Benson John Lossing
Benson John Lossing (February 12, 1813 – June 3, 1891) was a prolific and popular American historian, known best for his illustrated books on the American Revolution and American Civil War and features in Harper's Magazine. He was a charter trustee of Vassar College.
Lossing was born February 12, 1813 in Beekman, New York. His father was descended of old Dutch stock, originally surnamed Lassing or Lassingh, who had been among the earliest settlers of the Hudson Valley. His mother, Miriam Dorland Lossing was a Quaker. His formal education was curtailed when he was orphaned in 1824. Soon thereafter, he moved to Poughkeepsie to serve as apprentice to Adam Henderson, clock and watchmaker and silversmith. During his apprenticeship he read a number of history books, and over a period of several years pursued an independent study. By 1833, Lossing and Henderson had formed a partnership.
Lossing married his first wife, Alice Barrit, in that year. In 1835, Lossing became part owner and editor of the Poughkeepsie Telegraph. Out of that publication grew a semi-monthly literary paper, the Poughkeepsie Casket. Lossing began to learn the art of wood engraving from J. A. Adams, illustrator for the paper.
In 1838, Lossing moved to New York City seeking greater opportunity as a journalist and illustrator. He edited and illustrated J.S. Rothchild's weekly Family Magazine from 1839 to1841 and launched his literary career with the publication of his Outline of the History of Fine Arts. In 1846, he joined William Barritt in a wood engraving business that became one of the largest of such firms in New York. His illustrations appeared in the New York Mirror and several other periodicals. During this time, Lossing sat for a portrait by Thomas Seir Cummings (1804–1894), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Around 1848, Lossing conceived the idea of writing a narrative sketchbook on the American Revolution. The first installment was published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1850; the completed Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution was published in 1853. To gather material for the work, Lossing traveled some 8,000 miles throughout the United States and Canada. As with his subsequent books, his pen and ink drawings served as the primary illustrations when turned into wood cuts. The book won him critical acclaim and general reputation. During and after the Civil War, Lossing toured the United States and the once Confederacy. On the basis of that research, he published a three-volume pictorial field book/history of the war, which is also presumed to be Mathew Brady's first collaboration in the use of his Civil War photographs as book illustrations. In 1860-1861, the London Art Journal featured a series of Lossing's articles describing the history and scenery of the Hudson Valley; the illustrated articles were published in 1866 under the title The Hudson: From the Wilderness to the Sea. He was awarded an LL.D. by the University of Michigan in 1873 adding to lesser degrees previously awarded him by Hamilton College and Columbia University. He also worked with engraver and book publisher George Edward Perine, most notably on his "History of New York City" (1884).
Lossing's first wife died in 1855 and on November 18, 1856, he married Helen Sweet. In 1868, the Lossings moved to a manor in Dover, New York, that Helen had inherited from her family; they called this The Ridge, but by later custom it has come to be known as Lossing Manor. There Benson had built a fireproof library to house his collection of over five thousand books and documents associated with the American Revolution and the framing of the Constitution. Lossing was actively involved in charitable, civic, literary, and historical societies, most notably serving as a charter trustee of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. He died at home on June 3, 1891. A written reminiscence of the Lossing family and life in 19th century New York was assembled by his son, Thomas Sweet Lossing; edited by his great-nephew, Peter Hannaford, it was published as My Heart Goes Home in 1997 (Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, New York).
Lossing's significance as a historian derives from his diligence in seeking out primary records, his interviews with participants of events and intimates of his biographical subjects, and his care to weigh and contrast details of his various sources. Although such efforts are today a standard among historians, in Lossing's time they were not. Historiography was not yet a discipline. Washington Irving, with whom he corresponded, wrote, "I have been gratified at finding how scrupulously attentive you have been to accuracy to facts, which is so essential in writings of an historical nature." This made him an essential secondary source for contemporary and succeeding historians and enough of an institution for Theodore Roosevelt in his Naval War of 1812 to adduce simply "Lossing" in stating a fact, much in the same manner as historians use "Gibbon" or "Toynbee."
