Monday, January 11, 2016

General Philip Benner

General Philip Benner (1762 - 1832) was a businessman in the iron trade from Pennsylvania. Benner Township, in Centre County, is named after him.

Born in East Viincent township, Chester County on May 19, 1762, at a young age Benner served in the American Revolutionary War. Benner went into the iron smelting business after the war in Coventry, Chester County, with a store in East Vincent. After marrying Ruth Roberts (1765 - 1827), Benner purchased land in what was then Upper Bald Eagle Township, Mifflin County in 1792, and established an iron foundry there two years later. It may have been around this time that Benner was commissioned a major-general of militia, the source of his military title. Benner's business interests in the area expanded to include a grist mill and a slitting mill by the time Centre County was established in 1800. From 1802 to 1811, Benner was involved in a legal dispute over the ownership of his land, which ended with him losing his case and being compelled to buy his land a second time.

With the land dispute settled, Benner expanded production from his iron foundry, opening up a trade in iron with Pittsburgh and the western counties. In 1821, Benner became the first president of the Centre & Kishacoquillas Turnpike Company, and assisted in the construction of the turnpike. Benner also contributed to the construction of water-works in the borough of Bellefonte, as well as several houses there. Benner opened stores in Bellefonte and Ferguson township.

As Benner's businesses were expanding in the 1820s, the United States was emerging from the Era of Good Feeling and entering the period of the Second Party System, when the rise of Andrew Jackson split the dominant Democratic-Republican Party into pro- and anti-Jackson factions. Benner was a Jackson supporter, and he served as a presidential elector for the 1824 Jackson-Calhoun ticket. Following Jackson's defeat in the 1824 election, his supporters began building up a new, populist political machine, the foundation of the modern Democratic Party. Benner took part in this partisan activity by establishing the Centre Democrat in 1827.

Despite his general success as a businessman, Benner did suffer the occasional setback. He once spent $50,000 financing the building of a steamboat in Pittsburgh, and loading it with a cargo of iron. The steamboat captain Benner hired was supposed to sell the iron and use to proceeds to purchase a cargo of tobacco for return to Pittsburgh. Instead, he sold the steamboat along with the iron, and absconded to Europe with the money.

Mrs. Ruth Benner died on January 7, 1827 at the age of sixty-two. Her husband died five years later, on July 27, 1832. The couple had eight children.


Fritz Knese said...

It is interesting to see how the nuts and bolts of small businessmen and politics combined to create our modern world. Thanks for this Johnny.

DaveMB said...

Have you thought about this guy's history in the Sobel timeline? He was born pre-PoD, of course.

Johnny Pez said...

I have indeed thought about General Benner's history in the Sobel Timeline. Philip's father was General Henry "Revolutionary" Benner, an active Patriot. It is distinctly possible that the family would have joined the ill-fated Wilderness Walk to Spanish Louisiana in 1780 and been lost with the rest of that group. If they missed out of that expedition, they may have taken part in the Wilderness Walk to Jefferson, and if they survived, have joined the settlement there.