History of Benjamin Gorton

with an introduction by David Rees Gorton

Benjamin Gorton is my second cousin, six times removed. He first married Mary (Polly) Foster, 16 March 1794, by whom his first seven children were born. She passed away 30 August 1809, and he remarried Nancy Martin, 21 June 1810. Benjamin had another four children by her. His direct descendant line to Samuel Gorton is: Samuel, Benjamin, Benjamin, Joseph, Benjamin. My direct descendant line is: Samuel, Benjamin, Samuel, Benjamin, Thomas, Benjamin, Job, George, Rees, Henry Clay, David Rees. The following was written by him in his own journal.

“I was born May 28, 1758, at Norwich, Connecticut, the youngest of six daughters and two sons. My father’s name was Joseph, a descendant of Samuel Gorton and brother of Stephen Gorton, of New London, a Baptist minister. My father came from Greenwich, Rhode Island, to what was called Norwich Great Plains (upon a great pond about two miles from Norwich, Connecticut). He married Hannah Leffingwell, daughter of Daniel Leffingwell, the proprietor of a considerable part of the plains. There he settled on a farm, upon which he passed the greater part of his life. When I was about eighteen months old, the French War having broken out, my father joined the British Army as Sergeant, and after two years’ service died of small-pox at Canaan, Connecticut, on his way home. When about five years old, my mother married Daniel Rogers, of Colchester, and took my sister Welthea and myself with her. When about twelve years old, visited my brother Joseph, who lived with my sister on the old farm. When fourteen years of age, obtained a place as apprentice to Daniel Caven, a saddler at Norwich. My brother had gone to Norwich previously. In the summer of 1776, at eighteen years of age, joined a regiment of militia as fife major, Colonel Rogers, of Norwich, commander; marched to the Sawpits, State of New York. The only adventure we had was when a party of British with two field pieces came out to the Sawpits. We were drawn back from our barracks about half a mile upon a rising ground. After firing a few times with their field pieces, thought we were about to ambush them and fled back with great precipitation. After about three months, returned to Norwich.

“In 1777 joined Major Paintor’s regiment of Artificers for three years, at fourteen dollars per month. Remained through the winter at Bethel, a little east of Danbury, Connecticut, which had just been burned by the British. In the spring of 1778 were ordered on to Fishkill. There the government broke up the regiment and turned us over to the Quartermaster’s department, under Colonel Udny Hay, Deputy Quartermaster-General at that place. We continued to work at our several branches of business for the United States until August, 1779, when I was discharged as an artificer by intercession of Colonel Nathaniel Stephens, Issuing Commissary at that place, and retained by him as clerk in his office. In December, 1779, John Buddock, Deputy Commissary of Military Stores, obtained by consent to receive an appointment as Conductor or Commissary of Military Stores, and my pay was increased from twenty-five to forty dollars per month (the pay rank of a Lieutenant Colonel), and in addition provided with a horse and servant. I now had important trusts to perform. In January of the hard winter of 1780 I was charged with conducting a quantity of ammunition from Fishkill to the North Redoubt, near West Point, about ten miles. It was late before we got up to the fort. The teams were unloaded and sent back, but I, being detained, did not start back until about sunset. Before I had gone half the distance it began to snow, coming very fine and fast; it was like a fog and so very cold I had difficulty to keep from freezing. Before arriving at Fishkill I had to get off my horse several times on the leeward side and rub my eyes open, as the snow falling on my eyelids would freeze them shut. There was no safety in stopping, as the few inhabitants on the road were Tories. Having to go through a piece of woods three miles from Fishkill, where there was no underbrush nor fence to guide me, I let the bridle lay on the horse’s neck; if he could not take me home I must freeze. His greater sagacity brought me safely to my own door. About this time received information of the death of my mother. A few days previous to her death she had been carried to my sister’s at the old homestead, receiving better care there than at her own home.

