Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
History of Tompkins, Schuyler,
Chemung, Tioga 1879
Page 262 - Simeon Benjamin
He was the first president of the Chemung Railroad, and perhaps it is not
too much to say that he was its chief manager and its success was chiefly
owing to him. He was also somewhat largely engaged in banking, for which
his peculiar style of business in some respects eminently fitted him.
|Simeon Benjamin was born in the town of Riverhead, in what was
called Upper Aquebogue, Long Island, May 29, 1792. His father was a plain,
substantial farmer, highly respected, and an earnest, active Christian.
Simeon Benjamin was the third son in a family of six sons and two daughters.
He was accounted rather of feeble physical constitution, and was allowed
some special advantages for an education, which, in those days, consisted
chiefly of extra time from farm-work for attending district school, and
an early initiation into clerkship in a plain country store in his native
town, which remains, and is kept as a store at the present time. At the
age of sixteen he came to New York City, and was a clerk in the store of
Mr. Kipps, in Broadway.
After about two years of city experience he returned to his native town,
and went into business for himself. This was in 1812, just at the beginning
of the war. This was the beginning of his success as a business man. His
favorable location centered at his store the trade of an extensive section.
It was also greatly in his favor that other portions of Long Island found
trade greatly disturbed by the British cruisers, who intercepted the goods
on their way to New York. In a few years the young merchant found himself
with a handsome capital, and few men have ever been more intelligently
and successfully cautious in preventing losses. After a few years he gathered
up his capital and went to the city of New York. With long-practiced economy
and caution, willing to avoid ostentation, having no taste for hasty, perilous
speculation, he steadily and surely added to his wealth, and enlarged his
business only as fast as actual gains and the soundest, credit would allow.
Passing over the subsequent period of his business history in New York
City, in which he trained several clerks who have since become very distinguished
business men, he is next found investing a considerable portion of his
amassed capital in Elmira, with a sagacious forecast of the future growth
of that place.
He came to Elmira in the spring of 1835, and purchased considerable
real estate. The bulk of his large fortune was derived from the rising
value of his village property, the erection of buildings, and the constant
growth of improvements. Both a sound and honorable policy and the dictates
of a generous public spirit led him to take a deep and liberal interest
in public improvements, in building churches, school-houses, hotels, and
especially in connecting Elmira with Seneca Lake by railroad.
He was the son of pious parents and had the covenant blessing of a godly
ancestry. He was first a communicant in the church at Aquebogue. In the
city of New York he united with the Presbyterian Church in Vandewater Street,
then under the ministry of the celebrated Hooper Cummings. He resided for
a time in Newtown, Long Island, where he was an elder in the church of
Rev. John Goldsmith, who was an uncle to Mrs. Benjamin. His next church
relation was with the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, under Mr.
Joseph Sanford and afterward Dr. Carroll.
The next year after coming to Elmira he was chosen trustee of the First
Presbyterian Church, and continued by re-election to hold that office until
his death, Sept. 1, 1868. In November, 1836, he was elected an elder, and
was always an efficient member of the session, able in counsel, and fully
identified with the prosperity and progress of the church.
He began early a system of beneficence, but he never gave ostentatiously,
and probably no man in Southern New York did, during the thirty-five years
preceding his death, give so large an amount to religious, charitable,
and educational objects, even besides his gifts to the college. He was
for many years a trustee of Auburn Theological Seminary and Hamilton College,
to both of which institutions he made liberal donations, of $10,000 each,
and in his will devised $10,000 to the former and $20,000 to the latter.
For more than ten years he was a corporate member of the American Board
of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and took a deep but quiet interest
in the great missionary work. The last and crowning object of his Christian
Liberality was the Elmira Female College. From the first he was the financial
manager, as treasurer and president of the board of trustees. His donation
of $5,000, the largest amount then subscribed by anyone, fixed the location,
changing it from Auburn, where it had been located, and for which a charter
had been granted as the Auburn Female University. By act of the Legislature
the charter was amended, the name changed and the institution removed to
The college accepted the proposal, and has been from that time under
the care of the Synod of Geneva. Yet Mr. Benjamin never designed to narrow
its boundaries, or diminish its liberal catholicity. In the recent effort
to raise $50,000 by subscription, to improve and endow the college and
meet the condition of the State appropriation, he at once subscribed $25,000
in addition to his previous gift, making a total of $55,000; and in his
will be provided for the payment of $25,000 more, making a total for the
Elmira Female College of $80,000. He also gave $30,000 to the Presbyterian
Board of Publication, and $2000 to the Elmira Orphan Asylum, besides many
other munificent gifts to various institutions.
He married Sarah Wickham Goldsmith, born at Mattituck, Long Island,
and sister of Rev. Dr. John Goldsmith, for thirty-eight years pastor of
the Presbyterian Church at Newtown, Long Island. The fruit of this marriage
was three sons and four daughters. All but one son and one daughter died
in childhood, and the surviving son, William, a youth of uncommon loveliness,
died immediately after finishing his course at Williams College. The remaining
daughter is the wife of Hon. John T. Rathbun, of Elmira.
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