Benjamin H. Brewster

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Benjamin H. Brewster
37th United States Attorney General
In office
December 16, 1881 – March 4, 1885
President Chester A. Arthur
Preceded by Wayne MacVeagh
Succeeded by Augustus H. Garland
Personal details
Born Benjamin Harris Brewster
(1816-10-13)October 13, 1816
Salem, New Jersey, US
Died April 4, 1888(1888-04-04) (aged 71)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth von Myerbach de Reinfeldts-Shulte
Mary Walker-Deslonde
Children Benjamin Harris Brewster, Jr. (1872 - 1941)
Alma mater Princeton University
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Religion Episcopalian

Benjamin Harris Brewster (October 13, 1816 – April 4, 1888) was an attorney and politician from New Jersey, who served as United States Attorney General from 1881 to 1885.


Early life[edit]

He was born on October 13, 1816 in Salem, New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Maria Hampton, a daughter of Dr. John Thomas Hampton, a soldier of the American Revolutionary War and a close friend of Thomas Jefferson. His grandmother, Mercy Harris-Hampton, was the daughter of Benjamin Harris, the "fighting Quaker" of the American Revolutionary War. Benjamin Harris Brewster was named after him.

He is descended from the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster (c. 1620 – 1690) of Long Island, New York - the son of Francis Brewster and Lucy Jones French (1599–1664), of Bristol, Somerset, England. Francis Brewster was a barber-surgeon, and died in 1646 at Sea in the "Phantom Ship" Lamberton (see section under New Haven Colony). Nathaniel Brewster was in the first, or one of the first graduating classes of Harvard (1642) and in 1655 and 1656 he made trips to Ireland with Henry Cromwell. Benjamin H. Brewster, is descended from Rev. Nathaniel Brewster's son Daniel (c. 1662 – 1748).

Benjamin's father was Francis Enoch Brewster, a successful and well-known attorney in Philadelphia who had abandoned Benjamin's mother, Maria Hampton, for her companion Isabella Anderson, by whom he had two children out of wedlock. His step-brothers were Frederick Carroll Brewster (1825–1898), who became Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and Enoch Carroll Brewster (1828–1863), who besides being court-martialled in 1862, for accidentally releasing two prisoners whilst in a state of drunkenness, was prior to that, a lawyer in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Benjamin's sister, Anne Hampton Brewster (1818–1892), was one of America's first female foreign correspondents, publishing primarily in Philadelphia, New York and Boston newspapers. She was a "social outlaw" (as a friend described her) by refusing to marry, by converting to Catholicism, by moving out of her older brother Benjamin's house in order to live alone, by moving to Rome, and, foremost, by continuing to write through it all, first as a dilettante and then as a self-supporting professional.

In their father's will he had named his two son's Frederick and Enoch Carroll Brewster as his sole beneficiaries. Benjamin fought on behalf of his sister for her share of the estate and for the destruction of the will, which he eventually won. All is laid out in a letter written December 26, 1855, in Philadelphia, by Garrick Mallery and Furman Sheppard, counsel for Benjamin H. Brewster, Esq. An excerpt from the letter states:

..."When Benjamin H. Brewster, Esq., retained us as his counsel, upon behalf of himself and sister, to contest the Will of his father, the late Francis E. Brewster, Esq., he distinctly stated, that as for himself, he had no desire to secure the property, but he was resolved to expose the untruth of the allegations contained in the Will, and which were assigned therein as a justification and excuse by his father for the disposition he had made of his estate. Mr. Brewster assured us that the memory and conduct of his mother had been wantonly aspersed, that while he had life in him he would vindicate her memory, and justify her conduct, though it should involve the unpleasant necessity of exposing and unveiling the misconduct and cruelty of Mr. Francis E. Brewster towards his wife and family. He also stated, that it was the most painful duty that ever had been, or that ever could be forced upon him; although his father had acted with wanton and unprovoked harsh-

