Benjamin Lincoln

January 24, 1733–May 9, 1810

General Benjamin Lincoln was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. During the war, he earned the trust of General George Washington. After the war, he led an army that put down Shays' Rebellion.

Benjamin Lincoln Jr., Portrait

Benjamin Lincoln was an officer in the Continental Army. He rose to the rank of Major General and led the Southern Campaign until he was captured at Charleston. After the war, he led a Massachusetts army against the Regulators and put down Shays’ Rebellion. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Biography of Benjamin Lincoln

Benjamin Lincoln was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He rose to the rank of Major General and was trusted by General George Washington. He was a farmer in Massachusetts and a member of the militia. He served in the militia during the French and Indian War. Although he did fight in any battles he gained valuable military experience. He was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, appointed Secretary, and helped prepare for war with Britain. In 1776, after the Siege of Boston, he was promoted to Major General in the militia and put in charge of planning defenses along the coast. In June 1776, he led an expedition that cleared the last British ships from Boston Harbor. Afterward, he was sent to New York to reinforce Washington. He fought at the Battle of White Plains and the Battle of Fort Independence and his men covered the Continental Army’s retreat from New York. Congress appointed him as a Major General in the Continental Army, and he led his men at the Battle of Bound Brook, which ended in a British victory. In July 1777, Washington ordered him to march to upstate New York to help stop the British invasion force under the command of General John Burgoyne. Lincoln and his men harassed the British supply lines outside of Fort Ticonderoga and then went to defend the Hudson River. He was shot in the leg at Fort Edward and was unable to serve for nearly a year. He rejoined the army in 1778 and was placed in command of the Southern Department by Congress, where he was defeated at the Battle of Stono Ferry. Then he led a combined force of American and French troops at the Siege of Savannah, but failed to take the city, and suffered heavy casualties. At the Siege of Charleston, he was forced to surrender the city. He was taken prisoner by the British, returned in a prisoner exchange, and rejoined the army in 1781. Washington maintained his belief in him, and Lincoln was his second-in-command at the Siege of Yorktown. When the British surrendered, Washington refused the sword handed to him by British General Charles O’Hara and had him give it to Lincoln. After the war, Lincoln served as Secretary at War, under the Confederation Congress. In 1786, he was recalled to help put down Shays’ Rebellion. He then served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and participated in the Massachusetts Convention that ratified the United States Constitution.

British Surrender at Yorktown, Painting

This painting by John Trumbull depicts Lincoln, on his horse, preparing to receive the sword from O’Hara. Image Source: Wikipeida.

5 Things to Know About Benjamin Lincoln

1. Lincoln was born and died in Massachusetts.

Benjamin Lincoln was born on January 24, 1733, in Hingham, Massachusetts, and he died on May 9, 1810, also in Hingham.

2. Lincoln was a founder of the Society of Cincinnati.

On December 4, 1783, Lincoln and other officers from the Continental Army met at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. At that gathering, Henry Knox suggested they form a group in the memory of Cincinnatus, the legendary Roman hero who saved his country and then returned home to his farm. The group was called the “Society of Cincinnati.” Lincoln was President of the Massachusetts chapter.

3. Lincoln returned to service to help put down Shays’ Rebellion.

After the American Revolutionary War ended, areas in Western Massachusetts suffered from economic depression and there was a shortage of hard money. Unfortunately, many merchants refused to trade with the farmers, or extend credit to them. Many people were unable to pay their local taxes and had their farms foreclosed on by the banks. What made the situation worse was that many of the men who lost their farms had fought in the war. They felt very strongly that they should have been given some leeway for their service since the pay they received as soldiers was very little.

In 1782, some farmers started to organize and push back against Massachusetts tax collectors and law enforcement officials. The Governor of Massachusetts, James Bowdoin, stepped up enforcement of the law, despite objects of men like Founding Father John Adams.

On August 28, 1786, a group of armed protestors, including farmer and veteran Daniel Shays, kept the court in Northhampton, Massachusetts from hearing cases and conducting business. The protestors called themselves “Regulators.” Although the action was condemned by the Governor, he did take military action. When the court in Worcester County was shut down, he called out the militia — but the militia refused the order.

On September 26, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts was scheduled to meet in Springfield. Shays and Luke Day organized men to keep the court from proceeding. The local militia, under the command of William Shepherd, were called out, took around 300 men, who all supported the government, and went to Springfield to project the courthouse. When the Regulators saw the militia, they marched through the streets and did not attack the courthouse. The judges responded to the threat by postponing court dates to September 28 and the militia withdrew to the Springfield Armory.

Courts were also shut down in other areas of Massachusetts by other Regulator groups in October, although some were able to continue to operate thanks to the protection of local militia. On November 30, a posse arrested Job Shattuck, one of the Regulator leaders. Shattuck was wounded in the process.

Shays Rebellion, Shays and Shattuck, Woodcut

This woodcut depicts Daniel Shays Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck, two leaders of the Regulators. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Early the next year, on January 4, 1787, Governor Bowdoin suggested Massachusetts should raise a militia army, which would be paid for with private funds. The Massachusetts Assembly appointed Lincoln, and he raised the money and the men by the end of January. Most of Lincoln’s recruits were from Eastern Massachusetts.

While Lincoln assembled his army, the Regulators set up regional regiments and identified targets to attack. One of their first targets was the Springfield Armory, which was occupied by Shephard and about 1,200 men.

Lincoln started his march to Springfield on January 19 and the Regulators planned to attack the armory on January 25. The Regulators planned to attack the armory with three groups, which would be led by Daniel Shays, Luke Day, and Eli Parsons. However, there was a miscommunication between the three groups and when Shays and Parsons arrived at the armory on the 25th, Day was not there. Shepherd’s militia was waiting for them and opened fire with cannons. Four Regulators were killed, 20 were wounded, and the rest broke ranks and retreated to Amherst.

When word reached Lincoln, he marched after them and was 20 miles away on February 2. In order to prevent further bloodshed, he wrote a letter to Shays and said, “communicate to your privates, that if they will instantly lay down their arms, surrender themselves to government, and take and subscribe the oath of allegiance to this Commonwealth, they shall be recommended to the General Court for mercy.”

Shays ignored the request and moved to Petersham. Then, throughout the night of February 3rd and February 4th, Lincoln marched through a snowstorm and arrived in Petersham early in the morning. Shays and his Regulators were surprised. Many of them surrendered immediately, while others scattered. Many of the leaders, including Shays, escaped into Vermont and New Hampshire.

One last group of Regulators was in Berkshire County, and Lincoln marched there in February. A small skirmish took place, which resulted in another loss for the Regulators, and ended Shays’ Rebellion. Although Lincoln continued to command his army, his men slowly left as their enlistments expired.

4. Lincoln supported the United States Constitution.

Lincoln initially believed the loose confederation of states was in the best interest of the nation. However, the events of Shays’ Rebellion made it clear to him that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak and he supported a strong federal government. He participated in the Massachusetts Ratification Convention, which was held from January 9 to February 7, 1788, in Boston, and voted in favor of the United States Constitution.

5. Lincoln negotiated with Native American Indian tribes.

After the new federal government was put in place, President Washington asked Lincoln to help settle disputes with the Indian tribes in the territory that bordered the states. In 1789, Washington sent him to Georgia to resolve issues with the Creek. Unfortunately, the negotiations failed, and the territorial dispute continued. Then, in 1793, Lincoln was sent to the Ohio Country to negotiate with the Western Confederacy of Native Americans. After an American force led by Arthur St. Clair was soundly defeated at the Battle of the Wabash, Washington wanted to negotiate with the leaders of the Confederacy. He sent Lincoln as part of the commission, however, once again, negotiations failed. This led to the creation of the Legion of the United States, which was the first standing army authorized by Congress. Under the command of General Anthony Wayne, the Confederacy was defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and forced to agree to the Treaty of Greenville.

Significance of Benjamin Lincoln

Benjamin Lincoln is important to United States history for his service during the American Revolutionary War. He also played a key role in helping to end Shays’ Rebellion and supported the United States Constitution as a member of the Federalist Party.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Benjamin Lincoln
  • Date January 24, 1733–May 9, 1810
  • Author
  • Keywords Benjamin Lincoln, American Revolutionary War, Battle of White Plains, Battle of Fort Independence, Battle of Bound Brook, Siege of Savannah, Siege of Charleston, Shays' Rebellion
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024