps because of it) when Lieutenant Colonel Benedict and his militia’s 6 month commission expired in late December 1812 it was not renewed.
In January, with the war still raging, Captain Forsythe’s riflemen and a few militia volunteers, in all less than 200 men, defended Ogdensburg. The local Militia was safely back at home when the British attacked in February 1813.
David Parish supplied most of the bricks for building the British fortifications at Prescott and was said to have had the British officers to tea at his residence throughout the war.
When the British did invade Ogdensburgh, his was one of only three houses that weren’t ransacked.
Thomas B. Benedict was not so lucky. Benedict had brought all his liquid assets with him when he moved to Ogdensburgh so he would have money to buy supplies for his family and the troops. As there was no bank in the village, these assets were all in his home. When the British attacked, they took everything. Benedict was left penniless.
Benedict sought an officer’s commission in the Regular Army to regain financial solvency. He began soliciting this through his friends in Albany and ironically through David Parish. The money he received from the Governor tided him over until the end of 1813 when he requested a loan from David Parish, which was denied.
Few records survive from this time period but it appears that early in 1814 Thomas Benedict resigned his position as vice Lieutenant Colonel in the NYS Militia to accept a commission as a General in the US ARMY on the Niagara frontier. Little is known of the remainder of his service in the War of 1812.
By 1815 he was at home in De Kalb. He mortgaged his store to an Albany merchant. He appeared to still be in financial difficulty. John Fine, who was the new agent for the Cooper Families interests in De Kalb, was highly critical of his mercantile management practices and liberal credit policies. He was censured by his Masonic lodge for excessive drinking, but later rehabilitated. The decade following the war of 1812 was one of extreme financial hardship for all of St Lawrence County due to war, weather and a major economic recession. It ruined much wealthier families such as the Cooper’s and the Murray’s. Benedict was just one small player in a much larger financial disaster.
Thomas Benedict continued to serve in various offices in the Town Government through 1824 but his health was failing him. He died in De Kalb Village on March 14, 1829 at the age of 45. His grave at old De Kalb is marked with a simple military issue stone. As a war hero, his death was noted in newspapers throughout the state. He left no estate to his young family. His family, including his two sons who became medical doctors, moved to New Orleans.
With no family to help keep his story alive, General Thomas B. Benedict who valiantly guarded the St. Lawrence frontier during the opening days of the War of 1812 faded from memory.
Benedict, Henry Marvin. (1870) The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America Albany, J. Munsell.
Cooper, William (ND) Judge William Cooper Papers Oneonta, NY. Hartwick College,
Hough, Franklin (1853) A History of St Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York Albany, Little & Co.
Landon, Harry F. (1954) Bugles On The Border Watertown, NY Watertwon Daily Times.
New York State (1898-1902) Public Papers of Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor of New York 1807-1817. Military vol. I-III New York and Albany, Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford co.
New York State Comptroller Selected Audited Accounts of State Civil & Military Officers Vol. 23 p. 6 Albany, New York State Archives.
Parish, David & Joseph Rosseel (1761-1880) The Parish-Rosseel Collection Canton, NY St Lawrence University ODY Special Collections.