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Rev War SoldierBenjamin Harrison (1750 - 1808)

Orange Co., VA > Harrison Co. KY Abt 1783 > Washington Co. MO


Repository ID #3468 - extensive ancestry available in our online database.

A History of His Life And Of Some of the Events In American History In Which He Was Involved

By Jeremy F. Elliot

Benjamin Harrison was born in Orange County Virginia (1) in about 1750. He was the son of Lawrence Harrison of Virginia. He had brothers named William, Lawrence Jr., and Battaile.(2) One known sister was Catherine who married Isaac Meason. Lawrence was living in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania in 1768. Since Benjamin would have been about eighteen years old at this time, it seems likely that Benjamin moved to this area with his father's family.

Shortly before the American Revolution began, the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia were approaching open warfare over the matter of civil jurisdiction(3) over present day southwestern Pennsylvania. The disputed area was bounded on the north by the Ohio River and on the East by the hills of which "The Laurel Hill" is a part. Virginia named the area West Augusta County or the District of West Augusta. West Augusta was later subdivided into Ohio County, Monongalia County, and Yohogania County. Pennsylvania named the same area Westmoreland County. Both states appointed civil officials over the inhabitants. In 1772, Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia, officially established the county of West Augusta with Pittsburgh to be the seat of authority. At the same time he renamed that town: Fort Dunmore. On February 7, 1775, Benjamin Harrison was the leader of a squad of militia which broke open the door of the jail at Pittsburgh with a sledge hammer and released three prisoners. "Harrison was pleased to announce that it was done at the command of Major William Crawford". (Crawford was the Father-in-law of Benjamin's brother William.)." He further asserted that these orders empowered him 'to press horses and what was necessary, and to go to Hanna's Town(4) to open the gaol and let the prisoners go out.' This command, also, he proceeded to carry out. In the course of the expedition, two Pennsylvania constables, Captain James Smith and Edward Murray, were apprehended for daring to execute the duties of their office. It was reported that the party had authority to shoot any Pennsylvania officer who dared to oppose them in the execution of the orders. In the face of such threats, the Westmoreland Justices and their sheriff had little heart for carrying out their duties.

In November of 1776, the Thirteenth Regiment of Foot of the Virginia Continental Line(5) was organized under Colonel William Russell. The l3th was also known as "The West Augusta Volunteers". Benjamin Harrison was commissioned a captain in the l3th on Dec. 16, 1776.(6) In the spring of 1777 five companies of the l3th were sent to join Washington's army in New Jersey. The l3th Virginia became part of Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg's brigade of Major General Nathaniel Greene's division. In September of 1777, Captain Benjamin Harrison was present at the battle of Brandywine Creek(7) near Philadelphia. In October, 1777, Captain Harrison participated in a major attack on General William Howe's British army at Germantown, Pa.(7) During the winter of 1777-1778, the l3th Virginia was with George Washington at Valley Forge. Captain Harrison and his company, however, were more fortunate. Harrison had been assigned to Brigadier General Edward Hand, Commander of the Western Department with headquarters at Pittsburgh.

In the Spring of 1778 the Continental Congress approved a plan to capture British held Detroit in order to relieve British instigated Indian depredations on the western frontier.(8) The 8th Pennsylvania and the l3th Virginia were selected to carry out this campaign. This detachment was to be commanded by Colonel John Gibson, new commander of the l3th. He had been selected by Washington because he was familiar with Indian warfare. The main body of the l3th was sent to Pittsburgh, supplies were accumulated, and plans were developed. The supplies were slow in arriving and the summer came and went. In the autumn, the plan was scaled down. Instead of moving swiftly from Pittsburgh for a surprise attack on Detroit, a fort was to be established in eastern Ohio. Such a fort might discourage Indian raids in western Pennsylvania, or even swing Indian support from the British to the Americans. Also, Detroit could be attacked more easily from an advanced post. During this period of preparation, the l3th Virginia regiment was redesignated as the 9th Virginia.

Before moving into the Ohio country, arrangements had to be made for passing through the territory of the American Indian allies, the Christian Delawares. Permission was granted and the army marched out of Pittsburgh in November of 1778. During this march, the two continental regiments were strengthened by militia.

