Benjamin Lincoln was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, 24 January, 1733; died there, 9 May, 1810. His father, Benjamin, was born in Hingham in 1700, his family having been among the first settlers, the name of Thomas Lincoln, a cooper, appearing on the town records as early as 1636. He received only a common school education, and was a farmer until 1773, holding the offices of magistrate, representative in the provincial legislature, and colonel of militia. He was also a member of the provincial congresses of Massachusetts, of which he was secretary, and served on its committee of correspondence. He was active in organizing and training the Continental troops, and was appointed major general of state militia in 1776, and on 23 May, 1776, was placed at the head of a committee to prepare instructions for the representatives of the town in the general court, previous to the Declaration of Independence. The following is an extract from his instructions entered on the records of the town:
"You are instructed and directed at all times to give your vote and interest in support of the present struggle with Great Britain. We ask nothing of her but peace, liberty, and safety. You will never recede from that claim, and, agreeably to a resolve of the late house of representatives, in case the honorable Continental congress declare themselves independent of Great Britain, solemnly engage, in behalf of your constituents, that they will, with their lives and fortunes, support them in the measure."
In June of that year he commanded the expedition that cleared Boston harbor of British vessels. After the American defeat on Long Island he was dispatched by the council of Massachusetts to re-enforce Washington with a body of militia, and he subsequently participated in the battle of White Plains and other engagements. At the close of 1776, Lincoln, with the greater part of 6,000 militia, was engaged with General William Heath in the attack on Fort Independence, which resulted disastrously. In the beginning of 1777, he joined Washington at Morristown with a new levy of militia, and on 19 February was promoted to Major General, having been recommended by Washington in a letter to congress dated 20 December, 1776:
"In speaking of General Lincoln, I should not do him justice were I not to add that he is a gentleman well worthy of notice in the military line. He commanded the militia from Massachusetts last summer, or fall rather, and much to my satisfaction, having proved himself, on all occasions, an active, spirited, sensible man. I do not know whether it is his wish to remain in the military line, or whether, if he should, anything under thee rank he now holds in the state he comes from would satisfy him."
He was then stationed at Bound Brook, New Jersey, the advanced post of the British, where he was surprised by a party of 2,000 men under Lord Cornwallis and General James Grant on 13 April, but escaped with his aides before he was surrounded. He remained attached to Washington's command till July, when he was sent with General Benedict Arnold to act under General Schuyler against Burgoyne, for which purpose he raised a body of New England militia. He sent out a successful expedition, which seized the posts of the enemy at Lake George, and broke Burgoyne's line of communication. General Lincoln then joined General Gates at Stillwater, and took command of the right wing. During the battle of Bemis's Heights he commanded inside the American works, and on the next day, in leading a small force to a post in the rear of Burgoyne's army, fell in with a party of British, supposing them to be Americans, and received a severe wound, which forced him to retire for a year and lamed him for life.
He rejoined the army in August, 1778, on 25 September was appointed by congress to the chief command of the Southern Department, and for several months he was engaged in protecting Charleston against General Augustine Prevost. Upon the arrival of Count d'Estaing, he cooperated with the French troops and fleet in the unsuccessful assault on Savannah; but from the unwillingness of his allies to continue the siege he was forced to return to Charleston, where in the spring of 1780 he was besieged by a superior British force under Sir Henry Clinton. After an obstinate defense he was obliged in May to capitulate, and in November retired to Massachusetts on parole.
In the spring of 1778, he was exchanged, and immediately joined Washington on Hudson river. He participated in the siege of Yorktown, and Washington appointed him to receive the sword of Lord Cornwallis on the surrender of the British forces. He held the office of Secretary of War from 1781 to 1784, after which he retired to his farm, receiving the thanks of congress for his services.
