The Saga of George Benn

The Strange Saga of
George Benn

1759 - 1831

Contributed by Kathy Gire

In 1775, George Benn, age 16, was visiting friends in London.  His father, Henry Bartholomew Benn, was an influential landowner in Nuremberg, Bavaria, and Bennís two half-sisters had married minor German nobility.  The family spoke English as well as German, and George was enjoying a visit with friends in England. 

At this time, King George III had contracted with the Prince of Hesse to provide mercenary soldiers to aid the British troops in their fight in the American colonies.  These Hessians had been delivered to King George, but the king was convinced that he had not received full value for his money.  He put out an order that his troops were to seize and impress any able-bodied English-speaking Germans they could find on the streets of London.   They found George Benn.

George found himself not on a ship back to Germany as he had expected but instead on a troop ship commanded by General John Burgoyne bound for Canada.  The General was under orders to sail down the St. Lawrence River to Lake Champlain and then sail down  to meet up eventually with General Cornwallis who would be pushing up from the south.  This would effectively cut the colonies off from their suppliers and bode well for the British cause.

General Burgoyne, called ďGentleman Johnny,Ē  traveled with wagonloads of uniforms, boots and other stylish accoutrements.  He liked to be well-dressed for every occasion, and he took notice of the young German boy on his ship who spoke good English.  Burgoyne immediately appointed George Benn as his special aide and personal servant. 

Bennís task was probably not an easy one, for the General was particular about his personal possessions.  One advantage, however, was that he was usually not in the direct line of fire from a Continental musket or cannon.  The troops arrived at Stillwater, near the town of Saratoga.  The British were low on supplies and snipers were picking off the officer corps almost daily. 

One day, Burgoyne and his remaining officers were meeting in the dining tent with young George Benn serving them.  An American cannonball crashed through the tent and passed through to the other side, scattering the men.  Benn must have thought this a sign for action, because the next day, he deserted.

Benn understood the need for keeping a low profile,  a characteristic not admired by future genealogists.  He joined the Continental Army,  however, and served with  the Eighth Regiment of the Albany County Militia.  His name can be found on the list of Land Bounty Rights for this regiment.

He married Anna Ver Planck of Oak Hill, Greene County, and they removed to the Rensselaerville area.   In 1785, they produced John Benn, probably in Rensselaerville, and Henry Benn in 1787.  George Benn, Jr., was born in 1790 and baptized in the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Athens.  Peter Benn was born in 1792, Catharine Benn in 1798, followed by Anna and Mary.

The will of George Benn was written on 21 September 1824 and recorded on 29 March 1831.  His wife Anna died in 1814 and no other wife is mentioned.  Bennís possessions were all divided fairly among his four sons and three daughters.

George Benn, Jr., my third great-grandfather, fought in the 13th Regiment of Van Dalfsen in the New York Militia during the War of 1812.  He next appears as the first appointed Postmaster for the town of Hallís Mills, later Medusa, New York, in 1830.  He held this post for sixteen years.  He married Catharina Kline, daughter of Henry Kline (Cline), another Albany County patriot.  Their daughter Catharine Ann married David Lincoln, son of Levi Lincoln of Rensselaerville.  David died young,  leaving Catharine. with two small daughters.  She later married Davidís youngest brother, Leonard, in Minnesota, and they removed to Marshalltown, Iowa, where they had two children together and remained until their deaths.

John Benn married Mary Elizabeth Alberty in Gaines Township, Pennsylvania, and Anna Benn married William Head and became matriarch of a substantial  family. 

George Benn, Jr, can be found in the 1840 census in Rensselaerville with his family and his father-in-law, Henry Cline, who died later that year.   By 1850, the Benns  had moved to Saugerties in Ulster County.  George Jr. died in March of 1860.

 My branch of the family has come eight generations from this man who turned what fate dealt him into a productive and satisfying life.  What a different life George Benn would have had except for a chance meeting with the henchmen of King George III,  and the American Colonies would have had one fewer brave Patriot.


Kathy Gire is a free lance travel writer who lives in Granite Bay, California, and has been doing genealogy for five years.  She wishes she had listened more to her grandparents.  She is seeking a burial site for David Lincoln of Rensselaerville, b.1816 and died 1839; and the burial sites of Anna Ver Planck Benn, b. 1764, d. 1814, and George Benn, Sr., b. 1759, d. 1831.  Thanks to Porter Wright for sharing information.

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