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Robert Benham, Beers History of Warren County, Ohio
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The History of Warren County, Ohio

Robert Benham



Transcription contributed by Arne H Trelvik on 12 June 2003

The History of Warren County Ohio
Part III. The History of Warren County by Josiah Morrow
Chapter VIII. The Distinguished Dead
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)


This pioneer and soldier, whose name is familiar to readers of the early history of the Ohio Valley, was born in Pennsylvania in 1750. He was an officer in the Revolutionary war, and, after the close of that struggle, became one of the early settlers in Symmes’ Purchase. He is said to have built, in 1789, the first hewed-log house in Cincinnati and to have established the first ferry over the Ohio at Cincinnati February 18, 1792. He served under Harmar in his campaign against the Indians, was in the bloody defeat of St. Clair and shared in Wayne’s victory. About the commencement of the present century, he settled upon a farm southwest of the site of Lebanon, which was his home until his death. He was a member of the first Legislature of the Northwest Territory and of the first Board of County Commissioners of Warren County; in the latter capacity, he served several years. Judge Burnet, who served in the Legislature with him, says: “He was possessed of great activity, muscular strength and enterprise; had a sound, discriminating judgment and great firmness of character. He was the grandsire of the accomplished Mrs. Harriet Prentice, of Louisville.” Joseph S. Benham, his son, became a distinguished lawyer and orator of Cincinnati, and delivered the oration on the reception of La Fayette at Cincinnati. Robert Benham died early in the spring of 1809, and was buried at Lebanon, a troop of cavalry following his remains to the grave.

The most interesting event in the life of Capt. Benham is his survival after being wounded at Rodgers’ defeat, and his life on the battlefield. Strange as this story is, its truthfulness has been indorsed by Judge Burnet and other careful historians. The account below is from “Western Adventures:”

“In the autumn of 1779, a number of keel-boats were ascending the Ohio under the command of Maj. Rodgers, and had advanced as far as the mouth of Licking without accident. Here, however, they observed a few Indians standing upon the southern extremity of a sand-bar, while a canoe, rowed by three others, was in the act of putting off from the Kentucky shore, as if for the purpose of taking them aboard. Rodgers immediately ordered the boats to be

made fast on the Kentucky shore, while the crew, to the number of seventy men, well armed, cautiously advanced in such a manner as to encircle the spot where the enemy had been seen to land. Only five or six Indians had been seen, and no one dreamed of encountering more than fifteen or twenty Indians. When Rodgers, however, had, as he supposed, completely surrounded the enemy, and was preparing to rush upon them from several quarters at once, he was thunderstruck at beholding several hundred savages suddenly spring in front, rear and upon both flanks. They instantly poured in a close discharge of rifles, and then, throwing down their guns, fell upon the survivors with the tomahawk. The panic was complete and the slaughter prodigious. Maj. Rodgers, together with forty-five others of his men, were quickly destroyed. The survivors made an effort to regain their boats, but the five men who had been left in charge of them had immediately put off from shore in the hindmost boat, and the enemy had already gained possession of the others. Disappointed in their attempt, they turned furiously upon the enemy, and, aided by the approach of darkness, forced their way through their lines, and, with the loss of several severely wounded, at length effected their escape to Harrodsburg.

“Among the wounded was Capt. Robert Benham. Shortly after breaking through the enemy’s line, he was shot through both hips, and the bones being shattered, he fell to the ground. Fortunately, a large tree had lately fallen near the spot where he lay, and, with great pain, he dragged himself into the top and lay concealed among the branches. The Indians, eager in pursuit of the others, passed him without notice, and, by midnight, all was quiet.

“On the following day, the Indians returned to the battle-ground, in order to strip the dead and take care of the boats. Benham, although in danger of famishing, permitted them to pass without making known his condition, very correctly supposing that his crippled legs would only induce them to tomahawk him upon the spot in order to avoid the trouble of carrying him to their town. He lay close, therefore, until the evening of the second day, when, perceiving a raccoon descending a tree near him, he shot it, hoping to devise some means of reaching it, when he could kindle a fire and make a meal. Scarcely had his gun cracked, however, when he heard a human cry, apparently not more than fifty yards off. Supposing it to be an Indian, he hastily reloaded his gun, and remained silent, expecting the approach of an enemy. Presently, the same voice was heard again, but much nearer. Still, Benham made no reply, but cocked his gun and sat ready to fire as soon as an object appeared. A third halloo was quickly heard, followed by an exclamation of impatience and distress, which convinced Benham that the unknown person must be a Kentuckian. As soon, therefore, as he heard the expression, ‘Whoever you are, for God’s sake answer me!’ he replied with readiness, and the parties were soon together.

“Benham, as we have already observed, was shot through both legs. The man who now appeared had escaped from the same battle with both arms broken. Thus each was enabled to supply what the other wanted. Benham, having the perfect use of his arms, could load a gun and kill game with great readiness, while his friend, having the use of his legs, would kick the game to the spot where Benham sat, who was thus enabled to cook it. When no wood was near them, his companion would rake up brush with his feet and gradually roll it within reach of Benham’s hands, who constantly fed his companion and dressed his wounds, as well as his own, tearing up both their shirts for that purpose. They found some difficulty in procuring water at first, but Benham at length took his own hat, and, placing the rim between the teeth of his companion, directed him to wade into the Licking up to his neck and dip the hat into the water (by sinking his own head). The man who could walk was thus enabled to bring water by means of his teeth, which Benham would afterward


[Autographs of old settlers of Warren County]


[Autographs of old settlers of Warren County]
dispose of as was necessary, In a few days, they had killed all the squirrels and birds within reach, and the man with the broken arms was sent out to drive game within gunshot of the spot to which Benham was confined. Fortunately, wild turkeys were abundant in those woods, and his companion would walk around and drive them toward Benham, who seldom failed to kill two or three of each flock. In this manner they supported themselves for several weeks, until their wounds had healed, so as to enable them to travel. They then shifted their quarters and put up a small shed at the mouth of the Licking, when they encamped until late in November, anxiously expecting the arrival of some boat which would convey them to the falls of the Ohio.

“On the 27th of November, they observed a flat-boat moving leisurely down the river. Benham hoisted his hat upon a stick and hallooed loudly for help. The crew, however, supposing them to be Indians, at lest suspecting them of an intention to decoy them ashore, paid no attention to their signals of distress, but instantly put over to the opposite side of the river, and, manning every oar, endeavored to pass them as rapidly as possible. Benham beheld them passing him with a sensation bordering on despair, for the place was much frequented by Indians, and the approach of winter threatened them with destruction unless speedily relieved. At length, after the boat had passed him nearly half a mile, he saw a canoe put off from its stern and cautiously approach the Kentucky shore, evidently reconnoitering them with great suspicion. He called loudly upon them for assistance, mentioned his name and made known his condition. After a long parley, and many evidences of reluctance on the part of the crew, the canoe at length touched the shore and Benham and his friend were taken on board.

“Their appearance excited much suspicion. They were almost entirely naked, and their faces were garnished with six weeks’ growth of beard. The one was barely able to hobble upon crutches, and the other could manage to feed himself with on of his hands. They were taken to Louisville, where their clothes (which had been carried off in the boat which deserted them) were restored to them, and, after a few weeks’ confinement, both were perfectly restored.”

It is stated in “Western Annals,” that Benham afterward bought and lived upon the land where the battle took place. His companion, whose name is given as John Watson, afterward lived at Brownsville, Penn.

FOOTNOTES: [a place to add additional information that you might want to submit]



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This page created 12 June 2003 and last updated 6 November, 2005
© 2003-2005 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved