by Charles S. Miley
How much do we know about Lt. Col. Benjamin K. Pierce, U.S.A.?
For most of us, nothing except that- perhaps- he was commanding officer of old Fort Pierce, one of a string of forts which the army erected in Florida during the Seminole Indians wars.
And, possibly, that Fort Pierce was named in his honor.
Well, there’s a lot about his distinguished career that we can learn now, and that without much trouble or effort.
The Indian River Community College Historical Data Center has published a biographicl book about him.
Its name is “Our Worthy Commander – The Life and Times of Benjamin K. Pierce, in whose honor Fort Pierce Was Named.”
The book, an 82 page volume containing many drawings of forts, maps, pictures and copies of original letters and documents pertaining to Lt. Col. Pierce’s life and career, is on sale at the college bookstore in Koblegard Student Union, Indian River Community College, and the price is $7.95.
The volume is by Louis H. Burbey, a retired newspaperman-historian from Birmingham, Mich., who became interested in Pierce when he began writing a series of articles on the origin of the street names of his home town. There was a Pierce street and a nearby Pierce school. A frequent visitor to Florida since 1913 and knowing of Fort Pierce, he wondered if there might be any connection between Pierce in Michigan and Fort Pierce in Florida. Further inquiries led him to James Halbe, a Fort Pierce boy, son of L.W. Halbe, who had also done extensive research on Benjamin K. Pierce. “An exchange of information, references and documents resulting in an exceptionally detailed accumulation of facts which were extended into this complete and authentic biography,” according to the preface of Burbey’s book.
And extensive research it must have been, for the book carries a world of such information.
Pierce came from a distinguished family, dating back to the original immigrants. His father, Benjamin II, participating in the battle of Bunker Hill and other engagements, remaining in service eight years.
There was a sister from the elder Pierce’s first marriage, four sons, of whom Benjamin K. was the first, and three daughters from the second marriage, to Anna Kendrick.
The elder Pierce was a member of the New Hampshire Legislature for 13 years, later governor for two terms, and a colonel in Hillsborough County militia. The second of Benjamin brothers, Franklin, served in Congress as a representative, then senator, as a brigadier-general in the U.S. Mexican War, and became the 14th president of the United States.
Benjamin Kendrick Pierce was born in Hillsborough, N. H., Aug 29, 1790.
He entered Dartmouth college at the age of 17 and continued in that institution for three years, after which he began the study of law. After two years and with the imminent outbreak of the War of 1812 with Great Britain he enlisted in the regular army as a lieutenant of artillery.
From that time on during the 38 years of his military career, he participated in several engagements, served as commanding officer of various forts, and was assigned to other responsible duties, in all of which he served with distinction. He died in New York City April 1, 1850, at the age of 59 years and six months.
Col. Pierce’s personal life was to a considerable extent one of tragedy and anxiety. He was married three times, each of his wives dying after a few years of marriage. His first marriage was in 1816 to Josephine La Framboise, of Mackinac Island, Mich., daughter of wealthy and prominent fur-traders. He was 26, she 21. Two children, a daughter and son, were born to them. Mrs. Pierce died in childbirth in November, of 1820, at the age of 25, and the son died a few days later.
Three years later, the then Capt. Pierce married Amanda Boykin in Shasta, Alabama. A son and three daughters were born to this union. The second Mrs. Pierce died in January, of 1831. And thus, at the age of 41, Pierce, who meantime had been promoted to major, found himself a widower with a motherless family of five children.
The third marriage was to Louisa A. Read, in Baltimore, Md., which took place in 1838, seven years after the death of his second wife, when Pierce was 48. She died in January of 1840, apparently while Col. Pierce was stationed at Plattsburg.
The welfare of his motherless children and his inability to care for them properly as he was shifted srom place to place, and financial problems that seemed to have beset him in his later years were all a source of constant anxiety to Pierce.
So much for the personal life of Lieut. Col. Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, for whom Fort Pierce was named.
As to his 38-year military career, it was distinguished, and is recounted in some detail in “Our Worthy Commander,” but we shall not endeavor to go into it.
Few, if any of us, were aware that during the course of his career he had three different assignments in Florida, of which the Fort Pierce assignment was third.
The first assignment was to Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, Pensacola, in the late fall of 1821 following ratification of the treaty in 1819 whereby the United States purchased Florida from Spain. That and other forts were established to protect the new land and the many miles of gulf coastline. It apparently was while he was stationed there that he married his second wife, Amanda Boykin.
His second Florida assignment was to Fort Defiance, near Micanopy, in August of 1836. The Indians, under the leadership of Osceola, were on the war trail again and had massacred Major Frances L. Dade and his command. At nearby Fort Drane, Pirce’s command engaged and routed a considerable force under the leadership of Osceola.
There was also a lively engagement in the Wahoo Swamp region south of the Withlacoochee River Cove, in which Florida’s governor, General Richard K. Call, was the commanding officer. The Indians were routed and Col. Pierce was highly commended bt Gen. Call.
Then followed other assignments, one of which was to inspect military roads in Michigan.
The third Florida assignment- the one in which we are most involved and interested- came the latter part of 1837, at a time when Indians who refused to be banished from their beloved native land to the West were again threatening trouble.
To quote from “Our Worthy Commander”:
“On Dec. 28, Lt. Powell, commander of a naval detachment, sailed south on the Indian River (from the Haulover) to select eligble sites for depots. On the eve of Dec. 29, Col. Pierce issued orders that the regiment should be in readiness to embark at 2 in the morning. By daylight we were all aboard, ” quoting the journal of Dr. Jacob R. Motte, army surgeon accompanying the expedition, to whom we owe further accounts of the expedition and the history of our old Fort.
“After quietly gliding all night down the river, they joined Lt. Powell at the Indian River Inlet on the afternoon of Dec. 31. On Jan. 2, the blockhouse of palmetto logs was erected and dubbed Fort Pierce, after “Our worthy commander” (from which the title of our book), Lt. Col. Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, commander of the First Regiment of Artillery.”
It would hardly be fair to the publishers of our book to go into further details of the doings at and from the fort of Fort Pierce. They are most interesting and certainly of great local historical significance. We suggest that you get a copy of the book and read it for yourself.
At any rate, Mr. Burbey is to be highly commended for gathering and writing the biography of our Lt. Col. Pierce, and Indian River Community College Historical Data Center for publishing it in book form.
(“Our Worthy Commander” is copyrighted and extracts and references in this article are used by permission of the publishers)
From “Miley’s Memos” by Charles S. Miley, News Ft. Pierce Tribune Editor Emeritus. This article first Published 5/7/1978
Reprinted by permission of the Ft. Pierce Tribune. “Miley’s Memos” is the property of the Ft. Pierce Tribune and reproduction of this material is expressly forbidden without the prior written permission of the Ft. Pierce Tribune © 2002.