Captain Benjamin Harrison was not the only Harrison along on this march. In fact, there was even another Benjamin Harrison. The "other Benjamin Harrison" was Colonel Benjamin Harrison from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Colonel Harrison was apparently not a close relation of Captain Ben Harrison. Col. Ben Harrison had been a captain during Dunmore's War in 1774. He had led a company of infantry against the Shawnee Indians at the battle of Point Pleasant (West Virginia). In November of 1778, he was not part of either of the continental regiments and he doesn't seem to have been part of the militia either. He may have been on special assignment because of his successful experience with Indian fighting.

Records(9) indicate that Captain Ben Harrison's brother William (militia) was also present for this campaign. Lawrence Harrison Jr. may have been present since he was a lieutenant in Captain Harrison's own company. Ben's brother Battaile had been killed in battle two years earlier at Fort Washington(10) (New York City).

The army followed the Ohio river downstream from Pittsburgh. When they reached the point where the present Ohio-Pennsylvania boundary is located, they stopped and constructed a Fort. This Fort was named Fort McIntosh after General Lachlan McIntosh who had replaced Edward Hand as commander of the western department in May of 1778. A small garrison was left at Ft. McIntosh and the main army continued westward to the Tuscarawas River. Here was located the Christian Delaware village of Goschagunk (present day Coshocton). The Indians asked that a fort be built at this site. The Christian Delawares had openly supported the American cause and had thereby incurred the enmity of the British and their Indian allies. For some reason the Americans decided instead to move upstream to a site near the present day village of Bolivar, Ohio. Here they erected a very small square wooden stockade. It was named Fort Laurens after Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress. After Ft. Laurens was completed, the main body of soldiers returned to Pittsburgh leaving Colonel Gibson and about 150 men. There are no lists indicating the names of those who endured the winter of 1778-1779 at Ft. Laurens but evidence suggests that Capt. Benjamin Harrison was among those who returned to Pittsburgh.

The winter was one of extreme hardship for the men and women at Ft. Laurens. The British at Detroit did send a force, mainly of Wyandot Indians to punish the Christian Delawares and to lay siege to Ft. Laurens. Since the fort was far upstream from Goschagunk, the Americans were of no help to the Christian Delawares. During the siege, a party of fourteen Americans left the fort to hunt for food. They were ambushed within sight of the fort and all but two of them were killed and scalped. The two that survived the ambush were taken captive. Food supplies in the fort dwindled but the British and Indians also ran short. At one time the Indians approached the fort to make a deal for food. John Gibson collected up every trace of flour in the fort which amounted to one barrel full. When he gave this to the Indians, he led them to believe that they could easily spare one mere barrel of flour. The Indians took this to mean that the fort was so well provisioned that a continued siege would be a long drawn out matter. The Indians promptly left and returned to their villages in northwestern Ohio and the few British returned to Detroit.

With the Indians gone, a supply train was able to reach Fort Laurens from Pittsburgh. The occupants of the fort, however, were so overjoyed at seeing the pack train coming that they fired their guns in celebration. This so frightened the pack animals that they stampeded into the woods spilling their loads. Practically nothing of the supplies were recovered.

In the spring of 1779 Capt. Benjamin Harrison was ordered to escort a train of pack animals to Ft. Laurens for the purpose of bringing out the garrison. He was given specific orders that the animals were not to be slaughtered and eaten.

Fort Laurens was abandoned permanently in the summer of 1779. Several decades later when the Ohio canal was being dug, there was absolutely no trace of the fort to be seen. In fact, the channel of the canal cut away about half of the site of the fort. Recent investigations by the Ohio Historical Society have revealed the remaining half.(11)

In March of 1780, Captain Ben Harrison of the 9th Virginia was asked to carry the following letter(12) to General George Rogers Clark:

Capt. Harrison did join Clark in 1780.(13) Two letters from Clark dated May and June, 1780 respectively refer to supplies to be sent to Capt. Harrison's men. Lt. Col. Campbell probably uses the term "Resigned" because General Clark's campaign was initiated by the state of Virginia and had nothing to do with the Continental Army.

In 1781 the Revolutionary War essentially ended with the surrender of the British Army under General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. At this time the number of troops in many American Units were reduced, Captain Benjamin Harrison was promoted to major at the time of his separation from the Continental Army in 1781.

Ben Harrison apparently settled down to a more quiet life after the war. He was taxed for a 300 acre farm in Franklin Twp., Westmoreland Co., Pa. at which lived one horse, one cow, one sheep, four white persons, and no black persons.(l3) He did not give up the military life entirely though. He became colonel(l4) in the militia of Westmoreland County.

