History of Centre and Clinton County, Pennsylvania, 1893

Philip  Banner Biography

General Philip Benner was a son of Henry Benner, of Chester County, where he was born in 1762. His father was an active Whig during the Revolution, and was captured and imprisoned. When yet a young man Gen. Benner served in the Revolution, his mother quilting some money in the back of his vest as a provision for his necessities if captured.

After the war Gen. Benner engaged in the iron business at Coventry, in the northern part of Chester County, and had a store in Vincent township, in that county.

He married Ruth Roberts, and May 3,1792, he purchased of Josiah Matlack Rock Forge lands, and removed to Spring Creek to engage in the iron business, and from that time forward until his death was prominently identified with that business and the business, interests and prosperity of Centre County.

He brought workmen with him from Chester County, and commenced his improvements in May, 1793, at Rock, erecting a house and saw-mill, and in 1794 erected his first forge, and the first in what is now Centre County, the forge making iron in that year.

The difficulties he encountered may be estimated from a remark he made: "I had to pack provisions from the eastern counties through the woods to supply ninety-three people." He then erected a grist-mill, and in 1799 the slitting-mill, and Feb. 20, 1800, commenced building the lower forge, adding afterwards a nail-mill, furnace, etc.

Prior warrants had been laid on the land he bought of Matlack, and after he had completed big iron-works in 1802, an ejectment was brought against him by the owners of what were known as the Hubley warrants.

He defended his rights stoutly and gained his case the first time in the lower court, but failed in the Supreme Court, and on a retrial in 1811 he was defeated and compelled to buy his land a second time.

His land titles settled, be opened an iron trade with Pittsburgh, packing iron on horses through to that place, and afterwards hauling it from Rock. He enjoyed, as the result of his enterprise, without competition for many years, the trade in what was termed by him the "Juniata iron" with Pittsburgh and the western country.

Among the foremost in internal improvement, he was the first president (in 1821) of the Centre and Kishacoquillas Turnpike Company, and assisted largely in its construction.

As a politician he was an earnest Democrat, and was twice Presidential elector, notably on the Jackson and Calhoun ticket of 1824, and in 1827 he established the Centre Democrat.

Gen. Benner was a very industrious man. He always was out between four and five o'clock in the morning, and from that time until night was always on the alert.

Attentive to every detail, like Napoleon, he frequently examined his horses' feet to see that they were well shod, and every teamster had a hammer, extra horseshoes, nails, etc., in case of emergency: along the road. He had four and six-horse teams constantly hauling to Pittsburgh and to Bald Eagle Creek.

Once a teamster who sounded his own merits largely applied to the general for employment. " Well," said the general, " my good fellow, did you ever upset your wagon ?" "Upset, oh, no, sir! I am too good a driver for that." " Well, then," said the general, "I do not think you will do, for you would not know what to do when you did upset. No man can drive from Rock to Pittsburgh without upsetting. No, you won't do at all."

He had a humorous way of disposing of applicants for work when he had no occasion for them or did not fancy the applicant. Looking at an applicant, closely one day, he observed the cloth on the right shoulder of his coat well worn. "My man," said the general, "you are altogether too fond of hunting to, be a good workman." His judgment of hunters; in general was that they were a worthless race.

To another his objection lay to the condition of his pantaloons. "A man," said the general, "who sat down, so much as to wear out the seat of his breeches was too lazy a man to be tolerated at Rock."

The borough of Bellefonte bears testimony to his energy and liberality. He aided in the constructions of the water-works, and erected quite a number of houses. Many of the best houses of their day were erected by him, and will remain as memorials for a century to come. In addition to the iron business, he had a store in Ferguson township and one in Bellefonte.

He accumulated a vast amount of real estate, but his loses were sometimes enormous.

He built a steamboat at Pittsburgh, and freighted it with iron, the venture costing upwards of fifty thousand dollars. The captain had directions to go to New Orleans and exchange for tobacco, with which he was to return for market. The captain sold vessel and freight, sailed to Europe, and never was heard of afterward. He also lost heavily with an iron merchant in Pittsburgh.

His appellation, general, came from an early commission as major-general of militia.

His wife, Ruth, died at Rock, Jan. 7, 1827, aged sixty-two, and the general followed her to the tomb July 27, 1832. He left eight children, of whom Philip was the oldest, Mrs. Thomas Waddle, Mrs. Mary H. Wilson, Mrs. Peninah Kephart, Thomas Benner, Henry Benner, J. Matlack Benner, and Mrs. Ruth Armor. Of these there are still living Mrs. Armor, widow of Maj. James Armor; Thomas Benner, of Ohio; and Henry Benner, of Rock.

Philip Benner, Jr., died at Rock, Feb. 17, 1839, aged forty-two; Mrs. Peninah Kephart died Jan. 16,1876, aged eighty-six years.

Source: History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania; John Blair Linn; Philadelphia; Louis H. Everts; 1883.

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