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Drawn portrait of Sarah Osborn Benjamin

Sarah Osborn Benjamin

Sarah Benjamin's long, eventful life included twice speaking with George Washington on the frontlines of the American Revolution.

Early life and marriage

According to her obituary, Sarah was born on November 17, 1743 in Goshen, Orange County, New York. In her early life she witnessed scenes of frontier struggles between European colonists and Indigenous Americans. She claimed to have witnessed Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant and British loyalists engage patriot militia at the Battle of Minisink in July of 1779.

That same year Sarah met and married Aaron Osborn, himself already a veteran of the Revolution, and agreed to accompany him back into military service only once she learned he was to be placed on commissary guard. While her husband was “employed about the camp,” Sarah found work washing and mending clothing for his fellow soldiers.

An illustrated map showing the approximate location of West Point on the Hudson River.

Camp life

Aaron and Sarah spent their first season with the Continental Army at the fortress at West Point, which guarded New York's Hudson River. Sarah's time with the Continental Army included witnessing climactic battles, but for much of her service she spent time in encampments.

Illustrated map of Kingsbridge.

One cold night while at Kingsbridge, Sarah joined Aaron while he was on sentinel duty, donning his overcoat and carrying his gun. Washington soon passed by, and asked who placed her on the post. “Them who had a right to, Sir,” she replied.

An illustrated map of the United States showing movement from North to South

Soon the army—and Sarah and Aaron along with them—went south. Sarah marched across New York and Pennsylvania before traveling by ship to Virginia.

An illustrated map showing the location of the siege at Yorktown.

While the Continental Army and its French allies laid siege to General Charles Cornwallis' troops at , Sarah continued to wash and mend clothes.

An illustration of Sarah Osborn Benjamin encountering General Washington at Yorktown.

Second encounter

While carrying beef, bread, and coffee to the beleaguered soldiers in their entrenchments in the midst of British artillery fire, Sarah again caught the attention of General Washington. “Are you not afraid of the cannonballs?” he inquired. “No,” she replied. “It would not do for the men to fight and starve too.”

Image: Encounter with Washington; Dale Watson

End of a war and a marriage

After the British surrendered, Sarah watched the spectacle of the defeated army marching out of Yorktown to "a melancholy tune". Sarah continued to offer her assistance where needed. Following the Continental Army's victory in late 1781, Sarah followed Aaron as he was redeployed back to the northern colonies. They spent two winters in New Jersey, and another near the Continental Army camp at Newburgh before Aaron was discharged from service.

They remained in the Newburgh area where Sarah bore two children, Phebe and Aaron, Jr. Three months after she gave birth to their second child, Aaron abandoned Sarah. When she learned he was living nearby with another woman, she confronted them to learn the truth. When she saw with her own eyes that it was true, Sarah left him and moved her family to Blooming Grove, Orange County, New York.

In 1787 Sarah married another Revolutionary War veteran, John Benjamin, and moved with him to Pennsylvania. John had received a federal pension but after his death in 1827, the widow Sarah applied for one of her own. She received two—one for the service of both of her veteran husbands, and one in recognition of her own.

Living history for 114 years

In May 1858 Pennsylvania's Lewisburg Chronicle recorded the death of Mrs. Sarah Benjamin of Mount Pleasant Township in Wayne County.

The obituary testified to her adventurous character, quick-witted nature, energy, and firm resolve, noting that "her temperament was such that she could not be an idle spectator of events." Remarkably, Sarah lived long enough into the 19th century to have her picture taken. The same eyes that stare back at you from her photograph twice met the gaze of General George Washington, and witnessed the frontlines of the American Revolution.

On January 13, 2022, the Trust facilitated a Zoom conversation with Kyle Freiberger, his grandmother, Mary Lynn Partridge, and his aunt, Tonya Lee Skirpan. In this three minute segment, Ms. Partridge tells stories about Sarah Benjamin that have been handed down over generations. The three family members also reflect on the tintype photographs they still possess of Sarah and her daughter Christina.

3 min 45 sec

Pictured left: Sarah Benjamin; Middle: Kyle Freiberger and Mary Lynn Partridge; Right: Christina Mathews Benjamin

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Historical marker: Pleasant Mount, PA

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