In 1785, Benjamin Harrison set out from Pennsylvania with his wife Mary (Newell) Harrison and at least one child, Batteal.(l5) They traveled down the Ohio River to Wheeling. Here they stopped and stayed a while with the William Vance family who were relatives of Mary. During the stay Batteal became very attached to Mrs. Vance. When the time came to continue the trip, Batteal had become ill. Since there were also Indians raiding on down the Ohio River, it was decided to leave Batteal with the Vance family. It is reported that there were five Harrisons in this party when it arrived in Kentucky. Two of these may have been Ben's brother Lawrence Jr. and Cousin John.(l6) (Both of these men did move to Kentucky at some date.) Ben's other brothers had died before this migration to Kentucky was begun. Battaile Harrison had been killed in battle at Fort Washington in 1776 and William Harrison had been killed by Indians in Ohio in 1782.

Ben was quick to become involved in public affairs. He was elected first sheriff(l7) of Bourbon County, Kentucky. He was a member of the convention at Danville in 1787 from Bourbon County. He was also a member of the Danville Convention of 1788.

In order to understand Benjamin Harrison's activities in 1788 and 1789, it will be helpful to know the situations of several other men. Colonel George Morgan(l8) had been the Indian agent and commissary for the government during the revolution. He had been stationed at Pittsburgh at the time Ben Harrison was there. It is possible that they knew each other at that time. Morgan's fortunes did not fare very well after the war. He had been a junior partner in the firm of Baynton, Wharton & Morgan at the time of its bankruptcy. During the year 1788 Morgan and other backers were trying to purchase land in Illinois from the U.S. Government. This deal fell through probably because of the efforts of another man. Don Diego de Gardoqui was Charge' D'affaires representing the King of Spain to the American Government. One of Gardoqui's assignments was to alienate western Americans (Kentucky) from the American Government. It was even hoped that some sort of buffer state could be established on Spanish soil and settled by Americans loyal to Spain. At this time, Spain was in possession of the Louisiana Territory. It was obvious to all who lived at that time that Americans were sweeping westward and that it would take more than a river to block this expansion. Gardoqui recognized Morgan as a likely instrument for developing such a state. Gardoqui had a third party discreetly suggest to Morgan that the Spanish Government might help him in a land development scheme. Morgan was immediately interested. Morgan and Gardoqui quickly agreed on many details. The site would be bounded on the east by the Mississippi River and on the north by a line extending west approximately from the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In the South the site extended to the mouth of the St. Francis River. The tract extended west from the Mississippi River by two degrees of longitude and would contain fifteen million acres. George Morgan was to be commander of the colony and subject to the King of Spain. Morgan was to have powers to appoint officials, raise militia, establish schools, and make concessions of land in full title. Settlers were to enjoy religious freedom. Some degree of self-government was to be arranged.

Gardoqui felt that he had done a brilliant job of protecting his king's interests in the New World and Morgan immediately began to publicize the venture and to interest Americans in following him to "New Madrid". These preparations were being expedited even though the Spanish King had not yet approved the plan. Also, the plan had not even been described to Don Estevan Miro, the governor and intendant of Spanish Louisiana.

In January of 1789, Morgan assembled an expedition of about seventy farmers, artisans, tradesmen, etc. The expedition probably began at Pittsburgh and picked up additional people during the trip down the Ohio River. It may have been during this initial trip that Benjamin Harrison joined Morgan's project. In the spring of 1789, New Madrid was a busy scene. Surveyors were at work, stores were built and fields were cleared. In May, with everything running smoothly, Morgan went to New Orleans to discuss routine colony business with Miro who was to be his immediate superior. During his absence, Benjamin Harrison was to be in charge of surveying a thousand farms.

When Morgan reached New Orleans, he found that Miro was not at all in agreement with Gardoqui regarding the establishment of a colony of Americans on Spanish land. And also, another American had presented to Miro a scheme which might better serve the Spanish King's interests. General James Wilkinson of Kentucky had proposed to bring Kentucky out of the United States and over to Spanish rule. Miro was not totally opposed to the New Madrid project particularly since it was well under way. But Miro would not stand for all the liberal policies that Gardoqui had assumed would be acceptable. Morgan could only be an assistant to a Spanish commander. This commander would be Pedro Foucher. Only the Catholic Church would be permitted in New Madrid. No self-government would be tolerated. Also, land was not to be sold but granted free. Another objection was the name of the colony. It was not to be called New Madrid but rather "L'Anse a la Grasse".

