Egbert Benson (June 21, 1746 – August 24, 1833) was a lawyer, jurist, politician from New York City, New York and a Founding Father of the United States who represented New York State in the Continental Congress, Annapolis Convention, and the United States House of Representatives, and who served as a member of the New York State constitutional convention in 1788 which ratified the United States Constitution. He also served as the 1st Attorney General of the State of New York, Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, and as the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Circuit Court for the Second Circuit. He is one of the Dutch Americans alongside John Jay to lead the American Revolution.
Education and career
Benson's ancestor, Dirck Benson, who settled in New Amsterdam in 1649, was the founder of the Benson family in America. Egbert Benson was born in New York City, New York, the son of Robert Benson (1715–1762) and Catherine (Van Borsum) Benson (1718–1794). The Benson family was one of the earliest Dutch families to have settled in Manhattan. In a letter written to Arthur D. Benson, Egbert Benson lived at the corner of Puntine and Fulton streets in the home of William Puntine. The house was apparently not numbered until 1907, when it became No. 436 Fulton Street. In 1938, Puntine Street became 165th Street, while Fulton Street became Jamaica Avenue. His home was one of the centers of cultural life in New York City. Benson lived with his maternal grandmother, a widow who lived in Borad Street, at the corner of Beaver, during the early part of his life.
Benson was taught in Dutch, and he learned his catechism in that language. Upon reaching a suitable age, Benson attended the Collegiate School, a school of repute, and prepared himself for college. During this time, he was guided and assisted greatly by the learned and deep-read scholar, the Reverend Doctor Barclay, Rector of Trinity Church. He was privately educated, then attended King's College (now Columbia University), graduating in 1765. He read law, was admitted to the bar and moved to Red Hook in Dutchess County, New York. He practiced law both there and in New York City. Benson was also honored by Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
Benson had many significant relatives in the American Revolution. One was Benjamin Benson, a Revolutionary War soldier and member of the Committee of Correspondence. He signed one of the Articles of Association, or "Association Test", which was preliminary to the Declaration of Independence, at Haverstraw, New York, in May 1775. Egbert Benson was the brother of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Benson and Captain Henry Benson, who commanded an armed vessel in the Revolution.
Political and judicial service
Towards the start of the American Revolutionary War, Benson approved the course of the Sons of Liberty and gave up, in a measure, his professional prospects then brightly opening and devoted himself to his country: these exertions showed the man's value of this step to both his native state and the cause he aided. He aided the Sons of Liberty, who were in Dutchess County where Benson, as a part of his first efforts, gave proper directions to the political meetings. When the British occupied New York City in 1776, Benson remained in Dutchess County for several years. According to Van Schaack, Benson from 1777 to 1781 served as a member of the New York State Assembly and drafted every important bill passed there in during the Revolution. He was also a representative in the Second Continental Congress (Continental Congress) (Congress of the Confederation from 1781), from 1780, and drew bills organizing the executive department of the United States. The county made him the president of their Committee of Safety and in 1777 sent him to the revolutionary New York State Assembly. When the first state government was organized, Benson was appointed the first New York Attorney General and served until 1788. He was elected to the Assembly annually until 1781 and again in 1788.
During a state dinner in December 1783, given by the State of New York to George Washington and the Minister of France, the bill for the cost of this historic dinner was O.K.'d/ paid by Egbert Benson and Isaac Roosevelt.
New York sent Benson as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1784. Although he was reappointed in 1785, he did not attend sessions. In 1786, he was named by the Legislature to accompany Alexander Hamilton as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention (1786), which issued a call for the United States Constitutional Convention held the following year. He returned to the Congress in 1787 and 1788, and in 1788 attended the New York state convention that ratified the United States Constitution.
When the new federal government was established, Benson was elected from New York's 3rd congressional district to the United States House of Representatives of the 1st and 2nd United States Congresses, serving from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1793. In 1794, Benson was appointed a Justice of the New York Supreme Court, a position he held until 1801.
Benson was part of the three-man commission that decided the location of the St. Croix River in 1798.
Federal judicial service
Benson was nominated by President John Adams on February 18, 1801, to the United States Circuit Court for the Second Circuit, to the new Chief Judge seat authorized by 2 Stat. 89. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 20, 1801, and received his commission the same day. His service terminated on July 1, 1802, due to abolition of the court.
The files and papers belonging to the Arthur D. Benson manuscript collection further state that Benson had a close friendship with General Richard Montgomery. On the back of a criticism, Benson, in his own handwriting, stated: "I knew Montgomery. We were neighbors; and in the closest intimacy for a time until he (was) called to the field. He was a man of sense and worth; the terms taken in their most significant import. As a soldier, his deeds bespeak him truly, the Vir Strunuus."
Benson returned to the private practice of law in New York City in 1802. He joined other civic leaders to found the New-York Historical Society and served as its first president from 1804 to 1816. He was the author of several books, including Vindication of the Captors of Major Andre, defending the three American Patriots who captured the spy Major John André, which led to the discovery of the plot to surrender West Point to the British by Benedict Arnold.
In 1812, Benson was again elected from New York's 2nd congressional district to the United States House of Representatives of the 13th United States Congress as a Federalist but served only five months before he resigned on August 2, 1813. In December 1813, Benson was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.
Benson's numerous other writings included A Biographical Sketch of Gouverneur Morris (published in November 1816), and Brief Remarks on the 'Wife' of Washington Irving (published in 1819). Benson also wrote and published in the New York American a series of able and highly interesting articles, in condemnation of what he regarded as the absurd and anti-Christian practice of calling the first day of the week the Sabbath.
Benson married late in life, on May 17, 1820, to Maria Conover (1796–1867). He died on August 24, 1833, in Jamaica, Queens, and is buried in the Prospect Cemetery there. His grave has been designated by a historical marker. His death left John Marshall and James Madison as the only surviving Founding Fathers of the United States.
In a small letter belonging to the Arthur D. Benson manuscript collection (found at the Queens Central Library Archives), Benson's great-grandnephew, Hevlyn Dirck Benson, noted that Egbert was the "last important tenant" who resided at the Richmond Hill House, in which the site is now occupied by the Butterick Building.
Descendants and legacy
Egbert's oldest brother was Clerk of the New York State Senate, Robert Benson (1739–1823), father of his namesake, Egbert Benson.
According to manuscripts and notes found in the Arthur D. Benson manuscript collection at Queens Library, Benson's name was engraved on a bronze tablet on the Butterick Building on 6th Avenue and Spring Street in New York City; this tablet was placed there by the Greenwich Village Historical Society.
Hevelyn D. Benson, great-grandnephew of Egbert Benson, sent Jerome D. Greene, director of Harvard's Trancentanery, seven photostats concerning Egbert Benson. Hevelyn Benson was also a member of the New York Historical Society, founded in 1804 by his ancestor, Egbert Benson. Benson also included a photostat of an article in The Eagle from September 16, 1935, which designated Egbert Benson as the man behind the Constitution. The state historical marker for Benson's grave was applied to Senator Thomas C. Desmond, a trustee of the New York State Historical Society, by Hevelyn Benson.