Remembering Captain Benjamin Taliaferro (1750-1821)
Benjamin Taliaferro (pronounced “Tolliver”) was born in Amherst County on Jan. 4, 1750, the first child of Zachariah Taliaferro and Mary Braxton Boutwell. Benjamin served in the Revolutionary War reaching the rank of captain and was captured by the British at Charleston in 1780. After the war, he returned to Amherst County, married, and relocated to Georgia. There he was a plantation owner, lawyer, judge on the Georgia Supreme Court, Georgia state senator, and one of the first trustees of the University of Georgia. Taliaferro County, Georgia is named in his honor.
In early 1775, each Virginia county appointed a Revolutionary Committee, composed of the most discreet, prominent, and experienced men elected by freeholders of the county. The Amherst committee included Captain Zachariah Taliaferro. The Amherst “Minute-Men” would include his son, Ensign Benjamin Taliaferro.
Benjamin served in two local rifle companies before transferring with his unit to the Sixth Regiment of the Continental Army in March 1776. He distinguished himself at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, and as one of Colonel Daniel Morgan’s 500 crack riflemen at Saratoga, New York. By June 1779 Benjamin had joined Colonel Richard Parker’s First Virginia Battalion to aid Georgia Whigs in their fight to end the British occupation of Savannah. He was captured by the British at Charleston in 1780. After American forces surrendered the city on May 12, 1780, Benjamin returned to Amherst County as a paroled prisoner of war.
In 1782 Benjamin married his second cousin once removed Martha Watkins Meriwether, the only child of David Meriwether and Mary Harvie. David was a member of the prestigious Meriwether family of Albemarle County.
Two years later in 1784, Benjamin and Martha joined a migration led by Benjamin’s friend and former militia commander, George Mathews (1739-1812) of Augusta County. Benjamin and Martha settled in Wilkes County, Georgia, as did most of Mathews’ group, There, they had nine children. Note: Mathews became the 20th and 24th governor of Georgia, and after Martha died, Benjamin remarried and had a tenth child.
Benjamin, a lawyer, created a thriving tobacco plantation (as did his ancestors in Virginia) along the Broad River in Wilkes County and became an influential citizen.
Benjamin served as president of the Georgia state senate from 1792 to 1796. He represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from March 4, 1799 to 1802. When he retired due to illness, Benjamin was succeeded in office by his wife Martha’s first cousin once removed General David Meriwether (1755-1822) of Albemarle County. David had a personal friendship with Thomas Jefferson.
Like Benjamin and Martha, after the Revolutionary War, David and his wife moved to Wilkes County, Georgia and established a plantation. David served several terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and was Speaker from 1797 to 1800. He would become a US Congressman representing Georgia. Meriwether County, Georgia is named in his honor. His son James Meriwether also served in Congress.
Martha is the niece of Janette Harvie of Albemarle County, who married the lawyer Reuben Jordan of Amherst County or Albemarle County. The marriage took place in Albemarle County on Aug. 7, 1782. Thus, Martha is the niece of Reuben. Janette and Reuben also relocated to Wilkes County, Georgia,
At that time in Georgia, a family could have 200 acres of Cherokee land, if the family would settle there. Reuben, being a lawyer, helped facilitate the upper Georgia land lottery of the land obtained from the Cherokee.
Former Georgia Governor George Rockingham Gilmer (1790 –1859) wrote a book, Georgians: Sketches of some of the first settlers of Upper Georgia, of the Cherokees, and the Author, republished by Heritage Papers, Jan. 1, 1989. Gilmer wrote a classic account of the first settlers of Upper Georgia. The book begins with the settlement made by a number of Virginia families on the Broad River immediately after the Revolutionary War. This book includes family histories of Capt. Benjamin Taliaferro, Gen. David Meriwether and Reuben Jordan, all from Amherst and Albemarle counties.
Benjamin is the second cousin three times removed of Gen. William Booth Taliaferro (1822-1898), US Army officer, lawyer, judge, served in the Virginia House of Delegates, elected Grand Master of Masons in Virginia (1874-1876). William attended Harvard and graduated from the College of William & Mary, the oldest law school in America. He sat on the boards of William & Mary and the Virginia Military Institute. Taliaferro Hall at William & Mary is named in his honor.
Benjamin is the third cousin once removed of John Page (1743-1808), 13th governor of Virginia (1802-1805). Page County, Virginia, is named after him.
In 1795, William H. Cabell (1772-1853) married his first cousin, Elizabeth Cabell, and moved into “Union Hill.” the Amherst County home of his uncle, Col. William Cabell. William H. Cabell succeeded John Page and became the 14th governor of Virginia.
Benjamin is the first cousin three times removed of Gen. John Taliaferro Thompson, inventor of the Thompson sub-machine gun. The “Tommy Gun” was the notorious gangster weapon of the Roaring Twenties, of Hollywood movies, and immensely popular in WWII.
In August 1916, Thompson founded the Auto-Ordnance Company to develop his machine gun and subsequent arms for the US military. Venture capital for the Auto-Ordnance Company was supplied by Wall Street financier Thomas Fortune Ryan. Born and raised in Nelson County, Ryan and his second wife are buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Benjamin is second cousin once removed of Elizabeth Taliaferro Wythe, the second wife of Founding Father George Wythe, the first of the seven Virginia signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence. Wythe taught law and was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth and George Wythe lived in the National Historic Landmark Wythe House in Colonial Williamsburg. The Wythe House was owned and built by Elizabeth’s father Richard Taliaferro, and was given to Elizabeth and George Wythe as a wedding gift and they received a life tenancy upon Richard Taliaferro’s death in 1779. When Wythe died, he left his law library to his best friend, Thomas Jefferson.
Benjamin is second cousin once removed and Martha is the first cousin of Capt. Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809). President Jefferson would commission Lewis to lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and subsequently appoint Lewis as the second governor of Louisiana Territory.
Benjamin’s sister Sallie married the brother of Col. John Harvie Jr. And Martha was the niece of Col. John Harvie Jr., a signer of the Articles of Confederation and the Bill of Rights. He was a neighbor and guardian of young Thomas Jefferson. Harvie Jr.’s son, General Jacquelin Burwell Harvie married Mary Marshall, daughter of Chief Justice John Marshall. Reuben Jordan is also the brother-in-law of Col. John Harvie Jr.
Benjamin is first cousin of Roderick Taliaferro, Esq. (1777-1820). Born and raised in Amherst County, Roderick practiced law and served as the third mayor (1807-1808) of the “Town” of Lynchburg. Roderick’s son Judge Norborne M. Taliaferro (1802-1853), served in the Bedford County Superior Court and Bedford County Circuit Court.
RICHARD TIM JORDAN,