“The order was given to return all the military stores at Fishkill to the headquarters of the main army near Morristown, New Jersey. This, considering the depth of snow, was a great undertaking. There were others in the office older and more experienced than myself, yet they were glad that the duty should alight upon me. I went by the way of Peekskill and King’s Ferry. The snow in the path had become packed, but in turning for a sleigh the horse slumped down to his back; endeavoring to gain the path, broke his girth and threw off the saddle; so I had to sit without a girth as well as I could. The road was lined with Tories after leaving King’s Ferry. Night coming on, I was obliged to put up at a tavern where several had been taken and carried to New York. The most of this day it had rained and frozen as it fell, making my clothing, especially my hat, very heavy, so that when I came to the tavern it was with difficulty that I got into the house. However, I was not molested and delivered my returns, and set out for home another route through New Windsor, Newburgh, etc. As is generally known, the army in New Jersey suffered for provisions this hard winter, in so much that many ate dogs to keep from starving; but they had at last gotten a drove of cattle on to the army, which had gone this road. Cattle, when travelling in snow, carefully step in each other’s tracks and make no path but holes. This made my journey very tedious, for many miles I having to walk my horse. By this time not being able to get any pay or clothing, and my own clothes becoming indecent and no way to obtain others, I went to Norwich and disposed of what landed interest I had, a part of my father’s estate. I found great difficulty. The land in good times was worth thirty dollars per acre, yet as times were then could get no more than ten dollars an acre offered, which I was obliged to take. And then the cost of clothing was great, for I was obliged to pay ten dollars a yard for broadcloth, which in times could be bought for four. Thus having gotten all my inheritance upon my back, hurried back to my duty to wear them out in the service of my country as faithfully as was in my power.

“The 28th of May, 1780, there was a remarkable darkness at Fishkill, also in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The night following, the moon when it arose was as red as blood. In 1780 we received orders from General (Benedict) Arnold to have all the military stores put on board sloop at Fishkill Landing, in order to send them up the river out of the way of the British if they should trap West Point. I was selected by the head of the department to take charge of them, and stay on board the fleet day and night; where we continued several months until Arnold’s plot was discovered. Had he succeeded, I should have been taken with all the stores, without any orders to escape.

“In the winter of 1781 was sent from Fishkill to Hartford, Connecticut, a distance of eighty-six miles, with instructions which I was obliged to deliver the next day by ten o’clock; which I accomplished, riding my own horse sixteen hours and resting six; but suffered in my health again. In 1781 I frequently assisted in the Commissary Store in order to obtain something to clothe myself with. I could not obtain anything at the Ordnance Department. The store was a magazine to receive from all the purchasing Commissaries and forward to the army at Peekskill, as well as issue rations to all about Fishkill. The officers in the vicinity all sent to us for their beef. When General (George) Washington’s family sent his steward for beef their orders would include the poorer as well as the better cuts; which consideration for others was not often shown by other officers. Receiving an order from General Lord Sterling signed by his aid, Major North, and brought by a servant for a number of good pieces, I directed the salesman to cut what he sent for and also a piece of neck, which he did and put it with the rest. The servant asked, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ I said, ‘Send it to the General’s family.’ He said, ‘You need not send it, he will not receive it.’ I said, ‘Take it along with the rest and I would see to the business.’ In about three hours thereafter Major North came down with his servant and the piece of beef, and, throwing it down, said: ‘What did you send me that piece of beef for?’ ‘Sir, you wrote for several good pieces, did you have them to your liking?’ ‘Yes, they were all very good, but that, that he did not send for.’ ‘I knew that you did not, and am glad it brought you here that I can explain it to you. When General Washington sends to us for beef he always particularizes every piece; has some of the best and also a shin or neck piece, in order to make it more nearly equal. The idea is this: A general’s family is entitled to three, four, five and six rations; a soldier has but one. General Washington reasons that as the soldier has but one ration that it should not be all bone. I have now given you my reasons for what I did, and the example is before you.’ Major North made no reply, but told the servant to take the piece of beef home.

“In 1782 was sent to the eastern shore of East River for some money (about eight half jocs), having to cross the route of the English Light Horse. However, I saw none of them. After receiving the money, I stopped for entertainment at Nichols’ in Poquamok. I directed my saddlebags to be hung up near the stairway, apparently very careless. My money was rolled up in a piece of cloth tightly that it might make no noise. Watching an opportunity I took the roll of gold from my saddlebags and carried it to bed with me, fastening my door, for I did not like their looks. Looking behind by horse after getting on my way next morning, saw pimento scattered on the snow behind the horse. On examining my saddlebags, found them cut underneath. I had purchased a pound of pimento for some person, which had made the discovery. Had they succeeded in getting the money would undoubtedly have killed me to secrete the robbery. Some time after was sent to the same place for nine hundred guineas. Returning with the money to Fishkill Landing, I had to cross to the Newburgh side. I found a pilot that would lead my horse cross the ice. Taking the saddlebags on my own shoulders, I followed after the horse about a rod. The ice being very weak, I thought if the horse broke in I could return. We made safe on the other shore, but after rising up the bank saw the ice all broken up in cakes and floating different ways.