At about the time of Morgan's meeting with Miro, Morgan learned that he had inherited the estate of his late brother. He may have been more interested in the estate, or he may have been disappointed by the limitations placed on him by Miro. What ever the reason was, Morgan never returned to New Madrid but instead returned to Pennsylvania to live. After Pedro Foucher took charge of New Madrid, he replied to a petition from Benjamin Harrison saying that new settlers would not have to pay for land. Some of these settlers were Indians. Many were French whose ancestors had lived in Illinois under French rule during and before the French and Indian War.

Benjamin Harrison also left New Madrid for reasons unknown. His name does not appear on the Kentucky "Census" (tax list) for 1790. He was, however, a member of the Danville Convention of 1792 which formed the first constitution of Kentucky. In the same year, after the adoption of that constitution, Ben was elected senatorial elector from Bourbon County. In 1793, he was elected state representative from Bourbon County. While in this office, a new county was formed and named after him: Harrison County, Kentucky. Ben apparently remained in the state of Kentucky past the year 1800 since his name appears in the Harrison County census for that year.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century Louisiana was of great interest locally and also internationally. In 1801, Spain returned Louisiana to France and in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to America. Benjamin Harrison returned to the Louisiana Territory sometime during that decade settling in the St. Genevieve District. This area is part of present day Missouri. Ben died in Washington County, Missouri in 1808.

Ben's children were Batteal, William, Julius, Mary, Jane, Catharine, and Aristides. After Ben's death, they applied to the government for bounty land to which Ben had been entitled due to his military service during the Revolution. Ben's heirs received warrant no. 6014 for four thousand acres to be located in the Virginia Military Tract in the State of Ohio. Most of this grant was located in the vicinity of Madison Mills, Madison Twp., Fayette County. Some of this acreage remains in the hands of the descendants of Benjamin Harrison at the date of this writing.


  1. Birth and death information according to D.A.R. genealogical summary of Mrs. Marcelyn Mary Martin Ashleman membership number 134241. See Reference A.

  2. The best authority for the male membership of this family is a deposition made by Lawrence Harrison, Jr. in the presence of two Justices of the Peace in Harrison Co., Ky. in 1796. The purpose of the genealogical information in this deposition appears to be in connection with a claim for bounty land for the military service of Lawrence Jr. himself and for his deceased brother Battaile. Land warrants were granted by the state of Virginia for the service of both men. These warrants were sold to and exercised by Lucas Sullivant who was an early land developer in the Columbus, Ohio area. This deposition is on file at the Virginia State Library.
  3. The relationship of Catharine is mentioned in an article in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society Magazine (Reference B, Vol. 20). It seems that at the marriage of Catharine Harrison and Isaac Meason in 1772, all witnesses and also the minister were to swear not to tell of the event. Several years later, her brother William Harrison saw to it that the witnesses were brought to court to testify to the fact that the wedding did take place.

  4. The border dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia is described in an article entitled: The Life Adventures of Lieutenant Colonel John Connoll, found in reference B. The account of the jail break-in at Pittsburgh is taken verbatim from this article.

  5. Hannastown was the first county seat of Westmoreland County, Pa. It was named after Robert Hanna, an Irishman and one of the first county commissioners. Hannastown was located on the trail made by General Forbes during the French and Indian War. This was the Westmoreland County Seat from 1773 until July 13, 1782. On this date, the town was attacked by Indians and Tories. All but two buildings were burned and the town was not rebuilt. This was the last hostile act of the American Revolution. See Reference C.

  6. A regiment of the Continental Line was part of the Continental Army which was the American "Regular" Army at the time. The Thirteenth Virginia is rather difficult to follow through the Revolution. On September 14, 1778, it was redesignated as the Ninth Virginia. In February, 1781, the remaining men of the Ninth were transferred to the Seventh Virginia and in 1783, they were transferred to the first Virginia regiment. See Reference D.

  7. See Reference E.

  8. Benjamin Harrison's presence at Brandywine and Germantown is stated in a biographical sketch of Harrison appearing in Reference F. Kellogg's source of information is the Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Draper had traveled about the Eastern U.S. interviewing descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers and pioneers. So the authority of this claim is only the "best recollection" of someone who knew of Capt. Ben. Harrison. According to records on file at the National Archives, however, Capt. Benjamin Harrison's Co. of the l3th Virginia Regiment was at Fort Pitt during the months of August and September of 1777.