In 1787, he commanded the forces that quelled Shays's rebellion in western Massachusetts, and in that year was elected lieutenant-governor of the state. Upon the establishment of the Federal government he received from Washington the appointment of collector of the port of Boston, from which office he retired about two years before his death. He was a member of the commission that made a treaty with the Creek Indians in 1789, and of the one that in 1793 unsuccessfully attempted to enter into negotiations with the Indians north of the Ohio, the other members including Thomas Pickering and Beverly Randolph, of Virginia, the place appointed for the conference being Sandusky. He kept a journal of this expedition, which was published entire in the collections of the Massachusetts historical society (series iii., vol. v.). Accompanying this is an engraving of an outline sketch taken by a British officer present at the meeting of the Indians on Buffalo creek, representing Randolph, Pickering, and Lincoln, General Chapin, several Quakers, two British officers, the Indian orator, and the interpreter. He was also a member of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the United States constitution and president of the Massachusetts society of the Cincinnati from its organization until his death.
He was much esteemed by General Washington, who presented him with a set of epaulettes and sword knots, which he had received from a French officer. He devoted his last years to literary and scientific pursuits, and was a member of the American academy of arts and sciences, and of the Massachusetts historical society. Harvard gave him the degree of M.A. in 1780. His correspondence during the adoption of the Federal constitution was large and important, including letters from the leading patriots, and a letter from Dr. David Ramsey, the historian, dated Charleston, 19 January, 1788, gives an interesting view of the relations then existing between New England and South Carolina. While Secretary of War he wrote long letters to his son, which he intended to be read at the meetings of the academy, containing the results of his observations of the physical features of the south. A paper upon his belief that trees receive nourishment from the atmosphere instead of the earth, and one on the ravages of worms in trees, were published in Cary's "American Museum." Many of his writings appeared about 1790, including a paper on the migration of fishes, in an appendix to vol. iii. of Dr. Belknap's "History of New Hampshire," and three essays, published in the collections of the Massachusetts historical society: "Observations on the Climate, Soil, and Value of the Eastern Counties in the District of Maine"; "On the Religious State of the Eastern Counties"; and on the "Indian Tribes, the Causes of their Decrease, their Claims, etc." His portrait was painted by Henry Sargent, a copy of which was presented to the Massachusetts historical society.
Biography from Benson J. Lossing in his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution [with minor edits]:
Benjamin Lincoln was born on February 3, 1733. He was trained to the business of a farmer and had few educational advantages. He continued in his vocation in his native town (Hingham, Massachusetts) until past forty years of age, when he engaged in civil and military duties.
He was a local magistrate, representative in the Colonial Legislature, and held the appointment of colonel of militia, when in 1774 he was appointed a major general of militia. He was very active until the close of 1776 in training the militia for Continental service and in February of 1777 he joined Washington at Morristown with a reinforcement.
On February 19, 1777, Congress appointed Lincoln, with Lord Stirling, St. Clair, Mifflin, and Stephen, major generals in the Continental army. He was active during the summer and autumn of that year in opposition to Burgoyne, while on his march toward Saratoga. Lincoln was severely wounded on October 7 at Saratoga, which kept him from active service until August of 1778 when he joined Washington.
He was appointed to the chief command in the Southern department in September and arrived in Charleston by December. By judicious management, he kept Prevost and his troops below Savannah most of the time until October the following year, when, with D'Estaing, he laid siege to Savannah. The effort was unsuccessful.
In may following, he, with the largetst portion of the Southern army, was made prisoner at Charleston by the British under Sir Henry Clinton. He was permitted to return to Hingham on parole. In November he was exchanged and the following spring he joined Washington on the Hudson. He was at the surrender of Cornwallis, and was deputed to receive that commander's sword.
He was elected Secretary of War a few days after this event, which office he held for three years, and then retired to his farm. In 1786-7 he commanded the militia in the suppression of Shay's insurrection. He was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1787. He was appointed collector of the port of Boston in 1789, which office he held for twenty years, when he was succeeded by General Dearborn.
He died in Hingham on May 9, 1810, at the age of seventy-seven years. He lived with his wife of fifty-five years. General Lincoln was temperate and religious. No profane word was ever heard uttered by his lips. A great part of his life he was a deacon in the Church.