“The officers of the army had built a large building about two miles west of New Windsor, to meet to do business in on all occasions; in the east end of which was a part taken off for a store, where the contractors, Melancthon Smith & Co., put the goods which they sold to the army. I was called upon to act as a clerk, and an arduous task it was. The soldiers received the paymaster’s order, which was exchanged for goods; the sentry letting in a certain number at a time. Taking an exact account one day, found I had paid a little more than fifteen hundred dollars in goods that way. My situation was lonely and dangerous. Sleeping alone in the building, had been awakened at night and put in defense with club and fork at the window. On one occasion the marauders were discovered and punished. The sentry also for not giving immediate information. An anonymous letter was circulated about this time advising the army not to disband until they were paid. The officers generally had nearly determined to adhere to it; in consequence of which General Washington called a general meeting of the officers at the great building for the purpose of pacifying them. I was in the building when he came in. After a few moments he took one of those letters in order to read it, when, lifting it up toward his eyes, laid it down again, and, looking round upon the officers, said; ‘My eyes have grown dim in the service of my country.’ Then, taking out spectacles, went on to read the letter; after which he made some observation respecting the danger of undoing by this rigid opposition to disbanding all they had done in a six years’ struggle for independence; and that the government was then unable to pay them, and that he pledged his word that he would do all in his power that they should have justice done them as soon as the country should be able; after which they returned to their regiments and disbanded peacefully, many of them compelled to beg their bread on their way home, and having to live on their friends when they got there.

“All that I had been able to obtain by means of the contractors’ business and other ways was sixty dollars to begin the world with. Thinking to go into the mercantile business in some place up the Hudson River, went on board a schooner from Rhode Island, having on board a number of the proprietors of the purchase of Hudson, then on their way to see the place. Considering this fortunate, I determined to settle there; hired a room in Peter Van Hazen’s house and went to New York for goods. Meeting Comfort Sands, of the firm of Sands, Livingston & Co., with whom I had done business while in the commissary store, found my credit good with him. By autumn my sixty dollars had grown to three or four hundred. Found custom was lost while away to buy goods (the company had opened another store), so in the spring, 1784, wrote to Thomas Frothingham, who lived near Boston, and had been in the ordinance department with me, to join me in business. We built a store on Main Street and a small vessel, and increased our business considerably. (“Major Thomas Frothingham was stationed at West Point during the war. In 1784 entered into a part-ownership with Benjamin Gorton and opened a store on the Hudson.” Kulp’s Wyoming Valley Families.)

“In December, 1786, sailed for China. Eli Hayden, a friend, had fitted out a brig and wished me to go as companion and assistant. After we were several days out, encountered a violent storm which lasted six or seven days. This was a severe introduction to me, never having been out of sight of land before. Arrived at Cape Town February 23, 1787; was agreeable surprised to find a ship from Baltimore, Captain Skinner, and a brig from Salem, Captain Lambert. Reached Canton August 5. Mr. Shaw, the American Council, had come from Maccao with us, found lodging for us. Arrived home June, 1788, having been eighteen months from New York. In the spring of 1789, having considerable Bohea tea on hand, carried it with other articles to northern Vermont. Hearing that a person by the name of Paintor resided at Middlebury, went there and to my surprise found it was Gamaliel Paintor, who had been my Captain in the regiment of Artificers. He was glad to assist me, and appropriated a corner of his house to my use. Business in the Middlebury store increasing, I sent to Colchester, Connecticut, for a nephew, Jabez Rogers, to take charge of it, and built a store near the bridge. By this time I found that the business of all the northern country must ultimately center to the head of navigation on the Hudson River; and accordingly in 1791 began business at Troy. Bought a store on the southwest corner of Congress and River streets and established two small vessels to run to New York. After two or three years, dissolved partnership with Mr. Frothingham at Hudson and moved to Troy; and in 1795 dissolved partnership with my nephew at Middlebury, Vermont, leaving the property principally with him.”

From letters and various records it is shown that an active interest was taken by Mr. Gorton in the welfare of the town, and that he enjoyed the love and confidence of the people wherever he lived. In 1791 he with his nephew, Jabez Rogers, and John Willard were made Trustees by Deed from the Honorable Gamaliel Paintor of a tract of land in the town of Middlebury as a commons for the use of the people of the town forever. Upon coming to Troy, he entered heartily into the social, religious and civil happenings of the then village Was village Trustee and President, one of the first members of Apollo Lodge, Free Masons, December 11, 1796; helped to form a Presbyterian society at Troy, was trustee and treasurer, but not a member; in 1804 one of those starting an Episcopal society. In 1802-4 Mr. Gorton published these books: “The Millennium,” “Plain Dealings with Calvinism,” and “Primitive Christianity Reviewed.” His grave is at Ida Hill Cemetery, Troy, New York.