  9. See Reference G.

  10. See Reference H.

  11. According to the deposition mentioned in note (2), Battaile Harrison joined Hugh Stephenson's (later Moses Rawling's) Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment as a lieutenant. Fort Washington was overrun during a bayonet attack by Hessian Mercenaries in November, 1776. Rawling's Regiment was forced to retreat and then surrender when their weapons fouled from repeated firing. Battaile Harrison must have been mortally wounded during this attack since the date of his death is the day after the attack. It is interesting to note that this same Hessian Regiment was captured by surprise attack when Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve that same winter.

  12. At present, the Ohio Historical Society operates a museum on the site of Fort Laurens.

  13. Although it is not known how Captain Harrison was employed by Clark, it is known that General Clark conducted a campaign against the Shawnee Indians in Southwestern Ohio in the summer of 1780.

  14. See Reference I, Series III, Vol.22. (Westmoreland County, Franklin Twp. Census of 1783.)

  15. See Reference F and Reference I, Series III, Vol.23. (Westmoreland Frontier Rangers 1778-1783)

  16. See Reference J. (William Harrison, author of this history, is son of Scott Harrison, grandson of Batteal Harrison, and great grandson of Benjamin Harrison, our subject.)

  17. Reference E indicates a Lt. John Harrison in the Ninth Virginia Regiment along with Benjamin and Lawrence. Reference F describes John as son of Lawrence and brother or cousin of Col. Benjamin and Col. William Harrison. The deposition mentioned in note (2) does not mention a brother John. The legal deposition would seem the more reliable, but the source of information for Ref. F was an interview of two sons of John. John Harrison is said to have been in Lord Dunmore's Division in Dunmore's War (1774). John was also present at the Revolutionary War battles of Brandywine, Germantown, & Monmouth.

  18. See References F, J, and K. The several conventions held at Danville were part of the process by which Kentucky became a state.

  19. A detailed account of Colonel Morgan's New Madrid adventure appears in Reference L.


1 HARRISON, Benjamin b: 1750 in Orange County, Virginia
     d: 1808 in Washington County, Missouri
    +NEWELL, Mary b: Unknown m: in Virginia d: 1812
  .. 2 HARRISON, Batteal b: 1780 in Sweetbryer County, Virginia
       d: October 30, 1857 in White Oak, Fayette County, Ohio
  ..  +SCOTT, Elizabeth Thompson b: 1782 m: February
       03, 1814 in Chillicothe d: March 27, 1851 in White Oak,
       Fayette County, Ohio
  .... 3 HARRISON, Benjamin b: February 08, 1815 in Rpss County, Ohio
         d: August 24, 1902 in Madison County, Ohio
  ....  +REEVES, Martha Margaret b: October 30, 1815 in Range Township
         Madison County, OH m: March 09, 1837
         d: August 25, 1903 in Madison County, Ohio
  ...... 4 HARRISON, Batteal b: November 06, 1839 in Madison / Fayette
           County, Ohio d: January 19, 1890 in Range Township, Ohio
  ......  +RODGERS, Lydia Ann b: January 17, 1841 in Ross County, Ohio
           m: December 24, 1861 in Fayette County, Ohio d: February 07,
           1922 in Madison County, Ohio
  ........ 5 HARRISON, Benjamin Rodgers b: March 08, 1869 in Range
             Township, Madison County, Ohio d: August 13, 1936 in
             Columbus, Ohio
  ........  +CLARK, Cuie M. b: May 04, 1869 in Madison County, Ohio
             m: December 18, 1890 in Mt.  Sterling, Ohio
             d: December 15, 1961 in Columbus, Ohio
  .......... 6 HARRISON, Clark Rodgers b: November 20, 1891 in Range
               Township, near Mt.  Sterling, Ohio d: October 27, 1957
               in Columbus, Ohio
  ..........  +HARDIN, Lulu Belle b: September 09, 1894
               in Liberty Township, Highland County, Ohio m: November
               22, 1914 in Her parents in McKenzie, Tennessee, Carroll
               County d: March 08, 1952 in Columbis, Ohio

Original article by Jeremy F Elliot written in 1978 printed here with permission.
Submitted by Dan Harrison.

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