[page 2] ness toward him and his sister, and although they had never given any cause to their father to disinherit them, that yet they would freely have allowed the Will to take effect, and pass undisputed, and would have renounced all claim upon their father's estate, if the Will had not contained allegations against Mrs. Maria H. Brewster which, while they were free from any imputions of culpable impropriety upon her part, yet they stated acts that never were committed, and gave as reasons for his past conduct facts which Mr. Francis E. Brewster had himself often denied to be true; and furthermore, the Will also wrongfully threw the blame of their separation upon his wife, when he had often and often again confessed that he alone was in fault, and that her conduct had been always pure and blameless; and it also set forth that Mr. Francis E. Brewster had supported, educated and maintained his wife and two children, for more than twenty years, when the truth was, that he had not allowed his wife enough for her own support in the plainest and humblest style, and that it was well known that the whole family had been depending for more than fifteen years past upon the professional labors of Mr. Benjamin H. Brewster. Mr. B. H. Brewster also stated to us, that he never had desired anything from his father, that he had renounced all such hope early in life, and that as for himself, the Will was no disappointment; that as for his sister he had always educated and maintained her, and was ready to do so still, and that if she survived him, he had made and could and would make

[page 3] provision for her, but that now he was resolved to defeat this Will, and that since it had been put upon the record, he would listen to no terms but the unconditional surrender of the paper to him to be destroyed; in this latter event he would consent to let the two illegitimate children of Mr. F. E. Brewster, viz: Frederick Carrol Brewster and Enoch C. Brewster, take the half of the estate which would belong to him, Mr. B. H. Brewster, as heir to his father, but that he could not and would not consent to give away what belonged to his sister." ...


He graduated from Princeton College in 1834 and was conferred upon the degrees of A.B., A.M., and LL.D. He studied law in the office of Eli Kirk Price,[1] a noted Philadelphia lawyer and legal reformer and who was head of the Philadelphia Bar, and he was admitted to practice on January 5, 1838.[2]


In 1857, he married as his first wife, Elizabeth von Myerbach de Reinfeldts, the widow of Dr. Shulte of Paris, France. Elizabeth died in 1868; however, Benjamin continued to spend many vacations with his wife's parents in Germany near Cologne.

He was remarried on July 12, 1870. His second wife, Mary Walker, was born in Mississippi on December 13, 1839, and died on March 9, 1886, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Robert John Walker, Secretary of the Treasury under President James Knox Polk.[3] and Mary Blechenden Bache,.[4] The latter Mary was the daughter of Sophia Durrell Dallas and Richard Bache, Jr., who served in the Republic of Texas Navy and was elected as a Representative to the Second Texas Legislature in 1847. Sophia, the daughter of Arabella Maria Smith and Alexander J. Dallas an American statesman who served as the U.S. Treasury Secretary under President James Madison. She was also great-granddaughter of Sarah Franklin Bache and Richard Bache, and more notably she was the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin, as well as niece of George Mifflin Dallas, the 11th Vice President of the United States, serving under James K. Polk.

Mary Walker had married as her first husband, on May 25, 1858, Adrian Deslonde, the son of André Deslonde, a sugar planter from St. James Parish, Louisiana. His sister, Caroline Deslonde, married P.G.T. Beauregard, the Louisiana-born author, civil servant, politician, inventor, and the first prominent general for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Through his sister, Mathilde, he was a brother-in-law of John Slidell, a U.S. senator from Louisiana and later a Confederate diplomat. John's sister, Jane Slidell, was married to Matthew C. Perry, who was the Commodore of the U.S. Navy who compelled the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.


Benjamin and Mary had one child, Benjamin Harris Brewster, Jr., born on October 22, 1872, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

His great-grandson is Daniel Baugh Brewster (November 23, 1923 – August 19, 2007), a Democratic member of the United States Senate, representing the State of Maryland from 1963 until 1969. He was also a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1950 to 1958, and a representative from the 2nd congressional district of Maryland in the United States House of Representatives from 1959 to 1963.[5][6]

There were no children from his first marriage.


In 1846 Brewster was appointed commissioner by President James K. Polk to adjudicate the claims of the Cherokee against the U.S. federal government. He was appointed Attorney General of Pennsylvania in 1867 by Governor John W. Geary.

He was chief prosecutor in the case of the U.S. Postal Service's Star Route Frauds.

In 1881, Chester A. Arthur appointed Brewster Attorney General of the United States, an office he held for the duration of Arthur's term.[7]


He died on April 4, 1888, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he is buried in Woodlands Cemetery.[8]


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Wayne MacVeagh
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Chester A. Arthur

December 16, 1881 – March 4, 1885
Succeeded by
Augustus Hill Garland