Among the over 40 books Benson Lossing authored:
- Outline of the History of the Fine Arts (1840)
- Seventeen Hundred and Seventy-Six or the War of Independence; A History of the Anglo - Americans from the period of the Union of the Colonies against the French to the inauguration of Washington the First President of the United States of America (1847; 1852)
- Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence (1848)
- Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution (1850–52)
- A Primary History of the United States for Schools and Families (1857, revised 1866)
- Life of Washington: A Biography Personal, Military, Political (1860)
- The Life and Times of Philip Schuyler (1860; revised, 1880)
- The Hudson from the Wilderness to the Sea (1866)
- Pictorial Field Book of the Civil War (1866–69)
- Vassar College and its Founder (1867)
- History of The United States (1867)
- Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812 (1868)
- Mount Vernon & Its Associations (1859) and other editions titled Mount Vernon, or the Home of Washington
- Washington and the American Republic (1870)
- Memoir of Lieut. Col. John T. Greble' (1870) (private printing)
- A History of England, Political, Military, And Social from the Earliest Times to the Present (1871)
- Our Country: A Household History of the United States for all Readers, From the Discovery of America to the Present Time (1873)
- The American Centenary (1876)
- History of American Industries & Arts (1878)
- Story of the United States Navy for Boys (1881)
- Cyclopœdia of United States History (1881)
- New history of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent to ... Inauguration of... Chester A. Arthur: For all Readers (1881)
- Biography of James Garfield (1882)
- Lossing's School History of the United States (1883)
- History of New York City (1884)
- Mary and Martha: The Mother and Wife of George Washington (1886)
- The Empire State, a Compendious History of the Commonwealth of New York (1888)
- Reflections of Rebellion: Hours With the Living Men and Women of the Revolution; A Pilgrimage (1889)
He co-authored, edited or collaborated in the following works:
- The Diary of George Washington, from 1789 to 1791 (1860)
- with Anna Seward: The Two Spies: Nathan Hale & John Andre (1886)
- with George Jotham Hagar, John Elliot Read and Alfred Hudson Guernsey: The Achievements of Four Centuries, or the Wonderful Story of Our Great Continent... (1890)
Published posthumously were:
- The Progress of Four Hundred Years in The Great Republic of the West (1890)
- Lossing's Complete History of the United States (1896)
- with John Frederick Schroeder and E C Towne: The Life and Times of George Washington (1903)
- Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History from 458 A.D to 1909. Based Upon the Plan of Benson John Lossing (1909). This 10 volume set included contributions from Woodrow Wilson and Alfred Thayer Mahan.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
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- "Lossing, Benson John". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914.
- "Lossing, Benson John". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
- "A Brief Guide to Vassar's Charter Trustees". Vassar Encyclopedia. Vassar College.—Lossing among trustees, has a dictionary-style biography of him.
- Baxter, Katherine Schuyler. A Godchild of Washington. F.T. Neely, 1897 - New York (State.) Appendix includes letter from Helen S. Lossing, giving a biographical sketch of her father
- "Benson Lossing Collection[:] An inventory of his collection at Syracuse University". Syracuse University Libraries.—Includes biography.
- "Benson John Lossing Collection: Manuscripts and Special Collections: New York State Library". New York State Library.—Includes biography.
- "Benson Lossing Collection (C1112)". Princeton University.
- Works by Benson John Lossing at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Benson John Lossing at Internet Archive
- Carr, Bill (ed.). "Lossing". Ancestry.com.—Including:
- The pictorial field-book of the revolution; or, illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence, Vol. I/II (1851–1852)
- The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812; or, illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the last war for American independence (1868/1896)
- The pictorial field-book of the revolution; or, Illustrations, by pen and [...]. Google Books. Vol. I (New York: Harper & brothers). 1851. LCCN 02003206.
—Offering alternative download formats:
- The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812; or [...]. OpenLibrary.org (New York: Harper & brothers). 1896. LCCN 02017424. OL 7074377M.
- The Hudson, from the wilderness to the sea. Archive.org (Troy, New York: H. B. Nims & co.). 1860. LCCN 46036856.
- "The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Benson John Lossing". Metmuseum.org.—Miniature portrait (9.8 × 6.9 cm) by Thomas Seir Cummings in watercolor on ivory, ca. 1835.
- "A Hudson River Portfolio". New York Public Library.—Has biographical details about Lossing and shows engravings from The Hudson, from the wilderness to the sea / by Benson J. Lossing ; illustrated by three hundred and six engravings on wood, from drawings by the author, and a frontispiece on steel. New York: Virtue & Yorston. 1866. LCCN 01014124.
- "More Lossing Gems in Auction Market - Part VI. of Fine Americana Collection to be Dispersed by the Anderson Company.". NYTimes.com.—Article preview; full view: "More Lossing Gems [...]" (PDF). The New York Times. May 17, 1914.—Lossing library estate sale.