George and Harriet Benham, along with a number of their siblings for at
least a brief time, arrived in Penn Yan before 1820, in time for the first
of the village's boom periods.
They were children
of James Benham, born in Litchfield Co., Conn., in 1764; and of his wife
Sarah Sedgewick, three years younger. James and Sarah married in 1785 and moved more or less
immediately to Dutchess Co., N.Y., like so many of their friends and
neighbors, to the point where Connecticut officials were worried about depopulation
after the Revolution. Their first five children were born there: the twins
Polly and Huldah in 1786, Miles in 1787, Harriet in 1790, and Sedgewick
The family then went
to Bridgewater in Oneida Co., and five additional children came along: George
in 1798, Ansel in 1800, Sophronia in 1802, Henry in 1804, and James Jr.
in 1807. James Sr. died in January 1807, so the last was a posthumous child.
Sarah survived until 1829.
It's not known precisely
why the children of this family went west, except perhaps that so many others
from their area were doing the same thing at the same time. Miles married
at Bridgewater in 1811, to Phebe Mackley, and their first child was born
in 1813, probably in Penn Yan. Her name was Adelia, and she died unmarried
in Penn Yan in 1857.
Of Miles and Phebe's
other children, Celestia, born 1815, married John C. Babcock; Dewitt Clinton,
born 1818, married Cynthia Arne (he went to California in 1849, returned
and then went to Pittsburgh, where he was still living in 1897; the Benham
House in Penn Yan was built by and named after him); Amanda, born about
1820, married John Bennett; and Mary, born in 1824, died in Penn Yan and
was buried here at the age of 14.
Phebe died in 1841,
and Miles remarried in 1843, to Cynthia (Champlin) Munroe, a widow. He served
two years in the state Legislature and was Sheriff for a 3-year term. All
his life he was an anti-slavery Whig until the Republican party was organized
in 1856, and then he joined that party. He moved late in his life to Onondaga
County, as did some other of his siblings, and died in Syracuse in 1866.
His brother George
arrived about the same time and remained here for the rest of his life,
carrying on the family leather business. Their sister Harriet was the wife
of George D. Stewart, the Penn Yan and later Gorham merchant. Their brothers
Henry and Ansel spent some years in Penn Yan before moving to Hammondsport
and Naples. James Jr. and Sedgewick went to Onondaga County.
Miles Benham carried
on the tanning and shoemaking business at the tannery behind 165 Main Street,
and lived for a time in that house, which still survives. He acquired the
14-acre property on the east side of Main Street that once belonged to Jonathan Bordwell and sold it
off to individuals. He developed and named Benham Street. The family's influence
on Penn Yan can hardly be overestimated.