Benajah Carpenter – Continental Army Officer – Rhode Island


Benajah Carpenter, founding member of the United States Army Field Artillery Corps under Henry Knox and veteran of the Siege of Boston and Battle of Long Island. Carpenter was born April 27, 1748 and was killed in action on Long Island on August 27, 1776. He was a descendant of the Rehoboth Carpenter Family. His father was a Stephen Carpenter and mother Jane Thurston of Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Benajah Carpenter was an apprenticed Rhode Island chairmaker until 1771. Carpenter is sometimes described as a “mariner.” Although unsubstantiated, this may have been historically accurate. Private mariners of the period were those who possessed knowledge of cannon and artillery, a necessary part of early American shipping and seaborne trade (discussed in Gallagher, The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776, p. 56). Carpenter may have been a merchant of the same wares he manufactured. The coast of Rhode Island was a center of such activity. Early Rhode Island newspapers contain notices of Carpenter’s own difficulties with a chairmaker apprentice in 1774.

The activities of Benajah Carpenter abruptly changed with the coming of the American Revolution. He became a Captain-Lieutenant of artillery under Colonel Henry Knox and certainly participated in the Siege of Boston. As the struggle moved to New York, Carpenter was ordered by General George Washington to serve with General William Alexander of Pennsylvania (“Lord Stirling”) and his Maryland contingent prior to the fateful morning of August 27. Henry Johnston in his Campaign of 1776, describes Carpenter as commanding the two-gun battery that opposed the British under Grant. Johnston surmises that it was Carpenter’s battery that caused to British light troops to retire to their main line. This was the first instance, Johnston tells us, where the newly minted American army met the British “in the open field” in classic military formation. We are told they “proved themselves the best of soldiers.” During the subsequent long hours of battle Benajah Carpenter was among the day’s casualties. Carpenter’s military cap is extant and can be seen at the Rhode Island Varnum House Museum & Varnum Memorial Armory.